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A Night for Reminiscing : Ex-Chicagoans Bear Up Well at 'Reunion' Party

January 20, 1986|BETH ANN KRIER | Times Staff Writer

Miss Chicago Bears of 1947, Helen Bates Kaapke, currently of Granada Hills, was singing--for those waiting to get into "All Chicago Night"--the old Chicago Bears fight song ("Bear down, Chicago Bears. Make every play. Lead the way to victory").

"I didn't realize there were so many displaced Chicagoans," Kaapke declared as she surveyed the more than 1,100 Windy City renegades who turned out Saturday night for a unique and appropriately timed City of Hope benefit.

Had Kaapke learned the Bears' latest fight song, "The Super Bowl Shuffle," the rap tune performed by the confident Chicago Bears' Shufflin' Crew? (The Bears play the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl next Sunday.)

"Not really," said Miss Chicago Bears of 1947, still waiting. "But I've been screaming my lungs out watching the games."

Waiting was the name of the game Saturday night at the Park Plaza Hotel, the former Elks Club lodge near MacArthur Park where All Chicago Night was held.

As Chicago native comedian Shelley Berman told the audience, "I am still waiting in line for a damn hot dog. I have never been so miserable in my life. I hate Chicago. . . . It's very nice to be here with you. I'm looking forward to next year when I can miss it."

The delays to get in and to eat were so extended that Frank Swertlow, a columnist for the Los Angeles Daily News and a former TV critic for the Chicago Sun-Times and the Chicago Daily News, wondered aloud if former Chicago mayor Jane Byrne had organized the event.

But despite the lines at this everyman's benefit (tickets were $18 each and dress was early high school), guests appeared to have a terrific time.

They feasted on Flooky's hot dogs (sample line conversation: "I don't remember Flooky's"; "It was on the West Side"), deep-dish Chicago pizza and White Castle "sliders" (hamburgers), referred to as "sobering-up food," by one attendee whose wife took home half a dozen of the miniature burgers.

There were middle-age matrons wearing their old cheerleading skirts. And elderly men dressed in high school letter sweaters.

It was not uncommon to witness a woman accessorizing a glittering evening kimono with a Bears hat. Or to see people entirely covered with Bears, Cubs or even White Sox paraphernalia, sometimes with signs attached to their hats reading "Need Super Bowl Tix."

High-Spirited Group

Though guests at this "reunion" frequently didn't know anyone save for the people they arrived with, that didn't stop many in this high-spirited group from reminiscing with complete strangers.

"The conviviality, the eagerness for connection is incredible," observed Joseph Turner, a Venice-based management consultant who was graduated from Northwestern University and lived for 10 years in Chicago. "Someone just got very excited when he saw on my name tag that my last name was the same as his."

Likewise, people who didn't know Mitch Paradise but loved Big Herm's hot dogs struck up conversations with him when they spotted his Big Herm's T-shirt.

"Big Herm's was the greatest hot dog stand in the North Side of Chicago," said Paradise, a '65 graduate of Niles East High School in Skokie.

Big Herm's Is Gone

"They tore down Big Herm's in '85 to make a parking lot. My high school is no longer my high school, but at least it wasn't torn down. Now they use it to film movies like 'Sixteen Candles' and 'Risky Business.' "

For entertainment, there was group singing ("Chicago" and "My Kind of Town"), brief speeches (from ex-Chicagoans such as L.A. County Sheriff Sherman Block and City Councilwoman Joy Picus, whose office was bombarded by requests from people wanting tickets after the event was sold out), a slide show (featuring such sights as red cars, the "El," Lake Michigan impersonating Antarctica, assorted corners in Chicago and the clock at Carson, Pirie, Scott department store) and, of course, the video of the Chicago Bears Shufflin' Crew: "The Super Bowl Shuffle."

In honor of the event, Mayor Tom Bradley and Councilwoman Picus had proclaimed the day "Chicago Day."

"That was awfully nice of the mayor," Paradise figured, "after what we (the Bears) did to him (the Rams) in the playoffs."

Miss Chicago Bears 1947 thought it was even nicer that the Chicago City Council had toasted the Bears with California orange juice.

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