It was not quite midnight on a New Year’s Eve. One of the typical bitterly cold Chicago New Year’s Eves that are common hereabouts. I was wearing a long, black dress. It had colorful rick-rack on the hem and neckline and long black sleeves, accompanied by my long, brown hair; a girl in the ’70s dressed up for a movie, Love Story, downtown on New Year’s Eve. A college student with nary a nickel to spare, my Aunt Christina gave me with the dress. I had casually mentioned seeing it in the window of a little dress shop near her house. A few days later, she gave me the dress so that I would have something nice to wear for my Uncle George’s surprise birthday party. I was so touched by her generous gift and her thoughtfulness – I still am. I loved that dress and I wore it on many occasions for years.
My New Year’s Eve date (can you guess who it was?) and I walked out of the Oriental Theater – and directly into bright lights! Really bright lights, and a television camera, only we didn’t see the camera right away. We didn’t see it until we accidentally walked right in front of it and Harry Volkman! Tom swiftly steered us away from the camera, whispering “it’s Harry Volkman“! We had just stepped into a weather forecast. There he was, Harry Volkman, a weather map at his side, giving the late night weather report in downtown Chicago, the last forecast of 1970!
Tom and I reminisced about that New Year’s Eve on Friday. We hadn’t thought about it in decades, but, it was one of those moments, part of our own Love Story, that works its way back into our long running conversation of life. These moments in time that stay with us, sometimes hidden from thought for decades, but, reappear when such things as the news of the passing of a celebrity occur.
If you lived in the Chicagoland area between 1959 and the early 2000s, no matter which television station you got your news from, you probably heard your weather report from Harry Volkman at some point in time. He was among the first to use weather maps, sometimes drawing in crayon or chalk, to show weather patterns. Sometimes silly, even outrageous for the times in his on-air weather reports, he was a daily fixture in Chicago news television for many decades.
Harry Volkman brought many young children, now adults, to their television sets as he would often visit area schools to talk to students about the weather. It was customary for schools to honor him with a boutonniere. Mr. Volkman would then wear it during his evening’s forecasts and he would mention the school during the weather report. He also visited retirement homes.
Harry Volkman also encourage young viewers to call in weather conditions. He would mention them by first name on the air; names like Tom from Aurora reports . . . It would be anything from cloud formations to rain or snowfall and temperatures. By-the-way, that kid named Tom grew up to be our revered meteorologist, Tom Skilling, who now gets paid to report the weather and is a well-known and respected meteorologist in the Chicago area.
I was thinking about all of this as the news of Harry Volkman’s passing hit the airwaves last week, as well as of this rather noble idea of citizen scientists, which I mention here on the Cutoff from time-to-time. Harry Volkman made weather interesting. He captured our attention with weather details in a new way that we could relate to, and invited his viewers to be part of the process of not only predicting weather, but, in being active citizens – citizen scientists – as they noted weather conditions. He was a true mentor to those entering his profession, and a moment in time for two college kids out on a date.
Rest in peace, Mr. Volkman. Rest in peace.
Image from here.