Odessa Johnson's porch on Clarewood Avenue in Evanston was the place where neighborhood children would sit and listen to grandmotherly stories and advice.
The neighborhood kids stood in the rain Friday afternoon and watched in shock as a rescue crew carried her body from a home gutted by fire.
Miss Johnson, 85, died in a fire started after potatoes were left cooking on the stove. Her death was the first fire fatality in the city this year.
Miss Johnson's 85-year-old roommate, Mayme West, climbed to the roof of a porch at the back of the house and waited to be rescued. Lt. Jerald Lange was among the first to see her when Truck Co. 23 pulled up about 12:30 p.m. ''There was a great deal of fire,'' he said. ''You just don't expect to see them rolling that high.'' Miss West suffered burns to her ears and feet. She was treated at University Hospital and released.
The fire was so hot that it melted at least one firefighter's face shield. Another firefighter, Lt. Mark Brickweg, suffered second-degree burns to his cheek.
Lt. Mike Zimmerman, of Truck Co. 32, found Miss Johnson unconscious on the second-floor front bedroom floor. Rescue crews could not revive her.
Fire investigators found no smoke detectors. The blaze caused $65,000 damage.
''She used to tell her stories about back in the old days,'' 15-year-old Camile Carroll said of Miss Johnson.
''And she'd get on us like she was our mom or something,'' added her twin brother, Lee Carroll. ''You know, she'd say 'You have to go to school every day and get an education.' She'd always tell us to do right.''