McMahon brings life to River Forest's history

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By BILL DWYER

For someone who isn't an elected official and who tends to shy away from the political fray, Laurel McMahon had a major impact on River Forest in 2005. McMahon was at the center of the village's 125th Anniversary celebration as chairman of that event's planning committee. From September 2004 until the village's 125th anniversary on October 24, 2005, over two dozen people on the 125th Anniversary Commission spent hundreds of hours brainstorming, working with a wide array of people and groups and poring over an endless stream of lists and suggestions, prioritizing to craft what would be a seven months long villagewide celebration.

As did many who worked with her, Village President (and 2005 Villager of the Year) Frank Paris praised the mix of qualities she brought to the task. Paris, who appointed McMahon chairman of the committee, said he did so because he believed that mix of personal attributes would help assure that the committee's planning came to a successful fruition.

"I know Laurel has a great interest in history," said Paris. "I also know her to be well organized, and as a good manager. Dealing with 25 people requires a good manager. It's hard to compliment her enough on such a nice job."

Many of her colleagues on the 125th commission heartily concurred with Paris. "We set out to assure that all aspects of the village were celebrated, and I think we were successful," said Dawn Bussey, director of the River Forest Public Library.

"We're lucky she brought her energy and vision to the project," said Park District trustee Holly Hirst.

While McMahon said she was quite honored to be a finalist for Villager of the Year along with Paris, she won't be resting on her, well, her laurels in 2006. The past year was a "wonderful year in River Forest," she said, and 2006 will be quite busy too. McMahon will serve out the remainder of her second term as president of the Historical Society of Oak Park and River Forest, which expires in May. She'll also continue working for the restoration of the Cummins Memorial at Lake Street and Harlem Avenue, the 125th Committee's "legacy project," for which the committee has already raised some $30,000 in seed money. McMahon plans to work with "organizations, institutions and individuals" in both villages to raise more for a project she calls "a wonderful asset to both Oak Park and River Forest."

She'll also be working diligently to get a Historic Preservation ordinance passed in River Forest, something she's been involved with for two years now.

"That would be a wonderful accomplishment," she said, stressing that such an ordinance would help protect key aspects of the village's architectural heritage. Noting that people in the village have expressed concerns regarding property rights related to any preservation ordinance, McMahon said she and her colleagues are working on crafting language acceptable to those individuals.

"We're working on terms and conditions and goals that will be palatable to the largest number of people in River Forest."

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