Tag: Ernie Baumann

50 Years After the ’67 Blizzard Postponed Their Wedding, They’re Still Having Fun


CAN I (STILL) HAVE THIS DANCE?: Lois and Ernie Baumann have some fun inside of the new Stairway of the Stars dance studio in Maywood. Below, the couple’s wedding photos from 50 years ago. The wedding was postponed because of the Blizzard of 1967, the worst snowstorm ever recorded in Chicago. || Top, William Camargo/Wednesday Journal | Below, photos submitted by the Baumanns

Lois and Ernie wedding photo_Page 4.JPGMonday, January 30, 2017 || By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews

Around this time 50 years ago, Maywood was digging itself out of the worst snowstorm ever recorded in the Chicago area. And Lois and Ernie Baumann were having the time of their lives.

On the day the blizzard hit — Thursday, Jan. 26, 1967 — Lois, now 69, was on a Blue Line train traveling into the Forest Park transit station. She was coming from taking classes at Roosevelt University and on her way to pick up her bride’s dress. Her and Ernie’s wedding was in two days.

“It was just an ordinary day,” Lois said during an interview last week. “But on my way home, the train — we called it the Des Plaines ‘L’ back then — came to a fierce halt in the middle of the Eisenhower. The windows on the train kept getting smaller, because the snow was covering them up so quickly. I looked around the car and thought, ‘I’m going to die with this group of people.’ We must have been stuck for two hours.”

According to the National Weather Service, the heaviest snowfall was in the late morning, with flakes accumulating at the rate of two inches an hour. Wind gusts blew up to 53 miles per hour and snowdrifts rose up to six feet high.

By the day’s end, roughly 23 inches of snow had ground city life to a halt, the Baumann’s wedding plans buried, along with everything else, by unprecedented mounds of snow.

“I had this feeling that another train was going to come and not see us,” said Lois. “I was thinking all kinds of things. There was no visibility here. I kind of realized then that the wedding might easily be sunk.”

The wedding, which had been scheduled to take place that Saturday at First Christian Church in Maywood, didn’t happen, of course. Air travel was suspended. Even those who lived in town, within blocks of the church, would find navigating the snowdrifts nearly impossible.

Their life plans interrupted, Lois and Ernie did what they’ve been doing for 50 years without ceasing and regardless of the conditions — whether epic snowstorm or fire or racial turbulence or economic decay — they had fun.

“We just went out in the snow and had a great time,” said Ernie, who had joined Lois during last week’s interview inside of the new dance studio the couple built last year through Maywood Fine Arts — the venerable nonprofit that was born from their wintry marriage 50 years ago.

Old newspaper clippings of Maywood residents handling the Blizzard of 1967, which halted Lois and Ernie Baumann’s wedding plans. | Maywood Herald

The Maywood-based organization serves over 1,000 kids a week from all racial, ethnic and income backgrounds — many of them from the West Side Austin community — with thousands more alumni, seemingly as numerous as flakes of snow in a blizzard, hailing from all over the country.

“My mother was real upset and was amazed at how calm I was,” said Lois, recalling how she handled her disrupted wedding plans. “I think, probably for my mother’s sake, I should’ve been more upset! But, you know, weddings weren’t the sit-down dinner, banquet, band, bore your friends for two hours affair they’ve become in the last 50 years. It was just a simple ceremony in the church and back to the house for sandwiches. That’s what we did.”

The Baumann’s wedding, which eventually took place a week later, on Feb. 4, 1967, is the ultimate emblem of the kind of resilience that’s kept their marriage, and their mission, going for half-a-century.

“The thing that bonded us from the very beginning was our commitment to children, and particularly, at that time, to the children in Maywood,” said Lois, who has lived her whole life in the village. “We saw the disparity in what was happening in the country. This was during the Civil Rights movement.”

‘Love at first sight’

The couple met in 1966, roughly three months before marrying. Lois was a waitress at a restaurant in Maywood and Ernie was the owner of a small shop in town called the Newspaper Store.

“People would go get their newspapers before they caught the train and on their way to work,” said Lois. “It was kind of one of those old-fashioned stores that was like a hangout. It was a lot of fun.”

“A hippie hangout,” is what Ernie calls it. It’s where he and Lois befriended people like the famous singer-songwriter John Prine, a native of Maywood who, along with Lois, attended Proviso East High School.

Ernie had stopped by the restaurant for a cup of coffee one day. Lois took his order — and, immediately, his heart.

