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Photos By Jennifer Wolfe
With temperatures hovering around 90 degrees to start the month of August, Robin Zaverdas is in her element. She likes it hot and will do most anything to ensure that she’s in the thick of the Midwestern summer as much as possible.
More often than not Zaverdas is lounging poolside at the Park District on Harrison Street where, despite easy access to the cooling waters, she rarely takes a swim.
“It’s got to be about 150 degrees for Robin to get in the water,” fellow sun worshipper Kristine Lazzara said.
Sunny skies and warmer temperatures are certainly a welcome change from the biting cold of the winter months for many, but not everyone is so eager for the mercury to rise like it has in recent days. Elderly residents in particular can be vulnerable. During the last five summers in the Chicago area, 78 deaths were attributed to excessive heat, while only five people were killed by other weather-related events during those seasons, according to the National Weather Service. Nationally, people aged 65 and older account for 45 percent of heat related fatalities.
Forest Park has its own heat emergency system, which is overseen by the village’s office of Emergency Management. Should the weather become too stifling, the Howard Mohr Community Center becomes a respite for those in need of cooler temperatures. No such emergency has been declared this summer, but Village Administrator Mike Sturino said the facilities at the Community Center have been called on at least once in each of the last two summers.
Center Director Beverly Thompson said residents unable to get cool are welcome at any time, regardless of any emergency declarations.
“We’re always nice and cool over here,” Thompson said.
First and foremost, Thompson encouraged neighbors to check in periodically on elderly residents who live alone or might otherwise be vulnerable to soaring temperatures. The Community Center is able to check on a limited number of residents and according to Thompson, seniors are often worried about running up their electricity bill by turning on an air conditioner.
At Trage Bros. on Madison Street, the high-end electronics store typically sells several hundred window-mounted air conditioners every year. Older homes in Forest Park often can not be retrofitted for central air, according to salesman Eric Sanberg, so the store does a decent volume in window units.
The tipping point for many customers, Sanberg said, is a few sleepless nights during a warm spell.
“We do go in spurts and it certainly tends to be related to the heat,” Sanberg said.
For some, bouncing from one air-conditioned cocoon to another isn’t an option. Grace Lowery, a lifeguard at the Park District, said sitting in the direct sun during the hottest hours of the day can take its toll. At the park, lifeguards are rotated every 15 minutes so the heat never gets a chance to become unbearable, Lowery said. But on the hottest days the best assignment is at station 10, which requires the lifeguard to sit in the water and keep an eye on people using the water slide.
“That’s the best when it’s hot,” Lowery said.