Pillars of history: Dr. Frank J. Orland and his wife, Dr. Phyllis Orland helped found the Historical Society of Forest Park. (Courtesy Jackie Schulz)

Legacy means something that is passed down from one generation to the next. As a historian, I’ve studied the lives of many who lived before me and the legacies they’ve left behind. Jan. 23 is the birthday anniversary of the late Dr. Frank J. Orland and I want to share his legacy today. 

I would not have my current position as Executive Director of the Historical Society of Forest Park if it were not for the foresight and dedication of Dr. Orland. He was a husband, father, dentist, and most importantly, a lover of everything historic. He was one of the founders and the first president of the historical society in 1975. He lived in Forest Park most of his life and was a friend to many. He loved reading, writing and storytelling. He was proud of the community he lived in and wanted to share that fondness with others. 

He was influential in asking people to donate their stories and personal treasures so that others could learn, study and enjoy moments of the past. He wanted everyone to have access to these treasures and had sought a permanent home for the society. He recorded history, wrote articles for the Forest Park Review and created programs for others so that they would not forget the past, but would learn from it.

He was a dentist by trade; a pioneer in the field and influenced the nation with his idea that bacteria causes tooth decay and that fluoride treatment could help prevent this from forming. 

Frank J. Orland was a University of Chicago professor until he retired. Born in Little Falls, NY, Dr. Orland moved to Forest Park at age 6. He graduated from Proviso East High School in 1935. He studied at University of Illinois and University of Chicago where he earned a Doctor of dentistry and a degree in microbiology. He was an advocate for water fluoridation and helped prove the link between oral bacteria and cavities. Orland met his wife, Phyllis, in medical school. He was president of the society of medical history in Chicago and of the American Academy of the History of Dentistry. 

He was awarded the Forest Park Citizen of the Year award in 1989.

Orland was not a professional historian, but in his retirement, he developed a new passion in life. He organized the first of many walking tours of the local cemeteries in Forest Park. He wanted everyone; even those that were not historically significant, to be remembered. “Everyone has a story to tell,” he would say. He wanted history to be “real” and personal and not just a subject that one read about in school and dismissed because one could not relate to the people, places, dates, or events that they were learning about.

Many came to respect him and his ongoing mission to preserve, collect and display the history of Forest Park and they became members of the local society. Dr. Orland and other volunteers created the “Forest Park Chronicles” and recorded specific events that shaped the creation of the Forest Park community. He recorded personal stories of several local residents and called the series: “Pioneers of the 20th Century.” Both of these records are in the society’s collection and now available online at the Forest Park Public Library.

Orland died in 2000 at age 83.

For nearly 40 years, the Historical Society of Forest Park ontinues the mission of Dr. Orland and shares his legacy with everyone who is interested in learning more about this strong community. The society keeps an archive that contains articles, photographs, and family documents; as well as, operates a research center and promotes various local programs, tours and special events. The historical society is open to all who are interested in the history of Forest Park. One can become a member, volunteer, or visit the research center to learn more about specific events, look up family genealogy, perform property research, etc. 

Perhaps one day, Dr. Orland’s vision will become a reality and a permanent home will be secured for a permanent display of this vibrant community. Let’s not forget about Dr. Orland or those that have lived before us. Everyone can leave a legacy for the future. 

To learn more about the Historical Society of Forest Park, please contact Diane Grah at 708-232-3747 or email her at forestparkhistory1975@gmail.com. Let’s keep Dr. Orland’s legacy alive!