Library Board Meeting: Rancorous Start, Calmer Ending

More than 70 people attended the first part of the June 21 Library Board of Trustees meeting, some of them to express support for embattled librarian Lesley Williams, some to accuse the Library of racism and unfairness, some to call for an “equity audit,” and some to support the trustees and the Library.

During the hour-long public comment period, several speakers lambasted the Library and the trustees as racist because Ms. Williams had been suspended. Others praised Ms. Williams’s work at the Library, and others criticized the Library but did not tie their concerns to Ms. Williams’s situation. Some called on one or more Board members to step down.

After public comment, many of the speakers left the meeting, although Board President Michael Tannen invited each one individually to remain for the entire meeting to hear what the Library is already doing for equity, access, and inclusion and its plans to further these efforts.

Public Comment

Elliot Zashin said he supported Ms. Williams and was “unhappy with the Board’s response to the issue.”

Dave Trippel said, “I believe Lesley Williams is being used as a scapegoat … where people want to retain power and put down real good people.”

Koriana Kurimaya read a letter from the Reverend Debra Bullock of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church that stated in part, “The Evanston Public Library and St. Mark’s share a history rooted in racism.”

“I don’t believe that your intent is bad, but that the work you do is bad. How it appears is there is no honor in what you’re doing,” said Jerome Summers.

Bennett Johnson spoke about his continued support of a library in the black community – “not on the periphery of the black community.” He also said, “The system is flawed because you have one black librarian.” He urged people not to “work at personalities; work at the system. To make Lesley Williams a sacrificial lamb is a serious mistake, because she becomes a martyr, and that’s not what works, because at the end of the day, she’s gone and nothing would be solved. … Think in terms of solving problems, not creating problems.”

Alyce Barry, a member of Organization for Positive Action and Leadership, said she would go “off-script” rather than read her prepared remarks.

“White people need to get over the fear of being called racist,” Ms. Barry said. “There is no way for white people in this culture not to be raised without racial bias. It’s in the air we breathe. Racism is built in. I used to think ‘white supremacist’ applied to skinheads. White supremacy is in us. Any white person who has a problem with that is never going to get very far in looking at this stuff around race. … I was raised to be a white supremacist by white supremacist parents. I know that’s the truth. The election of Donald Trump has unmasked a lot of the white supremacy in this culture.”

Although trustees are not supposed to respond during public comment, and audience members are not supposed to speak after the public comment period, the meeting was interrupted a few times. Each time Board Secretary Vaishali Patel, as parliamentarian, reminded everyone of the Board protocols.

In response to an accusation that the Board members had voted themselves as trustees “in perpetuity,” Board President Michael Tannen attempted to clarify the issue. At the previous Board meeting, he said, the trustees adopted a rule in conformance with the State Library law that allows them to be re-appointed for multiple terms – not just two, as had been the practice before the Library became independent.

Board member Ben Schapiro reacted to the vitriol thrown at the Board at the meeting and in emails.

“I have been called a Neo-Nazi,” Mr. Schapiro said. “Look at my name. Do you know what my family suffered in the Holocaust?” At another time he said, “You cannot tell us we are not transparent.”

Speaking in support of the Library and the trustees, Lori Keenan, a member of Evanston Library Friends (ELF), gave a brief history of how much progress the Library had made over seven years. She said members of ELF helped take Library books and services into the community, and had fought to keep open the two branch libraries – which had been in danger of being closed – and to open a new one on the West Side, since the West Side branch was closed several decades ago. A new branch is proposed for the new Robert Crown Center.

“We fought to keep branches open. We made efforts – great efforts – to open libraries on the West Side,” Ms. Keenan said. She said Denia Hester, for many years the librarian at Kingsley School, was the first librarian of the West Side Branch. “She said that, when the West Branch was closed, she felt like a friend had died.”

Ms. Keenan continued, “These people [on the Library Board] are not racists. They are human beings. They are being attacked. And that’s unfair. … I would ask you, when you criticize this Board, to remember that libraries build communities, and there is no one who knows that more than this Board.”

Mary Rosinski, another ELF member, noting that the Board was being attacked for not having a West Branch Library [two speakers criticized the Robert Crown location] said EPL did not get support from the previous Board for a West Branch Library. “When [Library Director] Karen [Danczak Lyons] was wisely appointed, she said not to worry about the branches” [because they would be safe].

