The year 2021 began in grim fashion when Forest Park firefighter John Van Petten suddenly passed away on January 1. The year also ended on a tragic note with the deaths of two of our police officers, Nicholas Kozak and Jose Flores.
During sad times like these, we took lots of long walks. Walking is a way of gathering news. I stumbled on Tia Etu, an Oak Park artist, painting a surreal mural at 810 Beloit. I walked to Duffy’s Tavern, where I discovered the pleasures of day drinking. While I was there, I gathered information about Duffy’s late founder, Mike Trant.
I wrote tributes to other fallen Forest Parkers, like Sarah Nutley. She was the wife of Ed’s Way owner, Ed Nutley and they were happily married for 65 years. Magdy Elpayaa, a longtime youth soccer coach in Forest Park, also touched many lives in town. A commemorative quilt was donated to Garfield School, honoring former principal, Ed Phillips, who passed away at 86.
There were people to mourn but many others who had achievements to celebrate. Coast Guard Cadet Maeve Roach was commissioned by her father, Navy Captain Paul Roach, with an assist from President Joe Biden.
Retired Coast Guard Captain Thomas Marhevko had previously given Maeve and her class an assist by donating his gold Coast Guard ring to be melted down for the Class of 2021 rings. The Forest Parker also gave them a memorable speech about what life was like when he was a cadet in 1971.
Brian Bell, who trained at the Roos Center, helped the U.S. Wheelchair Basketball Team capture gold at the Tokyo Paralympic Games. Schauer’s Hardware was honored as the state’s “2021 Hardware All Star.” Al Maag, co-founder of the 16” Softball Hall of Fame, published The Greatest Game on Dirt, chronicling the game’s history from 1887 to 2021. He sold copies at our revived No Gloves Tournament. I published a detective book titled The Doll with the Sad Face. After it came out, I found a chapter was missing but readers assured me they didn’t miss the missing chapter.
I also helped launch the San Miguel Messenger newspaper at a South Side Chicago middle school. While I was volunteering there, I was prompted to write a column of haikus to show I’m as creative as the San Miguel sixth-graders. I adopted the pseudonym, Katakana Gohan, which means “John Rice” in Japanese.
Closer to home, I had the privilege of leading eighth-graders from Forest Park Middle School on a tour of Forest Home Cemetery. One student thanked me for, “tell- ing me all about Forest Park and the people who changed the world.” I had another gig at Forest Home, when I portrayed millionaire William C. Grunow during the “Tale of the Tombstones” tour. Grunow wasn’t available to be interviewed but somehow wrote a column about his exploits
Speaking of exploits, I interviewed Mayor Rory Hoskins and his wife, Monique, about their epic journey to Mauritania. Mayor Hoskins later presided at the village’s first public menorah lighting, to mark the start of Hanukkah.
Commissioner Joe Byrnes attended the lighting ceremony. Byrnes had previously visited the Healing Field in Oak Brook to honor FDNY firefighter Christopher Santora, who fell on 9/11. By complete coincidence, retired Forest Park firefighter Tom Matousek visited the Healing Field to honor Santora. Byrnes later donated a flag commemorating the young firefighter to our fire department.
I also interviewed a dog named Scout who told me he needs vaccines to lead a normal life.
Lastly, I learned from Ted Lasso to be curious, not judgmental. Good advice for the coming year.