From the tragic to the triumphant, Forest Park saw a little bit of everything in 2008 and what follows is our rundown of the biggest game changers in the last 12 months.
The selection of stories highlighted here represents a range of events and were significant for different reasons. If you would like to weigh in on why these-or any other-developments were important to you use the article comment form at the bottom of the page.
Circle Theatre seeks greener pastures
For years, Circle Theatre has been winning high praise from Chicago critics as one of those suburban attractions that city dwellers must see. In 2008, Forest Park almost lost this jewel when the theater’s aging building changed hands and the new owner began looking for ways to fund a thorough renovation.
Over the course of several months the drama of whether the theater company would be lured to neighboring Oak Park or find a way to remain here on Madison played out on the front pages. Alas, failed negotiations in Oak Park and a lackluster fundraising effort from the theater prevented the move, guaranteeing the acclaimed troupe’s stay through October of 2010 when its lease expires.
It is worth noting, however, that theater leaders said they will continue to look for new accommodations.
Village rocked by Thompson’s death
One of Forest Park’s most beloved figures died this year, ending the long run of public service that Beverly Thompson, 65, brought to the community through the Howard Mohr Community Center.
Thompson died in her sleep Aug. 18. She was director of the center for a decade. Colleagues and friends described her as a “remarkable lady” who made the center a welcoming place for seniors and children alike. She was known for organizing monthly trips on which participants had no idea where they might be headed.
Thompson also oversaw the community center’s food pantry.
Posthumously labeled Forest Park’s “party girl,” Thompson was a regular at neighborhood block parties and enjoyed gambling on her vacations.
In October, village officials dedicated a portion of Wilcox, where Thompson lived for 41 years, in her name.
Coincidentally, the woman Thompson succeeded in the position, Cindy Lyons, died exactly 10 years earlier.
Club fights for right to bare all
It is the first legitimate push in recent memory to open a topless bar in Forest Park, and 2008 wasn’t enough time to settle the score. A federal judge is weighing arguments on local zoning decisions and First Amendment rights as village officials work to enforce their decision not to allow nude dancing.
A trial in the case is scheduled for August 2009.
The case actually dates back to November 2007 when Ken DeGori, the manager of a similarly-styled club in Stone Park, applied for a business license to open his own bar on Industrial Drive. Roughly three weeks later the village council adopted a set of heavily-restrictive ordinances prohibiting DeGori from opening at his proposed location. The civil claim was filed in late February of this year.
The complaint has already withstood one request from the municipality’s attorney that the case be thrown out.
Cop pleads guilty; retains support
Former police sergeant Mike Murphy was sentenced in July to spend a year in federal prison, but the decorated officer never lost the support of several ranking officials in Forest Park.
Murphy’s sentence was the maximum penalty available under a plea agreement that reduced the felony charges on which he was indicted in 2007 to a misdemeanor. The case dates back to an arrest Murphy made in 2003 during which he broke the suspect’s wrist. It was also alleged that Murphy falsified a police report to cover the abuse. That charge was dropped as part of the plea bargain.
To help cover Murphy’s legal bills, Commissioner Mark Hosty charged a $40 admission to attendees of a fundraiser held at a bar owned by the commissioner.
Chief Jim Ryan was steadfast in proclaiming Murphy’s innocence, and two days after the sentencing hearing attended another fundraiser organized on Murphy’s behalf.
Mayor Anthony Calderone pointed to “extenuating circumstances” in the case and refused to condemn the officer’s conduct.
Changing lives for 20 years
Those in Cook County living with a disability have had an advocate in Forest Park for two decades, and in 2008 the Progress Center for Independent Living celebrated its 20th year.
The work of this non-profit agency is visible just a half-block from its offices on Madison where a handicap-accessible crosswalk has been installed at Desplaines Avenue, all the way to the White House where, in 1990, representatives from the Progress Center joined the president as he signed the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Some of the most important work undertaken by the center, according to its staff, is in relocating people from institutional settings to residential care where they can enjoy greater independence.
In 2008 the Progress Center also recognized long-time director Diane Coleman for her 12 years at the helm, and ushered in a new director, Horacio Esparza.
Softball to shine in hall of fame
An annual tournament that has made Forest Park the “Wrigley Field of softball” reached a significant milestone this year, celebrating its 40th. Making for an extra special occasion, however, was news that the 16-inch Softball Hall of Fame intends to showcase the sport’s history in a small building on Harrison.
Since 1996 the hall has paid tribute to former players and participants, but never has there been an actual facility to display honorary plaques and other memorabilia. In July, just as the annual No Gloves Nationals got underway, hall organizers announced a fundraising effort. The hope is to renovate an unused building on park district land within the next five years. An outdoor display of inductees’ plaques could be finished sometime in 2009.
No-gloves softball was created in Chicago in the mid-1880s and has spread most noticeably through the Midwest.
Board OKs classroom restructuring
With barely 15 months behind him as the new superintendent of Forest Park’s elementary and middle schools, Lou Cavallo asked his school board to radically alter the landscape and scrap the K-5 structure and replace it with grade-level centers. The proposal garnered an intense amount of interest in the closing months of 2008 and hundreds turned out for a series of meetings on the idea.
Over fierce objections from pockets of the community, the board unanimously supported its new superintendent and approved the restructuring in December.
Discussions ranged from the emotional to the logistical as parents and administrators attempted to convince one another of the impact such change would have on student performance, parental involvement, finances, safety and even property values. According to Cavallo-and several board members who said so in December-one of the most crucial advantages to grade-level centers is that it will allow the district to maintain smaller classes and guarantee parents know which elementary school their child will attend.
Shops strengthen partnerships
With an energy that is envied by others, entrepreneurs on Madison continued to find ways to reach new customers in 2008 while supporting one another in a rare display of collaborative capitalism. Rather than battle one another in what has become a shriveling economy, store owners and developers regularly join forces to host fashion-friendly events, promote local eateries and celebrate the diversity of their shops.
Boutiques like Afkara, Deedee & Eedee and Two Fish Art Glass see an advantage to sharing client lists with Flavour Cooking School. At Brown Cow Ice Cream Parlor it makes sense to showcase children’s clothes from Treehouse Boutique.
This atmosphere in Forest Park was crucial in keeping two of the village’s most prolific restaurateurs. Rather than answer the call of downtown Chicago, Chef Gaetano DiBenedetto opened his own eatery on Madison after he split with another longtime restaurateur, Robert Marani. Meanwhile, Marani rehabbed a prominent street-level space into an upscale steak and seafood house.