Although born in Boston, Renee Ducksworth cheered for the Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup Finals–she is a true Chicagoan, having rooted herself at the corner of Clark and Division outside of Jewel-Osco for five years.
She watches dogs for their owners while they go into Jewel to shop.
“I love my customers,” says Duckworth. “But the neighborhood of Clark and Division has changed since I’ve been there. More ethnic backgrounds have been introduced.” She worries about talk of closing the store to build a high-rise on the site. Ducksworth pities the change. “With change, you get new customers and people move on to different places.” And with her customers, Ducksworth would have to switch vending locations. “When you don’t move for so many years, it is a hard change,” she says. “It is scary, and would be a challenge. It’s really hard to start over again. I built it up in front of Jewel for five years, so it would be hard.”
She would miss the beautiful skyline, from Michigan Avenue to Rush Street. “It’s my favorite thing to look at.”
But Duckworth also gets a good view on the Red and Green Lines to and from Oak Park High School where she has participated in food services for the past 18 years. A seasonal job, Ducksworth serves lunch to students in the mornings. Afterwards, she hops on the “L” to sell StreetWise until 7 p.m. everyday.
When not marveling at the skyline, Ducksworth has come to appreciate books. “I just got through a book that took me six months to read,” says Ducksworth. “I love reading, and it passes the time. I try to read my Bible, too.” Fascinated by justice, Ducksworth is currently reading “J” Is For Judgment by Sue Grafton, which she grabbed from her mother’s bookshelf.
Close-knit, both Ducksworth’s mother and father developed Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, respectively. “I feel blessed with two parents,” says Ducksworth. “I know what is like to have parents with disabilities. There are no instructions on how to raise a kid and how to deal with a parent when they are older.”
Having a learning disability herself, Ducksworth has learned to keep her mind focused on the silver lining. “I feel very great about myself today. I enjoy doing what I do for a living and it has been fun and I am grateful.”
Now the mother of Sellina, who is in her early 20s, Ducksworth sees herself staying occupied in Chicago.
“I’m not a lazy person. I enjoy being around people,” says Ducksworth. “I’m an entrepreneur. I have people that buy the magazine once a week, and even if they don’t, I say, ‘Hey, I hope you’re having a great day!’” She sports a neon green T-shirt that reads, “You mad? Get glad!”
If she puts a smile on her customers’ faces as they pass by, she feels she has succeeded.