Thanks to my experience tutoring Latino students in English composition at St. Augustine College, I landed a job teaching Effective Writing to business majors from France. I can’t thank Forest Park business owners enough for helping me in my new career.

When I was designing the course, I knew guest speakers from the business world would be essential. My classes, after all, were three-hours long and the students needed to hear someone’s voice besides mine. I also thought they would be inspired by “real world” success stories.

Fortunately, I live in a town that has a large number of home-grown businesses and a great entrepreneurial spirit. These business owners, I’ve found, are also very giving. They’ve not only been generous with their time, some have brought sample products for the students.

My first guest speaker was Connie Brown. The French students were stirred by the story of how she left the corporate world to help establish one of the top-rated ice cream parlors in the US. Connie was also nice enough to bring fifteen flavors of ice cream, which the students devoured. They wrote heartfelt letters to Connie thanking her for her presentation.

Laura Osterlund, a street musician from Forest Park, regaled students with the account of her incredible music career. She described how a “Review” article set off a chain-reaction which led to her being hired to teach at a music conservatory in South Africa. When Laura played her cello for the students, I dropped a dollar in her case.

Daniel Gasse was another cellist who charmed the students. His story of being an immigrant who found success in America, spoke to their hearts. Daniel and his adorable sons, Ernesto and Antonio, formed a cello trio that delighted the students. They wrote glowing letters to friends in France about the mini-concert.

Another Forest Park music teacher, John Milan, taught my class how to play the harmonica. For a nominal fee, each student received their own harmonica and music book. One student questioned what the mouth organ had to do with writing. I heard others, though, practicing during their break.

In addition to these Forest Park entrepreneurs, I hosted a 19-year-old woman who operates her own horseshoeing company, a 22 year-old Lake Michigan charter fisherman and a young “guerilla marketer” who places advertisements in unlikely places like restrooms.

Mark Rogovin has been the only speaker to make two appearances. His slideshow about his world-famous photographer father wowed my students. Students were also taken with my editor Jean Lotus. They memorialized her visit by creating mock ups of the “Review.”

My latest speaker was Tim Shanahan, who brought sandwiches and candy from his restaurant. Tim won them over with a few French phrases, tales of his trips to Paris and his fabulous food. They responded by writing up their favorite recipes for Tim to prepare.

All of this is a long way of saying: thank you Forest Park and – does anyone else want to do this? I know public speaking isn’t for everyone but, so far, my presenters have enjoyed the experience. If you’d like to try it, you can e-mail me at jrice1038@aol.com. In the meantime, I’m urging my students to visit Forest Park. I tell them, “It’s where the Blue Line ends and the party begins.”

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.