One of the first things Ms. Lyons did was help restore a library branch at the Robert Crown Center in south Evanston. After the City closed the South Branch, 949 Chicago Ave., ELF members and other volunteers operated a free library – called The Twig – at 900 Chicago Ave., the present site of the Chicago Avenue/Main Street branch, or CAMS.

The Board had decided a few months ago to honor retired Fifth Ward Alderman Delores Holmes and retired Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl – Ms. Holmes with a room in the new branch named after her and Ms. Tisdahl with a scholarship to library school. Ms. Holmes was unable to attend the meeting, but Ms. Tisdahl was there to accept the honor.

“I am the person who appointed the Board. They are a diverse Library Board. I think you would be surprised if you read their resumes. Of course they will be criticized. However, they are volunteers. I hope you will remember that,” Ms. Tisdahl said to the audience.

Managing Collections

Two reports followed public comment, a staff report on collections development – how and why the Library acquires materials – and the Director’s report on what it is doing and what it plans to do on equity, diversity, and inclusion.

Betsy Bird, Collections Development Manager, and Timothy Longo, Technical Services Manager, discussed the Library’s collections and how they are acquired and how they are “weeded.”

“I am the human face of our collections. I oversee acquisitions,” said Ms. Bird.

Counting digital and print materials, the Library has 478,000 items, including 31,000 e-books, 25,000 DVDs, 10,000 CDs, and 9,400 audio books. There are materials such as DVDs and books available in 35 different languages. The Library also features materials from the Evanston History Center and Shorefront Legacy Center, she said.

About 65% of the annual book budget for the Library is spent on adult books, 33% on juvenile books, and 5% on young adult books, Ms. Bird said. She said patrons can request materials – either to borrow or for the Library to purchase – by filling out a form on the Library’s homepage, Acknowledging that this can be a cumbersome process and that those without Internet access need a different way to request materials, Ms. Bird said anyone who would like to request materials can call the Library, email her “or you can come to the fourth floor and ask me in person.”

“We need to work on a multi-year plan of assessing our collection,” Ms. Bird said, and “we are working on patron-driven acquisitions.” She said the Library is also working to acquire books from local publishers such as Shorefront, Agate Press, and World Press and will do outreach to other specific publishers.

To acquire more culturally relevant materials, she said, the Library should consider renting rather than buying best-sellers and returning them when those books are no longer popular – and use the savings to help diversify the collections.

Ms. Bird also said the Library will assess staff recommendations, displays, and the like for their diversity and cultural relevance.

Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion

Mr. Tannen said the Board has been struggling with the term “equity audit,” because it implies measurables, and, unlike with a school district, measurables are difficult to apply to a library. He referred to an email in which opposition to an “equity audit” was expressed and said the Board is committed to equity, diversity, and inclusion.

Director Lyons said, similarly, “We are absolutely and continuously committed to meeting the diverse expectations of Evanston residents and bringing new approaches to equity, diversity, and inclusion.”

Ms. Lyons said the Library has already taken steps toward furthering these measures. One tangible step is the new branch library in the new Robert Crown Center.

In the spring, Library staff participated in the Racial Justice Summit sponsored by the YWCA-Evanston/North Shore. Ms. Lyons also said the Library provides free Wi-Fi hotspots to those without an Internet connection at home, adding that 14% of the population of Evanston does not have an Internet connection at home.

The American Library Association (ALA) added a “strategic direction” this year – equity, diversity and inclusion – and has created a task force to address those issues, Ms. Lyons said. The ALA’s guidelines and directions will be the framework for the Evanston Library. The Library has also adopted the ALA’s equity statement, she said.

“This is not a new concept to our profession,” Ms. Lyons said, “and it is not just a black-white issue. We need to talk about how we serve everyone, including refugees and new immigrants.”

The Library’s strategic plan goals for 2016-19 include access, empowerment, learning and literacy, and innovation. Achieving these will involve both internal and external work to determine meaningful measures, identify consultants, review results and data, reflect on what has been done, and hold discussions with the Board and with residents, Ms. Lyons said.

Pat Efiom, the City’s Equity and Empowerment Coordinator, was unable to attend the Library Board meeting because of illness. She told the RoundTable, “I am working very closely with Director Lyons as she works to engage partners and resources to ensure that the Library is inclusive and welcoming to the whole of the community. Director Lyons and I feel that our joint work on equity will net greater results.”

Ms. Lyons said the Library staff will hold meetings in each ward in the fall “to see how we are meeting the needs of Evanston residents. … We will invite you to join us. Some things will be a home run; some will not. … You have an excellent public library staff, and it’s not about one person, and it’s not about me.”

