Funeral services for matriarch Ethel Mae Reedus (nee Swope) were held in Chicago at St. Katherine Drexel Parish May 4. Mrs. Reedus was 89.
She was born August 5, 1929, in Athens, Alabama, the first of six children of John Benny and Willie Lee Swope. The family moved to Chicago in 1939.
Over the years Reedus spoke of the challenges of moving from her small Alabama town to the big city. “You have to get past all the negative and focus on the positive,” she would say. The determination with which she met those challenges came to be a defining feature of her life.
An excellent student who particularly enjoyed English classes, where she could hone her writing skills, she graduated from Waller High School in 1947.
Ethel married Russell Reedus in 1950 in a small ceremony at her family’s home. Their union lasted until his death in 2006. They had two children, a son Glenn and a daughter, Janice.
Reedus worked outside the home as a teenager as a dispatcher for a local jitney company. She began her life’s career at the then-Hawthorne Works of Western Electric. Her career there spanned four decades.
Displaying an incredible work ethic, during a 1967 snowstorm when snow paralyzed the city, she walked three miles to work in waist high snow. Her supervisors recognized her dedication and promoted her to a training position in Columbus, Ohio. There she instructed employees in the use of machinery she worked on in her job in Chicago.
Upon retiring from Western Electric, Reedus lasted four months before she returned to the workforce, accepting a position as a sales associate at Marshall Field’s. She laughed, telling family and friends, “I was looking for part-time warehouse work, but I talked so much in my interview I landed a sales associate job at River Oaks!” Though she had no sales experience, she thrived in the job.
Her success in retail surprised some because at her core Reedus was an introvert, most comfortable around family and old friends. She earned frequent commendations from supervisors, and letters from customers, praising her warmth, product knowledge, and attentiveness in helping them. Though she counted some local female dignitaries as customers, she always tried she said, “to treat everyone with a smile.” She provided top-notch service, regardless of a person’s station in life.
A favorite pastime was going downtown, with her children in tow, every Saturday morning, and spending the day at many of the stores along State Street. The weather made no difference, Saturday shopping was a staple in her routine.
Seeking a good education for her children, Ethel enrolled them in Catholic school. She later told friends, “Catholic school may not be called the best by some people, but it was the best we could afford. And I wanted the best for my children.” She later converted to Catholicism and remained a devout Catholic.
Her friendships were an indication of the kind of person Ethel was. Over the years she remained close to some high school classmates, maintaining friendships as well, with many with whom she worked during her Western Electric career.
People enjoyed her friendship because of her everlasting positive outlook on life.
While many saw a rainstorm as an inconvenience, Reedus saw storms as food for plants and grass. She was known for saying “in spite of, not because of,” when friends and family came to her for advice on how to deal with negative situations in their lives. She uplifted others and helped them see that situations were not as bleak as they were perceived.
During the last 10 years, Reedus took an interest in technology. She was teased by family members as being the oldest Facebook lurker in the country. While she never posted anything, she was proficient at checking the pages of her family and friends and “reporting back” on their activities.
She was proud that she knew how to text, use an iPad and owned an iPhone, and relied on web sites such as Huff Post to get her news. Regardless of the time spent with her devices, she always found time to work crossword puzzles from the Sun Times and Tribune. Many times, she said the puzzles were the only reason she subscribed to the newspapers.
She was an avid reader however, of the Chicago Crusader, first developing an interest in the paper during the years her son Glenn was managing editor at the Crusader. She was a telephone friend for years of Publisher Dorothy Leavell, calling frequently to voice her opinion on topics presented in the paper. “Y’all tell it all,” she told Leavell. That’s why I read your paper.”
The first face to face meeting between the two took place a few short months ago at Reedus’ birthday party. That meeting cemented their friendship and Leavell was at her bedside on more than one occasion as her health declined. “I always enjoyed talking with Mama Reedus,” said Leavell. “She was interesting and interested in the world around her.”
Reedus is survived by her two children, four grandchildren, and four brothers.