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MY FAMILY’S ROCKDALE HERITAGE

July 2002: By Sally Polesel

     I am “Third-Generation Rockdale.”  My grandfather, Peter Polesel, came to Rockdale from Italy in the early 1900’s.  My grandmother, Mary nee Nadalet (along with Peter’s sister, Mary) came from Italy a few years later to become Peter’s wife.  Thus began the Polesel-Rockdale “bond.”

     Peter’s first Rockdale venture was running a horse and buggy business.  With progress, came the automobile, and the need for change.  In keeping with the times, Peter diverted his efforts to car repair, which eventually led to a successful family business called Rockdale Auto Wreckers, located at 1709 Lakeview Ave, directly across from their home.  Peter and his three sons, Frank, Peter Jr., and Albert, ran the business, while daughter, Olga, kept the books. Many knew it, respectfully, as “the junkyard.”  (I still hear from people today, who tell me that they used to sneak into “the junkyard” as kids to play in the cars!)  The building itself was once an old dance hall that my grandfather moved to Rockdale from Joliet.  In its new home, it also served as a polling place.  We still have the 48-star flag that hung there during election times.  Later, the Polesels put an addition on the building, using old car body parts as building materials!  They were quite resourceful in their time.  They even used trees as props to hoist up cars for doing “under-belly” repairs. During the Depression, just about every man in town worked at Rockdale Auto Wreckers at one time or another.

     The Polesel Homestead was a popular spot in Rockdale, and the family was well respected.  Ask any old-timer and he’ll probably tell you that that’s where he used to “hang-out” as a kid.  And during the Depression, when times were hard on everyone including the Polesels, many folks who were especially hard-hit would always be welcomed by Peter and Mary, with open arms, ready and willing to share with them what they had while demanding nothing in return. In fact, there are still IOU’s on the books to this very day.

     The Polesels also had one of the few (if not the only) newspaper subscriptions and telephones in town.  People would come to visit, read the paper, use the phone, and wait for Peter to put them to work.  Also, the Steel Mill and Brickyard would call there whenever they had a job opening and leave messages for those anxiously awaiting employment.  Young Albert (Aby) would run to deliver the good news and he’d be rewarded with a dime.

     Mary and Olga ran the household.  Among their innumerable tasks, they would gather snow to melt and use for water.  (They, too, were quite resourceful.)  Mary, who was known for her impeccable tidiness, would even sweep the street in front of their home (the first tri-level house of its time) after an already grueling day of chores.  

     The family also ran a grocery store in the back of their home, where they would sell, among other things, eggs, butter, and milk, from the cows and chickens that they raised.  On one occasion, a cow of theirs bore a calf that had two bodies joined by one head!  When the calf died, Peter had it preserved. As kids, my siblings and I would bring it to school for “show-and-tell.”

     During WWII, hard times befell many Rockdale families.  The Polesels were no exception, as Peter and Mary would see all three of their sons serve their country, simultaneously.  The war would take its toll on all, indiscriminately changing Rockdale lives, forever.

     After 80 years in existence, the old house and business that once were “home” to so many, was tearfully torn down in 1991, but the spirit and memories live on, as the homestead is still lined with Peter and Mary’s offspring. Their son (my father) Peter Jr., now retired, was an integral part of the Rockdale community.  Over the years, he ran countless projects for the village and its residents.  Always ready to lend a helping hand, he is the epitome of  “neighbor” and embodies the best of what Rockdale has to offer.  I am proud, and grateful…as I am sure Peter and Mary were, to be a part of the Polesel, the Rockdale, family.

     The “Polesels” are as much a part of Rockdale history as Rockdale itself, and…the Legacy goes on.  My brother, Peter, is currently serving his 14th year on the Rockdale Village Board.  My cousin, Susan, is on the Rockdale Zoning Board.  And, my sister, Nancy, is the Chairperson for this year’s ROCKDALE CENTENNIAL CELEBRATION and the “driving-force” behind these feature articles honoring the Village of Rockdale’s rich 100-Year History.  God Blessed us, Rockdale.  “Happy Birthday.”  Here’s to 100 more…

My father, Peter Polesel Jr., with his 1940 Chevy tow-truck, all that remains from an era gone by