From the Ukraine to California:
A Son's View

The Alton Years
The North Chicago Years
The Colorado and California Years
The Travel Years
The Last Years
Dorothy Bernadette Rojo (nee Romanko) of San Jose, California passed away at age 93 years, nine months and ten days on Tuesday, December 14, 2004 at home with me and my partner Neila. She was preceded in death by her husband Guadalupe, her daughter and son-in-law Sylvia and Ronald Blomberg, her granddaughter Cheryl Lentz, sisters Frances Winter, Helen Cooper, brother Henry Romanko and two infant sisters, Nellie and Annie. Her younger brother Pete just died in 2005 leaving one sister Stella left in that family.

Mom was born March 4, 1911 in the western part of the Ukraine, the first child of Frank (Feodor) and Katherine (Tatiana) Romanko, and came to the US as a toddler. Gramps came to the USA first and Mom and her mother joined him later. The three of them lived in Detroit for a number of years where her brother Pete was born. They moved to Alton, IL. here Stella, Frances, Helen and Henry were added to the family.Two other sisters Nellie and Annie died when they were infants.

Dorothy and Guadalupe were married in 1933 in St.Louis, Mo. across the Mississippi river from Alton, Illinois. Dad rented a small house owned by Mom's parents across the street from them (he worked at the Owens glass factory in Alton) and they started their family, having Sylvia 1933, Jerry 1935, Richard 1937 and me in 1939 on Walker Street. After moving to North Chicago, IL. in 1944 Dennis came along in 1948 and added to the gang of now five children.

How we ended up in North Chicago was due to Dad getting his draft notice (they had just starting taking men with 4 kids) and a relative of his was working at Abbott Labs, a chemical company that made drugs for the war. He ended up getting a job there, giving him a deferment from World War II. I can remember us all living with this relative (his cousin and wife) for a short time and as Dad's luck was running good he found this house at the other end of the block. So 1015 Lenox Avenue became our new home and a good one at that. With the times being what they were Mom started working first at a company called Fansteel Inc., a specialty metals manufacturer on a assembly line putting automotive (contact points) together. She later worked at Abbott as a bottle labeler. Mom and Dad worked different shifts so the kids could be watched with Sylvia taking up most of the so called women's work when not in school. When Dennis came on in 1948 Mom was off work for a bit and later restarted working again, what they called the .grave yard. shift so she could be with Dennis during the day hours. Dad worked the second shift. Sylvia's work load became harder with Mom trying to get some sleep in whenever she could.

A story Mom told Neila that after Dennis was in school she showed up at Abbott and Dad saw her there and wanted to know what she was doing. She told him she was getting a job to buy a washer and dryer so I would guess she and Sis had it with hanging all the clothes on a line. So it was no wonder Sis went off and got married to Ron Blomberg in 1952 and a year later Mom was a grandmother. So with Dennis not yet ready for school there were a few years that Mom didn't work but she worked for a few more years after Dennis was in school. With Sis's room open and later with Jerry off to collage their rooms got rented and times got better for Mom. Somewhere in the mid to late 1950's Mom became a homebody with the renters helping with the cash flow. The house had 3 bedrooms, bathroom upstairs and a full basement. Dad made a small room in the basement where Richard and I had bunk beds for a few years while the rooms upstairs were rented out.The first floor had a dining room, living room and a kitchen.There was a back porch that was closed off to make two rooms that became Mom's sewing, storage room, bedroom with a smaller little bedroom making up about a third of that space. The old house had a coal burner and I still remember that truck loading the coal into a basement space. Dad signed up for gas and I can remember we were the first on the block to get it and all on the block were in envy as Dad showed it off. Years of stroking out the cinders and filling the pot holes in the alley was over for us boys.

Dad spent lots of time in that basement inventing things and had three patients one to trap Lamprey Eels when there was a contest to rid them in Lake Michigan. The other two were for board games, one with little wooden disks called .The Combination Game. and the other being a game to learn about the atom. He hand made many of the atom game and sold some at a store where brother-in-law Ron worked. Toy machine guns were another passion of his but he never got patents. The toy guns would shoot little wooden bullets, then a upgraded one would shoot steal balls. He had fun taking his game boards to work playing with his co-workers. Two of his many achieve-ments in life were becoming a US citizen and teaching himself all about the atom.

Mom's next move was around 1964- to a new tri-level house in a nice location in Waukegan, IL. The stay was a brief one. Dad had been retired with health problems following two operations for high blood pressure, and died in 1967. Mom was unable to cope with the large house and returned to her old home in Lenox Avenue. By now all the kids apart from Dennis had left home, and I was in California.

Then followed a move to Colorado in 1984. Dennis had located a house for her near to his own in Colorado Springs. It was a fully finished basement four-bedroom place with a laundry and a spare room in which she allowed a local handyman to live rent free in exchange for caretaking duties. Unfortunately, this man did little to help and she evicted him soon afterwards.

She survived a bout of colon cancer in 1987. Her sister Helen and then brother-in-law Lou lived nearby. Helen was in the mid-to-late stages of Alzheimer,s and Mom help care for her while Lou attended to his business. But it was all too much for Mom, and Helen was eventually placed in a care home where she died soon after her husband Lou.

