The Historical Society of Forest Park’s revival got off to a rousing start during a packed meeting at village hall, on Oct. 19. For the first time in over a decade, the society has new leadership and an influx of new members.

Over 50 citizens came out to the meeting, despite a driving rain. The village’s leadership was also well-represented. Mayor Anthony Calderone and Village Administrator Tim Gillian attended, as well as Commissioners Chris Harris and Tom Mannix.

The meeting was led by incoming society secretary, Andrew Cooper.  He first acknowledged the contributions of former president Rich Vitton, who submitted his letter of resignation on Oct. 16. According to the Vitton’s letter, limited time is preventing him from continuing his duties.

Cooper mentioned several of Vitton’s accomplishments, including historical programs at the Altenheim, the restoration of the White Fawn mural and his 11-year stewardship of the society’s collection. Much of it is archived in the basement of Vitton’s Forest Park home.

Vitton, in his letter, expressed the need for this collection to be relocated, though. Thanks to Art Sundry, the society has found a temporary location for the articles and artifacts.

He’s letting the society store some of its collection in the ground-floor offices he owns in a building near Beloit Avenue and Madison Street, for a six-month period. What’s more, Sundry is not charging rent; he’s only requesting that the society pay utilities.

The announcement was well received. So was the PowerPoint presentation by local-history buff and author Kenneth Knack, which provided a brief overview of Forest Park’s past. Though many of the particulars were familiar to society members, some were surprised by a few random facts Knack uncovered. 

For instance, Clara Peller (the old woman in the 1980s “Where’s the beef?” Wendy’s commercials) is buried in the Jewish Waldheim Cemetery; and there are also Medal of Honor recipients who were laid to rest in Forest Home, according to Knack. What’s more, he said, the old McDonald’s, at Madison Street and Desplaines Avenue – it has since been remodeled – was the 600th one built in the entire US.

After a short break for refreshments, the society held elections. The proceedings were good-natured and not at all contentious, as all were elected by unanimous acclimation.

The new society president is Augie Aleksy, owner of Centuries & Sleuths Bookstore. Cooper will continue his duties as secretary. And Sally Cody, who is the village secretary, was elected treasurer. New board members who were voted in include: Carl Schwebl, Mark Rogovin and Michael Thompson.

Thompson thanked the mayor and village government for its support of the society.

“We’ve made quantum leaps. We’ve gotten more accomplished in the last six months than we did in the last six years,” he said. “We’re not looking at the past as negative, though. We just wanted to have a more open society.”

Thompson said he believes that Aleksy’s organizational skills, combined with Cooper’s computer savvy, will make the society more accessible to the public.

Rogovin piggybacked off this, by saying that the society intends to gather historic artifacts and images and display them online.

Aleksy thanked Frank Lipo, the head of the Historical Society of Oak Park and River Forest, who was present during the meeting. Aleksy said Lipo was a valuable consultant during the revitalization of Forest Park’s historical society.

Rogovin, Aleksy and Cody all said that volunteerism is going to be crucial, in order to keep the society functioning. For example, volunteers will need to help archivists and researchers with projects, Cody said.

Knack pointed to, perhaps, the society’s most pressing need, though: a permanent home. A search for one has been in the works for years.

Following these brief remarks, Knack passed out a Forest Park trivia test that contained 25 questions on the village’s past. The questions were taken from information that can be found in Knack’s book on Forest Park’s history, which is part of Arcadia Publishing’s Images of America series. Top finishers received books from Thompson’s personal collection, and from Centuries & Sleuths. 

For many of the history buffs, it was a lot of good old-fashioned fun.

The Historical Society of Forest Park’s next board meeting is Oct. 26, at 7:30 p.m., at village hall, 517 Desplaines Ave. It is a working meeting, but the public is welcome

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.