Blue Collar Means Work, It Means Pride
By Admin

December 17, 2010

To me it means hard work. It means pride in what you do.

My Grandad immigrated from The Netherlands, via Canada, married an Indian (First Nations Ojibwa) woman in Minnesota/Canada, and eventually made it to Chicago.

He worked his life as an apartment complex janitor. 7 days a week, anytime of the day. I helped him shovel coal into the HUGE coal-fired steam boilers, to heat the apartments. He pretended there was a black cat living in the coal bin, that I could not see but could hear (he made the sounds, obviously). He carried trash cans up and down the 4 level outdoor metal walk-up steps, regardless of the weather. He had his last heart attack doing that on a winter day at age 75.

In between his janitor duties, he made home brew beer in the basement, threw perfect horseshoes with other people who didn’t speak english down at the park, and rode 100 mile bicycle races every weekend. Many times he would do that during the day, then ride “Pursuit” races (behind a motorcycle) at the outdoor wood velodrome in a Chicago suburb evenings. He was unbeatable. The stuff he won was sold to buy groceries. In between all that, he taught me how to ride his track bike: shining silver-chrome with no brakes, and only one gear. You wore gloves and grabbed the tires to stop the monster. Yes, I did the velodrome thing too. I wanted to be like my Grandpa whom everyone called “Bop”. Life was tough, life was good.

Grandpa was the number one bicycle racer in the USA. I have the articles from the Chicago Papers. He couldn’t turn pro. Not enough money, and he had two kids to support. His Indian wife died having my father, and Bop married a Rom Gypsy women to take care of the kids.

He worked, all the time. He was tough as nails. He was Blue Collar, responsible, always making things, doing things, fixing things. Every day. Even the day he died. He had a heart attack in the driveway, carried cans to the 4th floor in sub-zero weather, made it back to his apartment and collapsed on the couch. But not before he fixed the toilet for Grandma. Then he told her what happened, and died.

Damn he was a proud Blue Collar man. And I am proud of him.

Rafael Artur Schepens.

Love ya Bop.


  1. frank

    A farmer is not quite blue collar as long as he has no boss. But my neighbor Don, a farm boy all his 81 years, shows much of the quiet and easy going competency of your grandpa.

    Besides raising chickens, he’s also been a small-town entrepreneur: grocer, dry cleaner, house painter. He is still doing the latter now and then, with no fear of ladders or unsteadiness on same.

    Don is, as I said, quiet. His pride is not worn on his sleeve – it’s in the quality (and, yes, the quantity) of what he does. e meets every challenge with a knowing nod and smile – “been there, done that, let’s git to ‘er.” His children share much of this ethic – communicated, I’m sure, entirely by example. There’s no bellyaching about the hours or the load, but no bragging or tough talk about it, either.

    Funny when you think about it, Don and his children are too proud not to be humble. I suppose that’s the legacy when you come up working for the land and not for the man.

  2. Thank you Frank.

    What wonderful people. Hard-working, humble, proud.

    All the best to you, the family and the neighbors in 2012.