Menu

Harry 'Bus' Yourell, always a Marine


By Jason Maholy

Tough. Crazy. Rare. Leader. War hero. Those are some of the words friends used to describe Harry “Bus” Yourell.

Loyal. Disciplined. Compassionate. Good listener. Animallover. Legendary. Those are yet other descriptions of a man who, by all accounts, bordered on the indescribable.

“Bus Yourell was the most unique person in the history of Oak Lawn,” said Ed McElroy, an Oak Lawn resident and longtime friend of Mr. Yourell’s. “He was definitely a hero and I would say legendary.”

Mr. Yourell — born Harold but called simply “Bus” for pretty much the rest of his life by just about everyone he met — died of congestive heart failure Sept. 19 at Alexian Brothers Medical center in Elk Grove Village. He was 92.

Harry Yourell was born in 1919 in Hammond, Ind., and according to McElroy was on his own “very early in life.” On Dec. 7, 1941 he took a train from Hammond to Chicago to enlist in the Marine Corps, setting off on an adventurous life that began with 3½ years fighting the Japanese in World War II.

After returning from the war, Mr. Yourell settled in Oak Lawn with his new bride, Millie, and opened Bus’ Drive-In, a restaurant featuring carhops on 95th Street. Bus was known for friendly conversation with customers and keeping the place immaculate. While not formally educated, Mr. Yourell was “smart as a whip” and an astute businessman who had a passion for helping people, according to Palos Park resident Jim Gierach, whose first job was at the drive-in.

“He was a good boss … stern,” Gierach said. “He was a godfather, he was a great listener. People would come in and tell him their stories, and he’d take it in as he ran the restaurant.”

His way with people, teamed with unmatched determination and drive as well as excellent speaking skills, helped him win 38 elections against zero defeats during his 40 years in public office. Mr. Yourell was first elected in 1959, when he one a race for Oak Lawn village trustee. He later won six terms as Worth Township Democratic committeeman, nine terms in the Illinois House and two terms as a Metropolitan Water Reclamation District commissioner. He also served as the Cook County Recorder of Deeds and Worth Township supervisor, and was a member of the Democratic Central Committee and a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in 1968, 1972 and 1976.

“He worked like a dog,” Gierach said of Bus’ ethic both in office and while campaigning. “Nobody campaigned harder. He used no notes, he never wrote a speech. Everything he said was from the heart, and from the brain.

“[In 1999] they said he as too old to run again for MWRD … he got up there [at a political party gathering] and asked if there’s anyone in the room who has their own hair and own teeth and isn’t on Viagra. He got slated again.”

Civic and social organizations Mr. Yourell belonged to included the Boy Scouts, Lions Club, Elks Club, Oak Lawn Rotary, Holy Name Society, American Legion Post 757, VFW Post 5220 and the Catholic War Veterans.

Bus apparently didn’t fear anything including shark fishing, canoeing on the Amazon River, hitchhiking across South America, or kayaking on the open sea — and washing up on a beach after being caught in an untimely storm. He hunted in Alaska. He bungee jumped in New Zealand when he was 84 years old.

“Thank God I wasn’t with him because he would have made me do it,” McElroy said. “You weren’t going to lead him, he was going to lead you.”

Once, while on a day-boat trip with one of his sons in the Bahamas, he came upon a seemingly abandoned vessel — and the decaying bodies of the boat’s passengers, who had been killed by pirates or drug dealers or some other sort of unsavory characters. Fully aware of the potential consequences, Mr. Yourell boarded the boat as his son covered him with a high-powered rifle.

“He feared no man,” McElroy said. “He was the toughest guy I’ve ever known in my life. I can’t think of a person I admire more.”

Then again, maybe he was afraid of at least one thing. Bus was shot twice and took a bayonet to the armpit — each wound being sustained in separate incidents — while fighting in the Pacific during World War II. He was awarded three Purple Hearts for his battle scars, but refused to accept the one for the second bullet he took. Bus had been relieving himself when he was tagged, and took the shot in the hindquarters. It seems if Mr. Yourell was afraid of anything, it was being thought of as a coward.

“He didn’t like to talk about that last time [he was shot],” McElroy said. “He was shot in the rear-end and didn’t want people to think he was running way.”

Bus was known to mix it up on occasion, and “would just as soon punch you in the mouth as look at you if you looked at him wrong,” according to McElroy. An unruly customer at his restaurant was likely to get tossed onto the hood of a car, and Gierach recalled the time a diner got flirty with Bus’ beloved Millie and got “busted up.”

Bus did, however, have a more compassionate side, like the time he comfortingly rubbed the legs of a sick little girl, or how he himself took care of Millie, who is stricken with Alzheimer’s disease. Gierach and another friend, Chicago Ridge Mayor Eugene Siegel, remember Mr. Yourell as a man who truly cared for others, and who through his work in government helped a lot of people who need help.

Bus did, however, have a more compassionate side, like the time he comfortingly rubbed the legs of a sick little girl, or how he himself took care of Millie, who is stricken with Alzheimer’s disease. Gierach and another friend, Chicago Ridge Mayor Eugene Siegel, remember Mr. Yourell as a man who truly cared for others, and who through his work in government helped a lot of people who need help.

Mr. Yourell was a hunter in his younger days, but was always a lover of animals and the outdoors.

“He had dogs and cats all over the place,” McElroy recalled. “He picked up a dog along the Dan Ryan and called him Ryan.”

Siegel, who met Yourell back in 1962 when Siegel was a salesman who frequented Bus’ Drive-In, remembers the restaurant owner who sported a crew cut and drove a black Ford Thunderbird. The two men became friends, with Siegel being known as one of the “young punks” on the area political scene. The mayor recalled a time he and the other “punks” were teasing Bus about his age.

“We went over to his house and he was in his pajamas and we were making fun of him for being old,” Siegel said. “So he told us that the next time we go out he’s coming with us, but that we’re not going home until he’s ready to go home.”

When it came time for that night out, Bus took the young mens’ car keys, and the outing ended early the next morning with Yourell riding a horse through an area forest preserve.

Just as Bus did that night, he gave his all to every venture and endeavor, Siegel said.

“He was a leader and a hard worker,” he added. “It was anything. Some of the things he did in his life are unbelievable. Anything he did he went all in.”