50 Wards in 50 Weekdays: 29th Ward's George Hartzog, a block club member who knows about hard work and personal pain

June 22, 2012

(WBEZ/Sam Hudzik)
George Hartzog, in front of his freshly painted porch in the Austin neighborhood.

George Hartzog has returned from his daily 3-plus mile tour of the Austin neighborhood.

“Getting a little breath of fresh air,” Hartzog says. “I just got back from my walk in time for my breakfast.”

“I usually sit on my porch up there but it’s wet,” he says, from a folding chair placed in a shady part of his front walk. “I just paint[ed] it.”

Hartzog, 68, has lived in this house for 15 years. The lawn and porch are perfect. He keeps them that way.

“Neighborhood is alright. Pretty decent. About like any other neighborhood.”

Down the street there’s a wooden painted sign: “WELCOME…1600-1700 MENARD…BLOCK CLUB.”

Then there’s a list of prohibited activities: loud music, loitering, car washing, car repairing, ball playing, speeding, double parking, standing on corner.

“ABSOLUTELY NO DRUG SELLING.”

 

“Most every neighborhood you go in – this is Austin neighborhood, whether you know it or not – most every neighborhood you go in around the corner they got one,” Hartzog says. “What good it do, I don’t know about all that now. Probably none. Just the idea of putting it up there…It might help, who knows?”

Hartzog cares enough about that sign, that when it got knocked down by a garbage truck recently, he fixed it. He also sounds like a very involved block club member.

 

“Every year before kids go back to school – this time it’s August 11 – we [shut] the streets off and give the kids a little back to school party, like barbeque, and a little music…we rent some playground equipment, put it out in the street and block the street off here.”

That’s not something the Chicago area hears about when it hears about Austin. It’s more about killing than cookouts. Hartzog can’t recall violence on his street.

“Not since I been here. It’s quiet. Ain’t no gang-banging around here.”

 

Tragedy has struck Hartzog, though, years ago. His daughter got sick and died during pregnancy. His oldest son was shot in 1988, an act of jealousy.

“It was about a girl he was messing around with and used to be this other boy’s girl,” Hartzog says.

The survivor is his youngest son, now 40 and working for a cable company. Hartzog calls him “the baby.”

Hartzog was born and raised in Jackson, Mississippi. He came to Chicago when he was 18.

“I was tired of working in the cotton fields. I was a farmer.”

In Chicago, he did construction until his retirement ten years ago.

“I started off doing tunneling work. I’ve been up under water.  I’ve been underground. I’ve been up in the air. I’ve been on the ground.”

Hartzog says he’s worked hard his whole life. Perhaps that’s why he’s not entirely forgiving of the former aldermen in this area, Ike Carothers, who was busted for bribery. Hartzog says Carothers, who’s been out of prison a few months, messed up a good thing.

“I go to church with him,” Hartzog says. “He play saxophone in the church.”

“You put one bad egg in a bucket with more…eggs, they all going to turn bad, right?” he says. “The people that run this city…if one do wrong…they all do the same thing.”

Hartzog’s got no requests for his elected officials, no issue he wants them to address. But he is concerned about the kids.

 

“I feel sorry for the younger generation…because things ain’t getting better here. They getting worse.”

“Takes more than city [officials to fix that. It takes] the peoples,” he says. “Nobody sticks together. Nobody cares.”

Is that true? Sure seems like one resident on this block does.