In January 2018, the Kiwanis Club of Forest Park honored longtime Review columnist Jackie Schulz for 47 years of writing "Talk of the Town." (Photo by Keegan Brown)

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When the Kiwanis Club of Forest Park received its charter in 1923, could members have imagined it would survive until 2018? The local club survived World War II, the first—and, so far, only—atomic incident; the Korean War; when everyone thought the world was going to end at the new millennium. Confident about the group’s future, member Gerald Lordan said he’s already planning for the group’s centennial in 2023.

“We want to be the Kiwanis Club the community needs over the next 10 years, and not be the Kiwanis Club that Forest Park needed 95 or 50 years ago,” Lordan said. “As the community evolves, the community needs change and we want to change and evolve as the times change.”

Ninety-five years ago Forest Park’s club celebrated its new charter at a community banquet in the Roos Cedar Chest Factory building, where the new Roos Recreation Center now stands. Back then, most members were independent business owners and business was male-oriented, male-dominated and local. Now, “I’m not quite sure what are the number of female-owned businesses on Madison Street, but I bet it’s larger than it used to be,” Lordan said. Forest Parkers socialized by banqueting at community functions. Today local service and fraternal organizations are fading. The old Moose Hall on Desplaines Avenue closed years ago, along with the International Order of the Oddfellows. Veterans of Foreign Wars lost its charter in 2015. Lordan credits the Kiwanis Club of Forest Park’s survival to its flexibility and inclusivity.

In the early years, Kiwanis focused on business networking. “It was the de facto Chamber of Commerce,” Lordan said. Members of Mohr family stood as prominent Kiwanians, the heads of thriving businesses at Mohr Oil and Mohr Concrete. Their descendants today remain loyal to the group, although Mohr Concrete seems to have nearly shuttered with the end of its concrete sales and “could’ve been the oldest family-owned business inside the state,” Lordan said. The majority of Forest Park businesses are no longer independently owned by community members, he said, and many residents work in businesses located outside of town or remotely from their kitchen table.

“We’re a community that sees regular residential turnover. They move into town and then they move out of town. We may not be doing enough things to recognize the people making contributions to our community,” said Lordan who, although living in Oak Park, has served as a Forest Park Kiwanian for 14 years. Some of his favorite memories are the annual Ed O’Shea dinners, where awardees like the Forest Park Review’s own Jackie Schulz are honored for their service. The group prides itself on comprising of lifelong Forest Parkers, like Karen Dylewski, Steve Knysch, Julie Thompson and more.

“When we have events like the Ed O’Shea dinners it’s an opportunity for our community to stop and reassess the positive aspects to life in Forest Park, and to come out and celebrate those with people whom they might not ordinarily celebrate things,” he said. 

Although Forest Park’s Kiwanis was once dominated by the male heads of business in town, the organization has never discriminated against members’ gender, racial or religious identity. Its mission has always been to provide service to children.

In 2017, Kiwanis was one of the first groups to sign on to the Cover Our Rust campaign, which beautified the Circle Avenue Bridge. Kiwanis also supports youth soccer, baseball, adolescent and juvenile library services, helps at the Forest Park food pantry, volunteers at Scout meetings, Little League games and more.

The group has set up a foundation to support and advocate for endeavors in town, which may not be 501(c)(3)s. Through the foundation, individuals can make designated planned gifts for organizations like the recent “Great Chefs Feeding College Dreams” fundraiser, which raised more than $16,000 for scholarships for Proviso Township High Schools District 209 students.

“For whatever reason, there doesn’t seem to be a critical mass of juveniles and adolescents inside Forest Park,” Lordan said. “If you lack the critical mass of individual juveniles and adolescents, then you lack the critical mass of adults who are parents of those individuals to advocate for those individuals. So if there aren’t enough parents of children inside Forest Park to advocate for children, the Kiwanis has to help.”

As the group plans for its centennial in five years, Lordan said they want to give a gift to the community. Members have formed a task force to study the community’s needs, with a focus on Roosevelt Road. “We think one of the futures of Forest Park is going to be along Roosevelt Road, and we want to kind of decentralize off Madison Street,” he said, adding that the group is looking to put a fountain on Roosevelt and calling it “Centennial Plaza,” modeling it after Constitution Plaza on Madison. For more information, interested parties should contact Club President Chris Harris at KiwanisClubFP@gmail.com.

“We hope community members, whether they live in town, work in town, or worship in town, or recreate in town, will come to a meeting and learn more about the Kiwanians,” he said, adding: “It’s fun to be a Kiwanian, it is in giving that we receive. You join Kiwanis to help others and you benefit yourself even more.” 

CONTACT: ntepper@wjinc.com