John Anthony Dowdle was born January 9, 1923 as the third of five children born to Elizabeth Carey Dowdle and Raymond Richard Dowdle. He was a three pound premature infant born in Chicago. Living on the south side of Chicago his father, Raymond Dowdle, had a premier construction business known as the Nash-Dowdle Company. His grandfather, John Dowdle, was the founder of this company along with his wife Margaret Nash Dowdle. He died in 1921 and his three sons Thomas P., John J. and Raymond R. ran the construction business.
Margaret Nash Dowdle’s brother, Patrick A Nash, was part of the famous Kelly-Nash political machine in Chicago. P.A. Nash was head of the Cook County democratic political organization and the construction business did well with the politicians. Mr. Edward J. Kelly became Mayor of Chicago in 1933 and the two men shared political power in Chicago until Nash’s death in 1943.
Raymond and Elizabeth Dowdle and their five children lived comfortably on Bennett Avenue in Chicago from his part ownership of the successful construction business. Because of the severe economic downturn during the Depression, the Nash-Dowdle Company disbanded causing a significant dispute among the brothers. The brothers never spoke to each other again and their children, who were first cousins, were never introduced. When John A. Dowdle entered high school at Loyola Academy he met some of those other Dowdles, Tom Dowdle, Jr. and Nash Dowdle (son of John J.) who he discovered were his first cousins, although they had never met previously, they becasme good friends.
John A. Dowdle attended grammar school at St. Phillip Neri School on the south side of Chicago. He was a naturally left-handed writer, but he was punished by his teachers who slapped a ruler on his left hand forcing him to learn to write with his right hand. Because of these unusual teaching techniques, his parents took him out of St. Phillip Neri for one year and he attended the local public school. John had severe ear infections as a child causing him to suffer significant hearing loss as a result. As a young boy, he took lip-reading classes which helped him cope throughout his life. Following grammar school at St. Phillip Neri, John enrolled at Loyola Academy, which was located in Dumbach Hall on the grounds of Loyola University on the north side of Chicago. John A. Dowdle graduated from Loyola Academy in the class of 1941. He attended Loyola University for a short period and enlisted in the Army in early 1942.
Serving his Country
John was assigned to the Officer’s Training Corps, but because of his hearing loss, he was not accepted. He became a corporal in the Army Corps of Engineers where their function was to repair and resurface airfields that were bombed in the process of displacing the German army. After the airfields had been captured, the Army Corps of Engineers would come in and repaired the airfields so they could again be used for the Allied Forces.
John was part of a large group of engineers that entered France on D-Day +6 and repaired the airfields behind the front lines after the capture of that territory. One night a group of solders in Northern France went to a theater to watch a movie from the States. John decided not to attend and preferred to spend the evening writing a letter to his girlfriend in Chicago, Julia McGuire. He wrote as often as possible in his free time trying to keep his connection to her. On this night the movie theater was blown up with almost half the Corp of Engineers killed. John truly felt this was a sign that Julia was meant to be in his life. John was only one of 20 in his Corps that survived the war. He returned to the states in July of 1946 and was discharged from the service.
His first job after the war was working in the coal mines in Northern Indiana. He held several sales positions with the Republic Coal Company, followed by the Black Star and Beaver Dam Coal Company, and finally the United Coal Company. He continued working for the coal business until the early 1960s when he founded the Ramona Stone Company, which participated in the mining of limestone in southern Illinois. They were a key contractor providing the stone for the construction of the Federal Prison in Marion, Illinois. At this time he lived part time in Marion, Illinois as the mine was located in Goreville, Illinois. He had a part time residence with three other businessmen who did part-time work in Marion with a plaque over the front door that read, “House of Lords.” While this was a well known brand of liquor, they thought it was appropriate and humorous, for their household to be known as the House of Lords.
John sold Ramona Stone in 1968 and became a well respected stock-broker and financial advisor. He started with E.F. Hutton and later worked at Smith Barney and retired in 1998 at the age of 75 from Merrill Lynch.
Family and Interests
John had many other activities. A year after his return from the war, he married Julia McGuire on October 4th 1947. John and Julia had 11 children in 17 years, seven boys and four girls. Initially they lived on the south side of Chicago and in 1955 moved to 1012 Ramona Rd. in Wilmette, a northern suburb of Chicago, with their first five children. All seven of the boys graduated from Loyola Academy in Wilmette, which at that time was an all boy’s school. All eleven of his children graduated from college with five of the children having advanced degrees.
John Dowdle was committed to the education of his children and quality education for his community. He was the first layperson as the Chairman of the Board of Directors of Loyola Academy. He was also on the Board of Catholic Charities and the Madonna Center. He helped found an adult education program in the Woodlawn area on the south side of Chicago and also helped start an interfaith group in Chicago for new and affordable housing on the south side of Chicago.
He was committed to his children’s education and worked hard. He was a financially prudent, soft-spoken gentleman with high integrity and moral values who had a strong and clear sense of right and wrong.
John lived a simple, prudent life, enjoying the wonders of his children and his wonderful marriage to Julia . They loved golf with almost weekly rounds, and having never had a hole-in-one, he was teased by his wife who had four. They went to Sea Island most every spring for a week vacation and daily golf.
He created some great family traditions. Dinner every night started with a prayer he learned on a retreat, “May those who hunger have bread, and may we who have bread, always hunger for justice and peace.”
Often when one of the children had an accomplishment, he would declare, “You’re on the ball.”
In the fall it was a family tradition to attend Notre Dame Football games in South Bend, Indiana. The family would pack into the station wagon, drive downtown to the Chicago Athletic Club to pick up box lunches of chicken sandwiches. The kids were not allowed, however, to eat their sandwiches until they reached mile marker 42 on the toll road. This caused for careful attention to the mile-marker countdown and allowed for the perfect amount of time to finish eating just as they pulled into South Bend for the starting kick- off.
Another great family tradition was the discussion following dinner, as John and Julia were enjoying their coffee. This was labeled as “House talk” with free flowing opinions and discussion all within the privacy of the family members. There were lively debates on everything from the Viet Nam war to drug and alcohol use, religion to sexuality. Depending on the topic, the younger kids would many times return to the dinner table to hear the discussion instead of watching their favorite evening TV shows.
As a lesson to teach his kids the value of doing good deeds in the world, John would pull out a book at the dinner table labeled “The Good Book.” Once a week, he would go around the table and ask each of his children to speak about one good deed they had done that week and he would write it down in the book. Long after all of his children had grown, John would still often tell his kids, “that’s one for the good book,” upon hearing about someone doing a good deed.
John marched down LaSalle Street in the businessman march against the Viet Nam war. His two oldest sons who were facing the draft, were impressed by their father’s willingness to protest the war even though he was the “establishment” generation.
John was disappointed he never graduated from college but he was committed to having all eleven of his children attend and complete college.
He drove a modest car all of his life to allow his many teenage children a car to share. After paying his last college tuition for his youngest child, that same month signed up for Medicare. To celebrate his last college tuition payment - he traded in his Toyota and splurged on a Cadillac!