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Faces of a Century
They have lived through the 1919 race riot, the Capone era, and seven Cubs trips to the World Series. Meet these Chicago-area centenarians.
Hover over photos below to see captions.

Evelyn Wettour, 100

Downers Grove

Born in Lafayette, Indiana, she moved to Chicago’s Douglas Park neighborhood in 1926. She learned shorthand in high school and started working as a private secretary at age 17.

“I was a bit ahead of my time. When I got married, my husband said, ‘Do you have to work?’ I said, ‘I sure do.’ I loved working.” Her first husband died, and she remarried at 72. Her second husband lived to 101.

Secret to a long life: “Cod-liver oil. I watched Paul Harvey on TV when I was in my 40s, and he said, ‘Ladies, I want you to get some cod-liver oil capsules and take two a day.’ All these years and not one pain in my body.”

Best advice ever received: “Be truthful. If you aren’t, it will come back to haunt you.”

Best part of getting older: “At this age, you don’t have any taxes to pay.”


What's something you miss about Chicago in the olden days?

Luong Hoan, 103

Wheaton

They call her Grandma at Naperville’s Xilin Asian Community Center, where she plays mahjong four days a week. Born in Guangdong, China, Hoan moved to Vietnam with her husband, a factory owner. After he died, she fled the war-torn country to Hong Kong. She eventually followed her son to Ohio in the 1970s, then moved to Chicago because of its community of Chinese immigrants.

Best part of getting older: “Having lots of children and grandchildren. They obey me and are very respectful.”

Secret to a long life: An apple a day, cut up into quarters. No medicine. And Chinese cabbage.

Hawkins Fairley, 103

Ashburn

Raised in Mississippi and Louisiana, this World War II vet came to Chicago with his wife in 1949 to escape the Jim Crow South but found discrimination here, too.

“A dark-skinned person didn’t get the same kind of money as a white person. And a black man couldn’t get himself a white woman. They’d take you out back and shoot you.” Fairley spent 30 years at U.S. Steel’s South Works plant in South Chicago. “We were making steel for Cadillacs, Buicks, Oldsmobiles. Now all them jobs are gone.”

Worst part of getting older: “You can’t work.”

Best advice for young people: "Own a house in your own name. Long as you’ve got them bills paid, can’t nobody take it from you.”

Beatrice Hughes, 102

Hyde Park

This single mother moved from Louisiana to Chicago in 1931 and worked as a typist to support her daughters. “My mother thought I should learn to do something other than run with the boys, so she sent me to learn to type. I was only 17 when my first daughter was born, and soon I had two children to raise. Their father sneaked out from us. But as long as the three of us were together, I was satisfied.”

Best advice ever received: “ ‘Go to Chicago.’ It was a good place for somebody young to find work.”

Secret to a long life: “Have your children young and grow up with them.”

Favorite memory of old Chicago: “Roller-skating at the Savoy Ballroom and White City on the South Side. I loved skating. I wonder sometimes if I could still do it.”

Andy Medema, 100

Downers Grove

This Hollander immigrated with his family at age 5, settling in a Dutch enclave on the Southwest Side. “They changed my name from Nonko because they didn’t want me to go through school with it. Back then, Taylor Street was Capone’s big street. When one of his guys died, you’d see four or five funeral cars going through the neighborhood.”

Medema fell in love with the Cubs as a boy, listening to games on the radio. “We’d go to the park on Saturdays for 25 cents. I can still name the outfielders: Hack Wilson, Riggs Stephenson, and Kiki Cuyler.” He held a slew of jobs: cop, factory worker, streetcar conductor, middle school maintenance worker. At his assisted living center, they call him the Mayor.

Secret to a long life: “I’ve spent my entire life with young people—coaching, refereeing, driving a school bus. They keep you active.”

Best advice ever received: “Keep your nose clean.”


How was it to watch the Cubs win the World Series last year?

Othon Guasso, 105

West Ridge

Born to a tailor in Hidalgo during the Mexican Revolution, Guasso learned the family trade young. During World War II, he worked in California, stitching American military uniforms. After the war, he returned to Mexico and opened his own suit shop. Guasso moved to Chicago in 1973, following his son’s family to a third-floor rental in Logan Square. He worked as a tailor into his late 70s, cutting fabric at a store on Michigan Avenue and then stitching police uniforms at a shop on Roosevelt Road. Longevity is in his genes: His own father lived to 101.

Secret to a long life: A taste of cognac a day. And live a life free of stress.

First memory of Chicago: “Estaba frio.”

Lester Goodman, 101

Bronzeville

Goodman, who helped found the influential Joseph Holmes Chicago Dance Theatre, was born and raised on the South Side. “I lived at 5208 South LaSalle. At that time, there was a wall along LaSalle that separated the black and white families.”

He studied painting at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago before switching to dance. “I was in Hammerstein’s Carmen Jones in New York. And I met Sinatra and the Rat Pack. We worked the same circuit. I was traveling a lot, away from the family, but my wife told me, ‘Go do your thing, because I don’t want you to look back and think, If it hadn’t been for them, I’d be a dancer.’ ”

Best advice ever received: “Never believe anything anyone says and you’ll never be disappointed.”

Secret to a long life: “Eat right and get plenty of rest. I never started drinking until my 50s.”


What's the best part about getting older?

This article appears in the May 2017 issue of Chicago magazine. Subscribe to Chicago magazine.

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