Casey Dominiak holds a smoldering cigarette between his hard-worn hands at a bus stop on the east side of 6th Street in Hillside.
Dominiak, who grew up on the south side of Milwaukee near 8th and Oklahoma, attended Audubon Elementary and graduated from Pulaski High School. “Lived here all my life,” he says in a slightly-lisped, weathered tone.
His family, all of pure Polish descent, came to Milwaukee when his grandfather emigrated from Poland. “My mom and dad were both born here,” says Dominiak, “and my dad got me my first job at Louis Allis, which isn’t there anymore, in Bay View.”
Indicative of the tight-knit community atmosphere he was raised in, the I’ve-got-your-back mentality demonstrated by Dominiak’s father didn’t stop there – he says their small, south side Polish neighborhood was much more than just a bunch of people in the same place.
“You had neighbors that looked out for you,” says Dominiak. “You could keep your doors open at night and you didn’t have to worry about being robbed. You could sit on your porch at any time of the day or night, you could sit and talk with your neighbors; it was [an] easy-going, respectful time in the 60s when people really got along. It wasn’t, ‘Oh, I don’t like you because you’ve got more than me,’ or something else; it was just you got to know your neighbors and they all looked out for you. If something needed to be done, they were there to help you – you didn’t have to ask.”
Dominiak remembers one time, specifically. He used to shovel for neighbors – Dominiak says they not only appreciated it but payed him, as well. After doing so for an elderly man whose wife had passed, the man asked if he’d come back in the summer to cut the grass every couple weeks; Dominiak obliged.
“He’d bake cookies like his wife used to make and home-made lemonade and, when we’d get done, we’d sit on the back porch…and we’d sit there and talk. And, you felt not just neighborly but like you were all family in the neighborhood,” he says.
“And, you know, as time progressed, it, sort of, changed.”
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