The current Board members are Socorro Clarke, Tori Foreman, Adam Goodman, Mr. Tannen, Shawn Iles, Margaret Lurie, Ms. Patel, and Mr. Schapiro. The terms of Ms. Lurie, Mr. Iles, and Ms. Patel expire next month. At present, there is no indication whether any of them has applied for re-appointment.



Reader Comments

Posted: Wednesday, June 28, 2017
Comment by: Jim Signorelli

This is a hard pill to swallow.I would like to know what evidence exists to prove that racism is at the sole cause of Ms. Williams’ dismissal. The fact that the library has only one African-American on staff only proves racism if there is a bevy of African-American job applicants who have been rejected Does such a record exist? Were any epithets thrown out at Ms. Williams to warrant all the racist rants.

I’ve had encounters with Ms. Williams and on both occasions could hardly believe how anyone as aloof and unfriendly could hold a position in charge of community affairs. I had a similar encounter with a white person at Radio Shack the same day. My first thought was “Maybe it’s me!” But when Ms. Williams was suspended, I felt vindicated. (The RS clerk was gone the following well).

As I read these articles about Ms. Williams I have to check the masthead to make sure this is happening in Evanston, Illinois and not Birmingham, Alabama. If there is a community in Illinois that is more diverse and as liberal-minded as Evanston, please let me know as it might be worth looking into.

I say, give fairness the chance it deserves and racism will naturally fall out of any consideration given to this issue.

EPL’s Read by Design

Registration opens June 1 for Read by Design: Evanston Public Library’s 2017 Summer Reading Program.  At the Library and around town, participants of all ages will have opportunities to win books and other prizes, achieve reading goals, exercise creative muscles with innovative design projects, and have fun — all for FREE.  People of all ages can register online at or by visiting any library location in person.  After registering, participants can start keeping a log of time spent reading and activities completed. This year’s program is longer than ever to better meet family needs during the out-of-school months.

The 54-page program guide to a huge array of free events was distributed in late May to all District 65 Schools and in public locations throughout Evanston, and is available online as well as at all library locations. Some programs require advance registration, while others are drop-in events.

Movies, Family Maker Activities, MakerKids, Book Groups, Storytimes, Adult 3D Design, LGBTQIA+ events, Maker Mondays, STEAM Saturdays, Teen DIY, Building Challenges, TED Talk Screenings and many more activities are included as part of the Read by Design program.  Many programs will take place outdoors in various community parks while others will go on at library locations.

Summer Reading is important because children and young adults need ongoing opportunities to learn and practice essential skills. The Summer Reading Program makes this process fun. Young people experience learning losses when they don’t engage in educational activities during the summer. Research spanning 100 years shows that students typically score lower on standardized tests at the end of summer vacation than they do on the same tests at the beginning of summer. Summer Reading programs are part of the solution!

We thank our program partners: City of Evanston, Evanston/Skokie School District 65, the McGaw YMCA, Delta Chi Fraternity, Y.O.U., Ridgeville Park District, Family Focus and Evanston Cradle to Career.

Expansion of the Summer Reading Program in 2017 is made possible in part by a generous contribution from Brian, Stephanie and Nathaniel Miller through the Dogus Fund.

Library Lot Development Should Respect Historic Context

On May 8 the City Council reversed itself and authorized the City Manager to negotiate the development and sale of the City-owned Evanston Library Parking Lot. The decision mystifies us because the proposed development ignored the requirements of the City’s own request-for-proposals. With its over scale proportions, the development turns its back on two adjoining landmarks. The RFP demanded that the proposer provide “contextual and high quality design.” Instead, by its massive scale, overshadowing height and narrow setbacks, the proposed development totally ignores its context, which includes two historic neighbors.

The Frances Willard House and the 19th-century wooden houses that flank it are immediately north of the proposed development. These structures mark this block as one of the most significant women’s history-related sites, not only in Evanston, but also in Illinois, and in our nation. The Frances Willard House, a National Historic Landmark, and the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) Headquarters Building, a National Register site, abut the parking lot on the north, at 1724-32 Chicago Ave. All four buildings at the WCTU site also make up the Evanston WCTU Historic District, one of four Evanston historic districts.

Another National Register site, the Woman’s Club of Evanston, abuts the development site to the south. These buildings are the last remaining structures of the residential scale (two- and three-story) neighborhood that used to make up downtown Evanston.

