CALUMET CITY - Families come and families go, but some families are here to
In an increasingly transient and mobile world, three Calumet City families
have bucked the trend and have kept their ties, through three and four
generations, to the city where their ancestors settled a century ago.
They have married, raised children, remained active in the community,
welcomed grandchildren and kept the spirit of their forefathers alive by
telling stories passed down from generation to generation about the "old days"
in Calumet City.
Indeed, there've been changes, but the Misch, Schrum and Stefaniak families
have essentially kept the Calumet City torch alive, as evidenced by their role
in the community today - 100 years after their ancestors traveled from Europe
to start anew in what was then known as West Hammond.
(please center) The Misch family
If you love Polish sausage, you've probably payed more than one visit to the
Misch Bros. grocery store on Burnham Avenue. There, Paul, Tom and Bob Misch
churn out about 2,000 pounds of "Polishes" a week.
But don't ask Paul Misch for his secret recipe. It's a family secret and one
that likely began in Poland in the 19th Century, before Jan Mis and Maryanna
Musielak made their pilgrimages to America.
The couple married in 1892 in Chicago, moved to West Hammond, now Calumet
City, had eight children - Tony, Rose, Sophie, Marie, Catherine, Josephine,
Alfred and Pete - and went into the grocery business.
By 1918, the Mis surname evolved into Miss and then to Misch, which means
"mouse" in Polish. The couple lived at 108 155th Place, a stone's throw from
the original Misch grocery store, which was opened in 1910 by John (Jan) Alfred
Today, Misch Bros. Groceries is at 745 Burnham Ave. - where it has been
standing since 1938, when the youngest Misch child, Peter, opened his own store
- while brother Al and father continued to operate the store on 155th Place.
Pete married Casimera Marie "Cora" Kosinski in 1936 at St. Andrew the
Apostle Church and the couple had five children: Paul, Irene, Thomas, Dorothy
and Robert. The three sons run the grocery store, with Paul and Tom tending to
the special meats and Bob handling the business end of things.
The family has succeeded where many have failed in maintaining a prosperous,
"We fulfill a need," Bob said on a sunny afternoon in June, as customers
wandered in and out of the store, often pausing in the aisles to chat with
employees whom they obviously consider friends.
Part of the secret to success is the store's fresh and smoked Polish
sausages, although Bob quickly notes, "I have a gallon of milk over here for
Customers come from far away to buy the sausage, Bob said, and they deliver
to places even farther away. "I think the farthest place the Polish sausage has
gone is Egypt," Bob said, although he noted that several families that have
moved away come back annually and buy sausage in quantity to take back to their
"I think the funniest thing we ever heard was one customer said he was
bringing it to Poland," laughed Michelle Misch, Bob's oldest daughter. "He
said, 'They don't make it as good there as we do.' "
Brothers Paul and Tom are the sausage chefs. "I don't pass it out," said
Paul when asked what makes his Polish sausage so good. Only three or four
people know the recipe, he said, but admitted the secret is in the spices.
Like Bob, his daughters, Michelle and Angie, put in their time at the store.
Matriarch Cora also puts in some hours on Fridays.
"It was slower-paced," Cora said, recalling the store's beginnings, "but
it's pretty much the same today. I know the customers. They know us. We have a
real variety - they're not all Polish," she laughed.
The Schrum family
Ever hear of the old Schrum Pickle Factory? How about Hoover-Schrum Memorial
school? Or Schrum Road?
Well, one Schrum still lives on Schrum Road in the same area the family
settled in 1863. In fact, 90-year-old William "Bill" Schrum lives on the same
plot of land where he was born. His father, Henry, has the distinction of being
the only Schrum brother not to go into the
"He was a farmer," said Schrum, "We had 640 acres out here," he said
looking into the distance and remembering farm land where houses now stand. "We
stayed on the farm. They did the pickles."
"They" are his five uncles, Fred, Peter, William, Joseph and Claus. Born to
Johan and Louise Schrum, the five sons opened Calumet Pickle Works in 1901,
according to Donald Schrum, now 72, who was Joseph's son.
