In mid-sentence for 47 years

Opinion: Ken Trainor

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By Ken Trainor

Staff writer

Each of us tells the story differently, setting our words to music all our own. … You sing your song in your own key, in your own beautiful voice, and the cosmos listens, reverently. The story I live by is told to me by the only world that I can see and taste. … It is an evolving, unfinished story; our part in it is the making of meaning, the making of questions and celebrations, and these too evolve and expand without end.

Victoria Safford

Walking Toward Morning

 

When I started as editor of the Forest Park Review way back in 1990, Jackie Schulz had already been writing her column, "The Talk of the Town," for almost 20 years. People who have written a newspaper column for 47 years comprise a very small club.

Jackie retired recently. She didn't think she would be missed, but she is — by her readers and her colleagues.

One of our young reporters, long since departed, so long ago I can't remember her name, once described Jackie Schulz this way: "She always enters the newsroom in mid-sentence."

I think of her as arriving in mid-fluster — like she had just survived a close encounter with a stiff breeze. And she brought that breeze in with her, a breath of fresh air, disrupting our Monday afternoons, dislodging us from our digital servitude. She often brought treats. She brought energy and enthusiasm. And she always brought her radiant smile. 

Hunched over whatever computer was available, she typed furiously, like she was afraid she might forget someone — or might awaken the machine's gremlins who found mysterious ways to sabotage her efforts, necessitating our assistance.

In her column she told stories about her dogs and her tenants and the interesting cultural events she attended, within and beyond Forest Park. She said goodbye to residents who were moving and welcomed back those who came to visit. And she wished 52 weeks' worth of happy birthdays and anniversaries. Sometimes she sent regards to those who stopped having birthdays because they are no longer with us. But it never hurts to be reminded of the dearly departed.

Village Administrator Tim Gillian, on his way into Francesca's Fiore last Tuesday for the dinner honoring Jackie, joked that he never had to worry about forgetting his kids' birthdays or his anniversary because it was always in Jackie's column the Wednesday before. 

She kept all the names and dates in a book, which she lost a few months back, one of the reasons she retired. If that book ever turns up, it should be donated to the Historical Society and put on display. The names represent an honor roster of Forest Park history.

The Kiwanians honored her with the Ed O'Shea Award for Community Service at their annual dinner. Jerry Lordan, an Oak Park resident who has lived out his strong ethic of service in both communities, highlighted the organization's mission: "dedicated to improving the world, one child and one community at a time." Jackie's efforts, he said, both celebrated and reinforced the warp and weave of Forest Park's loom. 

Lordan, an eloquent spokesman and role model for under-the-radar public service that asks for no acknowledgement — an attitude many assume to be bygone — recognizes a covert community connector when he sees one. He, too, was an award recipient, though the Kiwanis had to keep it a state secret in order to guarantee his cooperation.

Jackie beamed through it all, looking slightly nonplussed, but never nonpleased.

She didn't hear the half of it. At our table, Connie Brown told the story about Jackie coming in early one January and asking about her family's Christmas. Connie told her the tragi-comic tale of the tree that had to be radically shorn just to get it in the front door and when they pulled out their ornaments, discovered they had all been ruined in the previous summer's flood. Ever resilient, they made construction-paper baubles and as they proudly prepared to take a family photo, the tree fell over and the water in the stand shorted out the lights and ruined the paper ornaments. Jackie told the story in her column and in the ensuing weeks, customers brought in ornaments from their own collections to share.

"The generosity and kindness was overwhelming," Brown said. "I think about each of them, and about Jackie, every Christmas when I pull out all those beautiful ornaments for our tree."

I've had the honor of editing Jackie's column, on and off, for the past 27 years. And I always enjoyed reading them, even though she dismissed their worthiness, even though she was documenting, in her idiosyncratic way, the history of a community for just shy of half the lifespan of the Forest Park Review itself (which celebrated its centennial last year). She epitomized "The Paper with the Personal Touch," the Review's slogan for so many decades, as this proud town made its way into the 21st century. She spent 47 years paying attention, talking to people, talking about people, and packing her weekly column with people, names in bold.

Most of us believe, or at least hope, that if you're the real deal, if you "attend faithfully to a few worthy things," as Victoria Safford wrote, and you do it long enough without drawing attention to yourself, people will eventually give you your due. Jackie's dedication came due last Tuesday, as her fellow Forest Parkers and Oak Parkers joined to acknowledge a woman who has improved the world by improving her community, one person at a time.

Forest Parkers used to accuse Wednesday Journal of not understanding their town when we purchased the Review 30 years ago. While that may sometimes prove true, there was one moment in the course of a week when I knew it wasn't, and that's when I was reading Jackie Schulz's column. It was, indeed, the talk of the town, distilling Forest Park's spirit.

Feisty, flustered, cultured, progressive, and humane — a mensch, in other words — she embodies that spirit. Always appreciative, always upbeat.

And ever in mid-sentence.

Contact:
Email: ktrainor@wjinc.com

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