Sterling Memories – Hometown Imprinted in Heart

Sterling Memories - Hometown Imprinted in HeartNo matter how far we have moved away, those stellar Sterling memories of our hometown remain imprinted in our hearts forever.

We grew up in a blue collar town founded on the Rock River and fueled by the steel industry. From Hezekiah Brink’s simple log cabin built in 1834 in one of the most fertile areas on earth, the small farm community grew to a bustling metropolis, a bedrock of manufacturing and steel once nicknamed the Hardware Capital of the World. During the late 19th and early 20th century, Sterling expanded quickly with the founding of Northwestern Steel & Wire, Lawrence Brothers Hardware, and the Wahl Clipper Corporation.

Most of us kids raised in the 60s and 70s came from modest families. We grew strong raised on powdered milk, baked potatoes, string beans, tomatoes, and whatever else we could grow in our garden. Everybody’s mama knew how to make hamburger a hundred different ways. Baloney on day old Wonder Bread became a lunch staple.

We obeyed rules. We never skipped school. We rarely swore. The only thing we ever stole was third base in sandlot baseball. We attended church on Sunday, said please and thank you for every little thing, and politely requested to be excused from the table. We were never dismissed from dinner without finishing our milk and clearing our plates.

Newly invented black and white TVs became popular during that era, but the picture was so poor and choice of channels so limited that no one became a couch potato. Too many more interesting adventures awaited outside our windows. Back yards were for ball games; neighborhoods became parks where we explored. The only bullets we dodged were imaginary ones from our cowboy rifles. Playing outside was safe even after the street lights came on.

Like food and clothes, toys were limited too, so from an early age we learned to take turns and share. Riding a bicycle was a rite of passage. A driver’s permit a sacred privilege. As soon as we were old enough to push a lawnmower or babysit a toddler, we were earning our own money and learning to save our pennies.

Sterling Memories - Hometown Imprinted in HeartThe highlight of our childhood was entering the halls of the Sterling High School, a red brick building that looks every bit as stately as an Ivy League School. The SHS sports facilities put small colleges to shame.

We were proud to fill our trophy cases with championships and cover our fieldhouse walls with conference banners. Although half of us were forbidden to play competitive sports pre Title IX, once that law passed in 1972 our school became one of the first to provide equal opportunities regardless of gender and race.

Between Westwood, Duis Center, the YMCA, Sinnissippi and a dozen other Sterling Memories - Hometown Imprinted in Heartparks we learned to play early on. We never realized how spoiled we were in terms of public recreational centers. Today our high school sports facilities are so outstanding opponents kiddingly call us Sterling U. The recently renovated stadium looks stunning.

Traditionally we catered to our strong football teams of boys who now have the luxury of playing under the lights on astroturf. Back in my day we ran on a cinder track but today, local kids continue to break records on DuWayne Dietz all weather, royal blue running track. But no thrill was greater than watching those Golden Girls basketball players making history as Illinois 1st ever State Champions back in 1977. With the steel industry dying, the economy failing, the town struggling, that team united the community and inspired hope.

Sterling Memories - Hometown Imprinted in HeartNow half a century later walking down the streets of my childhood, the single story ranch homes with one car garages look like match box houses.The soil has settled and the foundations appear to be sinking, the sidewalks shrinking. Trees, mere saplings during our youth, now form a canopy over the street.

After living abroad for nearly half a century, it is hard to imagine going back home. So many of us moved away for education, employment, love, and family, but we all look back fondly and agree Sterling was a good place to grow up. Our heartstrings remain strongly attached to our old hometown and a way of life where solid values were instilled and we knew right from wrong. Mainstreet remains the heart of America, and the memory of Sterling still beats strong in ours.

Posted in education, family, inspiration.


  1. Beautifully written, Pat. I spent middle and high school in a town and a home similar to yours. It’s wonderful to be able to take pride in those places that helped shape who we are today. Thanks for taking us back “home.”

