obit photo of lifelong lakeview resident Henry Widegren and Cubs fan
Updated: March 1, 2012 8:37AM
As a resident of Chicago’s Lake View neighborhood for more than a century, Charles Henry Widegren was one of the city’s oldest Cubs fans.
Mr. Widegren lived nearly his entire life within walking distance of Wrigley Field, where he worked not only his first job, but also his last.
As a boy, Mr. Widegren would clean the ballpark stands at the end of baseball games, filling empty potato sacks with peanut shells and other trash, in exchange for a ticket to an upcoming game.
Decades later, following his career with a company that built roads and bridges throughout the Chicago area, Mr. Widegren once again picked up a job at the Friendly Confines, working as an usher at nearly every home game for 15 years until he was 94.
Dubbed “Mr. Lake View” for his active involvement in dozens of neighborhood organizations, including the Kiwanis Club, Lake View Lions and the Addison Street Community Church, Mr. Widegren died of natural causes on Jan. 12. He was 104.
“Henry was just a pillar for the Lake View community and the Swedish community,” said Ald. Tom Tunney (44th). “He was probably the most generous, well-intentioned and well-mannered advocate for Lake View.”
Unlike most Cubs fans, Mr. Widegren could say that his beloved team won a World Series during his lifetime. (Mr. Widegren was born in Chicago on Dec. 13, 1907. The Cubs took home the title the following year and haven’t won since.)
Though Mr. Widegren couldn’t recall memories of the championship, he did remember when Wrigley Field was built, according to one of his daughters, Christine Rosenberg. He and his younger brother and sister would play on the dirt mounds of the construction site, and when the stadium originally called Weeghman Park opened in 1914, his parents took him to the opening series.
Back then, the ballpark was rarely locked, so on non-game days, Mr. Widegren and his siblings would play inside and race down the concrete ramps on their bikes and roller skates.
Mr. Widegren’s family frequently opened their home to visiting ballplayers looking to rent a room. His parents were Swedish immigrants who settled in Lake View in the early 1900s. After school, Mr. Widegren would spend evenings teaching English to his mother and father, a machinist who worked on the city’s “L” cars.
Mr. Widegren, who graduated from Lake View High School and attended business school at Northwestern University, went to work in the 1940s as the financial secretary and office manager at the construction firm Michael J. McDermott & Co. In the 1960s, he became part-owner.
Mr. Widegren served about five years in the Army during World War II with the 81st Infantry Division in the South Pacific. He was a very patriotic man who wore an American flag pin on his shirt every day and never missed a Memorial Day or Veterans Day ceremony.
Mr. Widegren married Violette Thompson in 1951. The two raised four children in the 1300 block of Eddy Street.
“He loved the Lake View area,” said another daughter, Susan Sims. “He was always very interested in helping the community and making it better. He couldn’t sit at home. He said people die sitting at home.”
Mr. Widegren was highly involved in improving local schools and parks, according to the Rev. George Rice, pastor of the Addison Street Community Church.
He volunteered with the Friends of Lake View High School, Boy Scouts of America and the Ravenswood Historical Society, to name a few. He was an 80-year member of the Independent Order of Vikings and former chief of his lodge, as well as a former senior commander for American Legion posts on the North Side.
In 1987, he was inducted into Chicago’s Senior Citizens Hall of Fame and, as part of his recognition, threw out the first pitch at a Cubs game.
“He was quite a colorful gentleman,” said Dan O’Donnell, retired owner of Armitage Hardware & Building Supply. “He was very outgoing and always friendly.”
Mr. Widegren’s wife preceded him in death. Aside from his daughters, he is also survived by a son, Charles Widegren; stepdaughter, Jana Butterfield; seven grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
Services have been held.