The women’s temperance movement was part of the 19th-century progressive reform efforts to expand women’s rights and activism.

The WCTU advanced many issues beyond educating people about the harm caused by alcohol. These issues included voting rights, legal rights, and worker’s rights.

More than one million signatures from women around the world were collected on petitions preserved here in Evanston. A chestnut tree planted by Frances Willard in the 1890s graces the garden between Willard House and the Headquarters Building behind it. This historic site, which is so evocative of movements toward greater equality, is threatened by what has been proposed for the library parking lot.

In 2016, the City of Evanston released a request for proposals (RFP) with several stipulations, including that the land would be sold for $5 million and that office buildings were encouraged.

Only one developer submitted a responsive proposal, subsequently reduced to an 11-story structure with a reduction in the price of the property to $4 million. This plan proposes the full use of the available land, placing a towering structure within five feet of the north and south property lines. The forbidding brick walls right next to these historic buildings destroy their historic context with overwhelming massing.

The City, if it chooses to allow a development on the parking lot, should require that it be revised to reduce its scale, and to provide for reduced height, a redesign sympathetic to its historic surroundings, and setbacks sufficient to eliminate the bulk that impinges on these low-rise 19th-century structures. The development should be re-designed to obey the RFP condition for a contextual development.

As in any process that creates an adverse impact on neighboring properties, the Frances Willard Historical Association must be engaged in the discussion and have the opportunity to shape the project in these early stages. We intend to meet with the City Manager, the developer, and City Council members as active participants in the planning process. Such participation is mandated by Evanston’s Planned Development and Plan Commission procedures.

Most importantly, this is about the disposition of City-owned land, which belongs to Evanston’s residents.

All neighbors should be concerned, as we are, by the alley’s unusual traffic pattern and heavy alley traffic inherent in the proposal as submitted. All building parking and service vehicle access will be via this already congested alley. Another concern is recognizing the hazard that exists with the current mix of pedestrian and vehicle traffic in a heavily used alley. Add to this mix: More office workers from the new building will no doubt use the alley for their comings and goings on foot. Replacing the parking spaces that will be lost and allowing safe and open access to the alley are additional concerns, as is the challenge of protecting the security of the neighboring private properties.

Evanston should not encourage development that does not take into account the needs of neighbors and the wider community. In summary, we would like to see development within reasonable parameters that is contextual, sensitive to the historic district, and that makes sense for everyone concerned.

And, finally, we invite the community to learn firsthand what is at stake by visiting the property and touring the Willard House.

The Traffic Guy hears …

… that some community centers will get some nice infrastructure improvements: The Levy Center will get some solar panels, and Fleetwood-Jourdain (finally) will get HVAC and electrical improvements.

… that ComEd is looking to construct a concrete wall that will be 16 feet high in some places, 20 feet high in others, at 2506 Green Bay Road. ComEd is calling it a “fence,” because walls are not permitted in that area. Concrete is not a permitted fence material, and the maximum allowed fence height is 6 feet in that area, the Central Street Overlay District. Let’s see where that goes. But here is another fence request: The Autobarn would like, among other things, to install an 8-foot sound-attenuating fence adjacent to the public alley for the existing Mazda dealership along Chicago Avenue and Greenleaf (1015 Chicago).

… that Insomnia Cookies would like to install a 10-foot-by-1-foot (ish) sign on the alley-side wall and a stick-on window sign of its storefront at 1725 Sherman, but the City permits wall signs and stick-ons only on the street-facing façade.

… that street resurfacing has begun – road-base repairs, curb and sidewalk replacement, and milling and replacing asphalt surfaces along seven streets, which will take five to six weeks in each location.   The lucky street segments are Cowper from Grant to Harrison, Grey from Foster to the north end, Livingston from Green Bay to Broadway, Wesley from Dempster to Grove, Dobson from Hartrey to Grey, Hinman from Kedzie to Main, and South Boulevard from Asbury to Ridge. Residents should watch for temporary “no parking” signs and for the waiving of some parking restrictions. The cost is covered through the state’s motor fuel tax, which is allocated to municipalities from the pots of money they collect for the state.

… that City crews were called for work to more than a dozen places after the high winds on May 17. One of these was in the 300 block of Davis, where one resident had reported to the City in April that an elm tree was “leaning precariously” because of some long branches. The tree, estimated to be more than 150 years old, crashed into the street that night.

