Alumna AnnEllen Sass Barr, '50, shares her family’s close association with the Sisters of the Resurrection and how her RES education still impacts her life today
“Our relationship with Resurrection nuns really goes back to before I was born,” said AnnEllen Sass Barr, “which is saying something, because I just passed 90.”
In 1912, Sister Anne Strzelcka, C.R. purchased the first 42 acres of land in Norwood Park, followed by the purchase of an onion farm and adjacent farmland. Three years after they took up residence there, the Sisters opened Resurrection Academy as an elementary school for boys and girls and a boarding school for girls.
Then, in 1922, Sister Anne opened the doors to Resurrection College Prep High School. At this time, the Sisters decided that both the high school and elementary school would become single-gendered schools.
That same year, AnnEllen Sass’ father, Gene Sass, graduated from Schurz High School at 16 and went to work at the Jefferson State Bank, corner of Northwest Highway and Raven Avenue. Also that year, AnnEllen’s aunt, Kath Fetter, built the five-story Fetter Storage Warehouse just a half a block north of the bank.
“My aunt, who was 15-years older than my mother and kind of a pseudo grandmother to me, since I didn’t have that grandmother in my life, came down to Chicago from Milwaukee as a 29-year-old young woman, married, and decided that people really needed a better way to move from one home to another…and she decided to start a moving company. She was just 29-years old when she built Fetter Warehouse in Norwood Park,” Sass Barr said.
She said Kath Fetter always had a “soft spot in her heart” for nuns, because two of her aunts - one a Franciscan in Manitowoc, Wisconsin, the other a Dominican in San Rafael, California; “and so when the nuns needed any kind of help, she was kind of front and center, because her family had nuns and realized how things worked, so that is where that started.”
In 1931, Jefferson State Bank closed due to the Depression, and AnnEllen Sass’ father, Gene, who recently married her mother, went to work on Fetter’s moving trucks. Within a few years Gene became Office Manager, allowing Kath’s husband, Tom Fetter, to retire.
It was no secret, AnnEllen said, that the nuns, who may have sought assistance in interpreting
paperwork from the governmental entities, would have gravitated to Kath Fetter and her then Office Manager brother-in-law, Gene Sass, who was from a family with a strong Polish background. While Gene didn’t speak Polish, he certainly could understand it, AnnEllen said, and his command of English certainly enabled him to help the Resurrection Sisters easily.
Additionally, AnnEllen said the fact that Fetter had trucks at their command probably assisted
the nuns in getting shipments, ingoing or outgoing, handled easily, as well.
In 1932, AnnEllen was born. She attended Immaculate Conception parish grammar school, just down Talcott Road from RES, and graduated from there in 1946.
“I was in grammar school in 1946. There were two of us that qualified for a scholarship and for some reason, I was the one lucky enough to get it to RES, and a lot of the girls went to St. Pat’s [St. Patrick Academy] up in Des Plaines, but I liked the idea of going to RES, and at the time I could run through the cornfields, now the retirement home. I lived on Clarence Avenue which was two blocks beyond the cornfields, and so especially in the winter months, when the ground was frozen, if I was at school late or late in getting to school in the morning, I could run across the frozen field, so it worked very well,” Sass Barr said.
AnnEllen graduated from Resurrection in 1950. Her sister, Judy, also attended RES three years after her, graduating in 1953.
Around 1952, when it came time to solicit pledges for Resurrection Hospital, AnnEllen would join her mother going house-to-house after supper, explaining the new concept and asking homeowners to pledge their support for having a hospital in the area. At that time, AnnEllen said, the closest hospital was Swedish Covenant, at least 15 miles to the east.
“If I had a nickel for everyone who said, ‘Oh, we are not Catholic, so probably would not go there’ and yet later were very glad the new hospital was convenient when needed, I might be rich,” joked Sass Barr.
“I laugh, because I have been there enough, five of our six children were born there, and I realize how many people were born at Resurrection and how many people who have gone there due to an accident or a surgery. It is really a Godsend to the area to have that medical facility handy.
“The nuns had such great foresight. First they had just a school with a farm around it…And then with the retirement home, the same thing happened. At that point in time when they were going to start the retirement home, they wanted to get a feel of how many people would take advantage of having a retirement home there, and so my aunt, who I believe at that point had just sold her business to her successor - they asked her if she would call people, and it reminded me of the fire-horse when he hears the bell, because she knew everybody in town having been the census taker back in the 1920 Census and had her business there all along. So she called people and said ‘this is what they are going to do and it is going to be so wonderful, they are really doing a marvelous thing and wouldn’t you be interested’…It was really great to see when they opened up. There were a good many people ready to move in, including herself,” Sass Barr said.
After graduating from RES in 1950, AnnEllen attended Loyola University on scholarship, but did not stay there very long.
