Helen Baran celebrates her 100th birthday with some friends and family.

by JASON MEREL

Longtime Norwood Park resident Helen Baran celebrated her 100th birthday on April 2 and reflected on 70 years of living in the North West

“I have to say I’ve had a great life,” she said. “You know, we are all miserable at times. But you have to have a pretty good outlook on life if you want to enjoy it.

Baran credits his longevity to a lifelong love for fitness.

She began taking drill classes with Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame instructor and coach Mike Small at the former Saint Tarcissus, now Saint Elizabeth of the Trinity , 6030 W. Ardmore Ave., when she was in her fifties. Helen was already a lifelong polka dancer and eventually started taking country dancing lessons with her 98-year-old sister Anne at Sayre Park, 6871 W. Belden Ave.

Helen performed line dancing at summer carnivals, Chicago Park District pavilions, and “Taste of Polonia,” but said she quit dancing at age 95 when she started ” to slow down”.

She said she believes the key to longevity is learning to take good care of yourself through diet and exercise. But she said people should try to enjoy life and shared an anecdote about her obstetrician recommending a daily beer for nutritional reasons when she was pregnant in 1944. Helen said she always appreciates a cold beer with his evening meal so far.

Baran was born in Minneapolis on April 2, 1922, to parents Mary and Joseph, both Polish immigrants, who moved to Wauseka, Wisconsin, and began farming.

“When they got there and were able to get farmland, they were just natives,” she said.

Her mother was a strawberry and dairy farmer and she said tourists would go off the beaten track to buy their berries. Helen said her parents decided to move the family to Chicago in 1930 to be part of a larger Polish community near Ashland and Division.

His daughter Barbara and granddaughter Angela celebrate with Helen.

It was in the “old quarter” near Pulaski Park that Helen met her husband, John Baran. They married in 1943, and she still lives in the house they bought in 1952, on North Neva Avenue in Norwood Park, which cost $20,000 at the time.

She said they decided to raise their family in Norwood Park because they loved the old-world feel of the neighborhood and how tight-knit the community was.

Helen’s career centered around typing, and she bought her first typewriter for $15 after graduating from high school. She has worked as a proofreader for a printing company as well as various secretarial positions.

When her husband John died in 1974 aged 60, she re-entered the workforce and worked for Whirlpool Warwick subsidiaries, Lehigh Furniture and Thomas Organ until her retirement in 1985.

Her children Roger, Barbara and Douglas, aged 77, 74 and 68 respectively, attended Norwood Park School and Immaculate Conception School. She has nine grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.