“All I had to say was, ‘You want cream in your coffee, honey?’” Lois said. “Those were my first words to him. It was absolutely love at first sight.”

But love doesn’t automatically translate into a great marriage, the two recalled. Ernie, roughly eight years older than his wife, said the age difference may have been the source of some strain. Lois said their strong personalities might have signaled disaster for the union if it hadn’t been for their mutual love of children and their penchants for movement.

Not long after marrying, the couple began coordinating recreational programming for the Maywood Recreation Department. Lois taught dance and Ernie taught tumbling.

“You had two counselors present all day, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., and you had set activities that the kids did each day in those parks, so that the children in the neighborhood left their houses,” Lois recalled.

Eventually, Ernie said, their tumbling and dance classes began to grow exponentially, precipitating something of a philosophical standoff with village officials.

“We did everything — bike parades, canoe trips, everything you can of,” he said. “We had the support of the director, but what kind of happened with the dancing was the program got so good and enrolled so many people that they saw this as a cash cow. They wanted to start raising the prices. We said, wait a minute. You’re eliminating people by doing this, which is not the way it should go. So, we left and started our own thing and ran it how we thought it should be run.”


Stairway of the Stars dancers rehearse on a recent Saturday. | William Camargo/Wednesday Journal

Their affordable array of artistic programming, many of their patrons say, has been a beacon of light for communities like Maywood and Austin, where, over the last 50 years, recreational options and park district programming have declined markedly.

Between 1970 and 1980, according to U.S. Census data, the population of Maywood changed from 60 percent white to 75 percent black. In addition, the suburb lost more than 2,000 residents, along with thousands of manufacturing jobs and a plethora of small businesses.

“We thought we could really impact things,” said Ernie. “We were right in the middle of ‘White Flight’ and people would come to our doors and say, ’Look we can buy your house. You’re leaving aren’t you?’ We go, ‘Huh? We ain’t going anywhere.’”

During the same 10-year period, Austin, where many of MFA’s patrons live, went from 90 percent white to over 90 percent African American.

As those areas underwent swift racial change and dramatic economic decline, the Baumann’s philosophy of offering affordable programming despite the growing numbers remained unchanged.

In 1979, having decided to strike out on their own, Lois and Ernie bought a three-story building located at 20 N. Fifth Ave. (the former Maywood Opera House), which would anchor their newly formed artistic enterprise, and its flagship programs — Mr. Ernie’s Flip, Flop and Fly tumbling school and Stairway of the Stars, which offers a range of dancing instruction (from classical ballet to tap and jazz).

In 1996, Maywood Fine Arts was incorporated as a nonprofit and the Baumanns purchased a historically significant, boarded up bank property on the corner of Fifth Ave. and Lake St. The additional square footage would allow the organization to provide a wide array of program offerings, including music, visual arts, drama and karate classes.

The Baumann’s son, Spooner, who handles communications for MFA and sits on the nonprofit’s board of directors, was a year old when his family opened the first Stairway of the Stars dance studio — so-named for the 44 stairs that led to the building’s top floor.

“I have a picture of me as a one-year-old in my uncle’s arms in front of the building,” said Spooner, one of the Baumann’s six children — all of whom were born into their parents’ world of dance.

“I started dancing as young as I can remember. I grew up in that studio. There was no daycare, so I would go to work with [Lois], walking around the dance floors all day in my walker. As a teenager, I mopped the stairs.”


Dancers rehearse inside of Stairway of the Stars earlier this month. | VFP File

When the old Stairway of the Stars burned down in March 2010, Lois and her Stairway stars promptly moved rehearsals down the street to the First Congregational Church of Maywood. In no time, they were dancing again.

“We land on our feet,” Lois told a Chicago Tribune reporter at the time. “That’s what I teach [our] children, and it’s something we have to remember right now. We always land on our feet.”

Over the years, Stairway of the Stars and Ernie’s Flip, Flop and Fly have cultivated a network of professional dancers and artists that spans generations and time zones and encompasses people like Craig Hall.

Last May, Hall retired as a soloist with the New York City Ballet. He was the first African American dancer at NYCB to perform as Apollo during the company’s prestigious season-ending program “Dancer’s Choice.”

“The whole family was in Maywood Fine Arts,” said Hall’s mother, Dorothy, who added that her son started dancing with Lois when he was three years old.

At one point, Dorothy said, her son’s talents nearly overwhelmed her family’s finances. Help from the Baumanns kept young Hall pirouetting toward the bright lights.