"They made everything," Bill Schrum recalled, "ketchup, sauerkraut, cabbage,
sweet pickles, dill pickles."
Located on State Line Road, the pickle factory was a good source of
employment for anyone named Schrum until World War II.
"All of us worked there," Don Schrum laughed. "We all got along pretty
He remembers teachers bringing their students for a tour of the factory. As
a treat, the kids were allowed to dip their hands into the big pickle barrel
and grab a dill for the road. Actually, the Schrums were fairly generous when
it came to handing out the pickles, Don Schrum said.
"Anybody that came by got a great big armful of pickles to take home," he
said. "It smelled pretty 'pickley.' The people who lived there used to
Although the pickle business was a good living, Don Schrum said the family
wasn't wealthy. "A lot of people thought they were, but they weren't so
wealthy. They were always sticking money back into the business all the time."
Johan, who immigrated from Northern Germany, and Louise, who came from
Holland, also had two daughters, Magdalena and Dora. Interestingly, Magdalena
married a Clausen of the Clausen pickle family.
But the Schrum's pickle factory was forced out of business during WWII.
"They closed up the pickle factory because of the war," Don Schrum said. "In
war time, the pickle business was not considered an essential business and they
couldn't get the sugar because of the rations."
After the war, however, Peter Schrum reopened the pickle factory in 1948 and
called it P.N. Schrum & Sons. It closed for good in the late 1970s.
There are still dozens of Schrums in the area, Don said, although many have
left Calumet City and headed toward Northwest Indiana. "We still get together
every now and then," he said, adding that he stops by to visit his cousin,
Bill, pretty regularly.
The Stefaniak family
The same year President Richard Nixon resigned, a young Robert Stefaniak was
elected mayor of Calumet City. He served in that post through four U.S.
presidents and into the term of a fifth, President Clinton.
But before Mayor Stefaniak, there was City Clerk Casey Stefaniak and before
that, in the early 20th Century, there was Mayor Paul M. Kamradt, Stefaniak's
maternal grandfather, who was mayor of then West Hammond from 1915 until 1925.
If you drive down Burnham Avenue, you might notice Stefaniak Financial
Services, run by Thomas Stefaniak, the former mayor's brother. To the east of
the Police Department, is Stefaniak Municipal Complex, smack in the center of
the police and fire stations and the public library.
The name Stefaniak is to Calumet City what the name Daley is to Chicago.
But some younger Stefaniaks aren't so sure they want to follow in their
grandpa's footsteps, although they're quick to admit they're proud of the
"My family really cares, we're really close," said 11-year-old Jamey Callow,
Stefaniak's granddaughter. Although Jamey - whose mother, Lori, is Stefaniak's
daughter - lives in Crown Point, she frequently visits her father in Calumet
While Nicole and Shelli Gericke, 11 and 10 respectively, are proud of the
family tradition, they're not too eager to jump into the political fray.
"I think it's pretty much over," said Nicole, when asked if the tradition of
local politics will continue with their generation.
Nicole and Shelli's mom is the former Cheri Vierk, Bernie Stefaniak's
daughter. Although technically, Stefaniak is Cheri's step-father, Nicole said
no concern is given to the "step" situation. "We're all just one big family,"
she said. "You get loved a lot."
Both Nicole and Shelli had a great time at their grandpa's going-away party
at the end of April.
"I was really proud to be there," said Nicole.
"I was happy to see all my grandpa's friends talk about how hard my grandpa
worked for 21 years," Shelli said. "He was a good mayor because he tried to do
everything that everybody wanted."
Although cousin Nick Boskovich, son of Debbie Vierk, thinks Shelli may be
the one to carry the political torch someday, Shelli said she "didn't think so."
Boskovich, 13, now lives in Lakes of the Four Seasons, but lived in Calumet
City for eight years.
"The reason I always wanted to go back was because everyone in my family and
my friends were there," he said.
So, while Nick is more interested in law than in politics, he guessed Shelli
might be the grandchild destined for local politics.
"It'd probably be Shelli because she's the one always talking about Grandpa
being the mayor," Nick said.