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The Forest Park that Judy knew

Opinion: Columns

July 2nd, 2019 1:42 PM

By John Rice

Columnist / Staff reporter

Judy Baar Topinka was a lifelong resident of Riverside but the late political leader had deep ties to Forest Park. In fact she served as a reporter for the Forest Park Review in the late '70s. Her saga is captured in a newly-released book, Just Judy, written by her son, Joseph Baar Topinka. The slim volume is partly a tribute to his beloved mother and a much-needed lesson in civics for middle-school kids. Joe is going to host a book signing at Centuries & Sleuths Bookstore, 7419 Madison St., on July 6, 2019, from 2-4 p.m.

Joe is the only child of the former Judy Baar and Joseph Topinka. He wrote the book to portray the irrepressible spirit of a woman who was a force in Illinois government for decades. She was also a fun person to hang out with, taking Joe on one adventure after another. 

Their excursions frequently brought them to Forest Park. They shopped at the old Ben Franklin Store on Madison and dined at The Pines on Saturday nights. Judy loved the German culture in Forest Park, just as she was very proud of her Czech heritage. They visited Altenheim and had a ball at the Oktoberfest on Roosevelt Road. 

They shared desserts at La Maison de Bonbon and shopped next door at the Military and Police Supply Store. Judy purchased what became one of Joe's prized possessions: a "Space Pen" from the Fisher Pen Company in Forest Park.

They also toured the cemeteries to see the Haymarket Martyrs' Monument and the grave of Michael Todd. "Keep your eyes open," Judy alerted Joe. "You might see Liz Taylor." After she was elected to represent Forest Park in Springfield, she bragged about how many constituents she had below ground. 

Joe accompanied her on trips to village hall to cover stories for the Review. Armed with a journalism degree from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism, Judy wrote for the "Life" newspapers for 10 years before becoming a roving reporter for the Review from late-1976 to early-1978. 

Publisher Bob Haeger hired her. "She got along with Bob," Joe remembered. "They drove each other nuts — in a good way." Joe used to visit the tiny Review office on Madison, which had three desks against each wall. He described his mother as a "journalist's journalist" writing profiles that captured the souls of her subjects. She also wrote passionately about the need for better health care, long before this became a national cause.

Judy wasn't just a prolific writer. "She spent an immense amount of time reading newspapers," Joe recalled. She even read out-of-town newspapers. She sat up late at night, chain-smoking and clipping out articles that interested her. Sometimes she'd send one to the author of the article with a brief note saying, "Great Job!"

Judy was very good at connecting with strangers, which is why she became such a popular politician. She served as a Republican who championed social justice issues, while keeping an eye on the bottom line. She held statewide office for many years and narrowly lost her race for governor. 

This public side of Judy is well-known but Joe sheds light on her inner workings. In the final chapter titled, "The Judy Philosophy," she promotes quaint values like civility and compromise. She speaks of advocacy and integrity. She also celebrates heritage. Judy was so immersed in Czech culture, she mastered the language along with the accordion. 

Each chapter of "Just Judy" contains activities and topics for young people. Joe believes it's important for students to learn the principles of good governance. A feisty woman with fiery red hair would agree.

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

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