The year 1997 was a watershed for Forest Park and its hometown newspaper. 

Paige Fumo took her place in the pantheon of Review editors. Bill Lichtenberg doffed his baseball cap to readers as the weekly columnist. “1997 is a make or break year for Forest Park,” Lichtenberg wrote, “It’s an opportunity to figure out where we are, how we got here and how to proceed from here.” Lichtenberg saw the village’s biggest obstacle to progress as Proviso East High School.

The newspaper, though, was thriving. The newsstand price had risen to 50 cents and issues stuffed with advertising ran to over 40 pages. The newspaper’s office had moved from Madison Street to 141 S. Oak Park Ave. 

Columnists included Rev. Tom Holmes penning “Views from the Pews,” and “From These Pages,” a weekly Review retrospective compiled by Bob Sullivan. Dawn Henle had the tough task of researching local watering holes for her “Out & About” column. Frank Pinc was the newspaper’s steadfast photographer. 

The Review also had a 43-year-old cub reporter named John Rice. He was joined by Art Jones, a booster of the Madison Street Redevelopment Association, who wrote about the massive project destined to resurrect and reinvent Madison Street in 1998. As part of the plan, the association provided a $100,000 loan to Starship Subs from the association’s Building and Façade Program. Meanwhile, local businesses braced for the prospect of the town’s main street being torn up for many months.

Laurie Kokenes kept businesses informed with her Chamber of Commerce column, while Karen Rozmus covered Forest Park’s recycling efforts. Sam Zussman was the Review’s cigar-smoking sportswriter, covering Proviso East basketball while running his clothing store on Madison. Doug Deuchler critiqued plays at Circle Theatre, like the zany comedy, Five Women Wearing the Same Dress. Zyg Stutz, owner of Circle Lanes, touted the Review’s Savvy Saver coupon books and the Review held its annual “Readers Night,” fielding phone calls from 7 to 9 p.m. on April 16.

Mayor Lorraine Popelka was serving her third term as the village council conducted its search for a village administrator. Joseph Scolire was the District 91 superintendent. Dave Novak, the park district director, witnessed the worst flooding he had seen in 23 years. Lt. Joe Byrnes, now a village council commissioner, served as deputy police chief. Meanwhile, Forest Park, Maywood and the state of Illinois considered building a bridge over the Des Plaines River, linking the CTA parking lot with Maybrook Square Courthouse. (The bridge was later completed.)

Villagers, however, lost a bridge to their past, when the water towers were repainted, obliterating the iconic “Smiley Faces.” 

As for the future, it looked daunting when the village’s school-age population dramatically increased. To meet the demand, D91 installed mobile classrooms at Grant-White, Garfield and Field-Stevenson. Away from these temporary classrooms, students could frolic at the new play lot at 16th & Circle. They could swim at the Forest Park Aquatic Center, which was the new name for the reinvented pool. For college, they could attend the newly-christened Dominican University, which was founded as Rosary College in 1922.

In business news, Walgreens opened at Harlem & Roosevelt, while Courtesy Home Center, an anchor for the “moribund” Forest Park mall, closed its doors. Walmart, on the other hand, continued to thrive in its third year. Three businesses fled Madison, but Wayne Schauer invested in the street by purchasing Peaslee Hardware Co. 

Peaslee’s had been an institution, like a number of longtime businesses that celebrated anniversaries in 1997. Campbell’s Towing was still in business at Randolph & Desplaines. Its canopied gas station had been constructed in 1923. Dixie Paugh celebrated the 75th anniversary of Quitsch Florist, while Donna Lange recognized the many years Zimmerman-Ehringer Funeral Home had served the community. Tom’s Broiled Foods was still going strong at 819 S. Harlem, where food had been served since the 1920s. The Military & Police Supply Store marked 20 years at 7351 Madison.

There were many notable deaths in 1997, including Princess Diana, Mother Theresa and Jack, holding Rose’s hand in his frozen grip, in the hit movie Titanic. The village also had its share of losses. Ed Masso, director of the Building Department, passed away in his “late 70s.” Rev. John Fearon, pastor of St. Bernardine’s for 18 years, died peacefully. And Josephine Austin, a Forest Park librarian from 1936-1973, died at the age of 91. Another community leader, Ed O’Shea, stepped down as village attorney.

In real estate news, home prices jumped to the $150,000-$200,000 range and rents averaged $575 a month. Real estate developer Robert Marani renovated a number of buildings on the north end of town while still operating The Playhouse nightclub on Madison. Marani was the driving force behind Summerfest and the St. Patrick’s Day Parade. The parade was in its second year and exploding in popularity. 

Another developer tore down the Kneip Building at 7541 Brown and constructed the Brown Street Station townhouses. But the Moose Lodge was still standing at 810 Desplaines; the triangle of land had not yet been converted to condos. 

In church news, Living Word expanded its storefront ministry on Madison while holding Sunday services at the Chez Roue Banquet Hall, 7709 Roosevelt. The church was led by 38-year-old Pastor Bill Winston, who would become famous worldwide, but the village’s biggest celebrity of 1997 was Jerry Linenger. He was Francis Pusavc’s grandson who orbited the Earth on the space shuttle. 

Late in the year, the Review suffered a blow when Paige Fumo stepped down as editor. For the Review, it was time to turn the Paige. 

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.