Norwood Park resident celebrates 100th birthday
by JASON MEREL
Longtime Norwood Park resident Helen Baran celebrated her 100th birthday on April 2 and reflected on 70 years of living on the Northwest Side
“I have to say I’ve had a good life,” she said. “You know, we’re all miserable at certain times. But you have to have a pretty good outlook on life if you want to enjoy it.”
Baran credits her longevity to a lifelong love of fitness.
She began taking exercise classes with instructor and Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame coach Mike Small at the former Saint Tarcissus, now Saint Elizabeth of the Trinity, 6030 W. Ardmore Ave., when she was in her 50s. Helen was already a lifelong polka dancer and eventually began taking country line dancing classes with her sister Anne, age 98, at Sayre Park, 6871 W. Belden Ave.
Helen performed line dancing at summer carnivals, Chicago Park District fieldhouses and the “Taste of Polonia,” but she said she stopped dancing at age 95 when she began to “slow down.”
She said she believes the key to longevity is learning how to properly care for yourself through diet and exercise. But she said people should try to enjoy life and shared an anecdote about her obstetrician recommending a daily beer for nutritional reasons when she was pregnant in 1944. Helen said she still enjoys a cold beer with her evening meal to this day.
Baran was born in Minneapolis on April 2, 1922, to parents Mary and Joseph, both Polish immigrants, who moved to Wauseka, Wisconsin, and began farming.
“When they got there and were able to get farmland, they were just naturals,” she said.
Her mother was a strawberry and dairy farmer and she said tourists would go off the beaten path to buy their berries. Helen said her parents decided to move the family to Chicago in 1930 to be part of a larger Polish community near Ashland and Division.
It was in the “old neighborhood” near Pulaski Park that Helen met her husband, John Baran. They were married in 1943 and she still lives in the home they bought in 1952, on North Neva Avenue in Norwood Park, which cost $20,000 at the time.
She said they decided to raise their family in Norwood Park because they liked the old time feel of the neighborhood and how closely knit the community was.
Helen’s career centered on typing and she bought her first typewriter for $15 after graduating high school. She worked as a proofreader for a print shop as well as various secretarial positions.
When husband John passed in 1974 at the age of 60, she re-entered the workforce and worked for Whirlpool subsidiaries Warwick, Lehigh Furniture and Thomas Organ until she retired in 1985.
Her children Roger, Barbara, and Douglas, age 77, 74 and 68 respectively, attended Norwood Park School and Immaculate Conception School. She has nine grandchildren and six great grandchildren.