Getting to Know the Heart of Peggy Rubenstein

Getting to Know the Heart of… Peggy Rubenstein

Modest, community minded, with a contagious laugh, Peggy, after making a personal oath as a city girl to city life forever, found herself moving to her husband’s hometown of Glencoe 34 years ago - and has never looked back.

By: Annice Moses, Community Relations Forum Member

Peggy is worried that she doesn’t have a celebrity crush to reveal. She reiterates this as she adds water to her Starbucks Trenta Passion iced tea (straight up with no sweetener). I tell her no worries, time will tell. Peggy takes an icy, decaffeinated sip and we get right into it.

Peggy’s parents met in downstate Illinois in third grade and began dating in high school. Peggy was raised in Hyde Park and her home life was a bastion of diversity and creativity. Her mom, Shirley Dobbins Fitch, was a Montessori kindergarten teacher, master quilter and painter. Her Dad, Dr. Frank Fitch was a renowned immunologist, cancer researcher and bread, wine and leaded glass panel maker. Peggy remembers being told by her parents every day that she could do anything and be anyone she wanted to be, which nurtured a confidence and curiosity for Peggy in the larger world. Her parents were great - so great that Peggy confides that one of her boyfriends loved her parents more than he loved her!

Peggy was Pre-Med at the University of Rochester in New York until the notorious medical school “weed out” organic chemistry class resulted in her receiving a D grade. Her advisor asked if she’d ever considered nursing, and when Peggy said no, her advisor replied, “You need to.” Leaving the office, nursing school pamphlet in hand, Peggy’s life trajectory changed forever. Rather than being crushed and demoralized, (which would have been understandable -- that advisor was objectively horrible), Peggy alternatively pursued nursing, becoming a pediatric nurse practitioner, working with Evanston families for 25 years. Peggy says it was the absolute best thing she ever did. She also met her future husband Jon in that infamous chemistry class.

While Peggy and Jon initially bonded over chemical composition and organic reactions, they also thoughtfully discussed religion over the seven years they dated prior to marriage. Peggy’s mom was raised Methodist and her dad Presbyterian, and that was considered a mixed marriage in downstate Illinois. When Peggy’s parents decided to start a family, they found compromise in Unitarianism. Peggy’s offers a mini summary: “Most simply, you learn about all the different religions, making bread and nature.” Jon’s mom was raised Reform in the Jewish faith and his dad Orthodox, ultimately raising Jon as a reformed Jew at North Shore Congregation Israel in Glencoe. “Another mixed marriage!” Peggy laughs.

Married and moving from Chicago to Glencoe’s Mary Street, (and then two years later to her current digs two blocks north on Harbor Street), Peggy was surprised to find such a beautiful and welcoming community in the suburbs. She was told she would find her best friends hiding in Glencoe - and she did. Her children – Emily, a nurse practitioner, Danny, a musician and son Benji, an architect - all went to Glencoe Junior Kindergarten where Peggy was very active on the School Board. Her family also became incredibly involved in NSCI. Peggy specifically found a niche for herself in the Temple sisterhood. Peggy describes it as a creative group of multi-generational women that are remarkably interesting with varying perspectives and talents. Following her parents’ rule of thumb that the creation of a desired community can happen anywhere, Peggy has actualized a wonderful life for herself and her family in the tree-lined streets of Glencoe.

A part of that wonderful life involved starting a quilting business in 1999 with her friend Naomi Wolfson, called BJEDD. She laughs that it’s a stupid name that explains nothing about who they are or what they do, but they were being sentimental, as it is their children’s combined first initials. BJEDD makes T-shirt quilts, memory quilts, baby quilts, pillows out of event invitations and announcements… you name it. When I ask for a link to direct readers, Peggy laughs again, revealing she does not have a website. Her adult kids that have business backgrounds tell her they could have formed a big company. Peggy’s response is she likes the business to be small, creative and local – a throwback to the artisan cottage industry. (AKA word of mouth – here’s her email pf5449@hotmail.com).

As Peggy’s parents got older, they decided to sell their Arizona vacation home and move back full-time to Chicago, as travel had become more of a burden then a pleasure. During that transitional period, Peggy’s dad asked her to read a book by Atul Gawande titled, Being Mortal. Her dad shared, “I know you’re a fixer Peggy. But, before you start fixing things for us, I want you to best understand what we want for the end of our lives.” Peggy read the book, mourned the loss of her mom in 2015 and found a gift in her role as a caretaker for her father. Peggy’s dad then asked her to order the book in bulk. Once the boxes arrived, anyone caring for Peggy’s dad towards the end of his life – doctors, nurses, physical therapists – was handed a copy. Laughing again, Peggy says she needs to contact the author and ask for a sales percentage.

Peggy loves that she is a creative person and embraces the lens with which she views the world. It is core to who she is and what she teaches. Whether it is her children, her work, her involved with the Synagogue and in her quilting “business/non-business,” creativity is at the fundamental heart center of her life. She is at peace with that and it feels good.     

Speaking of being at peace, Peggy and both I breathe a collective sigh of relief when she realizes she does indeed have a celebrity crush. It is Martha Stewart, of course, queen of all things creative. I ask Peggy what her creative “outside of the box” approach to surviving a zombie apocalypse might be. Peggy has many questions: What is a zombie exactly? Do you get an axe? She asks if the extra water, first aid kit and flashlight in her basement might be helpful. Peggy ultimately concludes that she would defer to Channel 5 weatherman's advice that he always offers to his viewers in an emergency weather situation, “Go to your safe place!” Peggy: 1, Zombies: 0.

Do you know someone in Glencoe we should know? Send us an email at forum@villageofglencoe.org