It was a tumultuous year in Forest Park. We saw the departure of several longtime businesses and veteran public servants. Some of these departures could be tied to the repeal of video gambling. I faced divisive issues like these with hard-hitting columns about the history of snow, a mythical army unit called Dental Team Six, and how my high school, St. Ignatius, was really Hogwarts.

In 2018, I launched my advice column, “Ask Johnny,” which deals exclusively with the problems of my family. It was the end for another column: Jackie Schulz retired from her weekly “Talk of the Town” after a 47-year run. She was honored by the Kiwanis Club of Forest Park for her “Dedication and Commitment to Forest Park.” Well deserved.

I interviewed another longtime resident, Bev Jagow, who grew up in Concordia Cemetery. She was a childhood friend of Gary Neubieser, who stepped down as director in August — after a 56-year career!

Speaking of cemeteries, Professor Joseph Corbin, an African-American educator buried in Forest Home Cemetery, was honored in a book by Gladys Turner titled, Father of Higher Education for African Americans in Arkansas. Professor Corbin was also portrayed during the “Tale of the Tombstones” tour organized by the Oak Park-River Forest Historical Society.

Support for minorities was certainly on display at the “Forest Park 4 Puerto Rico” fundraiser at McGaffer’s. We recounted the history of race relations at Proviso East High School, as recalled by retired teacher, Doug Deuchler. That column coincided with District 209 students participating in a national walkout to protest school shootings.

Speaking of tragic deaths, the 100th anniversary of the Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus Train disaster was observed at Woodlawn Cemetery, where 56 of the victims are buried in the section called “Showmen’s Rest.” A documentary was also filmed in Forest Park titled, “The Day the Circus Didn’t Come to Town.” 

In other cultural news, the Shedd Aquarium commissioned a mural of the peacock mantis shrimp on the west wall of Healy’s Westside. This prompted my family to visit Shedd to see this predator, who has enough strength to shatter aquarium glass. We found it cowering behind a rock. 

Getting back to cemeteries, longtime activists Ted and Kathy Pearson donated a granite bench for visitors to view the Haymarket Martyrs Monument. The bench bears an inscription, “Sit and Hear the Voices for Peace, Justice and Freedom.”

Meanwhile, softball fans enjoyed the 50th Annual No Gloves Tournament. The milestone was celebrated by two quilts fashioned by Sandy Byrnes, bearing commemorative shirts from those 50 tournaments. 

The Park was also the setting for several concerts. On July 4th, the youth band 24/7 opened for The Redmonds. 24/7 also became the youngest band to play at Groovin’ in the Grove.

Not far from the grove, Pepperfest was held in the alley between the 7700 blocks of Monroe and Adams. This alley is also notable for having garages converted into coach houses. Another annual alley celebration was held when residents raised their overhead doors for Garage Galleries. 

2018 was called the Year of the Woman because so many female candidates ran for office. We looked back at female pioneer, Pat Hemstreet, who ran for commissioner in 1971. Pat is 95 now and praised the new leadership in our local schools. 

Speaking of our schools, the Ferrara Women Who Lead donated coats and candy to students at Garfield School. In other school news, the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Program at Hinsdale South High School helped Forest Parker Kevin O’Connor land a full-time job with benefits.

I look forward to uncovering more feel-good stories like Kevin’s in the coming year. 

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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