Member ConnectionNews

Interview with Hugh Ingrasci

Meet Hugh Ingrasci: professor, writer, volunteer, coach, family man, and library enthusiast.

People often see you at the circulation desk as you’re checking out materials for your volunteer work with the Chicago Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired. How long have you volunteered there and what’s involved? What kinds of materials do you get and how do you use them?

After retiring in 2014 from DePaul, I started volunteering at the Lighthouse: reading to an Adult Life Skills group of 30 who have visual, physical, and mental handicaps; broadcasting a one-hour newscast on the Lighthouse’s station, CRIS radio; and soliciting discarded young-reader story books and audio-books from the Library’s Director, Ted Bodewes, for the Lighthouse’s pre and primary school for blind and semi-sighted children. The Library has donated more than one thousand books these last several years, treasures that these kids use in classes and also get treated to on “Take Home a Bagful” days every month or two.

You were also a part of the 2017 Library Foundation event with Carey Cranston, the inaugural president of the American Writers Museum. Tell us a bit about that. 

Carey Cranston, who was my student and advisee as an English major at DePaul, was appointed the founding Director of the American Writers Museum. In 2017 I was involved in getting Carey to give a presentation at the Library. He gave a terrific rendition of why and how the financial backers of the museum chose Chicago as its locale, how he himself was recruited, and how a national panel of writers created a rubric for selecting which authors, exhibits, talks, and educational programs the museum would feature. The U.S.A., Carey informed us, was the last major country to establish a Writers Museum.

Could you give us a snapshot of your academic career?

I spent ten years teaching English in prep schools in three Midwestern cities, where I also coached soccer, baseball, forensics, and debate, and directed the school plays. I then spent two years at Syracuse University, and 42 years at DePaul University teaching 19th and 20th Century American fiction, plus courses in film studies which examined America’s value systems via the material versus spiritual conflicts inherent in the American Dream of Success. My favorite offerings were classes that focused on The Hero and Anti-Hero in American Film and Fiction. Students reveled in discovering how these artistic works revealed the values underlying why Americans’ ambitions can lead them to human greatness or egotistic grief. 

How about your personal life? Marriage? Family? Hobbies and interests?

My wife, Jeanette, and I met in graduate school at St. Louis University in the 1960s. We finished our Ph.D.’s together (mine at University of Michigan), then moved to the suburban Chicago area in 1973, where we both had relatives. Our son, Matt, and daughter, Rachel, grew up here and went to St. John of the Cross and Nazareth Academy before college. They both now live out of state. 

Aside from sports and attending classical concerts and plays in the area, I’ve spent more time watching movies than anything, especially classic films that I have cut and edited for the classroom to show pivotal scenes which reflect who Americans think we are. As a volunteer, I coached AYSO soccer in our two local regions for 15 years, and became the Chief Coach and the Regional Commissioner in both regions, serving about 4,000 players. While my son, Matt, was a Cub Scout in Hinsdale, the troop started its Scout Christmas campaign. He became an Eagle Scout in the St. John’s troop while I was Scoutmaster. It was during that time that I started the annual wreath sales campaign in Western Springs. Every year since the early 1990s these sales have netted enough funds to send each Scout in the troop to summer camp, without cost to their parents.

How long have you lived in Western Springs? What changes have you seen and what are your thoughts on its future?

Our family has lived in Western Springs since 1989. We moved here to escape the “mega-mausoleums” that were built in Hinsdale when the Chicago Board of Trade’s seats were sold and the “bigger is best” trend took over their home-building market. Western Springs has always been a haven for people who want a homey, sociable lifestyle without trying to keep up with the “jet set Joneses.” Every family that’s become our neighbor over the last 30 years always comments: “Western Springs is a place where our kids will be happy to grow up in.”

What do you like to read? What was the last book that really impressed you?

After reading and teaching classic literature for a lifetime, I’ve gravitated to mystery/detective fiction and books that reveal our cultural mores. The last book that hit me hardest with its societal insights was Hillbilly Elegy by J. D. Vance. It reminded me of How the Other Half Lives by Jacob Riis.

Just recently, I received a déjà vu reading treat from volume 281 of the literary reference series Short Story Criticism published by Gale. They reprinted a journal article I published in 1985, titled “Names as Symbolic Crowns Unifying D.H. Lawrence’s ‘The Rocking-Horse Winner.’” It’ll be intriguing to revisit my slant on life, 35 years ago, via how I interpreted Lawrence’s vision of his British culture. It’s rare that we get to get a glimpse of “the way we were, way back then.”

As a very active Library patron, you are especially qualified to comment on our services. Please do!

Our library is blessed with a staff and director that make visiting and using its trove of texts and facilities a joy for all age groups, especially since the renovation project took place. I most enjoy watching the children’s librarians become personalized guides to little readers whom they introduce to the wonderland of fairy realms and fantastic creatures. As a book person, I most appreciate having access to virtually any text I need through our interlibrary system of books, CDs, feature films, and critical/reference materials. Ordering and picking up hard-to-get texts at Thomas Ford saved me hours (and miles) of traveling to other libraries. Instead I could have their holdings delivered right to the circulation desk, even texts from universities on the East and West coasts.

“The Ford Member Connection” spotlights Western Springs residents with interesting stories and relationships to the Library. Please let us know whom you’d like to read about.