It’s happening: Schustek Pond will be officially dedicated to a hero of Route 66 next Monday, July 6, 2015, on the 85th anniversary of the selfless act during which Bruno Schustek lost his life. The pond was named by the USGS’s Bureau on Geographic Names in April (that’s when we received the notification). There are so many wonderful stories that have happened along Route 66 over the years, and it’s time for this one to be told to the larger world.
Starting at 10am, we and the staff of the North American Spine Society (NASS) will remember and honor this fallen pilot on the western shore of the pond. The NASS headquarters stands next to the pond, about two miles northeast of another Route 66 point of interest, the historic Dell Rhea’s Chicken Basket on Joliet Road/N. Frontage Road in nearby Willowbrook.
Monday’s ceremony will be held at NASS, 7075 Veterans Blvd. in Burr Ridge (see travel directions at the end of this post). Barring bad weather, the dedication ceremony will take place outside, next to the pond (in the event of severe weather, we’ll use the society’s auditorium inside the headquarters building). During the dedication ceremony, the society will unveil a standing plaque noting the name of the pond and telling the story behind it. There will be several speakers, and refreshments will be served after the ceremony; the entire event should take no more than two hours. The public is invited, so if you have the time Monday morning, please stop by and join us – everyone is welcome. You can find the NASS press release about the event here.
The pond itself is quite lovely. True, it’s in an office park, and you can only reach it in a roundabout way from Veterans Boulevard because there’s no place where you can stop on Joliet Road/the frontage road; however, the western shore faces the NASS parking lot, which is open to the public, so you can easily park there. During the week, there are many people working in the office park (as well as guests at the Spring Hill Suites Marriott hotel next door) who use a walking/exercise path that the society is helping to mark through the area. The plaque will be visible from the path. Thus, anyone who uses the walking path, including the hotel guests next door – as well as anyone traveling down Route 66 who knows about the spot and wants to stop – will be able to see the plaque and the pond and learn the story behind them.
Bottom line: we want more people to know about the pond and the man, so we’re publicizing the event. Who knows? In the future, there may even be a wayside marker from the Illinois Route 66 Scenic Byway added next to it (it’s been discussed, but nothing’s definite yet; we’ll let you know if/when it happens).
And now, a word from our sponsors … The North American Spine Society is a multidisciplinary medical organization dedicated to fostering the highest quality, evidenced-based and ethical spine care. Founded in 1984, the society pursues its mission by promoting education, research and advocacy. NASS is comprised of more than 8,000 members from several disciplines, including orthopedic surgery, neurosurgery, physiatry, neurology, radiology, anesthesiology, research and physical therapy. Here’s a great example of the kind of story for which the society’s experts provide information to the public. We’re so pleased to have them as a partner in dedicating this pond.
Giving credit where credit is due
Those of you who follow our blog already know the story: on July 6, 1930, Schustek, a World War I flying ace and former enemy combatant, died while trying to save a fellow pilot and novice parachutist whose chute was caught on the wing of a plane flying above Route 66. She landed safely, but he fell to his death when his grip failed while he was trying to climb back up a knotted rope to his own plane. She was the silly and unprepared newbie, he was the experienced parachute instructor, whom she chose not to consult before going up that morning for her first jump. She lived a long, full life of fame, infamy and several ex-husbands; his was cut short at age 30, with no wife and no children to mourn him when he died. If ever there was a tale of bitter irony, this was it, and it made the papers all over the country at the time – but only because of who she was. (You can listen to our podcast about the tragedy here on Podbean.)
Well, this time Schustek is being remembered for himself and for his remarkable act. Who the society girl was is no longer that important: it’s Schustek and his bravery that matter, and he will now be remembered as he deserves. And while we’re giving credit, let me just add a few more things. Joe and I first learned about Bruno Schustek about two years ago from our fellow researcher and co-author, Keith Yearman; he had run across the story while doing research for our Route 66 book and shared the story with us. At first, we tried to raise money for a headstone for Schustek’s unmarked grave at Elm Lawn Cemetery, but when Keith suggested naming the pond after him, we all jumped on the idea … but it was Keith who got it done.
We also want to thank the spine society for its incredible generosity in supplying the funding for the plaque and ceremony and doing most of the heavy lifting in organizing the event. The staff there, headed up by executive director Eric Muehlbauer and public affairs manager Nicolle Heller, have really taken this story to heart and run with the idea of a dedication of the pond. We’re both surprised and heartened by the response we’ve had, both from NASS and from others (you know who you are). There are hundreds of great stories like this about Route 66, stories that matter, and not all of them involve oddities like the Muffler Men or blue whales or the folks who provided services to travelers along the road. We aim to find and tell as many of these other stories as we can, because they deserve to be shared and remembered. And because we know you care.
It’s like Keith says: “It would be impossible to commemorate each and every beautiful site or every amazing act of courage and kindness along [Route 66’s] meandering path, but it is fun to try.”
To find Schustek Pond
The pond is located in Burr Ridge (find a precise map here), northwest of the interchange at County Line Road and Interstate 55. The best way to get there is to turn west off County Line Road at Veterans Boulevard (the first traffic light north of the interchange) and go down Veterans to the second intersection. At the stop sign, turn left and keep bearing left, following Veterans as it curves into the NASS parking lot. Park at the east end of the big lot, nearest the building. You can see the pond from there. Parking is free. If you’re coming, please RSVP to Nicolle Heller at (773) 682-8137 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you’re just visiting on a weekend, you can park in one of the limited number of spots directly in front of the building, closer to the pond.
Until next time, fellow roadies!
Your Route 66 historian,