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updated: 3/10/2012 9:23 AM

Elgin man looks back on a life of travel and success

Elgin man looks back on a life of music, travel and success

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  • Ken Page plays his guitar in his Elgin home. Page worked for Sears throughout Latin America for many years. Playing the guitar, cuatro and dulcimer were a huge part of his life until tremors in his hands made it hard to play.

       Ken Page plays his guitar in his Elgin home. Page worked for Sears throughout Latin America for many years. Playing the guitar, cuatro and dulcimer were a huge part of his life until tremors in his hands made it hard to play.
    Laura Stoecker | Staff Photographer

  • Ken Page and his cuatro, which he bought in the late 60s. The Puerto Rican guitar is made from a single piece of wood. Page, 85, worked for Sears throughout Latin America. He also used to play the guitar and dulcimer.

       Ken Page and his cuatro, which he bought in the late 60s. The Puerto Rican guitar is made from a single piece of wood. Page, 85, worked for Sears throughout Latin America. He also used to play the guitar and dulcimer.
    Laura Stoecker | Staff Photographer

  • Ken Page's cuatro, which is a Puerto Rican guitar made out of a single piece of wood.

       Ken Page's cuatro, which is a Puerto Rican guitar made out of a single piece of wood.
    Laura Stoecker | Staff Photographer

  • Ken Page played guitar, cuatro and dulcimer before his tremors made it hard to play. Now the 85-year-old is playing the harmonica.

       Ken Page played guitar, cuatro and dulcimer before his tremors made it hard to play. Now the 85-year-old is playing the harmonica.
    Laura Stoecker | Staff Photographer

  • Ken Page's Elgin home is filled with artwork and memorabilia from Latin America.

       Ken Page's Elgin home is filled with artwork and memorabilia from Latin America.
    Laura Stoecker | Staff Photographer

  • Ken Page of Elgin worked for Sears throughout Latin America for many years. He influenced the company to become a sponsor of the Junior Olympics.

       Ken Page of Elgin worked for Sears throughout Latin America for many years. He influenced the company to become a sponsor of the Junior Olympics.
    Laura Stoecker | Staff Photographer

  • Ken Page worked for Sears throughout Latin America and got the company involved in Junior Olympics.

       Ken Page worked for Sears throughout Latin America and got the company involved in Junior Olympics.
    Laura Stoecker | Staff Photographer

 
 

Ken Page's apartment in The Greens of Elgin is like a museum of his life. The 85-year-old man spent decades traveling throughout the world in his work with Sears, collecting treasures from Peru, Brazil, Portugal, Spain and Puerto Rico.

A benign tremor started in his hands about four years ago, making it harder for him to do a lot of things, but if nothing else, Page will always be able to look around his apartment and remember.

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He has hand-cut and hand-sewn molas -- colorful upper panels of women's blouses worn by the indigenous people of the San Blas islands -- framed above the cabinets in his kitchen. A hand-carved wooden figurine from Portugal, The Balancing Man, stands vigil over his fridge. Wooden and clay statuettes from Peru and a hand sculpture shaped in the Brazilian sign of "OK" rest on top of the kitchen cabinets.

Original paintings from talented artists throughout the world decorate his walls, including a cubist portrait of himself one of his employees in Peru gave him as a gift. There are plaques and certificates and trophies marking highlights of his career and a guitar, Puerto Rican cuatro and dulcimer from the days when he could play the stringed instruments.

Page says he doesn't do much of anything anymore but he likes his apartment in the senior-friendly Greens condominiums and he appreciates the full life he has been able to live.

"It keeps me awake thinking about yesterday," Page said.

Page grew up in Minnesota but moved to Arlington Heights when he was 15. He met the love of his life at Florida Southern College in Lakeland -- a Cuban beauty named Ondina, or Dina for short. Page said he met his future wife when they were both freshmen working as cashiers on campus and figured he better learn Spanish to impress her.

When he exhausted the Spanish curriculum at the college, he decided to spend a year in Lima, Peru, at the National University of San Marcos and returned speaking fluent Spanish.

On the way home from Peru, he stopped in Cuba to ask Ondina's father for her hand in marriage.

But learning Spanish did more than get him a wife. Page got a job with Sears in Des Plaines after college and was working as a salesman in tools and hardware when he caught the eye of the higher-ups.

"When they found out I spoke Spanish they put me on a fast track for management," Page said.

He worked as the head of sales and public relations in Peru for six years and for four more as the head of the Caribbean region from Puerto Rico. When he got back to the states he was named the international public relations and marketing director, traveling to Mexico, Central America, Colombia, Venezuela, Peru and Spain for a decade.

Page retired after 35 years with the company -- but not before he was named the "Godfather" of the Junior Olympics for his hand in their growth.

A plaque in his bedroom from the Amateur Athletic Union reads, "Without your generous contributions over the past 10 years, youth of America would have been deprived of their most shining hour."

It was Page who pitched the Sears board of directors to become national sponsors of the sporting events, allowing them to prosper. Pictures of Ted Williams and a signed memento from Jesse Owens betray how close he really was to the talented athletes.

Page spent decades in retirement with his wife in their Elgin home as she battled various types of cancer, eventually losing the fight in June 2011. With her gone, Page has his two daughters and grandchildren nearby and endless memories to keep his mind active.

"I've had a very lucky life," Page said. "Very, very lucky."

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