Jerry Lordan is a longtime Oak Parker who has become heavily-involved in Forest Park’s service organizations. He also serves as president of the Historical Society of Forest Park. Lordan is a frequent presence at community meetings and events. He lends his eloquence and wisdom to the proceedings, promoting community-building on every level. Lordan recently received the Amador Award for supporting the Kiwanis Foundation’s efforts on Spina Bifida.
At the ceremony, fellow Kiwanian Bill Gerst said, “Jerry’s selflessness, thoughtfulness, dedication and passion to serve and get others involved has made a profound impact on me.” Lordan continues to impact his adopted community, 25 years after serving as principal of St. Bernardine Elementary School. He is a charter member of the village’s Rotary Club and a longtime volunteer with Kiwanis.
What makes Lordan effective as a community-builder?
“If I have a talent,” he began, “I’m a pretty good listener and can keep my eye on long-range plans. I’m loyal to the Kiwanis philosophy. I’m able to help people work together, remove obstacles and survive short-term setbacks.”
Lordan said all of this in his distinctive accent. “I was born and raised in Boston,” he explained, “I could see Fenway Park from my back porch. The Red Sox were really bad back then. They were like the Cubs.”
Lordan attended his local parish school, St. Agnes and went on to Arlington Catholic High School. He obtained his undergraduate degree in political science from nearby Northeastern University. He received a scholarship and worked for the Providence Boys Club to pay his tuition.
The experience of working with at-risk boys at Providence impacted him as much as college. The education minor switched his sights from working as an international tariff expert to becoming a teacher. He also met his wife, Barbara, in Boston, which changed his life profoundly. She worked for Kodak and was transferred to Chicago to act as liaison to R.R. Donnelley.
Kodak had a relocating service that would have planted the young couple in Naperville but Lordan couldn’t stomach being stuck in outer-suburbia. They instead visited a Century 21 office in Oak Park. While having coffee at the Cozy Corner Restaurant, the Lordans could see the diversity of Oak Park on full display. It was 1982 and they decided to put down roots in a village that was multigenerational as well as ethnically-diverse.
Their son, Brendan, was 2 years old and Barbara was pregnant with their daughter, Erin. Lordan took his toddler son back to Boston, where he completed his doctorate in Educational Philosophy. He used this degree to land his first job in Oak Park, working with unwed teenage fathers at Parenthesis. These were challenging clients, he said, not unlike the students he taught at Providence Boys Club.
Lordan left Parenthesis in 1985 to serve as assistant principal at St. Luke in River Forest. In 1987, he started his four-year tenure as principal of St. Bernardine. Students and parents from that era will remember Lordan as the kind of principal who didn’t stay sequestered in his office but mingled with them on the playground.
After leaving St. Bernardine for Fenwick High School, Lordan served in a number of capacities: acting principal, acting development director and chairman of the History Department. He is currently the faculty mentor.
“I help the new faculty to join the Fenwick community,” Lordan explained, “and I develop replacements for senior faculty when they retire. Not many schools have this position.”
Lordan also returned his attention to Forest Park. He already had a feel for the community from his principal days but was particularly captivated by an event he attended at The Grove.
“What really impressed me about Forest Park,” he said, “was seeing the village, the school district and the park district — all three taxing bodies working together.” This was refreshing after seeing the adversarial relationships in Oak Park, where the public high school sued the village in a dispute about TIF funds.
“I have a heart for Forest Park,” Lordan said. “I was impressed with how Mayor Calderone helped revitalize the historical society. I could already see the value the Oak Park Historical Society brought to Oak Park.”
Lordan came on board the Forest Park organization in 2012. At the time, the collection was housed at St. Peter’s Church and Diane Grah had just begun her tenure as executive director. Now that the society has a home at 1000 Elgin in First United Church of Christ, Lordan sees even greater potential.
“We have a vision for the historical society campus to become a heritage center and a catalyst for creative arts,” he said, noting that the building already houses several schools and artists are interested in using it. “I would like to see it serve as a satellite location for the YMCA, park district and library.” Lordan hopes they can establish a foundation to run the facility.
As for the future of Forest Park, he is organizing a one-day retreat for village leaders to discuss their vision for the community. “It will help us identify what makes Forest Park special. How are we going to market what’s special about us? How can we get our message out to the metropolitan community?”
Lordan already sees encouraging signs with “Proviso Together” forming a new majority on the high school board. He also sees key figures volunteering to run scouting and youth sports. He’s painfully aware, though, that many families leave Forest Park when their children reach middle school age.
To heal this fracturing, he proposed making the Kiwanis Pig Roast an annual Middle School Reunion. He knows that Forest Parkers are always looking for an excuse to have fun.