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By Tom Holmes
Rev. Jacques Conway has been the pastor of Neighborhood Methodist Church in Maywood since 2003. When asked to describe the relationship between Forest Park and Maywood, he replied, "There is none."
Indeed, when fifteen Forest Park Chamber of Commerce members were asked to recall the last time they had spent money in Maywood, six said that couldn't remember, and one replied, "1985." Since New Year's Day, only one had spent even a dollar in our neighboring village to the west, and that was two months ago.
Maywood is the next door neighbor we don't know.
In terms of shopping, dining or drinking, there is almost nothing in Maywood to attract Forest Parkers. Rev. Conway, who lives in River Forest, underscored that point by saying that the biggest source of tax revenue from businesses in Maywood is at the corner of Lake St. and First Ave., a business district containing a Walgreens, a gas station, and two fast food restaurants. Even the race track bearing the town's name is really located outside of Maywood.
Michael Romain, who was born and raised in Maywood and now publishes the Village Free Press there, knows his hometown as well as anybody. He agreed with Rev. Conway that the relationship between the two towns is "not very substantial," and that in terms of business, Madison is a one-way street heading east.
The absence of Forest Park residents in Maywood is especially striking when compared to the involvement of Oak Parkers in the Austin neighborhood of Chicago. Oak Park residents are doing everything from tutoring to urban gardening to manning food pantries with their neighbors to the east. Forest Park residents complain about Proviso East High School but don't seem to be doing anything in an organized way to mitigate the problems there.
Although Romain will be the first to acknowledge Maywood's issues, he also believes there are opportunities for mutuality. One place is the high school. On the one hand, he was a student at Proviso East for two years before moving to River Forest, and he thinks that many criticisms of the school are valid. On the other hand, he said that the reality there, "is not nearly as bad as the perception."
But more importantly, the young publisher had this to say about the problems at Proviso East: "Ironically Forest Parkers and Maywoodians are probably united in a common disdain for the school. That may be one area where they have a common bond, because everyone is angry at the school."
The mistake people in Forest Park make, Romain continued, is to blame the culture in the school on the culture in Maywood.
"This is where the prejudice comes in," he said. "From a Forest Park perspective, the school is that way because of the people in Maywood are that way. It's easy for someone living outside of Maywood to blame the culture at Proviso East on Maywood. I don't think that's fair."
"Some areas of Maywood, like north of Washington Boulevard, which is integrated, have higher household incomes than some areas in Forest Park. The blocks between 9th and 14th and between Madison and Roosevelt Rd., sometimes referred to as the Seminary District, is a pretty decent middle class community," Romain added.
There is a contingent of black folk in Maywood who trace their roots in the town back to before World War I.
"Maywood had one of the richest African American communities in the western suburbs," said Romain. "Blacks have been in Maywood a long, long time. The West Town Museum at the corner of 5th and St. Charles has archives showing that around the turn of the century Maywood had a large community of black domestics and was a stop on the Underground Railroad."
Another opportunity west of the Desplaines River is housing at what Romain calls "bargain basement prices." Patrick Jacknow at Jacknow Reality here Forest Park lists a brick bungalow in Maywood with an asking price of $159,000. When asked what a comparable house would cost in Forest Park, Jacknow estimated it selling for around $260,000.
And it's not just the cost of housing that is attractive. On the north side of Maywood are homes which would fit right in any part of River Forest. Maywood, in fact, has16 homes and properties listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Romain suggested that Maywood's historical housing might be the occasion for Forest Parkers to get to know their neighbors to the west.
"There are some things already going on," he said," that actually do attract people to Maywood. The Historic Homes House Walk is a pretty big hit in the summer.
"For $15 you get a guided tour on a trolley of the historic homes of Maywood. Some of the unknown history of Maywood will blow your mind," Romain said.
Another opportunity to get to know Maywood is the annual Bataan Day celebration. "Last year," he recalled, "about 300 people sat under a big white tent while a military band played and people made speeches. Maywood has a strong base of veterans who fought in the Bataan Peninsula of the Philippines during World War II. Many have moved on, but they come back every year."
Conway noted that business opportunities would abound for Forest Park merchants if a stronger relationship could be fostered between the two communities. He said that Maywood doesn't have a bakery, flower shop or a full service super market. To shop for groceries, he said, many drive north to Meijer's in Melrose Park. Romain added that he will soon be selling advertising in his Village Free Press publication.
Romain also looked at the big picture and into the future.
"What people don't realize," he pointed out, "is that Maywood is centrally located — Forest Park, River Forest and Oak Park to the east, LaGrange to the southwest, Riverside to the south — you have all these suburban hot spots, some of the nicest suburbs in the state in this very region, and Maywood is centrally located."
Rev. Conway went to another place to motivate Forest Parkers to reach out and get to know Maywood. "I think it boils down to being good neighbors," he said. "Neighbors at least talk over the fence. Ask the elected officials when was the last time they talked seriously to people in Maywood."
"There hasn't even been a time of conversation in the same place at that the same time to talk about mutuality and challenges, just a conversation between people of these communities of positives and negatives [would help]," he said.
"It has to start with an initial time of coming together. That will be a huge opportunity."