Forest Park in 2020: surviving and thriving

Opinion: Columns

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By John Rice

Columnist / Staff reporter

Last year, I summarized the events of 2019, describing the year as "tumultuous." Tumultuous? 2019 was positively serene compared to 2020, which started on a high note, though, when we profiled a young woman named Alyaa Shakir, who is risking her life to lead a cleanup of Baghdad's streets. Our story was picked up by a TV station in Beirut, which interviewed Alyaa. Never underestimate the global reach of the Review.

Our next interview subject, Siddarth Kusuma, is a former Forest Park Little Leaguer who enjoys a successful modeling career. Sidd recently filmed his first national TV commercial.

Another local success, author Kate McElligott, published her children's book Nothing is Scary with Harry. The book is centered on a "blankie" named Harry.

Speaking of scary, we profiled Ella Al Malicki, a heroic young woman who served as a translator for U.S. troops in Iraq. She later served as an intern at my detective agency. She would be the last as we shut down the family business after 56 years.

The Forest Park Public Library installed its Little Free Pantry. The wooden box was built by Tom Kunkel with help from some Boy Scouts. The pantry is located just north of the library's entrance and residents continue to stock it for those in need.

On March 6, we held our St. Patrick's Day Parade, just before the pandemic closed our bars and restaurants. The pandemic did benefit some local businesses. Rich Schauer's hardware store was busier than ever because homeowners had nothing better to do than fix up their properties. WGN TV filmed a segment on his store titled, "Local hardware store offers more than nuts and bolts."

Another TV program, The Deed: Chicago, filmed an episode in Forest Park. Host Sean Conlon interviewed the "Bungalow Kings" who flipped two bungalows on the 1500 Block of Marengo. Forest Park was on the small screen again, when location manager Daniel Marcus chose the 400 block of Thomas to film a beer commercial.

Meanwhile, Garfield School organized a cavalcade of cars for staff members to parade past the homes of their shut-in students. With District 91 staff teaching remotely, P.E. teacher Nitasha Ali found Tik Tok videos to be a valuable tool. Students missed not only the classroom but the "All School Picnic," founded by Review publisher, the late Bob Haeger, was canceled.

The No Gloves softball tournament was also a pandemic casualty, but a homegrown team from Forest Park, YTD, won the National Championship. Other winners in town included Danche Guitars and Kribi Coffee, which received prestigious Illinois Made awards.

Picnics were out but birthday parades became common. There was a parade celebrating the 90th birthday of Frances J. Lee, with well-wishers streaming past her apartment building. There was also a parade for the 100th birthday of May Bill, a village mainstay for 88 years!

Besides parading, Forest Park residents marched with residents from Maywood and Bellwood to protest social injustice. 

Like other villagers, we made the best of the pandemic by hosting a porch concert. Cedes Buck and John Wallin entertained a gathering of friends and neighbors.

This helped relieve the sadness of losing longtime neighbors like Ruth Hopp and Dick Gray. We also lost many longtime businesses, like Mom's Place Restaurant and John Di Pinto's barbershop, which operated at Desplaines & Madison for 54 years!

This year also marked the retirement of Fire Department Lieutenant Tom "T.J." Janopoulos after 30 years of serving the village. T.J. went out on a high note, making a daring rescue of a duckling from a storm drain. I'm happy to report that "Pasta" is thriving.

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Community Guide 2019 - 2020

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