Cornerstone Homes presents an interview with Jerome Klazura, age 89
By Deborah Garrett
New resident Jerome Klazura and his wife of nearly 70 years attended the same school but never knew each other growing up. The story of how they finally married and the life they’ve had together is a legacy in itself and a gift to those who know them.
Jerome Klazura was born in 1924 in Chicago. He attended St. Michael’s School, a Polish Catholic school where 4 nuns taught over 175 students from 1st through 8th grades. His future wife Myra also attended the school.
They have a school picture where Jerome is sitting directly in front of Myra, but because boys and girls were separated into different classes, they didn’t know each other. During high school Myra sat behind Jerome because her last name (Klekowicki) was next to his alphabetically. Myra has always said that she married down in life because she went from a four syllable last name to a three syllable last name. The Polish are very proud of their multi-syllable surnames!
Although they sat near each other during high school, they had different circles of friends. In June of 1942, on his 18th birthday, Jerome was drafted into the Army. He was relocated to Kansas and served in the Army Air Force working on B-29 bombers. A year or so later, Jerome headed back to Chicago on a three-day furlough that changed his life. That evening Myra Klekowicki, who worked as a secretary to the commanding officer in the flight surgeon’s office in Chicago, returned from work. She got off the train and stopped in the local Walgreens to say hello to her friend Rosemary who worked there, and then walked home. An hour later, Jerome disembarked at the same train station, walked to Walgreens and asked Rosemary if any of the local girls were home. He was looking for a date. Rosemary said “Millie (a nickname of Myra’s) just got off the train before you and is home.” Jerome went to her house and asked her out on a date. They went to the movies and Jerome treated her to a meal at the counter restaurant at Walgreens. Myra says now that at the time she liked Jerome’s friend Hank better because Hank had money and took girls to real restaurants…but in hindsight she’s glad she didn’t marry Hank because he ended up having six children!
The three-day furlough flew by and soon Jerome was back in Kansas at the Air Force base. One day he called Myra and said “if we were to get married, where would you like it to be…in Kansas or Chicago?” Myra’s mother approved -- Jerome was a good Polish boy, and a Catholic to boot! But Mama wanted to wait until they had enough rations saved up for a proper wedding dinner.
In 1944 girls could get married at age 18, but men had to be 21. Because Jerome was only 20 years old, he needed his mother’s permission to get a marriage license. They got married at Myra’s home in Chicago on January 24, 1944 during another three day furlough. They had a wonderful wedding dinner and enjoyed music from a concertina and piano accordion in the basement, and then Jerome had to go back to Kansas once again.
After their wedding, Jerome was transferred to Hawaii. Because Myra was working in the Civil Service, she had the opportunity to join him, but both of their mothers said “No!” They were afraid the couple would stay in Hawaii and never come back!
On New Year’s Day 1947, Jerome and Myra welcomed a son into their lives. Myra revealed that although her son Barry was 8 lb 10 ½ oz, she never needed maternity clothes. She only had to let out one pleat in her jumper. Her secret was radishes. She would go to the store, buy 3 for a dime, and eat one or two on her way back home. She also says Barry was one of the most beautiful babies ever born. This was partially due to a C-section but I’m sure the rest was due to good genes! Their son was to be their only child. Myra developed a blood clot in her leg and further pregnancies would have been too much of a risk.
In 1947, Jerome was released from the military and returned home to Chicago. He received a degree in Aeronautical Engineering from the Aeronautical University of Chicago (now Illinois Institute of Technology). A short time after graduation, he packed up wife and baby and they drove to San Diego for a job interview in the Aeronautical industry, arriving only to find that the job was no longer available due to the fact that the war time contract was not renewed. Myra says “We drove back to Chicago on bald tires and a baby and had to go live with Mama!”
Jerome soon got a job at Argonne National Laboratory outside Chicago, the first science and engineering research center in the United States. Argonne was initially formed to work on nuclear reactors as part of the Manhattan Project. Jerome worked on developing the nuclear reactor for the first Atomic submarine. Then he decided to change his specialty and took night courses in Mechanical Engineering. He changed careers and began working on large production machines in the food industry, for companies such as Kraft, Kellogg’s and Keebler. Ultimately his sweet tooth won out and he rose through the ranks to finally become Vice President at Keebler Cookies. To this day he keeps a drawer full of cookie snacks in his bedside table.
Jerome and Myra enjoyed Ballroom dancing, especially the fox trot. Dancing was one of their favorite pastimes “back in the days when gentlemen had to wear a jacket.”
Jerome was particularly partial to Big Band singer Helen O’Connell and he has many of her recordings. They also loved to travel. During their marriage, they have visited almost every state in the nation and most of Europe from the U.K. to the old Soviet Union, plus Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco. One of their favorite trips was driving historic Route 66. They can still remember the homemade bread at the Mom & Pop stores and restaurants along the way. The historic route is no longer on modern maps, so for those of you who like history here’s a little bit of trivia about Route 66:
Q. How many states did Route 66 run through?
A. Eight. From Chicago to Santa Monica, it went through Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California. It also crosses 3 time zones.
Q. How long was Route 66?
A. It was 2448 miles long.
Q. When was Route 66 created, and when was it decommissioned?
A. Route 66 was established in 1926, and was removed from the United States Highway System in 1985 after having been replaced by the new Interstate Highway System.
Q. When was the song Route 66 composed and who sang it?
A. The song (Get Your Kicks on) Route 66 was written in 1946 and first recorded by Nat King Cole. Over 50 singers have recorded it since, including: Louis Prima, Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters, Chuck Berry, The Manhattan Transfer, and The Rolling Stones.
Jerome and Myra have also done extensive travelling outside the United States. They have visited Europe, Turkey, Egypt and Poland. In addition to Chicago and the outlying area, they lived in Richmond, VA and Battle Creek, MI prior to retiring in California. Their proudest achievement is their son Barry, who has worked in management in the consumer electronics industry and helped the largest karaoke company in Japan enter the U.S. market. I personally think 69 years of marriage is also a major accomplishment and something to be proud of. We are happy to add Jerome to our family here at Cornerstone Homes.
-- Deborah Garrett is a professional singer and owner of Flashback Music Memories. Her company provides memory-enhancing music and activities to the elderly. Learn more at www.flashbackmusicmemories.com.