Chicagoans master the art of growing older
Four days a week, sociologist Alexander Coutts, PhB'31,
commutes from Hyde Park to the Loop offices of the Chicago Area
Project, where he organizes local efforts to curb juvenile delinquency.
A singer since his University days, he took up formal voice training
in his 80s and recently performed a recital of Scottish folk songs
at Chicago's Fine Arts Building.
was born on a round oak dining--room table in a home just west
of Lincoln Park Zoo. When I was growing up, we were able to play
games like paper, rock, scissors in the middle of the street.
There were few automobiles then. I had a rich uncle who drove
up in a Rolls--Royce once, and the whole neighborhood showed up.
father was a bookbinder, and he sent me to a two--year electrical
course at Lane Tech High School. I made an electric iron in shop
and it blew a fuse; I made a toaster and that blew a fuse. My
father was ready to give up, but I went on to the University of
Chicago and got a bachelor's degree. I was out in '31, just when
the depression began to hit. Jobs opened up in relief programs,
and I got into the vocational end of it. I later worked in personnel
management for the state and federal governments. I retired in
got tired of retirement, so I took some sociology exams and was
hired at the Illinois Youth Commission. It was affiliated with
the Chicago Area Project, which was based on the community--organizing
ideas of sociology professor Edward W. Burgess [AM'47]. I retired
from working for the project in '79 and became a part--time consultant.
One of the finest things about the project is that it hires staff
members from within the communities it is trying to help, rather
than relying on outsiders.
major interest outside of work is singing. I was the lowest bass
in the College Quartet. I've been singing ever since. I quit smoking
after one week in 1920--that's why I can still sing. I enjoy it,
and people say I have a good voice. My friends encourage me.
would tell today's students to take things as they come. I grew
up under a dour Scottish father, and he drilled into me to accept
what was going on. I can still hear him say, 'Put up with what
you've got. Don't worry about something you don't have.' Having
heard that all the time, I still have problems buying something
new until what I have is worn down."