The Pearl Diver

The world began and the little boy sat on the shore looking out across the ocean. The old man approached the boy, stopping near the fence between them, and motioned to him. When the boy approached, the old man spoke to him: “A stranger has come who will be staying for awhile. He dreams of diving for pearls here.” The little boy nodded and wondered what this meant.

The next day as the boy was day-dreaming, a stranger came from the forest path and walked thru the gate in the old man’s fence. He carried a small black case and didn’t seem to see the boy. The boy watched as he surveyed the rocky shoreline, stepping on the boulders, looking out across the waves. He settled on the largest one jutting far out into the sea, placed the black case at his feet, and removed his shoes. After securing the small case to his belt, he paused, then crouching, threw his arms back and sprang out from his perch, diving in a long graceful arc into the deep blue water. After an impossibly long submergence, he re-surfaced, climbed back onto his boulder, placed his case on the ground, then stretched out, resting in the sun.

This became the stranger’s routine. The little boy noticed that other than his black case, the pearl diver always emerged from the surf empty-handed. He wondered when the stranger’s precious pearls would be laid out in the sun to an admiring world. Day after day the stranger did this, as days became weeks, weeks became months, months became years, years became decades.

One day, the boy saw the old man and called him over. “What does he do beneath the surface, and what is in his small case?” The old man replied, “Well, my boy, there is something very special in his case. In it are sand grains from another world. He plants them in the oysters hoping to grow and present us beautiful, mysterious pearls.” “So where are his wondrous pearls?” the boy asked. “Son, the reason why is unknowable, but the oysters reject the sand grains from another world. That is why he emerges empty-handed.” Disappointed, the little boy now understood.

On the day the end of time arrived, the little boy and the old man stood together and watched as the stranger rose and walked past them empty-handed, other than his small black case. “Is he sad?” the little boy asked. “No. He has enjoyed his time diving in the ocean” the old man explained. The little boy admired the stranger for being brave and stoic. The old man watched as the stranger departed and wondered if that was a tear he saw in his eye. The stranger continued down the path, disappeared into the forest, and the world ended.


Richard Schuurman Article

A successful insurance executive, Barrington resident Richard Schuurman decided to leave the business world and now commutes every other week to Washington D.C., where he uses his managerial skills to help improve housing for the city’s poor.

The Sunday Herald
November 2, 1980

A Closer Look
Richard Schuurman:
Turning inner city despair into jubilation

by Anna Madrzyk

“The place was really in bad shape. Like no heat, no hot water… We would get up, and we would have to heat water to wash up in the morning; plus we would have to turn on our ovens to keep warm. It was just terrible.

We didn’t have any security in the halls, and addicts were running in and out. I was afraid for my kids to just come over here and visit… I wouldn’t dare to open my door, because so much went on in the hall. Addicts were beating up their girlfriends and things. A man got hit, beat up. Right in front of my door.”

Viola Taylor is black, middle-aged and poor. She lives with her husband, Charles, in a Washington, D.C. ghetto just two miles north of the White House.

But today, the rat-infested, crumbling apartment building the Taylors moved into is an inner-city success story, rather than a pit of despair.

It was purchased by Jubilee Housing, Inc., a non-profit organization that grew out of a small church’s mission to help the poor.

Since 1973, Jubilee has bought several slum buildings and, through the efforts of tenants working side-by-side with volunteers from across the country – including a contingent from the First Presbyterian Church in Arlington Heights – is turning them into decent places to live.

Jubilee’s unique approach to inner-city housing rehabilitation spurred big-name corporations and high-powered legal firms to offer financial help and donate their expertise. It attracted such Washington, D.C. movers and shakers as First Lady Rosalynn Carter, Washington Post Publisher Katherine Graham and former Secretary of State William Rogers to serve on its support committee.

And it inspired Barrington resident Richard Schuurman – a 54-year-old former executive whose career included nine years as president of an Oakbrook insurance firm – to change his life.

At a time when most people would be looking forward to a few years on easy street, with their children grown and heavy financial responsibilities over, Schuurman accepted a volunteer position as director of Jubilee’s development office.

He spends every other week in Washington, leaving his spacious suburban home – with its view of 2 1/2 wooded acres, spectacular sunsets and a water lily pond stocked with golden fish – for the inner-city of the nation’s Capitol. There, he sleeps on a mattress in a small row house right in the Adams-Morgan neighborhood that Jubilee is helping rehabilitate.

“The first night there I was very, very apprehensive,” Schuurman recalled. “If you’re afraid of roaches, you’d better stay out of the whole area. It’s just a way of life out there.”

