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updated: 7/20/2011 12:25 PM

Former Naperville resident takes walk through time

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"Summertime and the livin' is easy," begins a George Gershwin tune.

This time of year, thoughts often turn to simpler, gentler times; fishing for fond memories that call upon us to reflect about people and places that once played a big part in our lives, no matter where we grew up.

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A couple months ago, Rita Fredenhagen Harvard mentioned her childhood friend, Andy Richter, who now lives in Santa Fe, N.M., was coming to visit.

It'll take too much space here to tell how the two classmates who attended Ellsworth Elementary School in the 1930s reconnected after Naperville resident Julie McCutcheon met Tor Richter, Andy's older brother, on a cruise.

Long story short, Rita and Andy exchanged letters. Then Richter stopped briefly to see Rita and her husband, John, a few years ago when he was driving through Naperville. In late June, he'd planned to stay several days at the Harrison House, a bed and breakfast in downtown Naperville.

Andy had lived in the 400 block on Julian Street until 1939 when his family moved to Chicago. When Andy and Rita had attended grade school together back in the day, there was one class per grade. Andy moved at the end of fourth grade.

At any rate, Rita knew Andy walked several miles every day for fitness, so she asked if I'd give him a walking tour of downtown Naperville to show him what's new. She also figured it'd be an opportunity for me, a relative newcomer, to pick his brain and learn how Naperville used to be, according to his childhood memories.

We met at the historic Harrison House at 11 a.m. and ventured toward the Riverwalk, already bustling with activity that Sunday morning. The linear park was all new to him, but he recalled Centennial Beach where he'd played water tag.

He described our walk as a "Rip Van Winkle experience," while he tried to remember where "Art the Barber who used only scissors" had set up shop.

We walked over the covered bridge to the Dick Tracy sculpture and a rush of memories filled our conversation. He remembered Dick Tracy's creator Chester Gould and enjoyed hearing the updated connection to Naperville resident and Pulitzer Prize winner Dick Locher.

He added that Andy Capp was another of his favorite comic strip characters. And we shared memories of reading the colorful "funny papers" every Sunday as we ventured toward Main Street.

Both Rita and Andy reminisced about their teachers: Miss McDerman, first grade; Miss Rice, second grade; Miss Fry, third grade and Miss Bedlock, fourth grade. They even had the same pet name for one of them!

Andy remembered the time of the 17-year locust in the 1930s, President Rall at North Central College, the whistle at Kroehler Manufacturing and Fouchek's Drugstore on Washington Street, where he enjoyed the soda fountain -- and chance meetings with the owner's daughter, Eleanor.

He recalled band concerts in Central Park where he climbed trees. He noted the Spanish Tea Room, a fancy downtown Naperville restaurant where "families sat down for dinner."

When Andy mentioned Memorial Day parades with Spanish-American War veterans and "one veteran from the Civil War," I could hardly wait to show him the two Century Walk murals now in progress. "Parade of the Century" and "Naperville Loves a Parade" face each other along Rubin's Way, just steps from the Riverwalk. He was agog!

At Jefferson, we headed east toward North Central College. We meandered through the historic district as he tried to re-create the route he'd traveled to school.

Pfeiffer Hall reminded him of "homegrown entertainment and musical shows" and other cultural events he'd attended with his mother.

Quite by coincidence, just as I was thumbing through my copious notes to wrap up this story, I received an email from Chuck Gauger. In 1969, he moved from Naperville to the San Francisco Peninsula.

"In the late 1970s due to the book 'Roots,'" wrote Gauger, "I was inspired to write a song about growing up in Naperville."

He first recorded it in 1980 and recently posted an updated version on YouTube.

"I would love for people to at least hear it," he said. "Especially those of my age (58) who are remembering a lot lately of the old town and how it was. I could type a million memories of my own, but I will let the song speak for me instead."

Here's the YouTube link: youtube.com/watch?v=L6-aOM711yQ.

Gauger's music and lyrics are accompanied by vintage postcards and photographs, with contrasts about Naperville then and now.

Looking back, I'm well aware we all have a circle of people and places that connect us. Test your memory. It's good for your heart -- and your mind.

• Stephanie Penick writes about Naperville. Email her at spennydh@aol.com.

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