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Ten Chicagoans master the art of growing older

image: "Coming of Age" headlineAlexander Coutts, 95  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.

image: Alexander Coutts"I 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.

"My 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 '65.

"I 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.

"My 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.

"I 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."

link to: "Coming of Age" link to: top of the page link to: "Coming of Age" link to: Marian Alschuler Despres and Leon Despres


  DECEMBER 1999

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