Ahern: ‘Mayor of Western Avenue’ remembered fondly
By Patti Ahern Citizen Journalistfirstname.lastname@example.org April 4, 2014 3:04PM
Beverly resident Herbert ÒHubÓ Altman, who was known in the community as the "Mayor of Western Avenue," died last month at 69. | Submitted photo
Updated: May 7, 2014 6:13AM
Today’s column involves two compelling stories: one about a man who refused to be limited by his developmental disability and the other about a community that embraced him.
Herbert “Hub” Altman grew up in the Beverly community of Chicago and spent his life loving people, socializing, working hard and attending baseball games, even as life threw him a curveball by giving him a mind that would never mature as his body would.
Despite having the intellectual capacity of a child, Altman managed to find his way in the neighborhood where he grew up. He ran a window washing business, met a variety of celebrities along the way and most importantly, cultivated a large following of friends throughout the Southwest Side.
He was so liked and so well known for riding his bicycle up and down Western Avenue, seeking clients for his business, that residents gave nicknamed him the “Mayor of Western Avenue.”
When Altman, 69, passed away last month, residents again reached out on his behalf, asking that he be remembered and recognized for his zest for life and friendship.
One of his closest friends was Amy Warson, a woman whom Altman eventually thought of as his mom, after his mother passed away in 1992. Even though Warson was not related to Altman, they moved in together so she could oversee his care.
Speaking of Altman was difficult for Warson, and her eyes filled with tears as she spoke.
“He would not want me to be sad,” she said, wiping away tears as she spoke of the man whom she met when he offered window cleaning services at her chiropractic office on Western Avenue.
“Over a period of time, our friendship evolved,” Warson said. “He became like a son to me. Hub was very personable and did his own PR. Even though he had the mental capacity of an 11-year- old, he was more like 15 because he had street smarts. He could get himself to Golf Mill Shopping Center, and he had a large extended family in Beverly, Evergreen Park and Oak Lawn.”
Glen Altman, Hub’s cousin, said Altman was called Hub since he was a young boy because he could not pronounce “Herbert.” Glen Altman spoke fondly of his cousin and of the neighborhood that reached out to him.
“Hub was just a big boy,” he said. “He had a child’s mentality in a 6-foot 3-inch body.
“He was a big White Sox fan, and he’d take the 95th Street “el” and go there (U.S. Cellular Field) by himself. Once there, he could talk his way into anywhere. He was friends with White Sox organist Nancy Faust because he probably went there and said, ‘I have to see her.’
“We have pictures of him with Ozzie Guillen, Minnie Minoso and Don Drysdale,” Glen Altman said. “It wasn’t just baseball either. We have pictures of him with Jim Nabors and Pat Boone, and I even heard he has a picture with President Barack Obama — somehow he got through security — but I haven’t found that picture. He was just outgoing, loved attention and would say hello to everyone.”
Tony Zordan, a Beverly resident since the late 1970s was another friend of Altman’s.
“We got to know him when he visited (neighbors). We were his second choice,” Zordan said, laughing. “He would just kind of show up, and then he began to spend Christmas with us a few years ago. Sometimes he would call and say that he wanted to spend Easter with us, so I’d pick him up. He was just a really good guy.”
Longtime Beverly resident Don Radtke also spoke fondly of Altman and said the two met at church.
“He decided we were good people to visit,” Radtke said. “He would come, we’d ask how his day was, he’d watch TV and then fall asleep. That’s how he filled his day, he visited people.
“He’d call and ask for things, too. He’d ask if I could (video)tape something for him, and you know, you knew what it would take to make him happy. It’s nice to have someone that you know how to make happy.”
At Altman’s wake, his bike was on one side of the casket and two superhero costumes were on the other. Warson explained that Altman loved costumes and Halloween and said he even quieted an entire restaurant once by visiting dressed as Batman.
“He made a full life for himself,” Warson said. “Hub knew his limitations and had a self-awareness that he was mentally handicapped, but it never slowed him down. He could laugh at himself, and I think our lesson here is that we have to live life to its fullest in spite of our limitations.”
Altman’s death was the result of a variety of ailments that “ganged up on him,” Glen Altman said.
“He was in ICU on and off and was on life support three times. He tried so hard, but in the end he didn’t make it,” Glen said. “I just remember that he loved his friendships, and I am grateful to the many who opened their house to him. It’s just amazing the number of people who welcomed him into their family.”
Warson eyes again filled with tears, but she reminded herself that Altman’s death was not a time to be sad.
“He had a full life and lived life more fully than a lot of us. He brought a lot of joy to a lot of people, and I just can’t be sad about that,” she said.