For 70 years, Bette Rogers has been coming to Maryville. In the last decade, she has been bearing gifts, as “a little payback maybe.”
On the first of May, Bette made the trip from her home in Norridge to drop off a scarf and an afghan she had crocheted for JJ, a young Madden girl and mother Bette had read about in the April Voice. The story told how JJ had made the 90-minute one-way trip from Madden to her high school at 99th and Ashland, where she landed a job after school. A photo of the bus stop at Grand and Ashland ran with the story. “I made the scarf so JJ wouldn’t be so cold waiting for the bus,” explained Bette, 74, a Maryville alum from the early 1940s. “I made the afghan for the baby. It’s got bright colors and it’s a little big for a baby, but it will be warm, too.”
The scarves take about four hours and the afghans take about five weeks, crocheting for four hours a night as she watches “Survivor,” and “Amazing Race,” and some public television shows. She has been crocheting for 40 years, and bringing the fruit of her labor to Maryville for the last dozen or so years. It’s familiar ground.
“My mother was working nights as a supervisor in a factory during World War II making tank treads,” Bette explained. A West Side parish priest told Bette’s mother, Liz, that Maryville was a place that would care for her daughter while she supported the war effort. Here, at the age of about four she fell under the watchful and caring eye of Sister Marcelline at Mercy Hall.
“One night I was crying and told Sister Marcelline I missed my mother. She took me by the hand and brought me to her room. She handed me the phone and let me talk to my mother. That was very comforting” Bette recalled with a smile.
The little white lie stayed secret for 20 years.
“I came out here on Saturdays to play with the kids when I was in my late 20s. Sister Marcelline told me that that night she put me on the phone with one of the other sisters upstairs,” Bette recalled. Soon afterwards, she shared the story and a smile with her mother. Bette also related how Sister Marcelline used to guide her hand to write postcards to her mother.
After leaving Maryville, Bette’s mom found another job and remarried, this time to William Wittman, whom Bette considers her father. Bette went to Madonna High School on the Northwest Side, and later in life, Bette worked for nearly 20 years for Ekco Housewares in Franklin Park as the secretary for the director of transportation.
Not only does she make the trek out to Maryville twice a year, every other day before the first snow, she drives out to All Saints to visit the graves of her parents. All these years, Bette has been coming back to Maryville, where she learned important lessons as a young girl.
“I learned how important family was,” Bette said. And the young family that is the beneficiary of Bette’s hard work—JJ and her toddler—are in Bette’s thoughts.
“Taking that bus, getting a job, going to school—that means she wants to make a change,” Bette said. “I have high hopes for her.”