He pondered the decision to leave the business world for months before joining Jubilee. “I guess I look at life differently than when I was 24 or 34 (years old),” Schuurman explained. “I just came to a point where I said, ‘what’s this all about?’ I was not particularly unhappy with what I was doing, but I just didn’t find anything really fulfilling in it anymore.”

“It was a difficult decision. It meant shifting my whole life, turning it around 180 degrees.”

Schuurman says he had the complete support of his wife, Ann, who has her own business: three very successful employment agencies, located in Barrington, Streamwood and Elgin.

“I had to work through the idea of working for a pittance while my wife would be the chief breadwinner, because we live in a culture where your identity is tied in with your breadwinning activities,” he said. “It was my problem, and I am so thankful I was able to work through it. We still have an adequate income to live the way we always did… I can’t say it was a great sacrifice in that sense.”

As director of development for Jubilee, Schuurman will be traveling around the country during the next few months with his associate, a tenant of one of the apartments, seeking desperately needed funds from selected private foundations and firms.

He’s In a race against time, because the strategically located Adams-Morgan neighborhood is rapidly changing. Already, there are $180,000 townhouses going up across the street from tenements. Soon, Jubilee officials fear, rising property values will push the cost of the apartment buildings way out of the non-profit organization’s price range. The process of “gentrification,” Schuurman says, threatens to leave Washington’s poor “with literally no place to go.”

Jubilee’s goal is to secure 20 percent of the housing in the Adams-Morgan neighborhood for poor families. To achieve it, the organization must complete an ambitious five-year expansion program, which will require raising $3 million in funds just the first year. Currently, Jubilee owns five small apartment buildings in Adams-Morgan and a sixth dwelling in another neighborhood.

While other inner-city rehabilitation projects have reverted quickly back to slums, Jubilee is successful because it requires that residents assume responsibility for their living conditions, Schuurman said. Renovation projects patterned after Jubilee have started in Denver, Louisville, Baltimore and Alexandria, Va.

“This is not a matter of a group of middle-income people who come into a neighborhood and want to ‘do good,'” he said. “We have a very deep commitment to getting these people to help themselves. We require the residents to attend classes, learn how to handle the operation of the buildings, preparing them to take over the building as time goes by as cooperative housing and eventually to own the buildings themselves.”

Resident Viola Taylor, who serves on two committees for her building – admissions and construction/maintenance – was taught how to spackle and paint by her husband Charles, who is chairman of the construction committee. “I don’t mind working, trying to make the hall look decent. I feel proud,” Mrs. Taylor told a Jubilee staffer who interviewed her for a publication.

Some residents were suspicious of Jubilee at first, Schuurman said, and there are still a few who are just “along for the ride” and don’t do their share of the work. But overall, participation is good and many residents are deeply involved. Besides decent housing, Jubilee offers below-market rents for residents whose family incomes average $5,000 to $6,OOO a year.

The Jubilee approach to improving the quality of life for ghetto residents is “holistic,” Schuurman said, encompassing a variety of social services as well as housing. In the neighborhood, there is a Montessori School for damaged children, a nutrition program for the elderly, a health clinic and Potter’s House, a combination bookstore-coffeehouse that was the first mission of the Church of the Savior, the tiny, ecumenical church on Washington’s Embassy Row that launched Jubilee.

Once a year, the Washington luminaries on Jubilee’s support committee attend a dinner with residents. “It’s dynamic to watch those with power sit down with those without power and see what happens,” Schuurman said. “They discover they have a lot in common – Mrs. Carter’s got Amy just like Rosa Hatfield’s got her four children, and the problems are the same.”

Like the other successful businessmen who have become involved in Jubilee’s work and who discuss their feelings about it on a 12-minute promotional tape used in fundraising efforts – Richard Schuurman finds his new job absolutely fulfilling. It has “deepened my spiritual life greatly,” he says.

“Up to now, I guess, I gave to the causes the church supports but I never had a sense of personal participation in it,” Schuurman said. “There’s a great deal of difference between writing out a check and working with poor people to help solve their problems. I am a lot more sympathetic to the plight of the poor people than I ever have been before.”

Schuurman said the experience has taught him something about his own lifestyle. “You can get by,” he says. “We live so lavishly in our suburban culture. You can get by on much, much less and still be happy.”

