Vickroy: Former Raceway Park announcer, wife reflect on 70 years of marriage
BY DONNA VICKROY email@example.com Twitter: @dvickroy November 14, 2012 4:14PM
Grace and Wayne Adams sit near their wedding photo at their home in Dolton, IL on Thursday November 8, 2012. They have been married 70 years. | Matt Marton~Sun-Times Media
Updated: December 16, 2012 6:14AM
Not only does Wayne Adams remember the exact day in 1940 when he met his wife, Grace, he still has the shirt he wore that afternoon.
“I spent a week’s salary on that shirt,” Wayne said.
As spiffy as it was, the red button-down was not enough to win Grace over. At least not at first.
They were at Riverview Amusement Park’s roller rink.
“He asked me to skate and I told him no,” she said.
Lucky for them, Wayne is persistent.
Wayne, who worked as the announcer for Raceway Park in Calumet Park for 42 years, and Grace, who was recently honored for 30 years of volunteer service with the village of Dolton, just marked their 70th wedding anniversary.
When asked what they attribute their long-lasting marriage to, Wayne said simply, “I married the right girl.”
She was just 14 and he 20 when they took that first skate. They dated for several years, skating at least twice a week, before they announced their engagement.
“Her father said I had to have $1,000 in the bank before I could marry her,” Wayne said. So the man who would go on to make his living in the stock car racing industry did what he had to do: he sold his car.
“We had to take the street car for awhile after that,” Grace said.
Six weeks after they were wed, Wayne was drafted. He spent 3 1/2 years with an Army combat engineer battalion, becoming a 1st Lieutenant and spending a year in the Philippines.
Back home, Grace and baby Wayne, born 14 months after the wedding, were living with her parents in Chicago’s Englewood community.
After he was discharged, Wayne resumed working as a writer for Illinois Speedway News. In June 1947, he did his first stint as a race announcer at Hanson Park on Chicago’s Northwest Side.
The owner of Raceway Park just happened to be in the crowd that day. Afterward, he offered Wayne a job. Wayne accepted. Two weeks later, he was offered an announcing job at Soldier Field.
“All of a sudden I was announcing at three of the greatest tracks in the country,” he said.
Eventually, he had to choose. He picked Raceway Park because it was privately owned and he figured it would be around for a long time.
“I wound up announcing 2,625 race programs over 42 years,” Wayne said.
He looked forward to going into work every day.
“From one night to the next, I couldn’t wait to get back to the track,” he said.
He still chuckles at some of his blunders.
“I said a few things that made the grandstand roar,” he said. Of course, they were accidental.
Wayne also held a day job, working for 39 years as a factory representative for various trophy companies.
The couple raised four children: Wayne, April, Jill and Craig.
“We lived frugally in a two-bedroom flat above my grandma and grandpa until they could save enough to buy this house,” Jill said.
In 1963, the family moved to their current home in Dolton.
Grace also worked for a time running the concession stand at Raceway. She and the kids were regulars at the park.
During the 1980s, Wayne said, the local auto racing industry started to die down.
“Because the cost was so great, many drivers were quitting,” he said. “Part of it was the economy, part of it was that racing got too technical, which meant too expensive. The ordinary person was left out of it.”
Used to be, people could buy a used car for $100, go to a race park and make $500. “Now, NASCAR has quarter-million dollar cars,” he said. “Today, it’s just big money.”
Wayne called his last race in 1989. Raceway Park was demolished in 2000.
At 93, Wayne is in great condition. Except for being hard of hearing, he says he suffers none of the inconveniences associated with aging. He still downs a couple of shots of vodka each day before dinner and he still smokes his pipe.
“My doctor tells me to keep doing what I’m doing; it’s working,” he said.
Grace, on the other hand, has beaten cancer three times. She’s had a stroke and a stent put in her heart. But at 87, her spirits are as bright as the Christmas decorations she keeps up around the house year round.
“She’s the perfect girl,” Wayne says. “She’s just perfect. She’s always helped me with every single thing I’ve tried to do.”
His own father was married three times, but the marriage to his third wife lasted 65 years, “because he’d found the right girl.”
Grace feels the same about Wayne. “He’s a good guy. He’s funny, has a great sense of humor.”
She calls him “Sparky” and everyone calls her “Bootsy.”
When Grace was battling breast cancer, Wayne sat on the side of her hospital bed and begged her not to die.
“She listened,” he said.
Jill said her parents always made time for themselves. They’d usher the kids off to bed and then they’d play music. Sometimes Jill would peek around the corner and catch them dancing.
Even after Grace’s mother moved in with them, the couple continued to maintain their private time.
“I’d fix her (mother) a cocktail every night at 9 and send her to her room,” Wayne said, chuckling. “We got along great.”
Grace and her mother volunteered at Ingalls Hospital for 18 years. Grace was also president of the Thornton High School PTA and, in later years, organized holiday parties, picnics and bus tours for seniors through the Dolton Park District.
In her free time, Grace also made wedding cakes, elaborate, multi-tiered creations that she customized for family members and friends.
Today, the couple enjoys spending time with their nine grandchildren and 11 great grandchildren. Christmas is a big deal. In addition to some decorations that stay up year round, Grace blankets the house in festive decor.
“We have 14 trees altogether,” she said.
Though they don’t travel much anymore, they have been to 48 states, Mexico and Canada. Their favorite trips were a visit to Alaska and a driving trek through the Canadian Rockies.