The heyday of civic organizations may have passed, but the 85 year-old Forest Park Kiwanis Club is experiencing a rebirth. A core of “townies” in their 20’s, with childhood memories of Kiwanis programs, are spearheading this revival. They were among the members who gathered at Doc Ryan’s, 7432 Madison St., on Sept. 13, for the club’s Peanut Day Kick-Off party.

Pizza was served and the group was serenaded by the Proviso East Alumni Jazz Band, while incoming Kiwanis President Jerry Lordan spoke, emphasizing how important it is for the organization to raise money during the coming Peanut Day fundraiser, which runs Sept. 22-25. 

This year, Kiwanis spent $13,500 helping the kids of Forest Park. The club supports a Cub Scout and Girl Scout troop. It gives funds to youth soccer, baseball and softball. It provides consistent support to the Forest Park Food Pantry and the Forest Park Public Library Youth Literacy Programs. And Kiwanis also pays for field trips.

“Every kid needs access to good nutrition, physical activity and cultural events,” Lordan said.

“Service clubs are an important part of our social infrastructure,” he added. “Anyone who lives, works or worships in town can help serve the children of Forest Park.”

 They can do so by helping with Peanut Day, either as a volunteer shaking a can at an intersection, or by giving a donation to help fill the cans. Eric Entler described the work as “physically draining, but few go past without giving money.”

 Last year, Entler’s young son and daughter collected almost $400 on Madison Street.  “Kiwanis has a legacy and tradition I don’t want to die,” Entler said, recalling the trips to the circus Kiwanis sponsored when he was a kid.

 Peanut Day is the group’s biggest fundraiser but they also host a Pasta Day in the spring at the Community Center. Chef Gaetano DiBenedetto makes the sauce, while Mayor Anthony Calderone cooks the pasta. Brown Cow Ice Cream Parlor, in Forest Park, donates ice cream for the event and the Italian Ice comes from Freddy’s Pizzeria, in Cicero. The club also hosts the beer tent on July 4, but is seeking a fourth fundraiser to help their cash flow.

 “We want to change the world by helping one kid at a time,” Lordan said, “We need to use our personal networks to help Kiwanis.” The club doesn’t have enough volunteers to cover all the prime locations. And they don’t want juveniles braving the traffic. Those who would like to don the orange vest and fill the white cans may call Lordan at 708 948-0340.

Kiwanis also welcomes new members to their meetings on the second and fourth Tuesday of the month at Doc Ryan’s. At the Kickoff, first timer Chad Foster commented, “It took me a year but I finally got here.”

John Rice

John Rice is a columnist/novelist who has seen his family thrive in Forest Park. He has published two books set in the village: The Ghost of Cleopatra and The Doll with the Sad Face.