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Yerkes Observatory

Yerkes Observatory, built in 1895, is a historic astronomy research institution near the north shore of Geneva Lake in Wisconsin, owned by the University of Chicago. In early summer 2018, My sister Patty told me Yerkes Observatory was ending its public tours in October. In late June, I drove up there to take a look around, and to get some photos of Yerkes. Patty and Paul recently bought a cottage near the north shore, east of Yerkes, across Williams Bay. My grandfather originally had rented a cottage for his kids in Williams Bay many years ago. Eventually he purchased one near the south shore when his kids had families. Each family would spend about 3 weeks there during the summer. My parents later owned homes there, and eventually Patty would as well. Our earliest memories of Yerkes were viewing it across the lake from the south shore. Above the trees, you could clearly see the 3 observatories: the large one at the west end and the two smaller ones east. Lately, the smaller ones have become harder to see as the trees have matured further and begun to obscure their view from the lake. My parents took us on the Yerkes tour when we were young and we observed the interior of the majestic structure we previously only viewed on the horizon above the shoreline. We are hoping that Yerkes’ historic significance is appreciated and the institution is respected and endures.


Climate of Change

In human history, globally disruptive transformations have occurred after sets of events converged and social, political, or environmental pressures led to annihilation of the status quo. We are in such a cycle now. Step back, look from a distance, and it is apparent that the shape of current events perfectly fits the profile of an approaching apocalyptic realignment. A Boomer, I watched the Cold War end in my twenties. It’s easy for me to see the stretch since then as a history book chapter where an era began with optimism and idealism, followed by unforeseen, conflicted, seemingly random world events that proved unresolvable, leading to a disintegration that changed everything for everyone. These pressures exist around us now and are building. We all know what they are. We face evidence of them every day. It is unknowable how this will come to a head. Some of us will be swept away. Some will adapt and endure. Some will prosper. There is no survival preparation for this, other than eyes wide open and get right with your neighbor, family and yourself. It’s coming. No-one escapes untouched. Good luck!


The Next Thing

Riding my stationary bike, eyes closed in my quiet basement, I peer into the Next Thing, which I’m closing in on. I think my spirit won’t just dissipate, it will carry on in some form to the benefit of the species, to life itself. I’ll rejoin the ocean of souls from where I once emerged. I believe I will reconnect with loved ones and other people from my life. Maybe in this thing we can re-configure and see each other again from our old eyes, but shared. This omnipresent entity we are absorbed by will free us of the barriers of individual creatures driven by self-preservation in the physical world. From it we will re-constitute and precipitate again as new, original beings. Our souls spring from a joined source of retained memory, perhaps. Life advances, new and improved.



It has taken some time, but I’m finally becoming invisible.

Recently, I came across a video of my family from when I was about 5. Some time ago my parents had old film footage converted to video cassettes and gave copies to us. One part showed my family entering a relative’s house on a holiday. My 4 older siblings entered first looking excited to see our cousins, followed by me and my folks. I looked very uncomfortable and intimidated. I remember being very self-conscious entering places like restaurants, stores or church when I was young. The size of my family drew attention to us, which made me nervous. Even as a teenager, I remember dreading the 30 seconds or so that it took from the point of entering a restaurant to being seated. I also had an aversion to being seen smiling. Very young, I remember being praised by my mom and a photographer for finally smiling after he snapped a picture of me in a cowboy outfit.

As an adult, I came to understand this part of my nature better, developing coping methods and discovering options to deal with my social anxiety. Alcohol helped in some social situations. I learned that beta-blockers masked the fight or flight response that over-loaded me when I performed or spoke to a group. With anti-anxiety meds I could feel at ease around people, allowing me to reveal more about myself. I learned to trust the positive way people responded to me more than my feeling that people didn’t receive me well. All these things helped me manage socially, but didn’t change the essence of who I was.

These days, I’m understanding the ways social anxiety has influenced the course of my life. It is a fundamental element of who I am. I realize now that it’s not being looked at that gives me discomfort, it’s being thought about that causes it. This tension produces an aura around me. It is a tangible gravity that pulls on me and pushes out from me. With just minimal engagement, people will instinctively tend to give me space, regarding me as private rather than aloof. They are cool with me leaving only the faintest trail on their radar. But this also means my creative efforts are offered from a distance to an audience focused on many other things. My creations sail off into the void and are devoured by the vacuum. No sound or light reflects back. No echoes or murmurs in response. No acknowledgement or acclaim.

I am getting what I wished. I have almost achieved invisibility.


