Wade H. Watson wound up in Chicago because of the Sears catalog.
His father, Boston Watson, fled the South after a clash with racists made him fear a lynching, according to the Watson family. To elude pursuers, the sharecropper drove a mule-drawn wagon three towns away from his native Anderson, South Carolina, before boarding a train.
Boston Watson decided to head to Chicago because it was the origin of what he called the “Dream Book” — the Sears catalog. His family followed him north and settled in Englewood, where his son Wade grew up.
“In the South, they didn’t have television and radio, so at nighttime they would look at the Sears catalog,” said Wade Watson’s son, Wayne. “You could buy anything, from a plow, to a house, to a wrench or a screwdriver. Grandpa said, ‘Anyplace that had all that, that’s where I wanted to be.’ ”
Wade Watson developed into a graceful athlete and hard worker. “Daddy always had two jobs,” said Wayne Watson, the former president of Chicago State University. “When he died, he had four pensions.”
“The question is, when did he sleep?” his son said. “I don’t know.”
Mr. Watson died on April 28 at St. Bernard Hospital. His family isn’t certain of his birth date because he was born at home in an era when records weren’t always kept. They believe he would have turned 100 later this month.
Except for a couple of childhood years in South Carolina, Mr. Watson lived in Englewood. He coached wrestling at the Chicago Park District and frequently volunteered to play catch with neighborhood children. He served as a referee at high school basketball games and boxing and wrestling matches. A tennis gold medalist at Chicago’s Senior Games, he’d often toss balls to little kids playing on the street.
“If you’re 4, 5 or 6 years old, this man gives you a bright yellow tennis ball, life is good,” Wayne Watson said. “You play with that all day, and you remember the man who who gave that to you.”
As a result, Mr. Watson was respected and appreciated by generations of kids in Englewood, his son said. “Gang kids on the corner would say ‘Hello, Mr. Watson,’ talk to him.”
Young Wade attended Copernicus grade school and Lindblom High School, where he and his brother Carl excelled at wrestling. Wade became captain of the wrestling team, an achievement for that era, “because Lindblom was a predominantly white school,” Wayne Watson said. He also attended Wilson Junior College and Central YMCA College.
In 1941, he married Fayette LaCroix.
Mr. Watson worked at ComEd for about 50 years. He almost always had a second job, his son said. In the 1960s, he was employed at the U.S. Post Office, where he once made a special delivery to movie star Mickey Rooney. In the 1960s and 1970s, he worked as an athletic instructor for the Chicago Park District. He also had a job at the IBEW, his son said. And at United Airlines in the 1950s, he worked as a baggage handler and drove the “honey truck” — a euphemism for a vehicle that removed airplane waste.
His wrestling skills helped with physical labor. For a time, he loaded sides of beef from slaughterhouses in the Back of the Yards onto rail cars.
Mr. Watson was a graceful dancer, especially the jitterbug and the stroll. “At 99 years of age, he walked on the dance floor and I’m not lying, six women lined up to dance with him,” his son said.
He enjoyed watching tennis. “He loved the Williams sisters,” Wayne Watson said. “He was always excited about them.”
He was one of the oldest living members of Omega Psi Phi fraternity. “Because of . . . the phenomenal Omega man he really was, he’s got generations who’ve pledged the fraternity,” said Antonio F. Knox Sr., the group’s national president.
Mr. Watson’s wife died in 1995. His sisters Mary and Ruby, brother Carl, and grandson Christopher also died before him. In addition to his son, he is survived by his daughter Rena and son Wade; seven grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren. Services have been held.