Finally, in 1991, Mom moved to my house in California. In preparatiom for her arrival I had converted my four-bedroom home to accommodate an extensive living space for her, complete with her own bathroom. She had her own area for potting plants, and space for her beloved German Shepherd, Nipper, that she had looked after since picking him up as a pup on Mother's day 1992. He lived for seven years until overcome by cancer.

For the years she lived with me her activities included a daily morning walk in the neighborhood, gardening, crocheting, reading, bird-watching, playing with the dog, having lunch, and participating in activities at the Hank Lopez Senior Center (about a half mile away) on four days a week. I had installed a 8-foot satellite dish, and scanning the sky's became another major activity late into the night as she searched for the old classics and risque movies! I replaced the scanning actuator several times over the years.

Following Dad's death, Mom became a traveler. She was either in the skies, on trains, or in cars traveling in or over most states in the country on the way to vacations or extended visits with family and taking tours and seeing the sights with them. California, Connecticut, Colorado, Illinois and Florida was where her family lived, and she visited often. Other than the mainland states I also took her to Hawaii with my kids and then live-in girl friend in 1978. An effort was made to always plan her trips in early March since we were both born in March and it made for some great duel birthdays. My them wife Sandy and I would always try and get a Reno weekend trip in with us dumping the kids off on her sister Terry, God bless her heart. That March Reno thing became a must more so when Neila moved in with us. Neila's best friend Marie Herrera's birthday was also in March and Marie became a big part of our family and foursome with her helping us take care of Mom on our many trips not only to Reno but all over California and our trips to Oklahoma to the Gene Autry festivals.

Just have to mention one other great trip where after Sandy left me and I was living alone. Mom came out for a March visit and I took her to Las Vegas stopping to take the tour down in the Hoover Dam and on this nine hour drive I coaxed her into talking about her life and sure wished I had a tape recorder since she gave me details that would have been great to have now. After the Vegas club hopping and pulling slots our trip back was the same with stories untold to any others. We also had a stop at an old western town to have lunch and to see a street cowboy gun fight.

In her many visits to family I think she most enjoyed her many trips to Jerry's place in Connecticut where she was exposed to a culture other than drinking and pulling on slot machines. Jerry was always great at making sure she got in live stage shows and with his two sail boats over the years Selket and Nepthys that sea air surely help her quality of life. His son Brian and wife Mary living close by in Boston also added to the adventure back east that usually took place in the fall when the leaves were turning color. She spent many days there enjoying his three boys and the adventure of the Boston area. Jerry's best girl friend Joanne and her Mother Doris added to the many side trips and Mom became very good friends with Joanne's Mother and they became the best of pen pals the rest of her life.

The trips I set up for her when she was living with me she would have me schedule stops in Colorado or Chicago to visit with the other family members there while going to or from Jerry's place. She went to Florida a few times to be with her brother Pete and his wife Kitty and they came to California once where we gave them the local tour and a trip to Reno. There was another nice trip we took to Alton in 1992 to visit with her sister Stella where Sis, Ron, Rich and Carol met us, and we had a great time on their now new Alton Queen Gambling River Boat. While there we visited the old house I was born in and took some pictures of it and the house across the street where Mom grew up. The old farm and junk yard that my grand parents had later where Mom and the rest of the family lived was long gone. That was in Godfrey, the next city higher up the hill from Alton. There was a family reunion in 1947 on the old farm. I have fond memories of trips made earlier when my brothers and I did lots of playing around the old junk yard and the wild area around it that we were told was full of snakes. I would also say that of all of the many trips she took the one to Richard's house in 1995 was a highlight for her when she got to see all her kids together for the last time since Dad died. This was a big bash wedding that Richard and Carol put on for their son Dan when he married Michelle. Mom's 1996 and 1997 travels were very sad ones with losing three members from one family, Cheryl breast cancer, Sylvia colon cancer and Ron with lung cancer. She was getting too old to travel by herself and the last trip I set up for the fall of 2001 was canceled due to the event that September. Other than road trips around California and Reno her trips alone back east were over.

She began coming down with pneumonia (bacterial) more than usual. They didn't require hospital stays and we learned later that it was the aspiration type. By this time I wouldn't let her take her walks anymore as she started getting lost and she stopped going to the center after a hospital stay with pneumonia. I got her a treadmill but she was happier using her stationary bike, peddling for at least 20 minutes every few days up until six months before she died. By this time I had her walking area in the house full of hand rails and she was using a walker with a wheelchair coming later. We started learning all about feeding her and the special foods needed to keep the aspiration down but she still had to have her lungs pumped of fluid. She had another bad case when her Doc put her in a home care center for rehab for three months. From then on after that stay she made me promise never again to put her in a care center. All rehab was done in my home. Since she was no longer traveling other then local trips, Jerry started to make regular trips the last few years. Son.s Richard, Dennis, and granddaughter Linda also came for visits. Son Jerry's trips were the most appreciated since he took over the home care chores letting Neila and I sneak off for a few overnight trips to Reno.

Dorothy.s favorite movie stars were Patrick Swayze, Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy. She loved her son Jerry singing .Did you ever see a Dream Walking. that was playing while she died in my arms. She also enjoyed hearing Gene Autry's . the only star in my blue heaven.. She got personal signed pictures of Dale Roberson and a back stage picture signed by Kitty Carlise on one of her trips to Jerry's place.