Mosienko: Part One

In 1946, a Chicago nurse named Rosalie "Lee" Chereskin went on a mission to help a patient meet their hockey hero, Bill Mosienko.

Well the time has nearly arrived…

My highly-anticipated book on Bill Mosienko launches next week and will be in bookstores across Canada. It’s definitely my finest piece of writing to date, so I hope some of you readers will pick up a copy and give it a read.

If you’re in Winnipeg, there is a book launch event next Wednesday (October 27) at McNally Robinson at 7 pm. It is also being streamed on YouTube if you’re unable to attend in person.

All of the details for the book launch are here: Mosienko Book Launch

The book can be ordered from my publisher’s website here: Buy Mosienko

This is the first of a three-part series that I’ll be posting within the next week relating to Mosienko to commemorate his life, the book, and what would have been his 100th birthday on November 2nd.

So here goes.

A mysterious letter from Carlsbad, California, reached the Mosienko family in 2003, nearly 10 years after Bill had passed. Enclosed in the letter was a personal story written by Rosalie “Lee” Chereskin, who had once met Bill in Chicago back in 1946.

It turned out to be a very fascinating and endearing story that I thought should be in the book, so I included it.

Here is Rosalie Chereskin telling her story:

It was the fall of 1946. I was a student nurse at the Mount Sinai Hospital School of Nursing and was sent to affiliate at the Illinois Neuro-Psychiatric Institute on Wood Street and Taylor Street in Chicago. I was 19. My father had died in September at age 51 from a heart condition discovered five months earlier, and my mother was a patient at the Chicago State Hospital for the mentally ill. Needless to say, I felt very old. 

In addition to being a student nurse, I was also a "Cadet Nurse." During World War II, the nurse shortage was so acute, with many of the RNs going overseas and to service-related installations, the civilian hospitals were left grossly understaffed. Therefore, the government came up with a plan to attract young women into nursing. Billboards depicting a beautiful young girl in a Cadet Nurse uniform of gray and red with her gentle healing hand on the brow of a handsome young wounded soldier, plus ads in the newspapers and radio that advertised free tuition, books and uniforms if one qualified, did the trick. Of course, the applicant had to sign a contract stating that if the war was still in progress, she would either work in a military installation or join the service. 

Being extremely patriotic, dedicated and serious, I looked forward to a long career in nursing and in the service of my country. Since Mount Sinai Hospital had no psychiatric ward and no contagious disease ward, we were given a choice as to where we would like to go for our affiliation, which was a three-month period. I chose Psychiatry thinking of my mother, who I loved very dearly and thought, with better knowledge, I could help her. 

So off we went to "Neuro," to a dorm-like floor in the same building where the patients' wards existed downstairs. Being a teaching and research hospital, the patient census was low, and only select patients were admitted, those being patients that presented a particular challenge and from which the staff might learn. As we progressed in class and on the wards, I found myself identifying with some of the patients, thinking, "I could have said that or I could have done that." Also, because of my mother, I was very sympathetic, and frankly, my heart poured out to them. 

One day, we admitted a young fellow, 16 years old, from the Chicago Juvenile Home – maybe it was called Cook County Juvenile Home, I don't remember which. In any case, this boy had absolutely no belongings except what he was wearing, and every garment had "Juvenile Home" stamped on it. In addition, he came with no family or friends to be there for him. His name was Jerry O'Bannon. Jerry was a tall kid; his sleeves and pant legs were too short. A nice-looking kid whose problem was that of a severe stutter. He was assigned to me, my patient. Needless to say, my heart ached for him. In a way, I was kind of like his mother, and he needed me. 

I knew he smoked. Everybody did in those days, and I knew he had no cigarettes. I knew he was scared in spite of the bravado he displayed, like coming to a hospital like this was no big deal. So, the first thing I did was offer him a cigarette and sat down with him. I didn't ask him any questions, he just tried to talk, but the stutter was very pronounced. He would say, "ugh, ugh, ugh, ugh" many times before he could get a word out. 

