The birthday parade of the century

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By John Rice

Columnist / Staff reporter

May Bill has been a mainstay of the Forest Park community for 88 years. She still lives in her hundred-year-old house at 616 Beloit. May is turning one hundred herself. We are all invited to a birthday parade to honor her on Saturday, Nov. 28 at noon.

She may be marking a century but that hasn't slowed her down much. No glasses or hearing aids and she gets regular dental check-ups. May stopped driving last November, after 83 years on the road — with no tickets. She lived on her own, until her daughter, Janet Fink, moved in last year. May's mind is sharp and she still balances her checkbook to the penny.

She loves Forest Park, because of its small-town feel. May Bechel started life in the small town of Watseka, Illinois. From there, her family moved to Chicago, before settling in Oak Park. May was a student at OPRF High School, when she met the love of her life, Robert Bill.

The teenage couple was somewhat mismatched. Bob was a devout Catholic from Forest Park, while May was raised Lutheran. He also attended a rival high school, Proviso East. Somehow they overcame their differences. It probably helped that Bob taught her how to drive his Model A. He later sold it to buy May an engagement ring.

They married in 1942. Bob had just entered the Army, while May worked at the Douglas Aircraft factory. Their only child, Janet, was born that year. She wouldn't meet her dad until she was 4. Bob had been assigned to the 3031 Ordnance Unit and served in Okinawa until 1946. He was a master mechanic who repaired tanks on the battlefield. The Army wanted to keep him but Bob missed his family.

When he returned to the states, housing was scarce. The young family settled above Bob's parents at 155 Elgin. Then they moved to the close-knit 600 block of Beloit. Neighbors such as Cliff and Joanne Leber became like family. They were also friends with Review Publisher Claude Walker and Realtor Carl Schwebl. The block remained close even after the Eisenhower Expressway came through and forced the removal of several houses.

May threw herself into village life. She attended St. Peter Lutheran Church, while Bob went to St. Bernardine. She served on the library board for 24 years. She was also very active at the VFW, where she was in charge of the send-off breakfast for soldiers leaving for Vietnam. For 22 consecutive years, May and Bob attended reunions of the 3031 Unit, which were held throughout the U.S. They even hosted one. When she wasn't helping vets, she was serving a 65-year stint with the Eagles.

May stayed active with local organizations, while working full time in the boys department of Marshall Field's. She retired after 20 years. Meanwhile, Bob was a mechanic at Chevrolet dealerships in Oak Park and Forest Park. 

For fun, the couple dined out at Otto's, The Pines and, of course, Parky's. May was also an avid bowler, who maintained a 174 average at Circle Lanes. Bob passed away in 2000. The mixed marriage had lasted only 58 years. May has two grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. They are all coming to the birthday celebration.

Janet organized the parade and recruited the police and fire departments to serve as escorts. Well-wishers will assemble at Lehmer and Beloit. They will parade past May's house, either on foot, or in cars, depending on the weather.

May Bill has witnessed many changes in Forest Park over the last century. But one thing has remained the same. The natives are still friendly.

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Joanne Leber  

Posted: November 18th, 2020 10:14 AM

Thank you John Rice for writing our favorite neighbor's story. Over our many years living on the 600 block of Beloit, May Bill has become an inspiration to all of us. When our annual 2-day Block Party was held each summer, as well as our Halloween Block Party, May always shared her delicious food, stories, as well as being interested in whatever new was happening in Forest Park and our neighborhood. We look forward to celebrating a very special lady's 100th birthday at her parade.

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