Courtesy John Rice

I’ve long appreciated Forest Park for being a walkable community. But until I met Sandra Luckins, I didn’t know there was a group dedicated to strolling our streets and cemeteries. 

Sandra is the longest-standing member of the Forest Park Walking Group. This group was started in January 2007 by John Trindle and has grown to 1,342 walkers. They meet at the Oak Park Public Library on Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings at 9 a.m. I joined the group that meets at Constitution Court on Sunday mornings.

About eight of us met up at the fountain. Our fearless leader was Betsy Sawyer, who has been guiding groups through the Forest Park area for eight years. They also make excursions to Morton Arboretum, the lakefront and the river walk in Geneva. I was most impressed by the fact that they hike all winter and sometimes brave the rain. 

“If you waited for the weather to be good, you’d never do anything in Chicago,” Betsy declared.

I must admit I was apprehensive about taking a long walk. My feet haven’t stopped hurting since I stood for eight hours outside a polling place on Election Day. But my wife came to my rescue by buying me new walking shoes. They were as blindingly white as my legs. We started out at a brisk pace heading west to Concordia Cemetery. Although I had never met these walkers before, I felt instantly comfortable. I may have been bringing up the rear but there was no shame in being a straggler.

Normally, these excursions are completely casual but when we got to the cemetery, this one guy wouldn’t shut up. He was talking about the history of Concordia, the Eastland victims buried there, blah, blah blah. Oh, that was me. I was keeping pace with two other newcomers. Marty and Dori from Oak Park joined the group two months ago and they love it. 

They like the fact that there’s no obligation — you come if you can. It’s a stress reliever and makes them feel better. They notice so much more on foot, than they do in a car. They like watching the seasons change and hearing stories from their fellow walkers. Plus, after the one-hour walk, the group often goes out for coffee.

After walking 3.03 miles through Concordia, four of us gathered at Dunkin’ Donuts. Betsy confessed she had never tried Meet Up until she visited the site to look up Oak Park Walkers. She found Forest Park Walkers instead, right in her neighborhood. 

“The group was posted on Meet Up,” she said, “and it really mushroomed from there.” 

Betsy mentioned that the group sometimes walks in the evening but she prefers mornings. They get large groups on winter mornings. In the summer, Betsy prefers to walk in the morning before it gets hot. The morning walkers tend to be retirees, while the evening walkers are still inconvenienced by jobs. 

All I can say is that I felt great after the walk. It started my Sunday on a perfect note. I plan to join the group for future walks through our cemeteries. They are so peaceful and soothing. If only that one guy would shut up.

John Rice is a columnist/private detective, who has seen his business and family thrive in Forest Park. He thoroughly enjoys life in the village and still gets a thrill smelling Red Hots, watching softball and strolling through cemeteries.

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.

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