Eulogy of Teodor Jaremus
We are gathered here today to lay to rest, Teodor Jaremus, a man whose life should be remembered for itís toughness, for his adaptability and frugality, for his love of life and love of his family and friends, and his concern for those less fortunate than him.
Let me tell you a little bit about Ted, the boy.
Teodor Jaremus was born February 5th, 1923, the second child of Polish migrant farm laborers. He was born in Gryfice, Germany, where his father was picking potatoes. A few years later, the family moved back to Poland and settled down in the new port city of Gdynia. The family had a tough life. In the early years, his parents had a boarding house on the harbor. But when the city decided to expand the harbor, they condemned the homes in the area for business expansion giving the Jaremusí an empty suburban lot in exchange. His father was a political labor activist and a drinker, whose tough style and altercations got him thrown into prison. When Tedís father came home from working on a ship, somehow he had little to show for it. As a child, it was rare to have meat on the table, and a pair of holey shoes had to last for years. Tedís parents took the kids into the woods where they would gather mushrooms to supplement their meals.
In September 1939 when WWII broke out, Ted was 15-1/2 years old. As the Germans took control of Poland, many Poles were recruited as ďVolk-deutschĒ, non-German conscripts that were offered an easier way their families. Ted was one of only a few Poles from the area that refused to fight for the Germans. He was publicly beaten up by the Germans to humiliate him for his defiance. Most of the Polish Volk-deutsch were sent to the Russian front lines where they were the first to die. At this young age, Ted was shipped off as a slave laborer, while his mother and sister were put into a concentration camp. They lived to see another day.
Let me tell you about Ted, the young man.
While working in the coal mines in Verdun, France, he came up to the surface for a break and pulled a bit of straw from the hut at the entrance to the mine, to chew on. The German guard, thinking he was trying to shake the hut and signal the overhead US bombers Ė drew his gun on Ted and prepared to shoot him. He pleaded in French as best he could that he didnít know about the bombers, which he hadnít. Somehow he went on to see another day.
Later that year, there was a partial mine collapse and timbers fell on him breaking his collarbone and leg. Somehow he survived another day.
Ted had a talent for language. In the prison camp, he managed to pick up enough German and French to become the language translator for the Germans to their Polish and French laborers. While in the labor camp, one of his friends was being beaten by a German officer. Ted suggested to the officer that he ďpick on someone his own sizeĒ. While Ted wasnít exactly his size, he was a tough young man. He beat up the officer so bad, he knocked one eye out. Ted was put into solitary confinement for 30 days with only bread and water, from which he almost died. But somehow he survived another day.
When the American army came through Verdun in 1944 he joined up and served as a munitions laborer and as a cook. He gained a great appreciation for the American soldiers who seemed to possess an openness and strength of character that he hadnít experienced. He took pride in cooking a good meal for the Americanís. The camp commander publicly singled him out for his cooking efforts. This was the beginning of his cooking career.
After the war he went back home to Gdynia, Poland, where he obtained training in the culinary arts. He became a cook, working on a ship from that seaport. In 1948 he took advantage of shore leave in Galveston, Texas and ďjumped shipĒ making his way up to Coloma, Michigan, and eventually down to Chicago, Illinois, where he met George Gidzinski who introduced him to one of his daughters, my mother, Eugenia. He was an illegal immigrant.
Let me tell you about Ted, the father and provider.
While Ted was a proud Pole, a member of St. Cyril & Methodious and later this church, and a member of the PNA and the Polish Political League, he was also adaptable and a survivor. He plied not only his culinary skills, but also his hard earned language skills into becoming the head chef of several German restaurants; the Wishing Well, the Golden Ox, and the Red Star Inn. Why did he do it? Because at that time in Chicago, there few Polish restaurants. So he took his skills, saw the reality of the marketplace and used them for what they were worth for the benefit of his family. And he gave a lot in return. He usually working 6 and sometimes 7 days a week. But he never complained.
