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James Sprowal, who now is 102 years old, recently spoke with the RoundTable about coming to live in Evanston in 1948 and about being 102.
The oldest of eight siblings, he was born and raised in South Carolina, growing up mostly on a farm just outside Greenwood. As a young man he did carpentry work and became a mechanic’s helper, before being “called by Uncle Sam” in about 1942. He joined the Army and was assigned to the South Pacific.
After the war ended, he returned to South Carolina, realizing one of the striking differences between life in the service and life as a civilian. “In civilian life there was discrimination; in the Army no. We had to be brothers, as one,” said Mr. Sprowal.
He stayed in South Carolina for one year after leaving the Army, but finding no work there, started looking outside the state. There were ads for a range of different places, including New York, Pennsylvania and Chicago. Mr. Sprowal had married by then and his wife, Eddie Mae Sprowal, had family in Evanston and wanted to be near them.
“When we first came here, I had no job, so my wife stayed with her sister. I had an uncle here and stayed with him,” said Mr. Sprowal. Shortly after arriving in Evanston, he started doing a range of work, and he and his wife found their own home. “I like to work and did landscaping, carpentry – I took care of the bills. She took care of the house,” said Mr. Sprowal.
Mr. Sprowal talked about the range of places he had worked. He said shortly after settling in Evanston he met a man cleaning carpets and worked with him for “quite a while.” He worked for two currency exchanges doing maintenance. He also had his own business cleaning windows and would take his kids with him to help out with the work. He worked in the restaurant business, for a restaurant on Church Street and for a snack shop. He retired from what was the Skokie Club, formerly at 8820 Skokie Boulevard.
Mr. and Mrs. Sprowal initially had two children, James and Emma, and then adopted the four children of Mrs. Sprowal’s niece – Ernie, Angela, Letitia and Toni. While the Sprowals lived on other streets in Evanston, they raised their children mostly on Monroe Street in the house where Mr. Sprowal still lives. He was married for 68 years; Ms. Sprowal died in 2011.
Son James and daughter Emma still live in Evanston, Emma with Mr. Sprowal. “If they weren’t around, I don’t know what I’d do,” said Mr. Sprowal.
“I love it here, love the neighbors – they’re good people. I love the people in this neighborhood,” said Mr. Sprowal, repeating his words of affection. He cited as an example his next-door neighbor, Frank Fennell, who cuts Mr. Sprowal’s grass. “I tried to give him a donation, but he won’t take it,” said Mr. Sprowal.
“People are wonderful in Evanston, and Evanston is a wonderful place,” said Mr. Sprowal. “I haven’t experienced discrimination here. I’m a believer; I pray that God let me love people not by color.”
Mr. Sprowal said faith is an important part of his life and talked about his experience at Bethel AME Church, which he joined in 1950. “Bethel is a wonderful place to go. Best place in my life – to stay out of trouble,” said Mr. Sprowal, laughing. “I love to be around those people. I go to church, and I feel good all week.”
Mr. Sprowal also talked about life in today’s world. “The news hurts me. People killing babies. It hurts,” said Mr. Sprowal. “People should get along with each other better. But I never run into those problems – I don’t go out much.” He also said he mostly avoids the news.
Asked about being 102 and any secrets of aging well and growing older, Mr. Sprowal said, “I’m a believer. I believe in God. I’m 102. I want to love people as people. Let me see people as people – no color. You look at people as people. That’s my life. That’s my goal.”