by Gayle Faulkner Kosalko
The Whiting Amicus (ah ME kus) was first organized in the year 1934 and had its beginning in the south part of town, Goose Island.
“I was born by the Ice House and am still on Schrage Avenue,” said Joe Tomera, one of the original members of the group who has sinced passed. Tomera remembered that before there was an Amicus Club, the Community Center was the big hang out in the 1930’s.
“Kids from all over town were there and Mr. Sharp ran it with an iron hand,” Joe remembered. “Most of us learned to play checkers, chess, and ping pong there. That’s were Mike Safko hung out too and he’s the one who came up with the name Amicus. He was a real go-getter.”
Safko had moved to the area from Pennsylvania in the late 1920’s. In his hometown there was a club by the name of Amicus which translates to “act of friendship.”
Everyone liked the unusual name and the new club adopted it for its own. Naturally the first meeting was at the Center were all these young and “depression jobless” youth hung out.
Now the idea of neighborhood softball teams was nothing new to the WR area.
“Different neighborhoods had different teams,” Mike Duhon, another charter member said. “There were the Hawks, the Swampers from Myrtle Avenue, the Holy Grail, the Tigers, and the Whiting Moose and the Elks.”
These teams played in a baseball diamond that was located in today’s municipal parking lot. They also played in “Stickers’ Stadium” which was where the Retention Basin now lies…..it was named this because the players would spend hours after the game pulling stickers from their clothing.
“And some of those balls we played with were like cannon balls,” Joe laughed. “Nobody had any money so you just kept wrapping more and more tape on them when they started to split.”
The club was an immediate success and members wanted to have their own club house. The first location was a little store adjacent to Wasielewski’s Dry Good Store (today it’s Dusty’s) on the corner of the Blvd. and White Oak Avenue. Before the war, the club would move two more times, always on the south side. Besides sports, the guys could go to the club for cards and recreation.
“We’d go there and listen to the radio and ballgames too and just hang around and talk about different things,” Joe said.
The members of Amicus were guys that had grown up together and played a lot of sandlot softball together. One of their players Mike Duhon was inducted for his fast pitch softball into the Lake County Hall of Fame in 1982. In 1936 Amicus were part of a National League softball game at the Community Center playground.
Amicus was known not only for its softball and later its football but for its social activities as well.
“The idea of the club was to be social and about sports, not political in any way,” said Barney Zagrocki.
Amicus sponsored dances in the old Frankowski Hall to raise money for equipment, uniforms and travel. Joe said it was like an unwritten law that whenever a sports club in the area held a dance, members from all the different clubs would attend.
“Crowds came from Hegwisch, East Side and Calumet City,” Joe said. “At that time dancing was a popular thing. A lot of couples met at our dances and later married.”
There is not a lot of information existing on the club’s softball team but they did win the American Softball Association Regional Championship. But much history surfaces on their football teams.
The Whiting Amicus fielded only one undefeated semi-pro football teams in the years 1938 through 1940. In ’39 they were the Chicago South Central League Champs. They played in Chicago before a crowd of 7,000 football fans. This trophy was their pride and possession for many years. They practiced every week night at Standard Diamonds and had many loyal fans. Some people became members not to play, but just to watch.
“I used to go to catechism on Sunday afternoons at St. Adalbert,” said Barney _____ who later joined Amicus. “After the priest was finished, everybody ran like crazy to see the end of the Amicus team football game. We kinda grew up with them.”
According to their written history, WWII saw the boys trading in their football and softball gear for military gear as they marched off to the wars. They reorganized in 1947 and got back into the semi-pro circuit. In 1948 they joined a Central States Professional Football League where they played against teams in Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa and Indiana.
Barney joined Amicus after WWII.
“He had to replace the old bucks,” Joe joked. “He was one of the youngest members but we had men like Mike Duhon who played till he was 40 some years old.”
“I think I was the only guy from outside of Goose Island,” Barney said.
Notable players for the football team included Moose Cholak and Ed Resetar. Among their coaches were Frank Progar, Charley Horvat and Stan Justak, one of the most loved member of the Amicus family.
In 1957 Amicus disbanded.
“The younger generation…you couldn’t get them involved so we dropped from 162 members to maybe 100,” Joe said. “It was hard to get the young ones interested and old ones were passing away.”
But the Amicus members didn’t just walk away. They held ten reunions for their members and brought in important sports figures as guests speakers such as John Lattner, Heisman Trophy winner and Notre Dame-All American, Coach Mope Kovacik, and John Molodet, EC Washington basketball coach. Each reunion booklet listed the names of those members who had passed away earlier that year.
Reading the roster of the 40 some charter members is to read the history of Whiting. And while there aren’t many original members left, the ones that are still with us have wonderful memories of those years when the Whiting Amicus put Whiting on the sports map and bonded together the lives of so many young men.