There’s a movement afoot to name the village’s small parks in honor of Forest Park families who helped shape our community. I, for one, am proud that we live in a community that is so ego-free that our parks don’t have names. But, if we were going to take this step, what would be appropriate names for these parks?
Ed Lambke, a former long-time Forest Parker, believes the park at 16th and Circle streets could be named Lambke Park, to honor his family’s contributions to Forest Park. When he was growing up on the 1500 block of Marengo Avenue, Ed recalled the land at 16th and Circle was still “prairie.” A woman had donated the parcel to the village, specifying its use as a park. Ed and his buddies made this a reality by cutting the grass, constructing a backstop and building a baseball diamond.
The park received further improvements under the direction of Ed’s uncle, Mike Lambke, who served as commissioner from 1951 to 1971. Swings and slides, tennis and basketball courts and a small building were added. The village fenced the whole thing in.
When Uncle Mike stepped down as commissioner, he invited Ed to run for office, giving his nephew two days to gather his petitions. Ed scrambled for signatures at Midnight Mass and made it onto the ballot. After being elected to his first term, then mayor Howard Mohr assigned Ed to replace Forest Park’s antiquated streetlights.
Ed sponsored a referendum to replace the town’s lights. After it passed with a 71 percent majority, Ed had sodium vapor lights installed. These were state-of-the-art at the time and gave off 50 percent more light, while using 40 percent less energy. Ed was standing at 14th and Elgin avenues when they turned on the new lights. Suddenly, Forest Parkers were able to play night baseball in the streets. He later ventured to the top of the Hancock Building to admire the yellow glow of Forest Park.
During the next decade, Ed helped engineer other improvements in the village. Vacant land at Circle and Lehmer streets was transformed into a kiddy park, tennis and basketball courts were installed behind the community center and the first sidewalk snowplows were purchased to help elderly homeowners.
Ed was most proud of the community vegetable gardens that flourished along what is now Industrial Drive. The project was launched with generous donations from village businesses, and Forest Parkers used to gather in the evenings to tend their tomatoes.
The Lambkes hark back to Forest Park’s German-American roots, in fact his father was known as “Herman the German.” These pioneers are almost all gone now, but their legacy remains. Naming the park in honor of Ed’s family might be appropriate. But first we need to find out the name of the woman who donated it.