We mourn the death of Jerry Vainisi, the owner, leader and force behind Forest Park Bank. Sure, he had other successes on his extended resume. Being the GM for the Bears when they won the Super Bowl in the 1980s will get the headlines on his Oct. 4 death at age 80.

But our headline is his 23 years at the helm of our local bank.

When he purchased the bank in 1999 it was not unusual to have an independent local bank on the main commercial strip. And truthfully Forest Park National, as it was then known, was sort of a faceless entity, not a driving force in the life of this village.

Vainisi changed that dramatically. This quickly became Forest Park’s bank – with some important reach into River Forest and Oak Park. What does that actually mean? Vainisi supported colleagues like Art Jones, Don Offermann, his son Jack Vainisi and current president Dan Watts in focusing intently on the renaissance of Madison Street. This was investing in the purchase of troubled but notable buildings on a declining main street, finding and supporting entrepreneurs in opening retail and restaurants in those buildings. 

It is the sort of work that only a determined locally and independently owned community bank can do, wants to do, has the vision to do.

Watts, in remembering Vainisi, told our Igor Studenkov, “The banker who is running, and working for, a small community bank has a better understanding of the needs that the borrowers and depositors have. I think it is critical for the [welfare] of Forest Park as a community to have a successful Forest Park Bank.”

This bank is one of Forest Park’s key assets and it puts our village at a competitive advantage over towns served only by the regional and national banks which lack local decision-making and connection.

That is why is it such good news to hear Watts say that Jerry Vainisi’s heirs have no intention of selling off this bank.

It is his legacy to this village and it is a vital one.

Drive a Hawk? We’re in

One of the gaping holes on Roosevelt Road and in Forest Park’s economic engine has been the long vacant, or severely underutilized, car dealership at Desplaines Avenue.

Built decades back by Jerry Gleason to house his Chevy dealership, it later became an AutoNation dealer. Until it wasn’t.

For well more than a decade, the large parcel has sat vacant. Sometimes it was used to store overflow vehicles from other nearby auto dealers. Clearly it was underperforming and looked dark and discouraging.

Now we are reporting that an affiliate of the adjacent Hawk Auto has purchased the site. We hope to report soon on its specific plans to reinvigorate the corner, give it life and generate needed sales tax revenues for the village.