I printed a map of Forest Park to start the Forest Park Introduction Tour with our new lead reporter, Jyllian Roach. We started the tour along the hourglass silhouette of the Circle curve.
The Green Line station on Harlem was first, with the railroad tracks defining the northern boundary of Forest Park. North of the tracks is River Forest, with businesses like Starbucks, Whole Foods, DSW, and Panera. South of the tracks, Dunkin Donuts, Elite Tire and CVS — the Forest Park side. Along the Circle bend, I pointed out Circle Bowl, Circle Inn, the now shuttered Kevil’s and stopped the car at Goldyburgers, one of the Golds’ great gifts to Forest Park.
The significance of the unique mix of neighborhood locales like Beacon Pub and its industrial neighbor Farmington Foods did not escape her. We continued along Circle Avenue since it is the backbone of Forest Park.
The foundation of every great community is education, so we paused at Grant-White School. Along with sharing the grade center model of our town, I couldn’t resist explaining the origins of the school’s name, which is a recurring theme in our town — the big and the small, historical giants and local heroes, big city access and small town charm. The combination of Ulysses S. Grant, the 18th president, and commanding general of the United States at the end of the Civil War and Elizabeth White, a beloved, long-serving teacher at this school.
We visited several more Forest Park institutions, including the library, the Community Center, St. John Lutheran, Forest Park Baptist, St. Bernardine, Living Word, the Park District Headquarters, Village Hall, Altenheim and Public Works. We drove past every school Forest Park uses, even the two public high schools. We went to the community garden, drove over Circle Bridge. We visited Haymarket Monument at Forest Home, pointed to graves for Emma Goldman and Lucy Gonzalez Parsons and the boulder honoring the native people who lived here before us. I told her about Margaret, the woman who stayed on the land to watch over her ancestral burial mounds when the Potawatomi were exiled in 1835.
I explained the educational drive of parents in town today. How most families in Forest Park are using public education and how people use private education too. How our townsfolk are engaged in our schools, both in Forest Park Elementary District 91 and Proviso District 209. I shared the history of Proviso Township, the vote that took Forest Park out of Oak Park and River Forest Township, the Eisenhower Expressway, the post-WWII housing boom and Forest Park’s relationship to our Proviso brothers and sisters in the 11 towns we share our high schools with.
I took her down Madison Street and Roosevelt Road, where every business has a story, and shared how our cemeteries fueled our restaurants and bars. How historically Forest Park was the liquor oasis when surrounding towns were dry. I shared a bit about prohibition, the Forest Park Amusement Park and the Forest Park Race Track.
I took her past the new HOBO, Walmart, McAdam, along Industrial Drive, and on Greenburg Road, where an American Bald Eagle was spotted flying this month. Along the way, I pointed out the honorary street signs for Minnie DiCola, Dorothy Tricoci-Calderone, Theresa Giglio and Lorraine Popelka, and how they are tied to the present Forest Park.
I poured information from the Historical Society, family names like Mohr, Ferrara, Theisse, the unique history of St. Peter’s, First United and Mount Mariah (St. Paul’s). I did my best to retell last year’s video gambling story and why the storefronts are missing the signage promoting the loose slots and lucky machines.
The Forest Park Review is one of the longest consecutive weekly newspapers published in Illinois, a testament to the people of Forest Park and our foundations. I am sure Edith Heilemann, the Forest Park Review’s first associate editor and reporter, would be proud to welcome Jyllian, too. She will carry the torch of weekly community journalism, a century later, in our small, but mighty Forest Park.