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A passion for Morgan Park

Janet "Bubbles" Olcott, maiden name Hedeen, in her 1955 yearbook from Morgan Park. (Photo by Teri Cadeau)1 / 2
Janet "Bubbles" Olcott pages through her yearbook. (Photo by Teri Cadeau)2 / 2

Janet Olcott, known to her friends as "Bubbles," has a passion for Morgan Park. She's lived in the neighborhood for practically her entire life. She was born there, attended K-12 at Morgan Park schools, met her husband, worked for U.S. Steel and raised her kids in Morgan Park.

"It's my home," Olcott said. "I wouldn't want to live anywhere else."

For the past 13 years, she's worked to ensure her fellow alumni from Morgan Park had the opportunity to reconnect with their home and their classmates. After serving as the chairperson of the Morgan Park High School alumni fall lunch, she's stepping down this year due to health complications.

"She's been the driving force behind it for so long. She's the one who kept it going and helped expand it," said fellow classmate Elaine DeBeir. "Bubbles kept track of everyone who came and did her best to reach out to others who hadn't been invited yet. I don't think you'll find a more dedicated person."

Olcott first heard about the annual lunch in 2001. She reached out to the chairperson at the time and volunteered to help in anyway she could. After two years of assisting, the chairperson handed her a binder of information and said Olcott should take over.

"So I did. I started going through the lists of people. They had a list of maybe 200 people with just their names, no maiden names or graduation years. And I knew there were definitely more of us out there," Olcott said.

Olcott started calling people on the list and filling out more information. Whenever she got ahold of a fellow classmate, she'd ask them if they had any names or contact information for other classmates. Then she'd call those classmates and ask them. And on and on. By calling people and including a note in the annual lunch announcement mailing, Olcott was able to pull together a list of 500 names of surviving classmates.

"There are still some names and addresses I don't know about, I haven't quite pinned down. But I kept trying," Olcott said.

Over the years, Olcott has discovered a few things about how to plan an alumni event. For example, she no longer plans a formal program.

"Just let them eat and visit. They just want a chance to visit with people who they haven't seen in a long time, some of them since graduation. So let them," Olcott said. "I love to see how happy people are when they see a former classmate. It's a great feeling to see people reconnect."

"She's worked so hard on this reunion. Everybody knows how hard she's worked. She'll be the first to tell you that it's her plus the committee, but it was her," said fellow classmate Donna Puhl.

Olcott graduated from Morgan Park in 1955, which she said were the "best of times."

"And we didn't even know how good we had it. We had good music, good community, and we were good kids," Olcott said.

Some of Olcott's fondest memories of Morgan Park growing up were hanging out in front of the Park State Bank in the summer, playing hide and seek with neighborhood kids, and going to the Good Fellowship Club. The club was a community built for Morgan Park residents by U.S. Steel in 1917. It had a swimming pool, auditorium, bowling alley, pool hall, gymnasium and running track. Olcott remembers spending weekends bowling with friends.

"It cost 20 cents to bowl one line. And to make the money to bowl, we'd set pins. They'd pay us 5 cents to set a line, so you only had to set four lines to afford a round of bowling," Olcott said. "It was a wonderful place where I spent a lot of time as a young person."

Living in Morgan Park also meant seeing favorite places close. In the 1960s the steel plant both Olcott and her father had worked at closed. The Good Fellowship club was torn down in the 1980s. In 1982, despite efforts by Olcott and fellow residents, the school district closed Morgan Park School. Olcott's daughter was in the last graduating class.

"It's too bad. We were such a tight-knit community. Now things have changed a little. But it's still a good place to live," Olcott said.

Teri Cadeau

Teri Cadeau is a reporter for the Budgeteer.

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