My Mom, Olga — Part Two: Career Woman

Career Woman

After graduation, Olga found a job with the Elevated Advertising Company in downtown Chicago as an “office girl.” Her company handled all the advertising for the famous Chicago “El” trains. Chicago doesn’t have a subway . . . they are all elevated above ground, hence the name, “El.” Her supervisor was a woman named Miss McCorkan, who took Olga under her wing and showed the sixteen-year-old the ropes. She even kept the men in the office who had a tendency to be inappropiate away from her young charge.

3. Olga during her working years at the Elevated Advertising Company in Chicago-1932 jpeg

Olga during her working years at the Elevated Advertising Company in Chicago. She not only worked for them, but then rode the “El” train to and from work every day for the nine years she worked there. c. 1932.

As a high-schooler, Olga had bitten her fingernails so Miss McCorkan gave her a manicure one lunch hour, and Olga never bit them again. Olga became known as extemely thorough. Her supervisor and those up the line never found mistakes in her typing. She worked at Elevated Advertising for nine years until she got married.


Olga was an attractive woman with a pretty smile and blue-gray eyes. She wore her auburn hair in the short, “finger wave” fashion of the day. She continued to live at the family home on Lorel Avenue during those working years. Her youngest brother, Carl, was born when Olga was nineteen. Carl remembered her as the only one who would read him stories as a little boy. When he would get ready for bed at night, he would go in her room, and she’d always ask him what story he would like. Occasionally he’d ask for “The Little Match Girl,” but the story was so sad, she only read it to him a few times. For the rest of her life, she could recite many of the children’s poems she had memorized, simply because she had read them to Carl so many times. One of her favorites was entitled, “There once was a Puffin.” Her children and grandchildren would hear this poem often in their early years.

Oh, there once was a Puffin, just the shape of a muffin,

 And he lived on an island, in the bright blue sea!

He ate little fishes, that were most delicious,

And he had them for supper and he had them for tea.


But this poor little Puffin, he couldn’t play nothin’,

For he hadn’t anybody to play with at all.

So he sat on his island, and he cried for awhile, and

He felt very lonely, and he felt very small.


Then along came the fishes, and they said, “If you wishes,

You can have us for playmates, instead of for tea!”

So they now play together, in all sorts of weather,

And the Puffin eats pancakes, like you and like me.

Backtracking a little, Olga attended a fourth of July Sunday School picnic in 1925, the year she graduated from high school. At the picnic she met a young man named Joe Kempston. Joe had been born in Chicago, on November 12, 1909. Shortly after his birth his family moved to Sioux City, Iowa, until he was ten; then to the panhandle of Idaho for three years, before returning to Chicago.



Ten years were to pass before Olga and Joe would be married. In the first days of their romance, she viewed him as much younger, because even though he was only ten months behind her in age, he was three years behind her in school. He had started a year late; she had finished a year early. During the years of their courtship, he would always buy her a box of Whitman’s chocolates on her birthday.


Joe was smitten with Olga right away. In a letter sent to her while on a fishing trip to Newton Lake in Minnesota, he opened with:


“Dear Olga, It seems about a month since I saw you last although it

                        hasn’t been a week. I certainly miss you. I wish you were here.

                        I know you’d love it.”


The letter is dated August 5th, 1926, written three months before he turned seventeen. Although much of rest of the letter is taken up describing his fishing successes, it was obvious he liked her!


Joe was a skinny, ingenious kid, who, in order to make the track team minimum weight, 120 pounds, at Oak Park High, put fishing weights in his pocket at the weigh-in. He ended up making the team as their best pole vaulter and graduated from Oak Park High in 1928. He worked for his dad, also named Joe, and his Uncle John, building houses for a year in order to save some money for college. He entered the University of Illinois in Champagne-Urbana, Illinois in the fall of 1929. Just one month after he began, the stock market crash ushered in the great depression. Joe and Olga dated all through his college years. There is one story, unsubstantiated, that Joe may have “run around” on her one time. She got wind of this, and refused his phone calls. Joe’s mom really liked Olga, so one day she called her up and talked her into getting back together with Joe, which Olga reluctantly did. As kids, whenever we asked about that, they would always remain silent.

4 college man

College man, Joe Kempston, at the University of Illinois, where he majored in civil engineering and rode on the ROTC equestrian team. c. 1932.


Joe majored in civil engineering. He lived in an engineering fraternity house called “The Triangle” and graduated at the very bottom of the depression in June of 1933. One of the classes in his last semester was a particularly difficult calculus class. He needed to pass the final in that class to graduate. The final exam only had one problem: Calculate the volume of the upper part of a cylinder which was divided into two parts by a slanted plane. He wasn’t at all confident that he got it right. So he made a deal with the secretary of the math department to call his house, the Triangle fraternity, as soon as the professor posted the grades. Meanwhile, he was painting the outside trim of the house in order to pay the final installment on his room and board. Whenever the phone would ring in the house ( it was on the third floor) he would dash down the ladder, scramble to the door, run up two flights of stairs, and answer it, all out of breath. After many such trips over that week, he finally got the word. He’d passed the class and would graduate!

Because the depression bottomed out the same year he graduated, no one was hiring brand new engineers. Joe got creative. He and his sister, Betty, drove out to Twaine Harte, California in his 1929 Model A Ford roadster where the logging industry was still somewhat intact. There he managed to get a job driving a logging truck for the summer, while Betty served as one of the logging camp cooks.

Returning to Illinois in the fall, the US Army activated his commission as a second lieutenant, which he had earned through four years of ROTC. For his first military assignment he was to be one of the army officers administrating the “CCC” Camp No. 2604 in Galva, Illinois. CCC stood for Civilian Conservation Corps. It was one of Roosevelt’s programs designed to put 18 to 24-year-old young men to work. After working for one year with the CCC, Joe finally got his wish. He married Olga in chicago on January 17, 1935 — 29 years to the day after Olga’s parents had married.

5. Beautiful bride Olga jpeg

Beautiful bride, Olga, and her brand new husband, Joe, at their wedding in Chicago on Thursday, January 17, 1935.

6. Wedding Announcement jpeg

Joe’s and Olga’s wedding announcement in the newspaper. January 1935.


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