Ralph Mansfield, turned on lights at World's Fair
Ralph Mansfield, 95, died of lung cancer on Dec. 17, 2007, at his home in Santa Rosa, Calif. Born in Chicago on Aug. 21, 1912, to Hyman and Molly Mansfield, he spent part of his early life in the Austin neighborhood. He married Hilda Blum on Sept. 21, 1940, a marriage that would last 67 years.
A longtime Chicagoan, Mr. Mansfield obtained his bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of Chicago and his Ph.D. in Mathematics from Armour Institute, now the Illinois Institute of Technology. While pursuing his academic work, Mr. Mansfield was employed at the Adler Planetarium. He was chosen by Planetarium Director Philip Fox to assist in a special project to turn on the lights during the opening ceremony at the 1933 World's Fair. This was to be accomplished by focusing the light from the star Arcturus onto a photoelectric cell, which would activate the main relay switch and illuminate the fairgrounds. Three other astronomical observatories were involved in the project. However, when the time came, all were plagued by cloudy skies. As Dr. Fox delivered his opening remarks, he signaled to Mr. Mansfield, who was stationed at a telescope on the balcony of the Science Building. At the opportune moment, Mr. Mansfield found a break in the clouds, located Arcturus by following the stars in the handle of the Big Dipper, and accomplished his mission, turning on the lights to the cheers of the crowd.
Mr. Mansfield taught mathematics at Chicago Teachers College for several years. He then switched to electrical engineering as the head of his own firm, Auto-Test, Inc., manufacturing automotive electrical testing equipment. He held several patents on products which he designed. Mr. Mansfield returned to teaching in 1962, eventually becoming chairman of the Mathematics Department at what is now Harold Washington College. He held that position until he retired in 1977.
Upon his retirement, Mr. Mansfield and his wife moved to the village of Esporlas, Mallorca, Spain, where they resided for 11 years. During that time, he developed an interest in designing and making jewelry, using various materials, including horseshoe nails, silver, and precious gems. He exhibited his work locally and was selected as an alternate to the prestigious Smithsonian Craft Exhibition in Washington, D.C. The couple later returned to the U.S., settling in Santa Rosa.
An avid tennis player right up to the time of his illness, Mr. Mansfield won several tournaments during the 1960s and 1970s. He served as an umpire for many major tennis matches in the Chicago area, umpiring such greats as Billie Jean King, Martina Nawatilova, John McEnroe, and Jimmy Connors. While living in Mallorca, he regularly attended the annual Wimbledon championships in England and was invited to umpire there as well.
Mr. Mansfield was active in the Independent Voters of Illinois, serving as that organization's chairman in the early 1960s. He worked on many social issues of the day, including civil rights and good government. He was a board member of Americans for Democratic Action. Through these affiliations, he became acquainted with many public figures, including Eleanor Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Hubert Humphrey, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Paul Simon. In 1963, the ADA presented Mr. Mansfield the national Helen Rotch Award for his work on fair housing.
In addition to his wife and daughter Karen, of Oak Park, Mr. Mansfield is survived by three other children, Diane (Tom) Judge, Ernie, and Pamela; four grandchildren, Nicole and Lori Mansfield, Tara (Poco) Compehos, and Samuel Mansfield; and two great-grandchildren.
A memorial service is being planned. Memorials to the Adler Planetarium, 1300 S. Lake Shore Dr., Chicago 60605-2403, are appreciated.
-Submitted by Karen Mansfield
Marjorie Buckley, 74, Longtime Oak Park residentMarjorie A. Buckley, 74, a longtime resident of Oak Park, died at her home on Dec. 22, 2007. Born in Chicago on July 12, 1933 to Edwin and Rosalie Ruder, she was a graduate of Notre Dame High School.
Mrs. Buckley is survived by her husband, Dick, of Oak Park; her children, Janet (Tim) Wayland, Jim, and Jeff (Julia) Buckley of Oak Park; and her grandchildren, Jamie Wayland and Ian and Graham Buckley. Visitation and funeral service were held Dec. 27 at Drechsler, Brown & Williams Funeral Home. Interment was private.
Memorial donations to the Alzheimer's Association, 225 N. Michigan Ave., Fl. 17, Chicago 60601-7633, are appreciated.
Mary Lou Powers, 81, Physical therapist
Economy Shop volunteerMary Lou Whitaker Powers, 81, of Oak Park, affectionately known as "Moo Noo" by friends and family, died peacefully on Dec. 10, 2007, at home with her husband, Ivan R. Jr., and her grand-niece, Christine Lennox, by her side.
A graduate of Northwestern University Medical School, she received her Bachelor of Science degree in physical therapy in 1959. Among her many accomplishments in her 30 years as a physical therapist, she was most proud of her position as director of the Physical Therapy Department of Gottlieb Hospital in the 1970s.
A strong supporter of the Village of Oak Park, she campaigned for the cultural diversification of the village, beginning in the late 1960s, and continued working to strengthen the community by serving on countless committees and volunteering, most recently at the Economy Shop.
Mrs. Powers was the sister of Olive Jean Rudd and the late Betty W. McGovney; step-mother, step-grandmother, aunt, great-aunt, cousin, godmother, and friend to those she considered family, especially Lee Fitzsimmons and, lest we forget, "Mom" to her beloved dog, Mya.
A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. on Saturday, Jan. 19, 2008 at St. Christopher's Episcopal Church, 545 S. East Ave., Oak Park, where Mary Lou was a member since 1956, with inurnment in the church's columbarium. In lieu of flowers, contributions to St. Christopher's Episcopal Church would be greatly appreciated. Arrangements were handled by Drechsler, Brown & Williams Funeral Home.
David Van Wagenen, 84
Worked at United StationersDavid "Big Dave" B. Van Wagenen, 84, of Oak Park, died on Dec. 16, 2007. He was the friend of Patricia (the late David) Reis, Wendy (Cliff) Evitt, and Christopher (Jennifer) Reis. A longtime employee of United Stationers in Forest Park, he will be missed dearly by many friends.
Visitation was held Dec. 21 at Zimmerman-Harnett Funeral Home, 7319 W. Madison St., Forest Park, with the service following. Interment was private. Call 366-2200 for more information.
-Compiled by Ken Trainor