He was born near the end of World War 1 in Siberia, the fifth of six children. After the war his family located to Latvia and at 7 years of age his family immigrated to the United States. They eventually settled in Chicago's South Side and learned to speak fluent English. And thus, the legend of Uncle Robert began. And, this past Sunday, September 16 we all celebrated his 96th birthday with those whom he loves; his family.
The birthday cake was decorated with pictures of his illustrious life from his baby pictures taken in Latvia to pictures in his adopted country, the U.S.A. And it didn't appear he lost a step. He spoke with the same gravelly voice and made an eloquent speech to his assembled guests. He went around the room telling tidbits about all of us. What a remarkable memory and story teller.
He opened a Kosher fish market In Chicago's West Roger Park over 40 years ago and has become an icon to his hundreds of customers, all of whom have become his friends His store is a step back in time and is one of the few remaing independent fish stores left in Chicago.
There is the long counter with the display of various types of Kosher fish where the customers wait for their order to be filled. And while they wait he has provided comfortable chairs where they sit and talk to their friends. Of course, Uncle Robert knows all of them by name and has a remarkable memory for all the stories the customers tell him while waiting. It is a trait seldom seen in our time: someone who listens and gets to know people as more than a customer.
For a piece of real Chicago History when George H.W. Bush was campaigning for the Presidency his staff recommended Chicago's Roger Park and the the place to visit was Robert's Fish Store, a well known icon of the community. After the FBI did their usual sweeping of his store the future president came in. He immediately began to hear wonderful stories that Uncle Robert collected over the years. And to top it off, he not only showed the candidate how to filet a fish but gave him an apron and had him attempt to filet one himself. It's a good thing he never went into the fish business. The Chicago papers ran full page copy of him alongside future President Bush 41 (cannot locate a copy of the picture).
As Robert approached his 70th birthday he decided to sell his store and did so to one of his employees. An immigrant that started working for uncle Robert without knowing a word of English. In the beginning instructions were given by sign language. He did learn the English language and when asked "why did you sell your store to someone from another country and couldn't' speak English?" The answer was simple as he spoke in his gravelly voice. "I came to America from another country unable to speak English and was given the opportunity for a wonderful life. He is receiving the same opportunity."
Now here is where Uncle Robert's legend continues. He sold the store and has come in nearly every day since to chat with the older people that still remain faithful to him. And, he also filet's the fish to the customer's satisfaction. His salary? Nothing. Zero. Nada. At first he did it to make sure the new owner was able to handle the transition. Now at 96 he still goes to the store, not quite as often, but goes to relish the stories he tells the new and older customers. He lives the American dream and has given others the chance to do the same. That alone makes him a living icon.
He was married for 63 years to his beloved wife when she went to her elternal sleep. They had a boy and girl and many grandchildren, along with dozens of nephews and nieces. And great nephews and nieces. in fact he is the proud great-great-great uncle of dozens of nephews and nieces. They surround him with love and listen attentevily as he tells them of the "old country", his voyage to this wonderous land along with the dozens of stories about his life and wonders of his adopted country.
I am proud of being one of his nephews. He is a true patriach of our family. And a Chicago icon. We will celebrate his 100th birthday in 2017 along with his aging family. So we pray the Good Lord keep him healthy so we can gather the clan as we have done for many years.
Happy birthday Uncle Robert Schuffler.
This is one memory that lights the corners of my mind. And now I hope it lights the corners of yours.