Arlington Heights historian, Daily Herald columnist remembered as pillar of community
When the village of Arlington Heights celebrated its 125th anniversary of incorporation, its leaders chose historian Margery Frisbie to deliver the keynote address at the annual prayer breakfast.
Frisbie described the deep resolve of residents of all faith traditions to build their churches. Her speech drew from her experience in recording oral histories, and nearly 20 years of writing a historical column for the Daily Herald. The response was a standing ovation.
The prolific author, poet, columnist and activist died Aug. 7 in her Arlington Heights home. She was 98.
"Margery's columns were among the most popular things we ever ran in the Neighbor section," said Renee Trappe, a former Daily Herald city editor who now heads the company's downstate division. "They generated a huge amount of interest, and Margery's phone rang constantly with people who had some personal knowledge of whatever it was she had written about that week.
"It amazed me that in all those years of writing she virtually never repeated herself. She was an excellent historian, a very good writer and just a lovely person."
Frisbie's oldest son, Thomas Frisbie, is an editorial board member of the Chicago Sun-Times, and he remembers both of his parents writing -- and talking about writing -- when he was growing up.
"My mother had an interest in many different kinds of people," he said. "She had an empathy and understanding of who they were as people, and readers liked that."
Margery Frisbie and her husband, Richard, were pillars of the Arlington Heights community. He served the Arlington Heights Memorial Library as a trustee for 44 years, bringing his own background in journalism and defense of the First Amendment to his role.
The couple moved to the village in 1954 and raised eight children in a bungalow on Dunton Avenue, one half-block from the library. Margery stayed home to raise the children, and in an interview in January, she joked that she didn't start her career until age 70.
However, those years were prolific. Frisbie helped to document the history of St. James Catholic Church, the Arlington Heights Memorial Library, the First United Methodist Church of Arlington Heights and the Arlington Heights Historical Society.
She began her career as a publicist for Mundelein College and met her husband when he was a reporter with the Chicago Daily News covering a conference she had organized. She later wrote a history of the Alexian Brothers and the biography of the Msgr. John Egan, who worked in the Chicago area for social justice and against racial segregation.
Both issues were of interest to Richard and Margery Frisbie. In that same January interview, she described herself and her husband as civil rights activists who worked to integrate Arlington Heights.
However, it was their mutual love of writing and sharing stories that sustained their 68-year marriage before Richard Frisbie died in 2018.
It was in 1997 that Margery Frisbie was recruited as one of four rotating columnists to contribute to the Neighbor section in the Daily Herald's Arlington Heights editions. She suspected she was asked because of the many oral histories she had completed throughout the village.
"I have these millions of tapes to draw from," she said during a 2016 interview announcing her retirement, "so it turned into a history column, but I've really enjoyed it. Their stories captivated me.
"I also learned just how intensely people love Arlington Heights, and it made me feel strongly about sharing their stories."
Frisbie was one of the matriarchs of the large, extended Flood family. Her mother's brothers started Flood Brothers Disposal, which serves locations across Chicago region.
"Everyone looked up to her," her son said. "In her later years, people would gather in her kitchen, and she would regale them with stories about the different family members."
Visitation is 3 to 8 p.m. Thursday at Lauterburg & Oehler Funeral Home, 2000 E. Northwest Highway, before a 10 a.m. funeral Mass on Friday at St. James Church, 820 N. Arlington Heights Road, both in Arlington Heights.