Back In The Saddle

It's been four months since I've written anything here. With the new year and the new decade upon us, I'm resolving to write more often. I was doing well there for a while, posting every week. But then Dad suddenly lost his battle with Alzheimer's on September 21 and things just haven't been the same since. We do know we have a special guardian angel looking out for us now.

My dad, Raymond E. McAlpin "Ray" was born and grew up on the south side of Chicago in a tiny one-bedroom apartment at 63rd and California. He was an only child and a latchkey kid as my grandparents both worked. His sleeping arrangement was on a pull-out sleeper chair in the living room. He learned quickly how to make his own meals and ended up becoming a good cook. He also observed his mother's amazing work ethic - she worked at Illinois Bell and started as a telephone operator. She rose through the ranks and became the first woman to break into management in Illinois Bell's history. Successful working mothers were not common at that time. My grandma lived in that apartment for 40 years. Dad used to joke and say "you could have bought the building by now!" She never left because she wanted to be close to her best friends Merle and Mary, who each lived in apartments nearby.

In their location, it would have been easy for Dad to go down the wrong path and to avoid that, my grandparents sent him to boarding school at St. Bede Academy in Peru, IL. He was able to complete high school there and then went on to Marquette University, where he received his bachelor's degree in Psychology (and also met my mother!) 1966 was a big year for him as he got married, graduated from Marquette, I was born and he went to the Army Reserve.

We started out in Rogers Park, Dad received his MBA from Loyola University while working full-time and supporting his young family. He worked in Human Resources for two different companies, MSL and Borden. The Borden years were great as he would bring lots of products home for us such as Cracker Jack, Pippin Cheese and Wyler's Lemonade. Our house was a favorite at Halloween because we gave out full size boxes of Cracker Jack. The day Dad brought home a complete Wyler's Lemonade stand I was so excited! That was my very first job, selling lemonade in front of our Park Ridge home. I loved my little red cash register and coin counter that hung on a belt.

When he was 34, Dad made the decision to leave the corporate world and venture out on his own. He was a Human Resources consultant, conducted attitude surveys at corporations, sold Atari computers, helped my mother with an embroidery business and taught graduate school at Roosevelt University and then Keller Graduate School of Management. He really hit his stride when he became an arbitrator, he loved settling disputes and seeing the underdog treated fairly. In addition, he founded Apple Annie Awnings, named after my mother. It was supposed to be her business but he loved selling awnings so much it turned out to be his baby. Apple Annie Awnings sold Durasol and then Eclipse Awnings and was consistently in the top two distributors in the nation, representing Illinois and Wisconsin. He sold the business by gradually transitioning to a gentleman in Illinois and another in Wisconsin and Apple Annie Awnings is still going strong today. My parents owned a second home in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin on Okauchee Lake for 25 years. We all loved going to the lake so much, taking boat rides to local restaurants and hosting my parents' large group of friends for their annual Winter Wonderland. They sold the Wisconsin home nearly 8 years ago. I think Dad knew something was happening to him and that it was his time to downsize. He made a great decision to purchase that home as the proceeds paid for his care.

I definitely take after Dad and his mother. We have baby photos that we are not quite sure if they are of me or of him. I joke that I know they took the right baby home from the hospital, I was definitely not switched at birth! He was such a generous person, he was always sharing his talents with or giving to others. One thing he did every year was go to Burlington Coat Factory, buy a bunch of coats, take the tags off and put them in their coat drive. Although with his tough upbringing he didn't always express his feelings, I knew that he had my back. There are definitely parallels in our lives. We both had the same gap between our two front teeth. He could shoot water through his but it's not something I ever mastered. I also love to keep busy and productive and not put all of my eggs in one basket. He taught both my sister and I to work hard and be independent, and let us feel like we could do anything we set our minds to. Although he could have bought me a new bicycle, he felt that if we bought our own bicycles we would treat them more responsibly. He could have paid for all four of my years at Marquette but had me take out a student loan for one year's tuition and pay for books. He wanted me to have true ownership in everything I did. I also was given the unique opportunity to attend Keller Graduate School of Management and earn my MBA tuition-free because Dad was a professor there. I also left the corporate world at 34 to pursue my own business. I will never forget the faith that he put in me to make it on my own at that time by buying me a puppy, Ruby. Dad gave me every opportunity to succeed. I feel like I ran with it and although he didn't see the estate sale business really take off, I'd like to think that he would have been proud.

I just had to add one more photo - Dad was forced to take accordion lessons as a child and HATED it! I remember seeing the holes in the metal grate that he made by jamming a pencil into it. I wonder what he was thinking at this moment?