By Nona Tepper
Thirty local Cub Scouts in grades kindergarten through five raced homemade cars at the annual Pinewood Derby at the Howard Mohr Community Center on Jan. 12, with scout Ben Mack's aerodynamic vehicle coming in first -- again.
"I'm looking at him like he'll become an engineer or something someday, and he was so proud to have been the winner last year," said Tom Michael, president of the Kiwanis Club of Forest Park, which sponsors the group. "I was second. I was glad to lose to him."
Mack's fast-flying machine beat out a specialty "Kiwanas" car, decorated with a spoon and faux meat balls, that the Petersen family carved for the group. The decoration was a nod to the Kiwanis Club's annual spaghetti dinner.
"The Kiwanis Club will be 100 years old in four years, which is a distinction that will be really amazing," Michael said. "Names like the Roos, and Mohrs, even Peasley from Peasley Hardware are there. It's a great tradition and it's on the upswing now, which is good. We're being more active in the community, really getting out there."
Seventy years ago, Michael was a scout himself -- he still has pictures of him dressed in the traditional uniform.
"The thing about it is the handshake and the scout pledge, what they do is the same," he said.
Michael has continuously participated in the scouts over the years, serving as the cubmaster for a group at Willard Elementary School in River Forest.
He remembers having scouts raise the American flag outside Willard daily. Once the kids raised it upside down. Another time a child saluted so hard he fell backward.
Michael also remembers a particular Pinewood Derby where a father brought a car that was oversize, so he pulled out a knife and started whittling away.
"It's really quite a tradition, when you have the den mothers and den fathers there, when the parents are really involved," Michael said. "My parents were really involved and that's the key to it, too."
Kiwanis Club member Gerald Lordan said that, at one time, there were so many scouting organizations in the village that the Pinewood Derby had to be held at West Leyden High School, because the race was so big.
"All the mayors from Proviso Township and Leyden Township would go," Lordan said. "Each one would have a car the Cub Scouts had made for them. But, unfortunately, the number of scouting organizations and chartering organizations has shrunk, so you don't see that type of regional event as much. We are determined we keep that alive in Forest Park."
Lordan said the Kiwanis Club benefits local Girls Scouts and Boy Scouts troops, as well as baseball, softball and soccer teams. A few years ago, the group covered the $75 admission fee for Cub Scouts to spend a night at the Field Museum.
"We don't want to hear about any kid in Forest Park being denied the opportunity to participate because the parent doesn't have the money," Lordan said. "We don't want to know the kid's name, we don't want to know the circumstances. You got a kid that has financial need? Let us know and we'll handle that."
He said the mission of Kiwanis is to serve children in the village. The group's principal source of income are its annual spaghetti dinner -- tentatively scheduled for May 25 this year at the Howard Mohr Community Center -- as well as its Texas Hold 'Em poker tournaments. Kiwanis is always looking for new members as well as cashiers for its poker nights.
Email Michael at firstname.lastname@example.org or Lordan at email@example.com for more information.
"They could be somebody special, they could be a Kiwanian," Lordan said.