Forest Park has many hometown heroes who make contributions quietly behind the scenes. The help they provide is part of the fabric of their lives and no big deal to them. But the Kiwanis Club of Forest Park seeks out these heroes and recognizes them at their annual banquet. This year’s winner of the 8th Annual Ed O’Shea Service to Youth Awards is Dorothy Gillian, who will be feted at Francesca’s Fiore, on Tuesday, Nov. 15, starting at 6:30 p.m. 

Like past honorees, Gillian has not called attention to her accomplishments. Fortunately, they speak for themselves. She is only the second woman chosen for the award and to say she has the credentials would be an understatement. She is a Forest Parker to the extreme, considering she hasn’t lived anywhere else. However, she hasn’t been content to just call the village home; she has embraced every opportunity to get involved in her community. 

The Kiwanis Award recognizes her for her work with local youth, but her family has made contributions beyond the village’s borders. When their daughter, Anna, was born with Cystic Fibrosis, in 1987, Dorothy and her husband Tim, now the village administrator, became active in raising funds for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. Knowing that residents might be priced-out of the foundation’s black tie banquets, the Gillians hosted affordable affairs in town. Over the course of 10 years, they held five successful events, attracting 400-500 donors each time.

The money raised for the CF Foundation went directly into research to attack the root cause of the deadly disease. The life expectancy for CF sufferers improved dramatically, from age 15 in 1987, to age 42 today. Doctors continue to find breakthrough drugs to combat the disease and improve the quality of life for those who face it on a daily basis. Anna has enjoyed an active life and now that she has her Realtor’s license, she’ll be working alongside her mother on The Gillian Team.

Yes, Dorothy Gillian is a local Realtor, whose office is located in Oak Park, but it isn’t profit motive alone that prompts her to promote Forest Park. She just can’t help it. “I tell clients that I can’t be objective about Forest Park,” Gillian said, “because I’ve never lived anywhere else. I always feel at home here and I know I will run into someone I know.” Gillian’s kids used to complain about these impromptu meetings, “Mom, do you know everybody?” they would say.

Gillian can’t make that claim but her roots run deep in the community. She grew up on Beloit Avenue and followed a familiar route, attending St. Bernardine Elementary and Immaculate Heart of Mary High School. She then earned a degree in Therapeutic Recreation at Triton College. During the summers, she put her education to use, serving as a day camp counselor at the park district. She also worked with youth at the Community Center.

Gillian later landed a job at the Franklin Park Park District, working with young people and seniors. 

“I like to help with the young and the young at heart,” she said. 

With three children of her own, Ryan, Caitlin and Anna, she spent years as a stay-at-home mom. 

“I became very involved with Garfield School,” Gillian recalled, serving as the president of the PTA.”

These were the years her daughters joined Daisies, Brownies and Girl Scouts. Gillian was their troop leader, conducting meetings and taking the girls camping. 

“I loved camping with the girls at Wildrose,” she recalled.

She also worked with the Women’s Club at St. Bernardine, where she practiced her greatest passion: event planning. As executive director of Main Street Development, Gillian planned events like the Progressive Dinner. 

“Event planning is very detail-oriented,” she explained. “It requires coordination and preparation to create a relaxed atmosphere where people will feel comfortable.”

Gillian has also made people comfortable at events as a board member of the Chamber of Commerce. She inherited her gift for hospitality from her late mother, Kay Madden. This was put to commercial use, when Gillian and her sister, Cathy, opened My Sister’s Café on Madison, in 1996. They enjoyed a good run serving sandwiches and soup. Then Gillian became a Realtor, specializing in the neighboring communities of Forest Park, Oak Park and River Forest.

Today, she is living in her husband’s childhood home and was involved in selling her childhood home on Beloit. 

“I see new people moving into Forest Park,” she said. “It’s very encouraging as a Realtor. They love downtown. I see encouraging signs for the future.” 

Having 30-year-old Anna on board adds a different demographic to her real estate team. 

“We have to stay with the times to be relevant. I’m so proud of our three children: Ryan sells wine and Caitlin works in mortgages.” Gillian also has three grandchildren to dote on: Mary, 6; Liam, 3; and Henry, 6 months.

But the busy grandmother found time to join Kiwanis. 

“When Julie Thompson called me about winning the Kiwanis Award, I thought: Wow, that’s cool that people are recognized for what they do. I have to be involved. That’s my personality. I’m very humbled to be chosen for any kind of award. This is my first award outside of real estate.” 

Gillian’s real estate office is in Oak Park and she is thankful that she has never had to work far from home. She loves all things Forest Park. 

“I can’t imagine living anywhere else,” she said. 

As Kiwanis Secretary Jerry Lordan put it, “Dorothy is a good example of a person who has made a personal and professional commitment to the community.” 

Tickets for the dinner honoring her are $45 per person and the funds will go to the many local youth organizations Kiwanis supports. 

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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