Roselle chimney sweeps renew vows atop Willis Tower
The world has changed for Roselle master chimney sweeps David and Dee Stoll since their wedding on Oct. 8, 1978, atop the Sears Tower, then the planet's tallest building.
The Sears Tower is now the Willis Tower, and it is no longer the world's tallest building. With David Stoll now 85 and his bride 76, the Stolls' chimney sweeping careers are over and their school teaching the craft to others is no more.
But the couple's spark on the 142nd anniversary of the start of the Great Chicago Fire ignites a 35th anniversary party just as fun and lively as their wedding day. Their Tuesday begins with renewing their wedding vows atop the Willis Tower, still the nation's tallest building, dressed in their chimney sweep garb and surrounded by old friends and the new friends they've made.
"We did clean chimneys for 14 years. I want you to know this isn't fake," David Stoll says as he explains his well-worn black top hat and tux with tails that he wore on the job and for this ceremony.
Admitting to feeling a little scared when working on tall chimneys while trying to maintain her footing on icy roofs atop three-story buildings, Dee Stoll boldly steps onto the glass floor of the see-through balcony extending 4 feet beyond the Willis Tower's 103rd floor Skydeck.
"I like being on top of a roof. It's just like in 'Mary Poppins.' You can see everything," she gushes.
What most of the guests see is a pair of lives well spent.
"I'm going to start crying. I'm so happy for them," says Maria Kekos, a friend from Schaumburg. "They're like my parents. I just love them to death. Both of them have hearts of gold."
From her desk on the 23rd floor of then-new Sears Tower, Dee Stoll worked as product designer for Sears on items such as the Winnie The Pooh collection. David Stoll was a marketing executive from Brooklyn.
"We met through Helene Curtis," David Stoll says of the shampoo and personal care products account that brought them together. "I met her and asked her to marry me the first day."
On Valentine's Day 1977, David Stoll had a major heart attack during a high-powered marketing meeting at the Sears Tower. He wanted a simpler life. Together, the couple decided to uproot their careers, get married and go into business together as chimney sweeps.
Their wedding made international news, and their chimney sweep business did, too. They founded the National Chimney Sweep Guild, trained sweeps in their school and began extensive fire prevention campaigns that united her design skills and his marketing expertise. Dee created a chimney sweep figure named Dusty and published a book starring the lovable character.
"Everybody needs a lucky charm," David Stoll says as he brings a 3-foot-tall Dusty doll to their anniversary party. Chimney sweeps, as Dick Van Dyke's character noted in the 'Mary Poppins' movie, are good luck. That's because a sweep once saved a king from falling off his horse, and the king responded by inviting the sweep to the princess's wedding "to bring a touch of good luck for everybody," says David Stoll, who brings a good feeling to the people he meets.
"I met them while shopping for cat food at Walmart," says Tony Tornabene, decked in full chimney sweep garb as a groomsman alongside best man John Mars, a longtime public relations and marketing expert who helps the Stolls publicize their "Dusty the Chimney Sweep" books and campaigns. "I just felt God wanted us together. They are wonderful people."
Tornabene, 54, who lives in Schaumburg, helps the couple with odd jobs around their home and more. "They like split pea soup and I make great split pea soup," Tornabene says, adding, "They've helped me more than I've helped them just with their uplifting spirits."
If needed, the Stolls can belt out the "Chim Chim Cher-ee" song from "Mary Poppins," which explains how "a sweep is as lucky, as lucky can be."
In their vows, they give thanks for their friends and promise to take care of their cats, Dusty and Princess.
"It's hard not to be friends with these two," says Bob Zelinka of Elgin. Zelinka, 67, and Betty Strong, 65, met the Stolls 16 years ago while hiking in Starved Rock State Park and became fast friends.
Old friends Fred and Barbara Bunge have known the Stolls since they lived in the close-knit Four Lakes community in Lisle. Original bridesmaid Lou Ann Burkhardt, whose family also was part of that neighborhood, brings along photos from the 1978 wedding showing her daughters Lucinda and Holly as flower girls. She also brings Lucinda, who is now 43.
As David Stoll works the room, telling guests about the value of smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors and fire prevention, Dee Stoll smiles from a distance.
"He loves to talk to people," she says. "He loves marketing."
With a wink and a nod indicating he wants to do a little marketing in private, David Stoll brags about his wife's artist talent and her abstract paintings and stippling, the art technique of using tiny dots of color to form an image. "She's good," he says.
She's working on some new Dusty books, and they both say they want to keep their charitable work going with visits to hospitals and other places that appreciate the good luck that comes from chimney sweeps. While business and their health haven't always been so good through the decades, the Stolls aren't about to complain.
"It's like riding out the wave," Dee Stoll says. "We still are riding out that wave."
"Be the best you can be," David Stoll says as he breaks into song.
They kiss, far longer they anyone might expect, and hold hands as they walk to the lunch portion of the party.
"Life's been good," Dee Stoll says. Her husband nods to the Dusty doll as if to give credit, and says, "The spirit of good luck."
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