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Paradise in process: our small but mighty town

Opinion: Columns

April 17th, 2018 3:14 PM

By Jill Wagner

Yeah, I wasn't born in Forest Park. I didn't live here in the 1980s like many of you. Been thinking for years about what makes someone a "Forest Parker" because it seems to be the thing that every once in a while is used in an exclusive club sort of way, a badge of honor. 

I think I am a part of a new Forest Park. Part of a collective group of people who love our town and participate in the little things that make a big difference. It's no different from the old group of Forest Parkers, who did the same thing, just part of the continual renewal of our town.

 While watching the Loyola Elite Eight game at Fat Duck a few weeks ago, my friend said, "Forest Park is paradise."

Though at first I thought paradise would have more coconuts, I soon realized she's right. I like sharing my time and family with this unique and sometimes imperfect town.

I have found a place here to be myself, and the town likes me. 

Forest Park is ever evolving, and I'm appreciative of the town I inherited when I moved here and proud of the things I have been a part of improving. 

About seven years ago, Mrs. Mortensen, now a retired teacher, came to our PTO meeting and mentioned that our local elementary school didn't give teachers recognition for Teacher Appreciation Week. She wasn't rude, or angry, just polite and informative. It didn't mean parents didn't appreciate our teachers, we just didn't have a tradition, so we created one. With the many hands of parent volunteers we have evolved to be a force of gratitude. Almost 50 parents will come together to create over 1,000 gifts of gratitude to shower on our teachers during Teacher Appreciation Week because we love our schools and all the people who help our children. 

The Forest Park Historical Society had some tough years and we have been rebuilding with the help of some old Forest Parkers and new Forest Parkers and even a few Oak Parkers. Together we are proud to showcase the history of our town — from the amusement park to the Haymarket Monument. I am grateful that our small but dedicated group of volunteers have been able to keep our story alive. In honor of May Day, we have even arranged a bike tour from Haymarket Square to the monument in Forest Home, followed by an after-party at the Mohr Community Center, sponsored by Revolution Brewing. A huge advantage to living in Forest Park is that we can just go straight to Forest Home without the bike tour, and join the communal reflection of the social injustice that rang across the world. It was 125 years ago that the monument was dedicated, and the pardon extended by Governor Altgeld helped to heal the pain of the Haymarket event.

Forest Park also takes the time to reflect on the contributions of our older friends and neighbors. We participate in "Celebrating Seniors Week," where the community offers events and activities that focus on the positive side of aging. It is our privilege to read about the honored "60 people over 60" in our community, because Forest Park appreciates our older community members and their current and past contributions to our community.

Later in May, our park district will hold a ribbon-cutting for the Roos Recreation Center, a building erected by the hearts, minds and taxes of our town. And this weekend, a Forest Parker has organized a community clean-up starting at the Forest Park Public Library. 

Sure, our town has a few warts, but overall it is wonderful. I can handle a few lumps when there are plenty of positive things happening and changing that keep me enjoying our village.

Like my fellow Forest Park family members, I don't enjoy seeing members of our community hurt or distrusted. I appreciate the feedback people bring, especially when it is polite and thoughtful — like Mrs. Mortensen did. 

The one constant of Forest Park is that it is forever changing and our citizens do get things right, and most of us respect one another. I am excited about the future Forest Park. There are great foundations from our past, there are amazing things happening in the present, and there are new people joining our community every week who will help to make this an even better town tomorrow. 

Thank you, fellow Forest Parkers, for being strong, resilient and positive. Our little village gets a little better every day, and I am proud to be among the paradise-makers of our small but mighty town.