JOLIET – Anthony “Butch” Tadey “was a very unusual character.”
Ray Strle, Butch’s friend of 60-plus years, who described him thus, said Butch had an extensive knowledge of history (especially World War II), an inexhaustible capacity for great ideas and a natural leadership style.
“He would just invent these things and say, ‘This is what we’re going to do,’” Ray said. “He always had interesting ideas, so [we] went along with it.”
One great Butch idea was the Frank Gasperich tribute football game.
From childhood through their 50s, Butch, Ray and their friends liked getting together on weekend afternoons to play baseball or football. Often these games occurred at Garnsey Park because many of them grew up in the area.
One friend, Frank Gasperich, was killed in Vietnam. Frank especially loved football. So Butch decided the last game of the season would be dedicated to Frank, with loved ones in attendance, Ray said.
Frank is buried at St. Joe’s cemetery near Garnsey Park, so at halftime, the players would head over there.
“We’d stand around Frank’s grave and sing the national anthem,” Ray said.
Butch had a knack for bringing people of different backgrounds together and loved hosting barbecues for that purpose, Angela Wilkerson of Orland Hills, Butch’s daughter, said.
“One couple met through my dad and got married,” Angela said.
Butch loved reading and was knowledgeable about many topics, including politics, Angela said. In addition to World War II, Butch loved gangster history, sports history and local history.
Angela said she met many famous sports figures at the sports conventions she attended with her father. At age 6, Angela met Pete Rose, actually sat on his lap and received a compliment from him, she said.
“I knew he was important because of the Nestle Crunch commercial,” Angela said. “He looked at me and said, ‘You look like the Nestle Crunch girl.’ ”
Angela had many history adventures with her father, often in cemeteries. Butch loved exploring them and finding notable people, especially Civil War soldiers, and sharing tidbits of their lives with her.
Butch liked Mount Carmel cemetery in Hillside because Al Capone and Sam Giancana are buried there. But father and daughter also wandered through Queen of Heaven Cemetery across the street.
That’s how Angela learned about one of the worst fires in U.S. history, the school fire at Our Lady of the Angels Catholic School in 1958. Three nuns and 92 students died in that fire.
“It was not up to fire code, so a lot of people passed away,” Angela said. “It was pretty bad.”
Angela said she discovered the “nooks and crannies” of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin from all the mini-trips she took with her father.
“He’d say, ‘Let’s go take a ride somewhere and find something,’” Angela said.
Butch planned similar trips with his friends, she said.
“He was a great organizer,” Angela said. “They’d have these camping trips in the woods. He loved to get back to nature.”
Butch came to every one of Angela’s childhood events and coached her Little League team. In her eulogy, Angela wrote, “He got me to ring the Salvation Army bell with him at Christmastime, plant flowers at St. Mary Nativity cemetery and campaign with him to save the homes of Broadway Street in Joliet, which were due for demolition.”
When Angela was in college, he happily helped her research the old Croatian neighborhoods near St. Mary Nativity Church in Joliet for a school project.
She studied in England, and Butch loved meeting with her visiting friends, hearing their experiences and taking them on tours of the area.
In later life, during the 20 years Butch drove a bus for First Student, he regaled his passengers with stories from history. His friendly, engaging mannerisms endeared him to the students.
“They loved him,” Angela said. “When he had a heart attack in 1998, they all rallied and took up a collection for him. He was invited to kids’ graduation parties.”
Butch’s influence certainly rubbed off on Angela.
When Angela taught social studies and language arts at Timber Ridge Middle School in Plainfield, she took her seventh-grade students on one of Chicago cemetery expert Ursula Bielski’s field trips after they read (and loved) one of Bielski’s books.
“The authors rode on the bus with the kids and talked with everyone,” Angela said. “They signed books for those that wanted to buy books.”
Before Butch died Feb. 3 at age 70, Angela reprised one of his favorite childhood memories: visiting the graves of favorite movie stars in California. She took photos of the graves of his favorite stars, such as James Stewart and Errol Flynn.
“He loved Errol Flynn movies,” Angela said.
• To feature someone in “An Extraordinary Life,” contact Denise M. Baran-Unland at 815-280-4122 or firstname.lastname@example.org.