This Road Less Traveled is about a woman who is the last of a group of 7 women who were friends, confidants and support for each other for some 60 years. They called themselves the Dreamers forming a bond in high school in the mid 1940’s. They were “there for each other” from high school to weddings to baptisms to funerals and everything in between.
Frances Mae Resek Rottman is the last living member of the group. She is the Last Dreamer. Her Road Less Traveled is a story of friendship that was once common but has since become so rare. It is also a story of a place and time that were once very common. It’s a story of jobs, people, families and communities that were homogeneous and where churches, playgrounds and schools were full. Where people were members of unions, ethnic clubs, service groups and looked out for each other. A place and time when men worked and women managed the home. A time when mom saw kids to the bus in the morning and waited for them when the bus dropped them off. A time when there was no day care and families gathered around a radio in the evening to listen to programs such as the Lone Ranger, Fibber McGee and Molly and The Shadow. Or, maybe a few families had a small black and white television and watched programs the parents wanted to watch.
It was a time when parents were in charge and kids did what they were told. A time when phrases like “wait til your father gets home”, “children should be seen and not heard”, “no whispering at the dinner table”, “because I said so” and “a woman’s work is never done” were common. This is the story of the Last Dreamer and of the time and place where she lived.
The story begins in 1943 when four high school girls in Lorain, Ohio formed a social club called the Dreamers. In the next few years they would add a few more members but kept the group small. They created a constitution and by-laws for the club and even a “club creed” which was recited at the first club meeting each January and at the initiation of new members. They supported each other over the years….community, home, church and families. Weddings, baptisms, showers, birthdays, graduations, first communions, funerals and going away parties were all celebrated together.
They all grew up in Depression and WWII so they were used to saving and getting by with little. Hand-me-down clothes were common and stretching the budget was an art form. All were Catholic. It didn’t take a lot to make them happy…just good health for all, a nice home and friends and family to share life together. Cooking, cleaning and sewing were a constant. Baking was a special art to be enjoyed by all. Literally dozens of nut rolls, cookies, fresh-baked bread, cakes and pies were prepared to share with all family and friends especially on holidays. Every dinner meal concluded with a dessert of some sort….always made from scratch. Every birthday was celebrated with a special birthday cake for the child, parent, relative or friend. All religious holidays were respectfully observed. No meat eaten on Fridays and pork with sauerkraut on New Year’s Day to ensure good luck for the coming year. Family reunions and union picnics were common. Life was good. “We had no idea what would have been better,” Fran once commented for an article on the Dreamers. The Dreamers were a microcosm of their community.
“Do small things with great love” Mother Theresa of Calcutta
Initially all members were called Miss including new member “Miss Franny Resek” welcomed in May of 1946. In just a few years all would become Mrs. Six of the seven were married between 1947 and 1948. Miss Franny would become Mrs. Robert Rottman in May of 1948. She served as Dreamers club president in 1950.
Some 50 years after they formed their club a newspaper story chronicled their friendship. This touched a nerve with many, many people. In fact, the Dreamers became somewhat of a national story. They received quite a bit of attention and there was talk of a possible television movie to be made about them. Some organizations wanted to acknowledge their story so they were invited to a number of special luncheons, programs and events. They were a bit uneasy with all the attention as they just preferred to go about their daily lives with little fanfare.
Lorain, Ohio was like other working class towns in America up to and after WWII. Places like Flint, Michigan, Gary, Indiana, Erie and Johnstown, Pennsylvania and others shared the same story. Men came home from the war, went to work and started families. Women left the workplace, returned home and became homemakers. The people of Lorain, like many similar towns in the Great Lakes region, made their living and livelihood from manufacturing. Thousands of men worked in steel mills, factories and other plants. Many were first generation Americans with parents who emigrated in the early 1900’s mostly from Eastern Europe.
Joe and Anna Resek were typical of the people living and working in Lorain. There were many ethnic social centers such as the American Slovak Club, the Polish Club, the Italian American Society, the Croatian club and others. There were also many churches (29) of all denominations. The world of the working class people of Lorain revolved around family and friends, their work, their church, their ethnicity (though all fiercely loyal Americans) and their community. Most of the families were large and all lived near each other. A 1956 photo from the extended Resek family is a good indication of the size and closeness of the families of this era.
After WWII, many immigrants came from Mexico and Puerto Rico and were joined by workers from Pennsylvania and West Virginia to work in auto factories. They followed the pattern set by the first wave of workers in Lorain and organized ethnic clubs, joined churches, raised their families and celebrated their heritage in America. As such, Lorain has always been a city of many nationalities. There are approximately 55 different cultures living there. Even today Lorain celebrates its ethnic roots with an annual International Festival (68 years in 2018) each summer. The population of Lorain was about 50, 000 in 1950 and peeked to 81,000 in 1975. At one time there were as many as four high schools (Frances graduated from Lorain St. Mary’s in 1946). Today, the population is about 65,000 and there is one high school.
Disappearing Small Downtown America
When Frances Resek was a teenager, the downtown stores of Lorain were full and people shopped them. National chain stores such as JC Penny, Sears and Roebuck, W.W. Woolworth and S.S. Kresge (later K-Mart) anchored both sides of Broadway. Mixed in between them was as a hearty assortment of independent stores. Small local chains like Neisners, Hough Bakery, Sutter’s Shops and Fanny Farmer candies were there. Men and women’s clothing stores, shoe stores, restaurants and repair shops were common. And movie theatres were a primary part of any downtown entertainment district attracting hundreds to see the latest movies Hollywood created. In 1944 Lorain had eight movie theaters: Palace, Ohio, Tivoli, Dreamland, Lorain, Pearl, Grove and Elvira. The Palace is the only remaining theatre offering a limited entertainment schedule. Next to three of those theatres were the small shops owned by Mr.
