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Wicker Park For Life: 106-Year-Old Lived Nearly Whole Life In Same Building

By Alisa Hauser | October 26, 2016 6:38am
 Left: The house Irene Mandock lived in for all of her life. Right: Mandock and at her 106th birthday celebration. She died last week.
Left: The house Irene Mandock lived in for all of her life. Right: Mandock and at her 106th birthday celebration. She died last week.
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Courtesy of Susan Fontana

WICKER PARK — Described by neighbors as a "tough cookie" with a tenacious spirit, 106-year-old Irene Mandock died last week after a long and somewhat mysterious life spent almost entirely in Wicker Park. 

Born on Sept. 10, 1910, Mandock died Oct. 19 from natural causes, according to her lawyer Michael Perez and a cadre of doting neighbors, including Barbara Watt, Mandock's immediate neighbor to the north, and Jonathan Stein, her neighbor to the south.

Known as Regina, she was believed to have always lived in the same apartment, save for the 1940s when she traveled throughout Europe for a secretarial job with the railroad, Stein said.

Unmarried with no children, Mandock lived alone on the second floor of a three-flat at 1935 W. Schiller St. until last year when she could no longer climb the stairs and moved to a nursing home, according to John Plant, who bought Mandock's building and is renovating it into a single-family home.

Watt, who moved next store to Mandock nine years ago, described her neighbor as "a no muss, no fuss" lady who was eccentric, tenacious, witty and "so alive."

"People wanted to talk with her, yet she would pick and choose who she let into her space. She was sarcastic and would always make fun of herself, a nice mix of humility and self confidence," Watt said.

Susan Dinko, another neighbor, said Mandock was "a real tough cookie" and recalled seeing her push a wire shopping cart to the grocery store well after age 100.

Stein moved to a coach house next door to Mandock in spring 1993, when he was 26 and Mandock was 83.

Stein said his friends and roommates would "catch glimpses of [Mandock] briefly, leaning on her windowsill, watching the people of the neighborhood come and go."

"She would always hide or retreat when she saw us. She quickly became a sort of Boo Radley character in your minds, the mysterious and un-knowable neighbor from the classic novel 'To Kill A Mockingbird,'" he said.

Stein said he met Mandock after he found one of her window screens that had fallen in the gangway between the two buildings and placed it back on her front porch. About a week later he discovered a dollar bill tied to a very long piece of string that was "blowing in the wind."

"'Nice young man, nice young man,' came a voice down from the second-story window. I looked up, and Regina leaned out. 'Are you the one who returned my property?' she asked. I confirmed it was me. I tried to refuse the money, but she was having none of that," Stein recalled.

Stein said Mandock asked him if he would be able to help her with some home projects and after saying he would do what he could, he later found a hand-written note wrapped around his front gate, an invitation to meet for tea and to discuss repairs.

"This way of sharing notes became our main method of communication over the years, a method which she called 'the pony express.' Over those years we also began to meet just for the pleasure of sharing each other's company. I loved her, and she will be missed," Stein said.

Stein said that if Mandock had a phone number, he was not aware of it during their 23-year friendship, where he sometimes helped Mandock find first-floor tenants.

Mandock never had tenants on the third floor because she did not want to "hear people stomping around above" her, Stein said.

Though Mandock shared bits and pieces of her vibrant life with various neighbors, a full picture was not attainable.

"She was a little cagey with her stories. I do not think she was ever married but someone else said she could have been for a short time," Stein said.

And while Watt said she had heard Mandock was born in the home on Schiller Street that her parents had built, she also that she'd heard she moved there when she was 12. And, Mandock never quite revealed what her exact job title was while working for the railroad.

Her sole survivor, a nephew in Arkansas whom she was estranged from in later years, could not immediately be reached. Watt said Jim Mandock attended his aunt's memorial service on Monday.

Perez and Watt visited Mandock in hospice on the night before she died, where she had grown weak after not eating for six days.

"It's a natural thing for people to not eat because they are ready to exit. She always said, her quote was, 'One day God will bless me with sweet, sweet death,'" Watt said.

Susan Fontana, another Schiller Street neighbor, also admired Mandock.

"Regina was a true maverick and broke the glass ceiling long ago. She traveled the world and said that putting a flower on the right side over your ear means you're available. That was a story she told us while putting the flower over her right ear, something she learned while on a business trip to Hawaii," Fontana said.

On her birthday in September, Mondack was photographed wearing a green blouse that matched her eyes, a long strand of silver beads and a white flower —  over her right ear.

Irene "Regina" Mandock on her 106th birthday, Sept. 10, 2016. [Barbara Watt]

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