… that the “new girl” on the Library ledge – the peregrine falcon that is Not Nona, has been given a new name, Fay.
Librarian Betsy Bird writes in her blog that Fay has laid three eggs. If she is just out of her juvenile plumage it is possible that the eggs will not be viable, but “we here at the library have our fingers firmly crossed that everything proceeds as usual and that we have a new crop of beautiful fuzzy chicks emerging soon.”

… that the City will lease 26 spaces in the Sherman Avenue garage to the new Target store for use by its customers. In a contrapuntal move, the City has allowed the giant E2 apartment complex (1881 Oak) to eliminate 88 resident spaces and lease them to the public. To be allowed to do this, E2 proposed contributing $5,000 to the Divvy Bike programs “as a public benefit.”

… that the segment of Sherman between Greenleaf and Lee will soon bear the honorary street name “Don Baker Way.” That’s near the original Y.O.U. headquarters, across from Nichols Middle School. More than 40 years ago, Mr. Baker founded Y.O.U. – then called Youth Organizations Umbrella and now, Youth & Opportunity United, an organization that has helped thousands of Evanston youth.

… that some community centers will get some nice infrastructure improvements: The Levy Center will get some solar panels, and Fleetwood-Jourdain (finally) will get HVAC and electrical improvements.

… that the City will grant easements to Northwestern to allow it to install new conduits for its fiber-optic cables. NU will pay a one-time easement fee of $186,000 for easements at 2601 and 2522 Orrington to 1840 Oak St., and 624 Colfax Ave.

… that, through June 4, the Evanston Police Department says it will show “zero tolerance” for seat-belt violations. This is a statewide effort, in conjunction with the Illinois Department of Transportation, but occurring nationwide. Memorial Day weekend is one of the busiest travel times of the year. Clicking on a seat belt – and making sure kids are safely buckled up – should be a no-brainer. Still, the most recent crash data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that 43% of passenger vehicle occupants killed in crashes in 2015 were “unrestrained.” That percentage increases to 57% when just looking at crashes that occur between 6 p.m. and 5:59 a.m., and that is the reason that this seatbelt campaign (“Click It or Ticket”) focuses on nighttime enforcement.

… that Illinois earth is warming up. Jennie Atkins, Water and Atmospheric Resources Monitoring (WARM) Program manager at the Illinois State Water Survey (part of the Prairie Research Institute at the University of Illinois) reports that soil temperatures at depths of 4 inches under sod averaged 67.5 degrees in Illinois on May 15, 5 degrees higher than the long-term average. Under bare soil, temperatures were slightly higher, averaging 73 degrees on May 15 as temperatures reached into the 90s in central and southern Illinois.

… that Chicago has its Yellow Cabs and Baltimore, its purple ones, and now Evanston has a new color: its pink taxi.

… The underground parking garage at the Main Library, 1703 Orrington, will be closed for repairs from June 6 through July 9. The garage will re-open at 9 a.m. on July 10.

 From our readers: TG: In reaction to a bit in the May 4 issue: At the “Going Green Matters” event in Wilmette not long ago, I stopped at a table where one thing that was shown was an idea for street redesign there where the slant parking was facing the other direction, so that vehicles would back in and head out, instead of the other way. I thought this was excellent and made a note to put it in my “complete block” schematic which requires new construction of the buildings, as well as a different “complete street” design. Head-out wouldn’t help the driver of a 1960 full-size Cadillac with a Hummer parked “upstream,” but at least heading out of a slanted parking space is the normal way to look both ways before pulling into traffic, and it gives cautious drivers a better chance at safety. I learned to drive in L.A. and would rather walk a mile than have to squeeze into a tight parallel parking space.  – Jean Smiling Coyote

From TG: Thank you for the information about “heads-out” parking. It sounds like there is a lot to recommend such an approach to parking, albeit, as you suggest, with different street designs. TG has noticed that in non-metered parking lots (such as grocery store lots), drivers of several vehicles take that approach.

Mr. Traffic Guy: I would like to suggest that you pose this question in your column: Who knows where Evanston’s Wilder Street is located? I will bet not many.  — Cap’n Hank

From TG: It will be interesting to see.

The Traffic Guy thinks …

… that having a street-sweeper pass twice over certain spots – especially after a wind or rain storm, would be a good idea. TG has seen some sweepers apparently take a second pass but understands the timing, etc., involved in doing so. Here are two pix, one taken of a drain about two minutes after a street-sweeper passed over it, and the other of a drain not yet swept.

… Hope everyone had a nice Memorial Day. The summer is officially open.


