With Forest Park Review nearing its centennial and Wednesday Journal Inc. marking three decades since Bob Haeger sold us this newspaper, and with Valentine’s Day close at hand, this seems a fitting time to send the village a mash note.

What do we love about Forest Park? Much — starting with its long, colorful history, some of which is chronicled in today’s issue (Ferdinand Haase’s letter to his family, p. 9). We also rediscovered the remarkable Albert Kahn and his Amertorp torpedo plant (now the Forest Park mall) in last week’s paper.

The mall itself is a symbol of resilience during uncertain economic times and represents the many incarnations on that site (including a race track). The fact that it is owned by a megachurch and that the megachurch grew up here, from a Madison Street storefront, is an indication of the out-of-the-box creativity and increasing tolerance that characterizes this town. 

Forest Park has stretched and adapted and accommodated its way to vitality when a lot of people said we were change-averse and, therefore, endangered. The long-entrenched old guard rose to the occasion, threw off the shackles of the past, and are meeting the challenges of changing times while still managing to preserve the charm of its small-town heritage. How they managed that difficult balancing act should be studied by future urban planners.

Combining foresight and rear-view appreciation, this village could well serve as a model for similar communities that need to adapt for their survival.

Madison Street is much more alive than it was 25 years ago. Our main street did not give in to the temptation to become all night life or all retail but has found a lively blend and balance.

Promotional events have also evolved. The St. Patrick’s Day Parade, of course, is a classic, but SummerFest served its purpose and has now been replaced by MusicFest. Flexibility and the ability to adapt are signs of a healthy community. And the annual Casket Race shows the world we have a sense of humor.

It’s true that Ripley’s Believe It or Not billed Forest Park as the place with more dead people than alive, but even our cemeteries spring to life on a regular basis with walking tours. Meanwhile, The Park, which our town adamantly refuses to name (another unique distinction), continues to be a community center with its aquatic center and softball tourney. We may have terminated the fireworks show, but a tantalizing opportunity for new facilities exists on the old Roos factory site.

Another opportunity awaits us on the old Altenheim property. 

A generation ago, people were seriously worried about Forest Park’s future. But the established families stayed as the town became more diverse. They showed courage. They didn’t cut and run. And now their children are becoming the new leaders. The village has adapted and we’re stronger for it. New families have brought renewed energy. 

Now if we can just figure out the high school thing (but even there we have reasons for hope).

Few communities of this size have such a rich history and such a promising future.

We love it.

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