BERWYN – Lillian Hevrdejs of Berwyn will look you square in the eyes and tell you she’s a nosy person. She was never one to sit around. She had to be out, working, talking to people and seeing what was going on in the world.
Why she equates curiosity and staying sharp as a tack with being nosy is anyone’s guess. But when you are about to celebrate your 100th birthday, who’s going to argue?
On April 15, Lillian will be a century old. A series of parties are being planned by her expansive family.
Lillian said she didn’t want a big party. It’s not that she’s anti-social – far from it. “Wonderful” is a word she uses freely and often when she describes her family, both those who are gone and those still here, especially her nieces and nephews. She’s big on sending little notes just to say “hello” or support her friends and family members in need. When someone was sick, Lillian was there with something she baked.
“I like people,” she said. “You’ve got to be interested in people to make life interesting,” she said.
Lillian married Otto Hevrdejs in 1936, and started a life together that would have them setting up a temporary home in all 48 U.S. States. Otto repaired canning machines and was sent wherever his talents were needed. Lillian went with him.
“When we would travel we would stay in private homes,” she said. “But I never stayed inside. I had to move. I’m nosey. I had to go out and see what was going on. I saw a lot in life and have been everywhere.”
She attended Morton High School but never made it to graduation. The Depression came, and it was tme to go to work. Lillian went to beauty school.
“I don’t like to sit around, I like to keep busy,” she said.
Lillian and her sister, Helen Forst, owned two beauty shops together – The Mode on Cuyler Avenue and The Annex on Cermak Road.
The sisters closed The Mode to take care of their mother, Magdalena Nemecek, when she became ill with cancer.
We had a lot of fun together,” she said. “I liked to work. The people in Berwyn are nice. My husband used to say: There’s something wrong with you, you like to work. I had a good husband and a good marriage.”
Her niece, Jan Frost Plonis, lives with Lillian in the house that Otto bought in 1937.
“Janet and I go shopping and do what we have to do,” Lillian said.
Together, they tend a garden in the backyard, take an exercise class at Proksa Park, and visit Lillian’s friends who are living in retirement homes or assisted care facilities.
Lillian the beautician likes to take out a comb and coif her friends’ hairdos.
She’s big on reading as well.
“I like to read. I’ll read anything – newspapers, magazines, books. The time is never boring,” she said
She and Janet like to go out to dinner to some of Lillian’s favorite restaurants, including the McCook Restaurant and the Riverside Restaurant, for Bohemian food.
“I’ll eat anything that doesn’t eat me first,” she said. “Of course, I like Italian food, too.”
Janet remembers when the family would come over to Aunt Lillian’s on Sunday’s for roast pork, dumplings and sauerkraut.
“She defies all laws of nutrition,” Janet said. “She loves coffee and sweets. Her attitude has always been amazing.”
Living from a time when electricity and indoor plumbing was almost futuristic, to an era where a library can be stored on a microchip, she has obviously seen a lot. Over the years, Lillians has seen 18 presidents, horse-drawn transportation, the birth of television and talking films, eight major wars, computers and a man on the moon.
“That surprised me the most,” she said.
She met one of the moon men when Astronaut Eugene Cernan attended the opening of the Czech-American Center in Berwyn. She treasures a photo taken of herself and the astronaut with a Czech heritage.
“He was the most gentle man,” she said. “He had a firm handshake, but was so gentle.”
And then there was the Beatles.
“I’d rather watch the astronauts,” she said.