Arlington Heights centenarian looks back and ahead

  • Jean Ulrich, centenarian

    Jean Ulrich, centenarian Courtesy of Jane Hoppe

Submitted by Jane Hoppe
Updated 7/29/2020 7:19 PM

Congratulations on her 100th birthday to Jean Ulrich, 57-year resident of Arlington Heights!

Due to pandemic restrictions, her 100th was not the party her 99th was.


But her four children had a masked, in-person visit, and her grandchildren and great-grandchildren had a virtual celebration in mid-July.

Ulrich's bright blue eyes and ready smile invite stimulating, open-minded conversation on politics, the economy, family, art, and world and local history -- just some of her keen interests. Some family members dare to play Scrabble with her, but they do not expect to win.

The flip side of that coin is that when they have a perplexing crossword puzzle clue, she will know the answer. Ulrich is a word whiz.

Though she might not have the breadth of knowledge of Daisy Paddock Daniels, whose quest was to preserve Arlington Heights history, Ulrich could add plenty of her own hometown stories to Daniels' writings.

Rearing one son and three daughters in the Pioneer Park area during the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, Ulrich remembers families and school activities from South Junior High and Arlington High School, where her husband Jim taught mathematics.

Soon after moving from Mount Prospect to Arlington Heights in 1963, she took the children to Park Elementary School to get the polio vaccine, newly administered in a sugar cube. The family picnicked, played tennis, swam, and ice skated at Pioneer Park. Ulrich made sure her family ate home-cooked meals together and carried healthy sack lunches to school.

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She bought patterns and cloth at Hagenbring's to make everyone's clothing, and she taught her children how to sew. She enjoyed playing bridge with neighbors. And in 1967 she stepped up to the challenges of both the blizzard in January and tornado in June.

Over the years, Ulrich served as Girl Scout leader and member of the Girl Scout Council for the northwest suburbs. She has been active in American Association of University Women and the Arlington Heights chapter of her sorority, Alpha Gamma Delta. She also worked as volunteer coordinator for the Americana Nursing Home on Central Road and campaigned for various local and national political candidates.

During her husband's retirement years, they enjoyed adventures in Europe, Asia, Africa, Mexico, and the U.S. These travels were in more leisurely circumstances than those in which she traveled during World War II.

"In the war. the Red Cross had a program, a way for me to help," she says. Her first assignment was India, then the Philippines, then Okinawa, where she helped provide meals, snacks, and recreational activities for U.S. soldiers and officers.


She remembers, "Although Red Cross nurses traveled with us, and some Red Cross workers took donut trucks to the front lines, my closest encounter with the war itself was visiting wounded soldiers in a Kolkata hospital." She continues, "Because we weren't told where we were going, I often did not pack appropriate clothing." She wrote home to her mother to send dress patterns. "In India a tailor came on a bicycle to take my measurements." He did not seem to follow a pattern and the dresses did not fit well. Despite this, she very much enjoyed her Red Cross work.

Ulrich tells vivid stories of her war years as well as her time as a University of Michigan student and teen in Ohio. In one story, her father took her on a spring break trip, picking her up in Ann Arbor and driving to Louisiana and Florida. She remembers enjoying beignets, oysters, and "the most delicious Texas grapefruit I've ever eaten. I have favored Texas grapefruit ever since."

Her stories are peppered with observations on society through the decades. On this trip to the South, for example, Ulrich encountered racial segregation, and again during the war, and again 20 years later among hospital nurses.

Other examples of her observations are her political memories. Born in 1920, Ulrich has lived through the administrations of 17 U.S. Presidents.

She looks forward to voting for the next one, though she admits the issues get knottier every four years. She never thought she'd live to see a pandemic.

Though on lockdown, she keeps herself engaged with life through reading and participating in cultural activities, exercise classes, and phone calls with family and friends.

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