By John Rice
A record number of women are running for elected office in 2018, says Time magazine. In keeping with this spirit of women's empowerment, I recognize one of our own female political pioneers, Pat Hemstreet, who ran for commissioner in 1971. Pat will turn 95 on Oct. 17 and lives in Pennsylvania. But she reads the Review religiously and stays current with Forest Park politics.
Back in 1971, she was a stay-at-home mom, raising five boys and four girls and working part-time at local businesses like Calcagno's grocery store. Pat ran for office because she was not satisfied with the performance of our village council.
"I wasn't sure I was ready to be a commissioner," she recalled, "but I loved Forest Park."
She placed ads in the Review quoting commissioners at a village council meeting saying they had "nothing to report." After identifying neglected properties and other trouble spots in Forest Park, the ad asked, "Why is our elected village council so bashful?" Her campaign was sponsored by the "Throw the Rascals Out Committee."
Pat enjoyed campaigning. "I walked around Forest Park and talked to people on porches and knocked on doors," she remembered. "The people lived in small houses and were very nice." Her run for office, though, was unsuccessful. She finished sixth, 205 votes behind an incumbent, James Sansone. Pat was philosophical about it.
"It's OK I lost," she said. "It wasn't meant to be."
Being a devout Catholic, faith in what is meant to be has guided Pat throughout her life. She was born at Oak Park Hospital, on Oct. 17, 1923, back when the hospital was "brand new." She grew up in Oak Park, attending Ascension School, and went on to St. Mary's High School, which was located on Taylor Street in the Little Italy neighborhood.
At St. Mary's, Pat would be elected vice president of her senior class but got off to a rocky start. "The girls from Chicago didn't pay much attention to me because I was from Oak Park," Pat recalled. Fortunately, she became tight with seven of them. They went on a road trip to a lake in Indiana. On the way back, Pat received a ride from John Hemstreet. When they reached her parents' house in Oak Park, he asked her out. They married in January 1944, while John was home on leave from fighting in World War II.
The young couple bought a two-flat at 7516 Brown Ave. with another couple. They later became sole owners, needing the space, as their family continued to grow. John worked hard as a printer and engraver for a high-end stationery store located inside the Palmer House. After John's death in 1983, Pat managed the shop.
John made enough from the store to send their children to St. Luke School in River Forest. Two of their daughters went on to Trinity High School but didn't like it. They transferred to Proviso East, where they received a solid education.
Pat's greatest joy in life is how her children have turned out.
"All my kids are still alive and have been wonderful," she said. "When I was sick last year, I stayed at my son's home in Chicago. They took care of me like I've never seen before."
Pat still has children living in Forest Park and is proud of how the town is prospering. "I read about how Proviso East is being improved. Thank goodness they are changing the way the schools are run and hiring new leaders."
Spoken like the former candidate of the Throw the Rascals Out Committee.
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