From Leather Cutter to Sears Inspector – The Colorful Life of Eugenia Boyd
Eugenia Boyd was born on June 20, 1906 in Austria-Hungary to Anton Herzog and Marie Beran and was one of nine children. When Eugenia was very little, the family immigrated to America and made their way to Chicago, where they stayed for about a year before moving to a farm in Michigan. Thus, Eugenia spent most of her childhood in Michigan and completed the eighth grade there.
When she was about fourteen, one of Eugenia’s brothers told her about a job he knew of at a leather factory in the town nearest their farm. Eugenia agreed to go with him in his old Ford to apply for it, but was soon disgusted by the stench emanating from the factory as they drove up. Having come this far, however, she decided to go in anyway. The story goes that when Eugenia timidly approached the receptionist and asked about the job, the receptionist just looked at her and said, “What job?”
Apparently, Eugenia then looked so forlorn and confused that the receptionist took pity on her and arranged for her to try her luck as a cutter. This involved cutting the leather trim around a pattern with a very sharp knife. She did so well that she was immediately offered a job, which she accepted. Despite the smell of the factory and the fact that she was often teased by the men that worked there because she was so young, Eugenia was enjoyed her new job and was quite good at it.
After three years of working at the leather factory, Eugenia had to quit because the family decided to move back to Chicago. They had been renting the farm and had finally saved enough to buy a small house in Chicago. Anton got a job in a piano factory. It took him years and years to save up the money to buy one of the pianos he helped to build, but he was very proud of the fact that he was eventually able to do so.
Six years after the Herzog’s moved to Chicago, the Great Depression hit, and Eugenia was out of a job, though no one remembers where she originally worked when they first got to Chicago. The family story is that she “paid for” a job in a factory that made razors, though no one is exactly sure what was meant by that. At the razor factory, Eugenia inspected the razors for quality and also handled customer complaints. From there she took a job at Western Electric and then went on to Sears, Roebuck, where she worked as a type of inspector, a job she held for many years.
Though Eugenia had her share of “beaux” over the years, she never seemed to fall in love. One night, however, at a party at a girlfriend’s house, she met a man by the name of Sherman Boyd. Sherman worked in a lumberyard and also made deliveries for various companies on the side. The two hit it off right away and began dating. After only a short amount of time, Sherman proposed, and Eugenia happily accepted. Sherman already owned his own home, one which Eugenia thought very nice, so when they were married, she moved in rather than them getting a new place.
Sadly, the couple could not have any children, though they very much wanted them. Instead, they continued working and enjoyed entertaining and having people over for dinner. Eugenia loved to garden in her free time and was very active at their church, Immaculate Conception.
According to family members, Eugenia and Sherman had a lovely life together until Sherman passed away at age 83. Shortly afterward, Eugenia went to live with her younger sister, Cecile, in Naperville. Though Cecile was only three years younger than Eugenia, she began waiting on Eugenia constantly and prepared elaborate meals and “fancy baked goods” for her every day.
This behavior went on for eight years until Cecile’s daughter, Linda, decided to intervene. According to Linda, Cecile was becoming “obsessed” with caring for Eugenia, which Linda felt was ridiculous, considering her mother was quite elderly as well. Cecile became more and more worried that something was going to happen to Eugenia, that she would fall or get sick or have some sort of accident. Cecile became so preoccupied with worry that she began waking up in the middle of the night to check on Eugenia. It is interesting to note that in all of this time, Eugenia seems to have been completely unaware, or pretended to be unaware, of the stress she was causing her sister.
Not wanting to break the sisters up, but wanting to give Cecile a break, Linda and other family members came up with a plan for Eugenia to spend part of the day at a nearby senior center, which she willing went to and enjoyed. It wasn’t enough, however, to stop Cecile’s obsession. Finally, the family decided that something more drastic would have to be done. Tentatively, they approached Eugenia with the idea of going to live in a nursing home and were shocked when she was very accepting of it. In fact, Eugenia now claims that it was her idea all along, that she made the decision because of “poor Cecile’s health problems.”
Obviously, then, Eugenia has made an excellent transition to the nursing home and especially enjoys the meals and all of the offered. She especially likes bingo, watching gameshows with other residents, “old movie” night, and listening to big band music.
(Originally written: October 1994)
If you liked this true story about the past, check out Michelle’s historical fiction/mystery series, set in the 1930s in Chicago: