Our past is expanding in the present

Opinion: Columns

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By John Rice

Columnist / Staff reporter

Keeping our history vibrant and relevant to the village has been a challenge for the Historical Society of Forest Park. Our history may be rich but the society isn't. A dedicated group of volunteers has done their best to keep the society in the public eye, but there's only so much they can accomplish. Jerry Lordan believes the society could cast a wider net for volunteers by forming the Friends of the Historical Society (FOHS). 

Jerry is the former chairman of the board. He helped in the renaissance of the society in 2010 and wants it to have a greater role in the life of our community. He came up with the idea of forming the FOHS during his final term. The current board approved the formation at their September meeting. 

The historical society was founded in 1975 by Dr. Frank Orland. Jerry recalls Dr. Orland as the driving force behind it but believes it should no longer be under the control of an individual or a small group of volunteers. FOHS will broaden the engagement between individuals and the society. It would provide a labor pool of volunteers to put on historical society events. 

These events not only raise money with ticket sales, they increase membership and encourage more contributions. When it comes to philanthropy, people can give of their talent, time and treasure. Time is the most valuable of these gifts. When people donate their time, they tend to be more generous with their donations.

An FOHS can also expand their vision of village history. There is already great interest in our labor history and the legacy of local veterans buried here. Jerry would like to see programs focusing on the history of the Potawatomi, the French fur trade and the impact of railroads on Forest Park. Sometimes these topics can interconnect, like when local railroad workers enlisted in the Union Army.  

Besides helping host events, the FOHS could begin the task of putting hard copies from the archives into an electronic database. Currently, the society has file cabinets full of newspaper clippings. Fortunately, they are organized by topic, which would make it easier for electronic transfer. The hard copies would be preserved but searching through file cabinets is an outmoded method of research. Providing this information online will make the collection more accessible to the public.

Engaging the public is the key to making the society grow. The FOHS would attract more volunteers, increase membership and invite newcomers to become board members. It would make the society more of a presence in Forest Park. All of these efforts could enable the society to lease a new home, where museum artifacts would be displayed. 

Jerry is planning to formally launch the FOHS in June to commemorate President James Polk granting land to early settler Leon Bourassa. Among the society's treasures is the document signed by President Polk. Jerry hopes this will someday be displayed for all of Forest Park to see.

Our sense of our history is expanding and that's good news for the present as well as our future as a community. 

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. Jrice1038@aol.com

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