Imagine this scenario: The U.S. economy is in shambles. A small town suffers from high unemployment and a complete lack of recreational facilities. The government gives stimulus money to this community so that it can build a park. The federal dollars are used to employ several hundred townspeople. They construct a magnificent 16-acre park, which becomes the envy of neighboring towns.
This may sound like a feel-good story from the Age of Obama but it actually happened in Forest Park 75 years ago. On Nov. 14, 2009, the park district will celebrate three-quarters of a century of fun, fitness and recreation. They’re inviting residents to contribute warm memories of the park for a commemorative booklet.
My recollections of the park go back to the late 1950s, when we drove to Forest Park to splash around in Illinois’ second largest pool. The 41,000-square-foot pool was more like a small lake, shallow at the shore, deep in the middle. It was even more lake-like when it was stocked with trout for fishing derbies.
Renovations in 1967 shrunk the pool’s size but it was still wet and wild when we moved here 27 years ago. The park quickly became the center of our family life. The playground was the first attraction. Pushing kids on swings was fun for the first 16 years, then came many hours at the baseball and soccer fields. Sitting in the stands, or managing from the sidelines, I couldn’t believe this kind of fun counted as parenting. After the games, we dined alfresco at the Dugout Café.
On summer nights, the park pulsated with activity, all within walking distance for Forest Park kids. When my kids became teens, the park wasn’t just a place to play sports. They landed jobs as lifeguards at the newly built aquatic center. My son worked his way through college tending the park’s landscape and playing fields. He said it was the best job he ever had.
The highlight for maintenance workers and the public alike was the No Gloves tournament. The park also served as a perfect backdrop for bursting shells on the 4th of July. Many of us consider the park’s emerald expanse to be Forest Park’s crown jewel.
During the last quarter century, the park has just gotten better. The old muddy soccer field was replaced with turf. The park building has been modernized and an inline hockey rink was added along with a skateboard park, batting cages and, dare we dream, new pool locker rooms.
So, if you’ve accumulated your own golden memories of summers spent at the park, please e-mail them to Chris Richards at firstname.lastname@example.org. Chris has written a comprehensive history of the park but needs your recollections to make its wonderful past come alive.