It’s hard to remember a time when Jim and Mary Ann Waldorf weren’t around town.
“ I’ve been here every day since 1992,” said Mary Ann, seated inside Gourmet Junction, her charming café, tea shop and ice creamery in downtown Plainfield.
Jim has been a local figure longer than that. He arrived in town in 1978 to take the top administrative position at Plainfield High School, now known as Central Campus – and the stepping-off point for the parade that will proudly include the Waldorfs as this year’s Grand Marshals.
It was several years after Jim had settled into the principal’s office at PHS when he was chosen to be the one former teacher invited to Mary Ann’s class reunion at Proviso East High School.
“He was our fave teacher,” she said. “We had voted, so he got invited.”
Her grandma had confidently predicted, decades before that star-crossed evening in 1987, that Mary Ann would one day marry “Mr. Waldorf.”
“Grandma, he’s my English teacher!” Mary Ann recalls protesting. “And he’s married!”
By the time the Proviso reunion rolled around, neither was still married. Jim asked Mary Ann out; she politely declined, but he asked again – until she said yes.
Two years later, the grandmother’s prediction came to be.
Plainfield was still a small community then, with just three elementary schools and one junior high, in addition to Jim’s workplace. There was also the Catholic school run by St. Mary Immaculate Parish, which Jim would lead through a robust expansion before retiring from the education profession. In between, the notorious 1990 tornado and the prolonged village growth spurt that followed it kept both Waldorf’s closely connected to their community.
In 2001, when Mary Ann’s downtown business was almost a decade old, Jim made his first foray into local politics. His run for mayor that year fell short, but he was elected to the Village Board in 2003 and prevailed in his second bid for the mayor’s office in 2005. He retired from village government in spring 2009.
The couple relish their town, and having a ringside seat on its vitality. They’ve watched many parades go past Gourmet Junction, including those that have happened every March in recent years.
“We haven’t missed a one,” Jim said.
Both are pleased to be leading off the Village Preservation Association’s 11th annual Hometown Irish Parade on March 17.
Mary Ann’s old neighborhood in Darien used to have a parade on Independence Day, when she and her young sons lived in Darien. Their first visit to Plainfield, while she and Jim were still dating, was on a Homecoming Saturday.
“It was amazing,” she said. “I couldn’t believe that many people came to a parade for Homecoming.”
The Waldorfs marvel at how, year after year, the village has evolved to meet the changing economic climate, all the while retaining its small-town appeal. Mary Ann likes for her shop to reflect the vintage spirit that prevails up and down Lockport Street.
“It’s a step back in time,” she said. “We want it that way.”