Adopting a New Attitude about Making Families for Orphans

Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), November 16, 2004 | Go to article overview

Adopting a New Attitude about Making Families for Orphans


Byline: Burt Constable

On the day Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, 6-year-old Jean Becker's family came under a different kind of attack. Her mother, only 35, died from pneumonia.

"I didn't even get to kiss her goodbye," recalls Becker, who has spent most of her adult life in the Western suburbs.

For the next six months, her father, a working man who liked his beer and wasn't sure how to care for five young kids, let his children stay with his wife's relatives. During Jean's seventh birthday party, her dad swooped in to reclaim his kids.

He left the youngest, a baby boy, with a woman who lived above a vacant storefront. He eventually dropped Jean and her three sisters, ages 3 to 9, at the Kinderfreund (German for "Children's Friend") orphanage in Jersey City, N.J.

Now 69, Becker chronicles those years of loneliness and frustration, as well as moments of unexpected kindness and joy, in her book, "An Orphan's Song." Recalling how a red sweater she received for a present at the orphanage "made me feel special that someone really cared about me," Becker is helping spread that feeling among today's orphans and foster children.

"All my life, I wanted to do something for orphans, and I didn't know what it would be," Becker says.

Since the late announcer Harry Caray was an orphan, Becker will be signing books from 5:30-7:30 p.m. today at Harry Caray's Restaurant, 33 W. Kinzie St. in Chicago, with proceeds going toward holiday gifts for orphans and foster children. She's also appearing from noon until 1 p.m. Thursday at the Batavia Library.

Becker and her husband of 50 years, Joe, reared their two sons and two daughters in Glen Ellyn and ran a business in Batavia. A schoolteacher and radio host, she also founded the Cooking Craft cooking school and gourmet shop in St. Charles, where she was executive director of the town's convention and visitor's bureau.

Now living in Florida, Becker never forgets the kindness shown to her as an orphan. …

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