Chicago’s Very Own: Jerry and Roberta Markbreit

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“Well they say opposites attract,” says Rorberta Markbreit.

That might just be the secret to her 57-year marriage with Jerry Markbreit.

“I’ve known her for 58 years, she’s still the same kind generous person as when i first met her. Maybe even more so,” Jerry said.

Over time, the two haven’t let grass grow under their feet.  The Markbrei’s are quite prolific in their own careers.

Jerry, as a successful NFL official, has been admitted to a number of Hall of Fames. He has a total of 43 years tossing the yellow flag.

“I felt like superman flying out of a phone booth with that outfit on. It was comfortable. It fit like a glove, like it was part of you and it just gave me the feeling that I could accomplish anything,” he said.

Roberta, is a painter, former newspaper reporter, schoolteacher, and for the last 20 years, the producer and host of Comcast’s cable TVtalk show “Contempo.”

“I like the spontaneity of it, everyone has a story to tell and I’m really intrigued by the passion that every interviewee has to share,” Roberta said.

But Roberta’s most recent accomplishment is her book: “On The Street Where I Lived, An Autobiography.” It’s a memoir of what she calls a wonderful childho0d growing up on Chicago’s North Side.

“I stored all of my memories in my heart and soul my whole life, and I remember so much and I remember details. I remember big things and it was a physical thing; I found myself one day at the kitchen table sitting down and writing and it all just came pouring out,” Roberta said. “I went back into the neighborhood several times and took photographs that are in the book. I went through my parents photo albums they had given me.”

The main body of work is from birth to 12 years old.

“It was an exciting place to grow up. Life was quieter, simper and safer,” she said.

But she does touch on her marriage to Jerry, raising a family and what a shock it was moving from Chicago to Skokie.

“I was very unhappy moving to the suburbs,” Roberta said. “I was used to going out of the building and seeing 27 people on the street, and here, walking my babies to the playground, I was the only one on the street.”

But the northern suburb  has grown on her. In fact, the Markbreits have now lived here over half a century.

“We have 75 different cultures in Skokie. I just love that because as I was growing up, I had friends from many different walks of life and as Skokie became more mixed and ethnic, that’s what made us stay,” Roberta said.

Writing the book was cathartic for Roberta. But it really didn’t start out that way.

“I have to be honest. I was very jealous for a while. I thought, ‘Oh my gosh. I so much want to write,’ and maybe that motivated me to get off my butt and do that,” she said.

“I’m proud of her book. I am the author of three books that never did very well, but I wrote them. And whether her book is a best seller or not, she wrote it. And she’s got it,” Jerry said.

The Markbreits haven’t taken their success in vain.

“When I did my income taxes, I think I counted 40 organizations that we donate to,” Jerry said. “I’m not exaggerating. We must get 30 requests a month and we weed out the requests we feel are most important.”

“You have heard people say ‘I want to give back,’ and basically it, to be able to help the people that need help and for really important things most charities are very important and it’s hard to choose,” Roberta said.

Jerry and Roberta Markbreit: Two of Chicago’s Very Own.

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