Ever since I first heard about former Roosevelt High School basketball coach Manny Weincord, I’ve wanted to meet him. He’s known by everyone I’ve ever talked to about Albany Park way back when. Coach Manny not only grew up in Albany Park, he worked there as an adult. Who better to tell me how things used to be?
First we talk about how it is going into his 49th year of coaching. Actually, he retired 9 years ago but for Manny, life after retirement isn’t much different from life before retirement. This season he is working as assistant basketball coach at Northside Prep.
“Hey, you’re back in the old neighborhood,” I say. “Yes,” Manny replies, “right where Lerner’s was.”
This is what is so remarkable about writing about where I grew up. It takes two minutes for us, despite being years apart in age and just meeting for the first time, to discover we share a memory of a long-gone hot dog stand.
Growing up in Albany Park
Manny’s family lived at several Albany Park addresses, but the address he remembers exactly is the one where his grandparents lived: 4708 N. Central Park Avenue. They were 16 people in a three-bedroom apartment. Twenty-two relatives living within a block and half of their home.
His grandmother spoke—more accurately, screamed—all day long in Yiddish. (Maybe it was the 16 people in one apartment?) During her tirades, Manny’s grandfather, an ex-prizefighter with extraordinary patience, kept quiet and winked at Manny. Only once did his grandfather lose his temper, and that time his fist left a gaping hole in the kitchen wall.
Manny attended nearly all the Albany Park schools: kindergarten at Hibbard; 7th and 8th grades at Haugen and high school at Roosevelt. He played sports at the Albany Park Boys Club and Max Strauss JCC, where he moved through various jobs and eventually became athletic director. He was leader of his club, the Condors, and sponsor for the Torpedoes.
Manny, called Mendel at Hebrew school, had his Bar Mitzvah at the Drake Avenue Shul. He remembers seeing movies at the Alba, Terminal, Admiral, Drake, Rivoli and Commodore and playing sports at Jensen Park. The hot dog stands, soda fountains, delicatessens of his day were the Purity (“50¢ corned beef!”), the Bagel, the Terminal Grill (“15 stools, no booths”), Maury’s (“a philosopher and an inspiration”), Lerner’s, Rudisches, Cooper & Cooper, Glick’s, Al’s Hot Dogs and Korb’s Delicatessen. The drug stores, bakeries, butchers and grocers were Lesser Drugs, M&B, Karl’s, Fine’s, Becker’s, and Kuznitsky’s. And the people, well, too many to name here.
From his freshman year, 1946, Manny played sports at Roosevelt. At that time, the school fielded a basketball team in the lightweight division for boys 5’7” and under. The team had strong players and they often beat the school’s varsity team in scrimmages. The boys were short but fast and agile. Manny was so fast he placed second in the city in the 100-yard dash.
Back in those days, 700 to 800 spectators filled the stands for Roosevelt basketball games. Manny compares the turnout to his later years coaching at Roosevelt, when often there were more players on the floor than spectators in the stands.
Coach Manny at Roosevelt
Talking about the empty stands reminded me of a basketball game when I was at Von. It was 1971 or ’72, Von playing at Roosevelt, when was called a riot broke out. As a result, when the two teams met again, no spectators were allowed in the gym.
“The whole thing was planned in advance,” Manny tells me. “Kids–who knows if they were students–came up on the El specifically to start something. They rushed the floor, were throwing things. People got hurt, I was hit in the head. If I had known ahead of time they were going to disrupt the game, I would have cancelled it.”
Talking to Manny, I get the feeling he knows everyone and everything about Albany Park. All the stories I’ve heard, all the wonderful characters my readers have shared with me, Manny knows. As we end the conversation, I casually mention that the only time I was at Roosevelt was for driver’s ed, 1972. Manny tells me he taught driver’s ed back then.
“Wait a minute,” I say. I can’t for the life of me picture the face of the man who sat next to me in the front seat as I learned to drive west on Lawrence to Pulaski to Elston to Montrose. “Were you my driver’s ed instructor?” I ask Manny.
“Who knows?” he says. “I taught a lot of kids.”
Two hours isn’t long enough to hear about all Manny has done in his life and continues to do.
“What’s your secret?” I ask.
“Happiness,” Manny replies, “comes from making others happy.”