ELMHURST – When Andrew Medema was 5, his parents immigrated to the United States from Usquert, Netherlands, settling in Chicago to give the family a better life.
Unfortunately, the Great Depression hit during Medema’s teen years. He dropped out of high school his freshman year to help out on the family farm, but it made him learn the value of work early in life. In fact, he worked until the age of 89.
On Dec. 19, the longtime Elmhurst resident turned 100.
“I grew up in the Depression when you couldn't find a job,” said Medema, who is still as sharp as ever. “It was hard. I got my first decent job in a factory when I was 18. I made 25 cents an hour. I can’t complain.”
He served in the United States Army as a military police officer in California during World War II, then drove a street car in Chicago.
“Nobody got in your way, that’s for sure. It was six years before they put trolleybuses on. Then they took them off the street, and they gave you propane buses," Medema said.
He did that for 25 years, memorizing all the streets downtown.
In 1950, Medema moved the family to 4200 Roosevelt Road in Elmhurst.
“It was December. It was a new neighborhood, and the truck couldn’t get in because of the snow,” Medema said. “We had to move the furniture a block on sleds. Butterfield Road was a gravel road at that time.”
Medema got a job at the school district working as a custodian, a position he held for 27 years.
“Our boys got a good education there,” he said. “One went to Lincoln. Another went to Sandberg. Then they built Jackson. Our middle boy was one of the first to go to that school.”
A diehard Cubs fan, Medema was thrilled when his favorite team finally clinched the World Series this year.
“I never thought it would happen in my lifetime,” he said.
Medema even received a congratulatory birthday letter from Cubs owner Tom Ricketts.
About 100 family and friends gathered at a birthday celebration Dec. 18 for the man who has 19 grandchildren, 11 great-grandchildren and 2 great-great-grandchildren.
One party attendee was Jack Carter, newly retired from a 25-year stint managing Butler National Golf Club in Oak Brook, where Medema worked part time from 1984 until age 89.
“We had two fellas that manned the front desk,” Carter said. “Bob and Andy were like Jack Klugman and Tony Randall. They were just a joy. The members and staff loved him. We used to go out and play golf on our day off on Mondays then go play poker and have a little dinner. When we went downtown he knew every street. It was amazing.”
Medema’s youngest son, Rich, 70, said his dad was always focused on family.
“What I remember most about my dad is that it was ‘My Three Sons,’" Rich Medema said. “He was always hard working to support the family. That’s why he moved to Elmhurst when I was 4. He said, ‘This is the life I want for my boys.' It was a brilliant move on his part.”
Andrew Medema still keeps busy at the retirement facility in Downers Grove where he currently lives, although he said he's starting to relax.
Medema said he has no secret to his longevity.
“I don’t know. It could be a lot of things,” he said.
However, he said there is something he does know.
“Do what you want to do, and do it right. Forget yesterday and don’t think about tomorrow, but live for today," Medema said.