“Lois would say, ‘He needs a costume for this and for that.’ I had five kids! But she always worked with us and always kept us going,” Dorothy recalled.

Craig, who has grown to become best friends with the Baumann’s daughter, Purdie, a Radio City Rockette, was at the grand opening of MFA’s new dance studio last August, the facility that replaced the old studio that burned down in 2010.

“When the old studio burned down, it was like a little piece of all of us was broken, but it’s nice to know that there’s finally a place where the kids can come back to and have fun,” said Hall, 37. “It’s a dream come true.”

The new studio features modernized shock-absorbent floors and wall-to-wall windows that offer views of a liquor store, a barber shop, a vacant lot and a boarded-up building. The studio’s Main Street-facing entrance resembles a train depot and is located less than a block away from railroad tracks.

“This building costs $2.1 million to build,” said Ernie as he sat in one of the facility’s airy, light-filled dance studios. “People in the banking community told us that if we built property here, it would be worth $1 million less. So, the property is worth about $1 million. But we don’t care. It can be valued at a dollar. It doesn’t make a difference. We’re having fun.”

“We believe in making a difference in children’s lives,” said Lois. “We don’t believe in doing it at a distance. It’s a hands on thing. We wouldn’t ever leave. It was never a question in our mind.”

And then, after contemplating the very strong possibility that MFA could be the catalyst that this corner of her hometown needs, Lois shared her most recent ambition.

“Boy, where did the 50 years go? I need 50 more, because I’ve got a lot of stuff I want to do.” VFP

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On Eve of Trump Inauguration, Maywood Dancers Spotlight Hope


Maywood Fine Arts dancers outside of the organization’s Fifth Avenue dance studio, Stairway of the Stars, on Thursday. | Below, MFA co-founder Lois Baumann sports an Obama ‘Change’ t-shirt inside of the studio. || Shanel Romain/VFP

maywood-fine-arts_viThursday, January 19, 2017 || By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews || Updated: 11:37 p.m.

Earlier this evening, dozens of dancers from Maywood Fine Arts gathered outside of the organization’s bright, new Fifth Avenue dance studio, Stairway of the Stars, and held out electric candles.

The demonstration was part of a nationwide campaign called the “Ghostlight Project,” during which arts and theater supporters in time zones across the country gathered at 5:30 p.m. today to make a pledge “to stand for and protect the values of inclusion, participation, and compassion for everyone regardless of race, class, religion, country of origin, immigration status, (dis)ability, age, gender identity, or sexual orientation,” according to the project’s website.

“Theaters across the country have what’s called a ‘ghostlight,’ so that anyone who comes to the stage after hours, [when the theater is dark], can feel welcome,” said MFA board member Spooner Baumann.

Baumann said that MFA, along with the thousands of arts organizations taking part in this evening’s demonstration, is fighting for those open values ahead of the Jan. 20 inauguration of President-elect Donald Trump.


During last year’s presidential campaign, Trump routinely courted controversy with tweets, statements, gestures and policy proposals that many people found offensive and distasteful.

His election last November has since drawn the ire of women across the country, hundreds of thousands of whom are planning to march on Washington, D.C., and in cities across the country (including Chicago), the day after the President-elect’s inauguration.

MFA co-founder Lois Baumann said that, while she’ll be too busy holding down the fort on Fifth Avenue to march, tonight’s vigil was a way of fighting back.

“It’s a civil right to be able to have a safe and happy community,” said Baumann, pointing to a piece of paper on which she wrote that phrase under the statement, “I fight for …”


Other students and community members filled out the pieces of paper, which were posted to the window of one of the studios.

“I am an African American child,” read one paper, “I fight for equality.”

“I am Symphony Taylor,” read another, “I fight for hope.”

“We are dancers,” read yet another, “We fight for expression.”

MFA co-founder Ernie Baumann said that the organization participated in the nationwide demonstration as a show of force in favor of those values.

“We did this because it’s the right thing to do,” he said. VFP

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The New Stairway of the Stars Dance Studio Opens Its Doors to the World

Stairway of the Stars

Stairway of the Stars IIMonday, August 22, 2016 || By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews 

On March 12, 2010, Craig Hall was in town visiting family when he got a call from his best friend Purdie Baumann, the daughter of Maywood Fine Arts founders Lois and Ernie Baumann.