John and Janet Sutter had five small stores in downtown Lorain. Mostly, they were snack shops offering nuts, candies and ice cream. They catered to movie goers as well as teenagers looking to meet up with their friends. Oddly enough, the Last Dreamer worked at the store next to the Dreamland theatre which was destroyed by fire in 1947 and reopened in spring, 1948.
Mr. Sutter and his shops would play an important part in the life of the Last Dreamer. Frances and her sister Agnes (WWII Navy veteran) worked the counter for Mr. Sutter. She and her sisters, Josephine (WWII Navy veteran) and Beatrice, actually met their husbands (Bob, Leo and Eddie) at Sutter’s snack shops. The Kent State University Fashion Museum recently had an exhibit on the clothing fashions of the 1940’s. During a visit, Frances saw the women’s military uniforms from WWII commenting “those are the exact uniforms my
Mr. Sutter was well respected and revered by all employees including Frances. He took good care of his employees and was well-known for it. In fact, if any of the employees (mostly high school girls) needed a ride home after a late shift he would take them home. Even though it may have only been a few city blocks and trouble was nowhere near what it is today, he would take no chances with
Mr. Sutter and his wife were known for their generosity. They hosted all of their employees and their families to an annual company picnic. And, on July 25, 1948 John Sutter gave free candy to over 2,000 children attending "Kids Day" at Cleveland Stadium. The Indians won the World Series that year. Fran and all her family and friends have been life-long Indians fans….maybe this is where it all started? Fran’s love of the Indians really soared when she got to meet the Indians in the mid-1990’s. It turns out one of her special Dreamer events was lunch with the Cleveland Indians. She and the Dreamers had a wonderful time and she got to meet her favorite player, Omar Visquel.
After high school, Frances worked at the Lorain Telephone Company until she married. Some years later, she worked both inside and outside the home as a supervisor for girls at the Lorain County Detention Center for 11 years.
The Dream Continues
Change was rampant in the 1960’s. From bobby sox to bra-less, from the optimism of the Camelot White House to the despair of dead and wounded college students in Ohio and Mississippi (one of the students shot at Kent State University was an Eagle Scout and ROTC member from Lorain). The dream starts to erode with the assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963 followed by race riots across the country. Later in the 1960’s Robert F Kennedy and Martin Luther King were assassinated. The Vietnam War was raging and Richard Nixon resigned the presidency in 1974. It must have been difficult to be a Dreamer in the 60’s and 70’s. The world they knew and loved was quickly fading away. But, they remained loyal friends and supported each other through these turbulent times just as they had through other life events.
“Courage is the presence of faith rather than the absence of fear”WWII Veteran.
Though many people have moved away, those who remain in Lorain are hopeful the city can regain its vitality. The waterfront along the Black River and Lakeview Park (on the Lake Erie shore) are once again popular gathering places for families. The historic Lorain Lighthouse remains a beacon both literally and figuratively. The downtown is nothing like it once was but there are glimmers of economic opportunity. The Palace theatre remains a centerpiece for downtown entertainment. Clubs like the American Slovak club and others continue to thrive and the fish fry of wonderful Lake Erie Yellow Perch is always available…especially during Lent. Some churches and schools have closed but many remain.
The essence of the Dreamers is also still alive though like everything it has adjusted. Frances will be 91 years in January, 2018 and begin her 72nd year as a Dreamer. In addition to being the Last Dreamer, she is the last of the six “Resek girls”. Her beloved “baby sister” Bea passed away in 2016. She will miss her husband, Bob, of 63 years.
She will spend her birthday as she has for pretty much all of her life…..with as many of her family and friends together as possible. She has four children, eight grandchildren and 7 great grandchildren. Most will be able to join her. Perhaps they will all celebrate Mass together at St. Anthony of Padua church on the east side of Lorain; her home parish for almost 70 years where her children went to grade school and her daughters were married (including Sue and I).
She will still be in the kitchen though in a more supportive, supervisory role. As she has for all her life, she will cherish those around her and celebrate the good times family and friends are blessed to share. She will also fondly recall the many birthday celebrations she had with her Dreamer friends and the Lorain they all loved. Most likely, they will remember her as well. She will probably feel the same way she always has, “We had no idea what would have been better.”
Author note: If a reader would like to suggest someone to be considered the subject of a future Road, e-mail the publisher at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Frances Resek and Robert Rottman Wed in May, 1948.
Frances with Cleveland Indian Shortstop Omar Vizquel
The Last Dreamer and her Great Grand-dog Daisy in June of 2017
Downtown Lorain, circa 1950s.
The Road Less Traveled is a recurring feature that describes the path creative, interesting people took to get to where they are in life. Most creative people have traveled very interesting paths to get to where they are … usually zig-zagging a lot, shifting artistic gears, retracing steps, exploring new passions, revisiting previous works, failing a whole bunch, and generally bouncing back often. All these experiences are part of their creative profile and serve to motivate and inspire them. This feature tells that story. This issue of The Road Less Traveled is about a woman who is the last of a group of 7 women who were friends, confidants and support for each other for some 60 years.
Resek Family Reunion; Approximately 1956: The Last Dreamer is Seated in the First Row, Second from the Left.
The Last Dreamer
Assorted Memorabilia from the Dreamers Scrapbook Starting in 1946
Dr. Patrick O’Connor