Fortunately, a report of an attempted kidnapping at the recent All School Picnic ended with only a few tears and the frightened child coming into no real harm. By all accounts, the reaction from police, volunteers and school officials at the picnic was both immediate and thorough. If the woman who approached this 9-year-old boy was truly a danger, the threat was eradicated.
Coincidentally, a reporter for this newspaper spoke with the District 91 superintendent at the May 22 picnic, apparently just moments before the boy ran from the woman he did not recognize. We asked the school administrator how he was enjoying his first All School Picnic and he chuckled at the question. The superintendent, Lou Cavallo, was very candid about his concerns with the assembly of more than 1,000 school children on a public green space.
Cavallo also said during that conversation – and in a subsequent interview about the reported abduction attempt – that he was not aware of any serious problems in the 35-year history of the picnic. By and large, it seems, the presence of chaperones, teachers and police has been enough to keep chaos at bay. But in the wake of what could have been a tragic ordeal, Cavallo noted that not much has changed in how the All School Picnic is organized. And therein lies the potential for problems.
“When the picnic started, it was a different time,” Cavallo said.
Forest Park should count its good fortune that an astute child knew enough to get away from an adult he did not trust. Now it’s up to the community that rightly wishes to celebrate its children to do the prudent thing and take a few more precautions at next year’s picnic.
On the first Tuesday in July, members of the village’s Recreation Board will meet to discuss the care of Forest Park’s smattering of green spaces. Of note, the group is expected to begin brainstorming ways to involve the community in choosing a name for several of its unnamed parks.
We have no real preference as to how this is done, or who gets a say, but we do have one suggestion. One of the village’s parks should be named for Lorraine Popelka.
Aside from her 12 years as the village’s only female mayor and her consecutive terms on the village council, Popelka was a tireless volunteer who simply adored this community. Much of her volunteer work centered on the outdoors. Hers was a face that spectators and players came to expect at the annual softball tournament, and there aren’t many lifelong residents here who didn’t get a swim lesson from her at one time or another.
Just prior to her death a year ago this month, Popelka was honored by the village when a section of Circle Avenue was dubbed Popelka Lane.
Popelka Park has an equally nice ring to it.