At the "Home," some social worker referred him to the medical department, thinking that there may be some neurological reason for this severe speech impediment. In time, seeing Jerry every day, we became friends while he was undergoing various tests to find the cause of his problem. We took walks together outside of the hospital with the permission of his doctor, and we played ping pong and cards together. On one walk, he told me that he had gone with a social worker to buy shoes for him, and he ran away from her, "But I wouldn't run away from you, Marksy," he'd say (Marks was my maiden name). He'd try to teach me how to "hot wire" a car to steal it. And he'd talk about hockey. He loved hockey, and Bill Mosienko of the Chicago Black Hawks was a personal friend of his, he said. 

Jerry's parents were not in the picture. His mother and father were alcoholics, and Jerry had lived in many foster homes, eventually getting in trouble with the law. He had no visitors. He had no belongings. His tests were coming back negative in the Neurology Department. Psychiatrists were discussing the possibility of the many changes and frights in Jerry's life possibly causing the stutter because as the days went by in the unthreatening atmosphere created by the hospital staff, the relaxed manner in which his psychiatrist dealt with him and possibly my association with Jerry, the stutter became less and less prominent. 

Throughout this entire time, Jerry kept talking about Bill Mosienko, star player of the Chicago Black Hawks hockey team. Bill was a personal friend, Jerry said over and over again. 

What will become of Jerry O'Bannon, I worried all the time. One didn't have to be a brainy scientist to play hockey, I thought. What if Jerry had the opportunity to learn to play hockey. He could make money doing what he likes, and a little stutter won't matter in the slightest. How could I make this happen? 

What if I went to see Bill Mosienko and told him about Jerry? Maybe he would give Jerry a chance. At least it would do a lot for Jerry's confidence and ego to meet Bill Mosienko face to face. It was then that my plan began to take shape. I confided my plans to a classmate and friend, Ethel Rosenberg, and convinced her to come with me to Chicago Stadium and talk to Bill Mosienko. 

On a Friday night after the Hawks game, Ettie (as we called Ethel) and I, dressed very officially in our starched nurses' uniforms, white shoes and stockings, caps with the black velvet bands showing that we were seniors, and Cadet Nurse Raincoats, talked our way down to the locker room of the Chicago Stadium. We demanded to see Bill Mosienko and said we had official business with him, and that we were nurses from the Illinois Neuro-Psychiatric Hospital. 

Oddly enough, we convinced the guard to go into the locker room and tell Bill Mosienko that there were two nurses outside that wanted to talk to him about some official business. Believe it or not, Bill Mosienko came out of the locker room and listened to the whole story about Jerry O'Bannon. Bill was a good-looking young man with light hair and not too tall. He was kind and patient and let me talk about Jerry. I told him that the one constructive passion in Jerry's life was hockey. Would he please come to see Jerry? And would he act as if he knew Jerry personally? To our utter amazement and joy, Bill said he would come on Sunday afternoon. He told me the time, we gave him the directions, and I said I would meet Bill in the lobby and take him to Jerry. 

On Sunday afternoon, Bill Mosienko came to the lobby of the Illinois Neuro-Psychiatric Institute, and I met him. In his hand, he carried a hockey stick signed by all the players on the Chicago Black Hawks team. 

Together we went to OT (Occupational Therapy), where Jerry was making something. We came in, and Bill Mosienko said, "Hi Jerry." 

Jerry O'Bannon turned around, and one could see the blood rising to his face when he answered, "Hi Bill." Bill gave him the hockey stick, and they talked for awhile. Bill was wonderful to Jerry and played along that they were pals the entire time. Then we went downstairs to the courtyard, and I took pictures so that no one could say that Jerry had fabricated this whole story. 

It concerned me that I had never asked permission from any of Jerry's doctors to do this and was relieved when his psychiatrist said she wanted to do something like that but didn't have the nerve. Needless to say, I was classified as a "C" Psychiatric Nurse and told that I was too sympathetic with the patients. 

My three-month affiliation was over, and I had to go back to Mount Sinai before the pictures were developed. I wanted to give Jerry a set. Unfortunately, when I finally got the pictures, I heard that Jerry was transferred to another institution or Juvenile Home and ran away. At least he had the hockey stick and my watch that he talked me out of to remind him that someone cared about him. 

Rosalie (AKA "Lee") Marks Chereskin RN

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