From Montrose to Peterson, Kedzie to Pulaski and far beyond, generations of kids knew Ned Singer’s Sports.
It was where Von Steuben, Roosevelt, even Mather and Sullivan high school students bought the required school gym uniforms, where guys bought Converse All-Stars and jock straps, where SAC members bought their club jackets, and where several Chicago schools and community recreational centers bought sports equipment.
For more than 20 years at River Park, a Little League team wore Ned Singer’s Sports on their uniforms. Ned Singer’s Sports also sponsored softball and basketball teams–close to a dozen teams–on the North Side and on the West Side. Sponsoring youth sports meant the store donated team uniforms and jackets.
Howard Glantz, a Von Steuben alum (class of ’55), played on softball and basketball teams sponsored by Ned Singer’s Sports. He recalls going to the store to buy a jock strap for the first time. He knew Mrs. Singer worked at the store and he didn’t want to go in when she was there. Every day after school he’d peek in the store window and see her. At the end of the week, he couldn’t put it off any longer. Mrs. Singer was working that day and asked Howie what he was looking for. He told her, an athletic supporter.
“What size?” Mrs. Singer asked.
Howie didn’t know what size. He panicked, thinking he’d have to take off his pants and get measured.
Then Mrs. Singer quickly said, “Your waist size.”
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Like many of his Albany Park neighbors, Ned Singer came from Chicago’s West Side. His Eastern European Jewish parents were so poor they were evicted from another apartment every third month. Singer attended Manley High School, played on the basketball team.
After the war, he worked at Marshall Field’s on State in the gun repair department. (Who knew?) One day a loaded shotgun accidentally went off. Buckshot lodged in the ceiling. Singer looked for a safer job.
He became a sales clerk at a sporting goods store at 3344 W. Lawrence called Vange’s, then bought out the business in 1952. Singer’s wife, Bernice Pomerantz Singer, worked the store office when she wasn’t taking care of their five sons. Like other local business owners, they lived in the neighborhood.
Over the years they moved the business, first to 3334 Lawrence, then 3247 Lawrence. They opened a second store in Skokie, where many Albany Park Jews had migrated. They ran the pro shop at the East Bank Club for the first five years of the club’s existence.
Ned and Bea retired in the late 1980s and moved to Florida. He suffered a stroke, then developed non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. When his son Jeff called from Chicago in early 1996, asking did he want attend the first ever Von Steuben-Roosevelt alumni game, Ned said no. He was tired, had just gone through chemo.
Bea told Jeff, leave your father alone, his immune system is compromised, he’ll die if he travels on a plane. As the weeks passed, Jeff asked again and again, until finally Ned told him, back off.
On Friday, February 23, the day before the game, Ned called Jeff to say he’d be on a plane to Chicago.
Jeff met his father at O’Hare on Saturday afternoon and drove straight to Von Steuben. They parked on Kimball Avenue near the school entrance and several guys came out to help Ned up the building steps.
The gym was packed to the rafters, 600 people squeezed into stands that hold 500. Ned and Jeff entered the gym and slowly circled the perimeter of the floor. As people recognized Ned, they stood and cheered.
Men walked up to Ned and introduced themselves as the kids who once played on teams he sponsored, the kids who bought their first pair of school gym shorts at the store on Lawrence. At half-time Marshall Waldo introduced Ned over the P.A. and the place went crazy.
When he was growing up in Albany Park, Jeff felt being Ned Singer’s son was something special. At the alumni game, the feeling was more than special; it was indescribable. From his expression in these photographs, Ned must have felt the same way.
Organized by then Von Steuben Athletic Director and alum Richard Wiener, the historic game drew former players from both schools. None of the players were under 40. Maybe none were under 45. Don Wilens (who played for Von in ’53 and ’54) coached the Von Steuben Panthers and Manny Weincord coached the Roosevelt Rough Riders. Marshall Waldo, Von class of 1962, did the player intros over the P.A. Roosevelt won by one point.
Several months after the game, Ned passed away in Florida. His family established the Ned and Bernice Singer Memorial Athletic Scholarship, which continues to be awarded annually to a Von Steuben student.
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As a girl growing up in that community pre-Title IX, I never participated in organized sports. The first time I walked into Ned Singer’s Sports on Lawrence was in the fall of 1970, the start of my freshman year at Von Steuben. All I bought was a gym uniform, but it was a rite of passage of sorts and the memory, so closely tied to the trauma of freshman P.E., remains with me. We were meeting so many girls from different schools for the first time and the embarrassment of those one-piece sleeveless gym suits with bloomer bottoms, not to mention the shapeless swimsuits and curtainless shower stalls, brought us a bit closer together as a class.
So, it’s been some 40 years I’ve known Ned Singer’s name, but never knew his story. Turns out the story was as memorable as the name.
Acknowledgements: Thanks to Jeff Singer for sharing his parents’ story and photographs. Thanks to Rich Wiener for providing details about the alumni game and the Von Steuben Alumni Association, and thanks to Howie Glantz for sharing his wonderful stories.