Vince Salerno

In late ’82, John and I spotted an ad in the Illinois Entertainer for a harmonica and sax player. We hired Vince Salerno to record tracks to new songs we were working on in St. Vitus Dance. Vince took the train from the north side where he lived, to Barrington, where our rehearsal space was next to the station. At the time, he was working with Pocket Watch Paul, who was making the rounds of the Chicago blues clubs. Also around this time, Vince was backing Vanessa Davis. Vince’s contribution to our music added an element of maturity, class, and production shine.

When I returned from my Europe trip in the fall of ’84, I called Vince and asked him if he knew anyone looking to share an apartment on the north side. In fact, he had just broken up with his girlfriend and was staying temporarily at his mom’s, and was looking for the same. We found a basement apartment in Lincoln Park on Wayne street just north of Fullerton and moved in a few weeks before Thanksgiving. I had wanted some way to get into the city and Vince, an older and more experienced player, was my channel.

By the summer of ’85 our immediate circle of friends included Polish musician Stan Borys, music writer Bill Dahl, ‘Lil Ed guitarist Mike Garrett Wolancevich, and girlfriend Mary Beutjer, who later became my wife. Vince and I recorded an EP as ‘Strange Romance’, which was reviewed favorably by Illinois Entertainer writer Mick Hans, who later put us at the top of his favorite local projects list for ’86. His piece was read by bowling alley manager and indy label owner Jeff Svoboda, which led to his financing Strange Romance’s LP ‘Charms.’ We all hung out at Kingston Mines, Buddy Guy’s Legends, Blues on Halsted, and the Get Me High Lounge in Wicker Park. Weiner Circle on Clark, the Maxwell St. Polish sausage grills, and El Presidente on Ashland were favorite night-ender eateries.

Vince made a point of sharing his rich knowledge of music history with me. At the Get Me High Lounge, he introduced me to the sounds of Charlie Parker and John Coltrane, giving me back-stories and details that drew me into their music. He steered me to Jimmy Smith and the organ trio format, knowing I was a fan of the B3 and owner of a little Hammond M3. He put blues harp pioneer Little Walter on my radar, and introduced me to the work of Jr. Walker and other R&B greats. Through Vince I learned about legendary soul labels Atlantic and Stax. Vince mentored me on the essential American music of the twentieth century.

By the mid-80’s Vince was playing with the Supernaturals, fronted by Liz Manville, with her husband Willie Greeson backing her on guitar. There were out-of-town dates where Vince would disappear for a stretch and come back to Mary and me comfortably nested in the apartment with his amusing kitty, Scat. Vince never complained about it, but it probably irked him. Eventually, Mary and I got our own apartment a few blocks west.

Vince met BB Bugaloo when he was practicing sax under the Columbus St. bridge. BB, who was working at a nearby parking lot with his band-mate Joe Afriyie, came over and introduced himself after hearing him. BB was a well-known singer in his home country of Ghana, singing American soul and Ghanaian high-life. He’d arrived in the US recently and was putting together an African reggae band in Chicago and was looking for a sax player. Vince began rehearsing with his band Asafo and invited me to tape them. In the summer of ’85, I produced the Asafo EP at Chicago Trax (then located a half block south of us on Wayne) for African businessman Robert Barimah Minta. Later, Vince and I attempted to put together a project featuring BB, but differences in vision shut down the effort and caused a brief rift in our friendship.

Vince and I have maintained our friendship. He has contributed to almost all of my music projects. Of all the musician friends who have influenced me through the years, he is the one who has most directly calibrated my artistic compass. Interestingly, he now lives in Barrington, the place I grew up. I am living in Edison Park, next door to Park Ridge, where he grew up.

These days he performs with Gerald McClendon and has recently produced a project featuring his arrangements of soul, R&B and blues chestnuts performed by Gerald and a crack ensemble of veteran Chicago side-men.

Vince Salerno & Gerald McClendon
Grab the Blues by the Horns

Vince Salerno – Tenor and Baritone Sax, Harmonica
Gerald McClendon – Vocals
Thomas Klein – Guitar

Lou Marini – Bass Guitar
Mark Fornek – Drums
Paul Coscino – Piano and Organ
John Bowes – Tenor and Baritone Sax
Ron Haynes – Trumpet
Jack Cassidy – Trumpet

      Come On - Vince Salerno & Gerald McClendon
      Love Man - Vince Salerno & Gerald McClendon
      Crying For My Baby - Vince Salerno & Gerald McClendon
      The Happy Song - Vince Salerno & Gerald McClendon
      Up the Line - Vince Salerno & Gerald McClendon
      I Wish You Would - Vince Salerno & Gerald McClendon