At Dohlís Morton House he carried the title ďexecutive chefĒ but he was never an executive. He worked on his feet all day long. If he wasnít working behind the broiler, he would function as butcher to save money for the restaurant. And he loved his work and he loved making good food. Ben and I know, because we worked there. In 1985 when the Chicago Bears won the super bowl, and we were talking about the game and Mike Ditka, Iíll never forget dad saying ďIíd sure like to feed that guyĒ. He took great pleasure in providing sustenance.
He also had a love of nature. He loved to go walking in the woods picking mushrooms at Johnnyís house or at the Miami woods near home. He did this because as a child, his parents sent him to secret places in the woods to pick mushrooms so that they would have food to eat. His life was about frugality and lack of waste. When we were growing up, eating the food on our plate was a rule. It was a sin not to clean your plate. You needed to eat it all, because you never know when the enemy might be at the gate.
As kids growing up in a suburban environment we found it hard to relate to his strange stories from a different world. But in í62 when we came awfully close to having a nuclear confrontation with the Russians over missiles in Cuba, and we were being shown in school how to hide under our desks in case of nuclear attack and there were family conversations about building a fall out shelter, these stories of survival and toughness all of a sudden didnít seem quite so crazy.
Ted had a big heart. From the 50ís through at least the 70ís while we didnít have much, he and mom would send care packages back to Tedís mother and sister in communist Poland. He opened his home to many a young Polish man trying to get his start in the world. Mike Plewa was a good example. When Ted and I were in Poland in 1991, we met Mikeís father who asked if there was any way his son could come to America. Mike came and stayed with Ted off and on for 5 years. Mike was a massage therapist, and dad was glad to trade a daily massage for room and board. Mike is now a doctor of Therapy at a University in Poland, living a successful life. He is a life long friend of Tedís and mine. Tedís generosity hasnít been forgotten.
As my sister said the other day, Ted had a hard time with our Throw Away Society. It was hard coming from a family where they barely had clothes to wear seeing people throw out so much. As we all know, he collected a lot of stuff from the curbside. He used some of it, sold some of it, but mostly just gave it away to whoever could use it. It was a sin to throw things away and not use it.
Finally, Ted was a family man. When we were living back on Kildare, I remember many times driving to The Edgewater Beach Hotel with dad to pick up grandpa, who didnít drive. He worked hard to give his wife Genia a wonderful home in Morton Grove. This wasnít something he wanted. He wanted an apartment building, a family house back in the city. But he bowed to momís wishes.
I remember how dad would put grandpa to work Dohlís Morton House. Grandpa was in his 70ís. Was he taking advantage of grandpa? It sure seemed so, until I talked with Grandpa. Grandpa appreciated the occasional work and liked to help out. And when Grandpa came to live with mom and dad for the last 3 years of his life, it wasnít easy. Dad and mom were running their own business, working 12-hour days, but taking care of grandpa was also a requirement. His actions spoke louder than words.
When mom died from that terrible Scleroderma disease, dad did everything he could to keep mom at home. When it came time to put mom in hospital, he practically lived at the hospital to be by her side. Watching mom suffer like that was probably the hardest thing my dad experienced. But it was his way to do whatever he could.
For his children, we have many wonderful memories of our childhood. Ted encouraged us to succeed and did his best to provide a basis for us to do so. When we got older, he was always there to provide a meal, a bed, some advice and a helping hand, but mostly a lot of food and a lot of advice. As we grew up, got married and experienced our American success, somehow he saw that he couldnít help us. We didnít need the things he found on the curbside, although his food was always a treat.
Despite Tedís quirky ways, all of his kids have successful marriages with families, nice homes and good jobs. Not something that happens very often in todayís society. Iíd like to think that some of the lessons that Ted taught us made a difference in our lives. So let us remember Ted for his courage to live, for his strength and perseverance in the face of hardship, and for his love for his family and care those less fortunate than him, a life that Jesus Christ would, I think, be proud of.
By his son, Rolfe Jaremus
Written December 24, 2005
This page was last updated 08/31/10