    • Oh Tinie, I never realized that you actually stayed in one place that long. I am sure it helped a lot to be in a community during your teen years. Have a safe trip and lots of success in your next venture.

    • Thanks Mike. My folks and sister sure had fun seeing you at Eureka. Wish I could have been there. I have so many happy memories of watching those Red Devils play when my grandpa coached there.

  2. Beautiful and so true! This could have been written by so many , but never so eloquently said.
    Hope you are healthy and happy Pat!

    Go Warriors????
    Go Newman????

    • Thanks Mary Sue
      We are lucky to have grown up in Sterling in such strong, loving families. Yes, go Warriors, go Newman. I have heard they are both great teams to contend with this year. Hope you continue to mend.

  3. I suspect the closest I’ve ever come to Sterling was Rock Island, during a long ago visit – I grew up in New York City, a New York City that is now gone in many ways, too. I actually consider myself fortunate that I did not grow up today – in a way, isn’t that sad? I wonder what today’s youth will write about when they are old enough to write their memoirs.

    • Alana, Rock Island is just an hour away from Sterling. I can’t imagine what it must have been like to grow up in New York City. Did you have the same sort of memories of family, friends and neighborhood that I did growing up in a small town. I wonder if youth today are growing up with the same strong sense of community.

  4. Wow, I got a real sense of where you grew up and why you are who you are. Another great article to add to your collection! ???? How times have changed for young people now. We are the generation who has lived through the black and white TV era and moved on through to the new digital and consumerist era. I think sometimes that experiencing these kinds of changes have developed us into very different people, who are much more appreciative of simple things and life more generally… xxx

    • Well, we certainly lived at a slower pace and never expected immediate gratification. Interestingly enough my own two grown children (not that old even) are appalled by the overuse of cell phones and other digital devices in young children. Although I know that the older generation back in my day thought the world was going to pieces with all the crazy hippie kids dressed in sloppy T-shirts and bell bottom jeans and running wild. ha

  5. Your next book could be a memoir, Pat. You could pick up where you retired from pro basketball, fell in love, and moved to Switzerland. I’d love to know how a regular gal makes the switch. Lessons learned now that you’re in retirement, looking back, and including such beautiful memories of growing up as you write here. And oh, you MUST include the lake house summers.

    • Well, Lynne I never thought the second half of my life was that interesting, but I guess it was unusual for a small town girl of that era to give up everything to move abroad and make a new life. You have certainly given me something to think about and I am looking for a new project, so who knows. Will keep you tuned.

  6. Pat, you have connected me to my own childhood memories of growing up in another small town, Corning, NY. through your eloquent words. You took me right back there and I agree with Lynne. Your story would make another compelling memoir! Write on, my friend. You have a gift.

    • Thanks Kathy. I will let you know if I ever find the courage to write another book. As you well know it is an all consuming endeavor. Glad you enjoyed the trip down memory land. Looking forward to seeing your memoir real soon, I hope.

  7. Pat, I think we lived in the BEST of times! We regularly walked to our friends’ houses, where practically nobody locked the doors. We licked popsicles after each other, never fearing germs; nobody ever refused to let us play sandlot baseball even if we weren’t the best players. We amused ourselves on rainy days by “playing school” or a board game. Our parents knew we’d be home by dark. And we were in church every Sunday. Those were good times, my friend — thank you for the reminder!

    • Debbie, you are right. It was the best of times, even though we didn’t realize it back then. As you mentioned no one locked their doors, we walked everywhere and germs from shared popsicles, lollipops and ice cream cones only made our immune systems stronger.

  8. Pat what you wrote was very well written and down to earth. Those were the good ole days. I feel sorry for the kids today that did not get the experience we all had. Getting out doors and enjoying the freedom and fresh air God bless you Pat.

    • I too wish that kids today could recapture that sense of wonder in the great outdoors. Playing games together as children offers the greatest lessons in social skills.

    • Oh yes, the good 0l’days. How are you doing? Are you still blogging? Loved your book Unleash Your Pearls.I read it during a low point in my life and your words lifted me up and made feel empowered.

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