“The week that they had orientation at Loyola, I came down with the mumps…I had a week in bed and missed orientation, and as a result had very little idea of what was happening down at Loyola,” Sass Barr said. “When I got there, I said I wanted to take business classes, and they said ‘oh no, women don’t do that, you can be a teacher, a nurse…they went down the line and they put me in the education group, which is very nice, except it wasn’t for me. That was not my style. So I went there for a semester and decided, to me, was wasting time. My dad had died a year and a half before that when I was a junior in high school, and for that reason, I realized my mother could use some money coming in and I had been trained very well by Sister Dorthea in the typing and shorthand and comptometer operation…” Sass Barr said.
Following her time at Loyola, AnnEllen worked at a machine tool shop on Northwest Highway, doing secretarial work. From there, she found a job downtown at a clothing shop.
“But it necessitated going downtown on the train every day - that meant walking from my home about six blocks to the Norwood Park train station and then downtown maybe four blocks over to where their building was on Monroe Street. I worked there for a couple of years and thought ‘this is crazy, I am wasting 40 hours every month on the train. I get paid down there, but you know what difference does it make.’ So I looked around and decided I knew a firm in Norwood Park, Magnaflux on Northwest Highway, so I wrote a letter and sent my resume and just indicated my typing speed, my shorthand abilities, and that I was working downtown, but would prefer not to waste all this time on the train every day. Within a week, I was hired at Magnaflux and worked for their Sales Manager,” Sass Barr said.
AnnEllen worked there for five years until her first child was born in 1956.
“It was funny, they wanted to give me a letter of accommodation and I said ‘I don’t think I’ll ever need that, I’ll never work again. I am a housewife now.’ That was the attitude in 1955, but later when my husband was in the financial planning business and he could never find somebody who really wanted to take charge in his office, our kids were mainly junior high/high school age so I said, ‘why don’t I consider working for you and we will see how it goes.’ And 45 years later, it worked out quite well,” she said.
“Then I got my insurance license and securities designations, and at a point where I could have been hired to sell, I said, well that would complicate things, because the way it was, if we wanted to do something we did it, and we answered to nobody in terms of whether we were in the office or not. As long as business kept going, we were fine. Where we worked did not matter. So that worked out until a few years ago when we realized we should close up our business - my husband began having severe memory problems, and so as a result, we passed things over to who had been our supervisor before.”
In looking back at her time at RES, AnnEllen said it really “served me well.”
“All the teachers were really great. I had Sister Beatrice as my homeroom teacher, and she was a very, very kind person. And Sister Marie Claire, who taught geometry, was a wonderful teacher. She kind of sparkled…we really got an excellent education and a good attitude on the fact that you didn’t skimp on studying; you paid attention and anything less than really good was not acceptable. You didn’t scan over things, you paid attention, you learned in-depth. And that was always very good.
“But one of the things that was really the best, when I was a senior, they had like a six-week course in home nursing, and I will tell you raising six children, and currently my husband, who needs medications and all, it was the best thing I ever took. It taught me how to make a chart on what was to be administered and when and keep a checklist as you gave the medications. It really didn’t relate to what most people get in high school, but it certainly served me extremely well,” Sass Barr continued.
She went on to share all the good times she remembers, as well.
“At one point, someone donated a jukebox with a violin in it. Could you imagine? This was probably in the 40s, but someone was clearing out their basement and our music was a violin and we just laughed so much about it, because the nuns thought it was great and we all thought…[not so great],” Sass Barr said.
“I made a lot of really good friends there. There were some very nice girls that went to school there. Some from down in the city at St. Mary of Nazareth, others from Norwood Park or that vicinity - luckily we all wore uniforms, so I don’t think we were all as aware, in retrospect, of the broad range of girls who went there. There were about 27 girls in my class and about 45 in my sister’s class. Some girls were from very much working class backgrounds, others, like one girl in my class, her father was a judge. With the uniforms, it just kind of nulled it that you didn’t look at who had what. The one girl who was in our class, LaDonna Rupinski, her father was the architect who designed Resurrection Hospital. So as you can see, there was quite a range of girls there, and yet we were all close friends.”
And speaking of the uniforms, “the first year, the uniforms were like a jumper, but pleated and anyone from a size 2 to a size 22 could wear it. We used to hate the darn things because they were shapeless. We wore them with a white blouse, they were navy blue. Then, we progressed a bit and by the time we were seniors, we talked the nuns into letting us make our own uniforms, which were a straight navy blue skirt down to the knee and then a blazer jacket - nothing fancy, but a little more modern,” Sass Barr said.
She then shared advice for girls currently attending RES: “Make the most of what’s there and don’t hesitate to expand what you are doing. I’ve always been an avid reader, maybe more so than I should be, but I never limit myself to a certain genre. I’m always willing to look at something outside what I have read before…Explore, be open to things, you never know what you are going to find that broadens your horizons.”