Rich Vitton is feeling a little like a nomad these days, wandering somewhat haphazardly in search of shelter. By the end of the month, Vitton, who heads the Forest Park Historical Society, has to make sure his organization’s artifacts are out of the library.
“We have all these stories and the photos, but we have no place to show it,” Vitton said, referring to a display of varied records that chronicle the village’s evolution.
For about a decade, the historical society has housed its collection in a small room in the basement of the Forest Park Public Library. The space was provided at no charge and allowed at least some opportunity for the society to display records of the village’s history. But the room was cramped, hidden and never belonged to the historical society, according to Vitton.
Now, the library needs the room to provide more programming for teens, which means Vitton has to move all the items in the collection.
“Right now, they’re being stored in my home,” Vitton said of the artifacts that he’s already rounded up. He’s continuing the move, working with an end-of-August deadline.
Where the items might be displayed next is anyone’s guess, but Vitton said he’s going to lobby the village council to make available some property by the Altenheim. The historical society, a nonprofit agency, has money to put toward a renovation but can’t afford to construct entirely new space, Vitton said.
He also plans to argue that the municipality has an obligation to help preserve its history: something Vitton said has been woefully ignored.
“I’m hoping the village finally wakes up and does provide a space for the historical society – and not some cramped room,” Vitton said.
Several council members expressed their general support when asked if the municipality might be able to help Vitton’s organization. However, money at village hall is tight and at least two properties owned by the village are expected to undergo various transformations in the coming weeks. A vacant storefront at 501 Desplaines is being renovated for the police department, and a dilapidated property at 1000 Beloit was scheduled for demolition this week.
“It’s my understanding that historical societies are typically stand-alone entities and are not a part of the community government,” Mayor Anthony Calderone said. “That being said, there should certainly be collaboration between the entities.”
The future of Forest Park’s chronicling organization ultimately rests with its members, said the mayor.
“All too often people turn to local government to solve problems,” Calderone said.
That type of lukewarm response, according to Vitton, is part of what has relegated the historical society to being the “stepchild of the village.”
Commissioner Mark Hosty said he’s familiar with the municipally owned property near the Altenheim that Vitton is eyeing, but would need more details before turning over the keys to any organization. Hosty said he’s certainly willing to try and help.
“It’s our history. It’s the village’s history. It belongs to all of us,” Hosty said.
Commissioner Marty Tellalian, too, said that any potential collaboration must start with an understanding of what each side has to offer.
“If we had some space that was well-suited for that, I would try to accommodate that,” Tellalian said.
Meanwhile, the library expects to offer additional computers, gaming equipment, novels and other resources in the basement room that has been occupied by the historical society. Those changes would be in addition to other updates throughout the facility, said Rodger Brayden, executive director of the library.