A Neighbor You Should Know: Kathleen Tobin 

By Marianne Walsh  

Kathleen Tobin’s contributions to the Beverly/Morgan Park area over the last 50 years typically result in a singular question by all familiar with her.  

How did she do it?  

Many recognize Tobin’s name from her byline. She spent 30 years writing her column, “Chicago Alive,” for “The Beverly Review.” Her focus was the arts and theatre. She attended and reviewed hundreds of performances over the years. When securing her column, former editor Ron Rehfeldt carefully discussed Tobin’s passion and talents and made a firm offer:  “I will print anything you write.” 

Tobin explains that her enthusiasm for the arts came at an early age.  

“I grew up in a large family along with a group of cousins who were constantly putting on performances. We did everything from writing the scripts to set design to performing our parts. There were no televisions. What else could we do?” 

Tobin distinctly recalls one of her earliest performances at St. Vincent DePaul Elementary School.  

“Each grade put on a separate performance and it was all very elaborate. I was Miss Sunshine cavorting around the stage sprinkling the flowers who were adorned in glorious paper mâché headdresses. It was groundbreaking.” 

Tobin continues that back then, “my six siblings and I all had to learn instruments. It was an eclectic neighborhood on the Near North side of Chicago. We lived in the same three-flat as my grandparents. Everyone around me — my parents, grandparents, the nuns and monks — they instilled a deep love of arts, poetry and performance.”   

Tobin and her husband, Edmund, would raise their family in Beverly/Morgan Park where she quickly decided the neighborhood needed a little shaking up. She went to work on the St. Barnabas School Board bylaws to incorporate cross-curriculum learning. She founded the Beverly Foundation for the Performing Arts in 1988. Tobin produced several productions and brought in thousands of kids from around Chicago to experience live theatre for the very first time.  

Like her parents, Tobin ensured all eight of her children learned an instrument. Her daughter Jeanne Zemaitis is an accomplished oboist who has played in various symphonies as well as in her own woodwind quintet.   

When her youngest was still a baby, Tobin signed up with Catholic Charities to nurture newborns in a role she calls “temporary mothering.” 

“Some of these infants were only a few hours old.” Tobin recalled. “I would have them for up to a year. There was one baby girl, I believe now she was going through withdrawal, who screamed non-stop for months. Her poor legs and body would stiffen up. My children all pitched in and did everything we could to soothe her. Every one of my children knew how to change a diaper and take care of an infant well before they became parents themselves.” 

More recently, Tobin marched door to door with her clipboard getting homeowners to sign off on planting new trees in their parkways.  

“Trees,” she said, “can be every bit as artistic as a play or poem.”  

Sadly, Edmund, Tobin’s husband of 69 years, passed away in December 2021 at the age of 90. Tobin fondly recollects how Edmund once challenged the status quo at the Beverly Hills Tennis Club. 

“The club used to be all North Siders and no neighborhood people. Over time, Edmund changed that, Professional-level tennis players were replaced by the kids from the neighborhood looking to learn the game. He introduced racquet ball to the facility as well.” 

Tobin is also proud of the fact that her late husband was the longest standing member of St. Barnabas Parish and was born into “the very first house built on Hamilton Avenue.” 

When asked how she was able to do so much over the years, Tobin thinks immediately of her grandparents. 

“My grandfather was a dairy farmer. We helped out on weekends milking cows, picking apples and plucking chickens. That work ethic was ingrained in us. Yet his wife, my grandmother, was this avant garde Irish finishing school graduate.  The fine arts were everything to her. I think their joint influences really helped shape me in so many ways.”  

No matter what inspired Tobin to brighten the neighborhood throughout her life, the residents of Beverly/Morgan Park will owe her a debt of gratitude for generations to come. 

 

 

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