When I went to the Eagles Hall to be trained on the vintage bingo desk that takes center stage there, I welcomed walking into the time warp. The local aerie chapter 1344 was founded in 1906, when the Harlem Racetrack was still in business, a year before the Village changed its name to Forest Park and neither the Forest Park Amusement Park nor Proviso High School existed.
I had volunteered to learn how to use the machine as I was granted the prestigious position of Bingo caller for the Historical Society Membership Appreciation Party. My instructor, David Glass, is the regular Wednesday night caller, and he went through the behind-the-scene switches, blowers and lights that I needed to know.
The member appreciation party was an afternoon of giving back to the people who support, contribute and value Forest Park history. It seemed appropriate to be in a historical space playing a nostalgia game on vintage Bingo cards. People filled the hall on Sunday, enjoyed Smokey Joel’s chili, beef and classic Chicago hot dogs, not to mention the live music. We paid homage to Dr. Frank Orland, our founder, and recognized our former president, Augie Alesky, with the prestigious Orland Award.
It is through the support of our members that I get to travel down historical worm holes preparing for “lookbacks” to bring to the weekly pages of the Review. A few years ago when my husband brought me a 1923 Provi yearbook that was left behind by a family at Belmont Village, I had the opportunity to dive deeply into the 13th class at the high school and see teens of Forest Park families like Zimmerman and Schwab. While only the senior class had headshots, those photos provided and window into the Proviso of the past.
Proviso opened its doors in 1910, serving the entire Proviso Township community. In the 1923 Provi, the only student who was not white, at least judging by the black and white photos, was a woman, with a neat barrette on the side of her head and demure smile: Myrtle Hurst.
The Hurst family, recognized as the first Black family in Maywood, led by Iva and Amanda, had moved there in the 1880s and had six children, Margerite, Iva Belle (who died at a young age), Royal, Sydney, Myrtle, and Emella.
In this yearbook, each senior had a single quote, words to be remembered by. While some of the seniors around her chose their senior quote to be, “I chatter, chatter as I go,” or “I can live without books,” Myrtle, a Black woman, perhaps the only one in the school, chose to make a more poignant statement: “Sin writes history, silence is goodness.”
At a time when less than 20% of people completed high school, Myrtle, not only would complete high school, she was awarded the bronze scholarship metal. Her granddaughter, Gayle, confirmed that Myrtle was a bright woman with both reservation and will. It was Myrtle who took her to dance lessons with Katherine Dunham, brought her to Ebony, and was a steady, measured woman and a wonderful grandmother. Gayle also confirmed that the quote sounded like something her grandmother would say.
When Wednesday Journal and Village Free Press highlighted the Hurst family who recently lost Sydney Hurst Jr., Myrtle’s nephew, the pieces fell into place and I was able to connect with the Hurst family.
There is something special about our Forest Park Historical Society, and as we enter the season of reflection and gratitude, it seemed appropriate to use our platform to share Myrtle’s words.
As Dr. Orland would often say, “everyone has a story,” and through studying the past we can understand the present and help shape the future.