By Les Jacobson

Albert Einstein advanced his two most famous theories, on special and general relativity, when he was a young man, and spent the rest of his life trying to find a unified theory that would encompass all the forces of nature.

In Northlight Theatre’s production of “Relativity,” at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts in Skokie until June 18, Einstein is in the last phase of his career, comfortably ensconced at his home in Princeton, N.J., with just his fierce housekeeper Helen to keep him company and guard against intruders.

But one intruder worms her way into Einstein’s study. She is Margaret, a young woman claiming to be a newspaper reporter, who is actually there on a far more momentous personal mission, for which the stakes are very high: to reconcile his image as a great man with her suspicion that he is not a very good one.

Veteran Chicago actor Mike Nussbaum plays Einstein, and he is the centerpiece of this very fine production. At 93 he is, according to Actors Equity, the oldest
professional actor in America. And yet he carries the stage and the show for its entire, continuous 75-minute length with an ease, vigor, and professionalism that would do credit to someone dozens of years younger. Indeed, his performance, like Einstein’s early work, is miraculous.

“Relativity” was written by Mark St. Germain, and the award-winning theater, film, and children’s book author met recently with budding playwrights and other interested playgoers at Curt’s Café North in Evanston to discuss the Northlight production. He said the inspiration for the play came to him when he happened on the letters Einstein’s first wife, Mileva, wrote her husband about their daughter, Lieserl, who was born in 1902, a year before they got married. According to conventional wisdom Lieserl died at the age of 2 from scarlet fever, though people have speculated that she was given up for adoption. Einstein never acknowledged his daughter, which is a pivotal plot point in the play.

“I talked with experts, who had many different theories about Lieserl,” Mr. St. Germain said. “But what was interesting was that when Einstein was told there was ‘loose talk’ about Lieserl, he didn’t issue a denial but hired a private investigator.”

Einstein “did a wonderful job playing Einstein,” Mr. St. Germain said, meaning that he enjoyed acting out the public’s image of a great genius, “but he didn’t especially like people, especially some of his own family. He said every relationship was ‘a chain around my neck.’” This too is a central theme of the play.

“Relativity” was written on commission for the National New Play Network, which every year awards money to make new plays available to community theater groups around the country. It premiered last year in Sarasota, Fla., and has been revised and presented several times since then. “I can’t imagine the play going very far from this production,” Mr. St. Germain said. “I’d publish this one.”

Some of his previous plays have focused on such well-known figures as Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, C.S. Lewis, and Sigmund Freud. “I like spending time doing the research and writing about brilliant, talented people,” he said.

Asked for advice on writing, he replied, “If you’re serious, be serious. You’ve gotta put your butt in a chair for one to two hours a day and write.”

Mr. Nussbaum has worked with the playwright before, in “Freud’s Last Session,” which was produced five years ago at the Mercury Theater in Chicago. When Mr. St. Germain sent him the script for “Relativity,” he enthusiastically signed on and suggested he contact Northlight’s Artistic Director B.J. Jones.

A Chicago theater legend, Mr. Nussbaum has been acting more than 60 years and has appeared in “hundreds of productions” – he has lost count, he said in an interview. He has won six Jeff awards and several lifetime achievement honors, including from the Sarah Siddons Society and Chicago Shakespeare Theater.

Born in New York, Mr. Nussbaum moved with his family to Chicago when he was 2. He graduated from Von Steuben High School and served in the Signal Corps in World War II. “I sent the message, signed by Eisenhower, which announced the end of the war,” he recalled.

On returning to Chicago he started an exterminating business while acting in community theater on the side. “There weren’t many non-Equity theaters in Chicago then; it wasn’t until the 1960s and ’70s that local theater here began to take off.”

He has appeared in movies (such as “Field of Dreams,” “Men in Black,” and “Fatal Attraction”) and television shows (including “L.A. Law” and “The Chicago Code”), but said his favorite medium is still live theater. “The challenge is so much greater. It’s very exciting, an adrenaline rush, when I go out on stage.”

In deference to his age, he said, rehearsals are usually limited to “just” five hours. “I hibernate between shows on days when we do two.”

Evanston actress Ann Whitney, who plays the housekeeper Helen, said this is the first time she has worked with Mr. Nussbaum.

“I am so glad to have this opportunity,” she said. “He’s a sweet, fabulous man, and it’s amazing to watch him. He’s always ‘in the moment,’ his concentration never wavers, he’s always there, which means you’re always there with him. He’s just remarkable.”