Hubert Paul Klenck, Jr.

1932-2016

Not too many years before Herb was born, Carl Sandburg wrote a poem about Chicago we all know. Sandburg compared the city to a man. He wrote:

         Stormy, husky, brawling,

        City of the Big Shoulders:

My brother Herb personified that poem. Herb was born, worked and lived most his life in Chicago. Sandburg did not just describe the city in wonderful terms. He called it brutal. And indeed, Herb, too, had the scars of bare knuckle fights. Many people saw his wrath. But he was far, far more than that. His anger was an expression of seeking fairness and justice.

Sandburg wrote:

Come and show me another city with lifted head singing so proud to be alive and coarse and strong and cunning.

… here is a tall bold slugger set vivid against the little soft cities;

            Bareheaded,

            Shoveling,

            Wrecking,

            Planning,

            Building, breaking, rebuilding,

 Bragging and laughing that under his wrist is the pulse, and under his ribs the heart of the people,

             Laughing!

Herb was tradesman. He was proud to be a sheet metal worker, and he helped build and rebuild many of the hotels, hospitals, office buildings and apartments in Chicago. He was a fierce union advocate and served many years as a business agent for Local 73. He is why I became a union lawyer. He followed the steps of our father and worked many years for the City of Chicago. As a ventilation inspector he was very serious about his obligation to ensure that citizens lived and worked in a safe environment.

Bragging and laughing that under his wrist is the pulse, and under his ribs the heart of the people,

             Laughing!

Herb did not hesitate to speak truth to power. He would let an employer or a building owner know in no uncertain terms if he believed they were wrong. And he would not hesitate to speak up to Jesse Jackson, Mike Madigan or Bill Daley if he felt they were wrong. And, he would laugh inside while doing it. He wore glasses, certainly because he needed to, but they were also a great prop that he could push up his nose with his middle finger if the conversation warranted.

Sandburg wrote another poem called Happiness, and I think it, too, captures the essence of Herb. Though Sandburg uses the word “Hungarian” in the poem, feel free to substitute “Polish” for Herb’s mother’s heritage, or whatever mongrel term describes the cultural background of our father.

Happiness

I asked the professors who teach the meaning of life to tell me what is happiness.
And I went to famous executives who boss the work of thousands of men.
They all shook their heads and gave me a smile as though I was trying to fool with them.


And then one Sunday afternoon I wandered out along the Desplaines river
And I saw a crowd of Hungarians under the trees with their women and children and a keg of beer and an accordion.

Look at the pictures of Herb. He was a happy man. Nothing pleased him more than fishing trips to Wisconsin and Minnesota. My earliest memories include watching him play 16 inch softball, and pounding the ball over the outfielders’ heads. He likely took me to my first baseball game at Comiskey Park and he certainly took me to my first Blackhawks game at old Chicago Stadium. He was friends with Stan Mikita and president of the Blackhawk Standbys club and loved organizing their road trips and picnics. He loved traveling throughout the country and to Ireland.

And if you wanted to be entertained, you just needed to watch him play pinochle with his brothers Bob and Jerry and his cousin Helen. It was a blood sport.

While we were brothers, Herb was nearly 26 years older. So he was also a second dad to me. We were often mistaken for father and son, and that was OK with both of us.

He wasn’t a beer drinker, but I’m happy to say I had my first beer with Herb. And if his story is to be believed, my first shot, too. I was sitting on a bar stool next to him when I was about 3 years old. When he and his buddies’ backs were turned, the shots disappeared until I fell off the bar stool. What a brother. What I do remember is Herb sitting back in a chair with a bottle of root beer, a bowl of ice cream and listening to Jack Brickhouse call the Sox games, and we’d step out on the stoop to hear the fireworks shoot off at Comiskey when the Sox homered.

What was dearest to Herb was family. He married two wonderful women. He loved his son Frank. And no one was better at blended families. He was a friend and support to my mom, his stepmom. The Duffin children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren were an unending source of joy for him. He loved going to parties for his nephews and nieces. And no one could put away kielbasa and pirogi as he could at Nora’s annual Christmas parties.

It is my hope that this man with the biggest shoulders is sitting under a tree along a river laughing and bragging about a life well lived.

 

Paul Klenck

October 31, 2016