South Side widow do­nates $70K to St. Rita after hus­band, daugh­ter die

Daily Southtown (Sunday) - - BUSINESS - By Ken­neth Dodge Ken­neth Dodge is Flory and Ber­nice’s Num­ber 1 son.

Over a 42-year ca­reer, Flo­rian Dodge taught 10,000 low- and mid­dle-in­come stu­dents at St. Rita High School on Chicago’s South Side, plac­ing many of them in vo­ca­tions and jobs they held on to for life. This past spring, it all came crash­ing down when Flory sud­denly tested pos­i­tive and died of COVID-19. Sev­eral days later, Flory and Ber­nice Dodge’s only daugh­ter, Sandy O’Mal­ley, also tested pos­i­tive and died of COVID-19. The ex­tended fam­ily is shaken at its core. But Ber­nice Dodge is a strong 89-year-old woman. As now-ma­tri­arch of the fam­ily, she de­cided it is time to make a state­ment. She is do­nat­ing $70,000 to St. Rita to be used for fi­nan­cial aid so South Side fam­i­lies strug­gling with the eco­nomic im­pact of COVID-19 in a world of racial in­jus­tice can con­tinue to send their sons to a high school that prides it­self on liv­ing the Amer­i­can dream. Flory was born to Pol­ish im­mi­grants in the back of Chicago’s Stock Yards in an era when stick­ball was played in the streets, soc­cer was king and eth­nic slurs were com­mon lan­guage. After grad­u­at­ing from Kelly High School to­ward the end of World War II, he en­tered the Navy and served on a small boat that trav­eled up China’s Yangtze River, lib­er­at­ing small towns from the scourge of Ja­panese rule and help­ing then re­build their frag­ile economies. When he re­turned home, Flory lived the Amer­i­can dream. He worked his way through col­lege, en­tered a “mixed” mar­riage with Ber­nice (she was Lithua­nian; he was not), and raised a fam­ily of three chil­dren. But the Chicago South Side ver­sion of the Amer­i­can dream in the 1950s and 1960s meant nav­i­gat­ing the racial ten­sion of white Block Clubs that kept African Amer­i­can fam­i­lies from buy­ing homes and anx­iously watch­ing the Mar­quette Park head­quar­ters of the Amer­i­can Nazi Party hold hate­ful ral­lies. It also meant work­ing three jobs to make ends meet. Flory would wake up each morn­ing be­fore his chil­dren, go to teach school and come home at 3:30 p.m. so that Ber­nice could feed him a hot meal be­fore he rushed to the 4 p.m. shift at the Ford Mo­tor plant, where he worked as an un­li­censed en­gi­neer. He would come home after mid­night, grab some sleep and wake up the next morn­ing to do it all over again. Week­ends? Flory sold real es­tate, sit­ting for open houses try­ing to sell starter homes on 40-foot lots that he and Ber­nice could not af­ford them­selves. Oc­ca­sion­ally, he brought his chil­dren with him to give Ber­nice a break, teach­ing them arith­metic by re­view­ing the base­ball box scores in the Sun­day news­pa­per. The kids knew they had the best par­ents in the world. Even­tu­ally, the Dodge fam­ily bought one of those starter homes. To stay afloat, Flory be­gan yet a fourth job as an in­sur­ance sales­man. He con­cocted the idea that he could sell au­to­mo­bile and home­own­ers in­sur­ance to for­mer stu­dents who revered him. Flory taught the “Voc-Ed” stu­dents wood shop and me­chan­i­cal draw­ing. They were not col­lege bound, and so he got them jobs at factories and plants all over the South Side. Their chal­lenges be­came his chal­lenges, and so he helped them buy a car or rent an apart­ment. He fronted them cash for their in­sur­ance pre­mi­ums, and they be­came de­voted to him. He con­vinced the prin­ci­pal at St. Rita to let him in­stall a tele­phone in the back of the class­room so he could run his lit­tle busi­ness while teach­ing 48 stu­dents the in­tri­ca­cies of mak­ing a blue­print. Ber­nice stayed home, raised the kids, man­aged the house­hold and helped the chil­dren take one step fur­ther in the Amer­i­can dream, Chicago-style. How so? Though she was su­per smart, Ber­nice never com­pleted col­lege be­cause she mar­ried Flory and had three kids. Her daugh­ter Sandy went a step fur­ther by grad­u­at­ing from col­lege with a de­gree in