“She was crying and saying the studio was on fire,” Hall said, referencing the former Maywood Opera House at 20 N. Fifth Ave. that the Baumanns turned into Stairway of the Stars dance studio. “So, my dad and I drove over here and saw the flames and couldn’t believe it.”

Hall started dancing in that studio when he was four years old and took the lessons he learned inside of the more than century-old building all the way to the New York City Ballet, where he recently retired after a 20-year career with the world-renowned company. 

The 37-year-old Maywood native recalled that harrowing phone call last Saturday while standing in the space that has since risen from the ashes of that 2010 blaze — a roughly $2 million, state-of-the-art dance studio.

“When the old studio (burned down), it was like a little piece of all of us was broken, but it’s nice to know that there’s finally a place where the kids can come back to and have fun,” Hall said. “It’s a dream come true.”

In order to get here, said Ernie Baumann, the kids raised over $13,000 in change, mostly pennies. To put that in perspective, he said, “$10,000 is a million pennies.”

“We had these little jars that had ‘Raising the Barre’ on them and hundreds and hundreds of kids would go home, bring the jars back and get another one,” he said. “The bank agreed to take the pennies and our people would come in with buckets of pennies and the tellers would scatter so they wouldn’t have to be the ones (counting them). We were in there every day.”

India Rose Renteria, Purdie’s daughter and the Baumanns’ granddaughter, described how the process of accumulating that much money in spare change.

“Some kids took the penny jars to their school, some people put them at their offices at work,” she said. “We had these little tubes and we’d put pennies in them and they’d go into this big penny jar and that filled up really quickly. It was really nice. Any extra change that anyone had would go straight into the jar.”

Renteria, 14, has been performing practically her whole life and has already landed roles in productions like the Tony Award-winning musical “Ragtime.” Her mother spent eight years in New York City as a Radio City Rockette.

“My niece, she’s five years old now,” said Hall (who is pictured below with his mother Dorothy Hall). “She’s discovering this place all over again. It’s like a cycle that never ends.”

There are also echoes of that cyclical dynamic in the new space, which replicates some architectural features that were dominant in the old building.

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“This room here,” said Lois Baumann, her voice echoing throughout the new facility during Saturday’s grand opening, “We call this the ballroom, because the studio we lost to a fire six years ago (had a ballroom on the third floor). We replicated the windows that looked out over Fifth Ave.”

The building’s Main Street-facing entrance resembles a train depot — the generations commuting in and out in spurts. This stop, however, is always the destination that’s most meaningful. It’s home.

Nowadays, that home has been modernized, with new shock-absorbent floors installed in the facility’s new studios, each of which also features large wall-size windows.

“This studio belongs to all of us,” said Lois Baumann said. And in a way, Hall noted, it does. The design earned the professional dancer’s seal of approval, but so did its continuity with the outside environment.

“My heart will always be with the old space, but there’s nothing like having brand new studios,” he said. “This rivals some of the studios in New York City, especially with all the space and the windows. As dancers, we’re like flowers who need sunlight to grow and from the outside it’s like a little performance for the people on the street to see what’s happening in here. So, both sides get something out of it, which is very nice.”

Since the 2010 fire, MFA’s dancers had rehearsed inside of First Congregational Church, 400 N. Fifth Ave., but the organization’s other building, located at the corner of Fifth Ave. and Lake St., had also gotten cramped because square footage had been lost with the fire.

“I’m thankful for the church, but I’m so happy to be here, too,” said Mikaylin Lewis, a 14-year-old dance student who has been with MFA for six years.

“It’s going to be awesome, because its going to open up a lot more space,” said Amber Bautista,  a 13-year-old guitar student.

“This is amazing,” said Sara Espiricueta, 14, who has been dancing with MFA for six years. “I kind of remember the old studio when I was little, but to see this new studio is incredible.”

Rev. Theodore Matthews, pastor of Empowerment Church in Melrose Park, grew up in Maywood and marveled at MFA’s impact from afar. He said the new studio provides some reassurance that the organization’s work will continue.

“I think its awesome what they’ve been able to do,” he said. “I’m super excited to see them continue their impact on young people in the community. They’ve made a difference for years and it’s exciting to see what’s to come. I hope others get around them and support them so they can continue what they’ve been doing.”

Cook County Commissioner Richard Boykin (1st), one of numerous elected officials who attended the Aug. 20 grand opening, lauded Lois Baumann’s vision for area young people before splashing praise on the bold new facility.

“There’s no greater investment that we can make as a society than to invest in all these young people and to give them a solid foundation and a start in life,” he said. VFP