My name is Ken Nolan. My family lived south of OLA on Ridgeway and Huron. I had attended OLA from First through Fifth Grades. I then transferred to Ryerson due to an abuse incident by a nun that even my hard-nosed Father (St. Mel’s grad) would not tolerate. I had two sisters and a brother who attended OLA as well. I was in the Alamo Post drum corps with other kids from OLA, a corps later known as the Royal Airs.
My sister Margie was in room 212 until we moved from the neighborhood on October 1, 1958. The move probably saved her life.
We moved to Villa Park in October, 1958 but I commuted to drum corps practice twice a week in the neighborhood. It was like I never left, because of the drum corps I was always hanging out there. The neighborhood was changing but only on the far south and southeast sides around Garfield Park and along Kedzie. You could see the change when you went swimming at the Garfield Park Pool. Like a lot of us not going to a Catholic High School we had to go to Marshall High where you fought for your life each day. So moving was an easy decision for our family.
I was at York High School in Elmhurst in the band room working on cleaning instruments the day of the fire. They let us listen to WJJD while we worked and the radio broke in with a bulletin about the fire and telling everyone to stay away from the area. I left the school immediately and hitchhiked back to the neighborhood arriving at about 3:30 pm.
The impact of what I saw that day and evening has never left me for a moment. I can never imagine what you kids who were in the fire went through. But for me and who I was at that time it really changed me. The things I saw when I got to the school site did a real mind job on me.
I came back that day because I had just felt that I to be with my friends and when I got to the school the sights and sounds were unforgettable. The chaos and agony on Iowa street, the visits to St. Anne’s that evening looking for friends, the realization that this was reality and my friends and younger brothers and sisters of my friends had died or were badly injured left me a different person.
In the drum corps we had a color guard sergeant, Francis Guzaldo as well as Valerie Thoma, Roger Ramlow from the corps who perished. We in the corps created a special flag to carry with us to remember them, we have gone to the remembrances each year since included in the year just past.
If I mentioned names of people who passed away or were injured and whose relatives are connected through this site and I did not give them the proper reverence I apologize, this is so difficult to discuss and I wasn’t directly effected by fire, I’m just trying to say I try to remember you all and you have never left my recollections for a moment.
I can’t read the book, “Sleeping with Angels”, I saw the “Angels Too Soon” program but only after I taped it so I could watch, stop and put it aside for a while and come back to it. The grief can still be so overwhelming. When I see the list of names at the end I lose it. I remember the faces of the younger brothers and sisters of people I knew, guys I played ball with, Danny “D” Pilas’s sister, Jerry Carr’s sister, Grasso, Sarno, Filpponio and on and on.
I remember the book “The Fire that will not Die” that came out in the early eighties. That was another one I couldn’t get through.
Many from the corps are like me and have great difficulty with these remembrances only because you are at once grateful it wasn’t you and at the same time ripped apart by the horror of what happened to so many people who were so close and who deserved a better fate.
Good Luck to You All