el­e­men­tary ed­u­ca­tion and rais­ing six kids. Sandy did it as a sin­gle mother after her hus­band, Jack, died sud­denly of a heart at­tack at the break­fast ta­ble when the kids were young. Flory was a high school teacher, and so son Ken be­came a col­lege teacher. Flory was ex­pert in math and de­sign but with­out more than a bach­e­lor’s de­gree, and so son Bob earned a mas­ter’s de­gree in struc­tural engi­neer­ing and had an il­lus­tri­ous ca­reer de­sign­ing bridges over roads and work­ing on grand projects like a new run­way at O’Hare Field. The kids grew up and blessed Flory and Ber­nice with 11 grand­chil­dren and 19 great-grand­chil­dren. Flory and Ber­nice were an Amer­i­can love story well into their au­tumn years. On April 16, Flory woke up with a fever and slight cough. It was prob­a­bly noth­ing, but Ber­nice got daugh­ter-in-law Alice to drive them to a curb­side COVID-19 test­ing place, just to be sure. Flory went in­side while Alice, Ber­nice and their sainted home health care worker, Marisel, waited in the car. Thirty min­utes later, a nurse walked out­side, looked Ber­nice in the eye and said Flory had tested pos­i­tive for COVID and was be­ing taken by am­bu­lance to the hos­pi­tal. Ber­nice never saw Flory again in per­son, never hugged him good­bye. Flory never got to say, “Love you” one last time, to the love of his life. He died eight days later. Ber­nice buried him with only six fam­ily mem­bers present grave­side. In 70 years, Ber­nice had never wo­ken up with­out Flory at her side. The next morn­ing, she woke up in­stead with a fever and cough. But she could not af­ford to be sick, so she re­fused test­ing. Days later, daugh­ter Sandy be­came sick, tested pos­i­tive and was rushed to the hos­pi­tal. Sandy died on May 2. Grief-stricken, wob­bling, and with­out di­rec­tion, Ber­nice once again at­tended a grave­side ser­vice, star­ing at a cas­ket and an empty hole, with al­most no one present. Now what? The world is com­ing apart. COVID fear-mon­gers and COVID-flaun­ters are fight­ing each other, mim­ick­ing pres­i­den­tial elec­tion pet­ti­ness. Pub­li­cized cases of po­lice bru­tal­ity are ex­pos­ing a re­al­ity ev­ery­one knew had long ex­isted but wanted to deny. Protests and ri­ots re­minded Ber­nice of the late 1960s, when Mayor Richard J. Da­ley shock­ingly called upon the Chicago po­lice to “shoot to kill” ar­son­ists and “shoot to maim” loot­ers. Did that re­ally hap­pen? What is real and what is fic­tion? Was Flory’s World War II hero­ism real? Did U.S. Navy PT boats ac­tu­ally travel deep into the mid­dle of China to save Chi­nese fam­i­lies? In a re­al­ity check, Flory’s sur­viv­ing kids looked it up. There it was: As World War II ended, the Navy’s Yangtze Pa­trol freed towns from Shanghai on the ocean all the way in­land to a small vil­lage named Wuhan. Wuhan might not ex­ist to­day but for the ef­forts of the United States Navy. Back to home. Flory’s beloved St. Rita High School, still serv­ing a mix of white-Euro­pean, Black and Lat­inx kids from all over the South Side, de­clared its goal to con­tinue for­ward, but so many fam­i­lies have lost jobs and strug­gle to pay its tuition that its fu­ture is at risk. So Ber­nice no longer wob­bled. In a dec­la­ra­tion of how she wants her chil­dren and her com­mu­nity to stand up at this his­tor­i­cal mo­ment, she de­cided to take her mod­est sav­ings and honor Flory by do­nat­ing to a fi­nan­cial aid fund for South Side kids. “Love you.”


Flo­rian and Ber­nice Dodge with their ex­tended fam­ily. Front row, from left: son Ken Dodge, son Robert Dodge, Ber­nice Dodge, Flory Dodge, daugh­ter Sandy O’Mal­ley, grand­daugh­ter Kim­berly O’Mal­ley and grand­daugh­terin-law Sarah Dodge. Sec­ond row: Zoe Dodge, Clau­dia Jones, An­gela La­banca, Alice Dodge, Colleen Hack­ley, Stacy Dodge, Brian Cicero, Tom O’Mal­ley, Jim O’Mal­ley, Heather O’Mal­ley, Tammy O-Mal­ley. Top row: Nick La­banca, An­drew Hack­ley, Kyle Dodge, Michael O’Mal­ley, Kevin O’Mal­ley, Johnny O’Mal­ley, Kim Dahlberg O’Mal­ley.

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