River Forest weathers change, storms, and a painful death

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By Deb Kadin

Contributing Reporter

The year 2013 brought change to River Forest. A contentious election sorted out who would lead the village for the next four years, and for the first time, the head of local government is a woman. 

One-time trustee allies Catherine Adduci and Mike Gibb vied in April to become village president after John Rigas announced he would not seek a second term. 

Adduci had previously served two years as clerk and one four-year term as trustee. She ran with Gibbs on a slate aligned with Rigas in 2009. 

A former executive with Unisys, Adduci ran as an independent. She stressed her bonafides as a businesswoman who pledged to balance future budgets, diversify the tax base and increase efficiency through intergovernmental cooperation. Her campaign platform included setting up a commission that would engage residents in driving commercial development. She also focused on fixing flooding problems in the north end of town.  

In the end, Adduci won, garnering 64 percent of the vote. Except for Thomas Dwyer Jr., nearly all of the Pride of River Forest slate, headed by Gibbs, lost in April. Independent candidates Thomas Cargie, a park board commissioner, and Roma Colwell-Steinke, who was village clerk, ran and won seats as trustee. Sharon Halperin was elected clerk.

Two of Adduci's top goals were realized this year. This past summer, an ad-hoc citizens committee on economic development created guidelines that would help a permanent panel do its work. After overcoming a tiff on residency, trustees in November approved the permanent economic development commission. 

Flooding

It may not be completed for nearly three years from now, but the end is in sight as the village began tackling the flooding problem on the north side of town. The project will consist of installing a new storm sewer mainline on Greenfield Street to help alleviate basement flooding. A new sanitary sewer also would be added. The estimated cost is $13 million.

Funds for the effort, the largest infrastructure project in River Forest history, would come from an increase in the water-sewer rates, which in turn would pay off a loan the village hopes to get from the state.

Milestones

This was the year for milestones. As Concordia University Chicago celebrated its centenary in River Forest and its 150th as an institution, the school began a search for its next president.

A nine-member search committee, led by Rev. Gary Schalk, chairman of the University Board of Regents, was tasked with finding a replacement for John F. Johnson, who retired Aug. 16 after serving a decade as Concordia's 10th president. Candidates will be screened in late January. 

The River Forest Park District also turned 100, although some might say the last 24 years really have been the most critical.  

LemonAid 

The ever-popular block party and social event for River Forest's extended family kept getting bigger. The 9/11 Charity LemonAid Stand this year raised $31,000 for a playground for children at Oak-Leyden Developmental Services. Since it began in 2002 on the first anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the kid-organized and adult-supported event has raised more than $100,000. 

Tower upgrade

One of River Forest's storied landmarks, the Grace Lutheran Church tower, will undergo major renovations, and the church kicked off a drive to raise funds for the project. 

Parishioners have undertaken a major campaign to raise the more than $1 million needed to help the tower regain its integrity. 

To date, more than $669,000 has been brought in to restore the limestone structure, which was completed in 1931.

Taking housing stock

The monumental task of cataloging River Forest's architectural diversity concluded in the summer. After 18 months of painstaking research and work, the River Forest Historic Preservation Commission has classified 304 homes that are considered historically and architecturally significant.

The listing, approved by River Forest trustees this fall, has been placed on the village website and soon will be accompanied by a database containing descriptions of each home, photos and why the home has been included. 

Dominick's departs

Businesses came to town and one longstanding store is closing before the end of the year. 

Ulta, noted for its marketing of prestige and mass market salon products, and Tilly's, which markets clothing to skateboarders and surfers, opened stores in the Town Center this summer.

At North Avenue near Monroe, meanwhile, Dominick's, long a part of River Forest's retail landscape, will close its doors on Dec. 28. This store is among the chain's oldest and smallest locations and had been the subject of rumored closings for many years. In January 2012, however, a five-year lease extension had been signed for the site. 

That location becomes a prime redevelopment option for the village.

Two other important parcels still remain undeveloped, although the long-vacant Hines Lumber site made news. Trustees in June gave approval to assess Thomas Cronin's plan to convert the parcel and the village garage into a 65,000-square-foot sports complex. 

Trials

Three men will go on trial in late January for the 2011 premeditated murder of a Chicago woman who was shot to death in a River Forest parking lot.

Devin Bickham Sr., a former North Chicago police officer, Devin Bickham Jr. and Cardell Taylor each stand accused of involvement in the death of Chervon Monique Alexander.

The three have been held without bond in Cook County Jail since their arrest on July 14, 2011.

Back in 2011, authorities accused Bickham Sr. of offering Taylor $400 if he would kill Alexander, as a way of getting out of his relationship with her. She was shot several times after driving to the Priory Park parking lot with Bickham Sr. The older Bickham called police and pretended to be a witness to the shooting in an attempt to distance himself from the crime, authorities said.

There is no indication of when former publishing executive Robert Gaskill, is expected to stand trial. Gaskill, who has been on electronic monitoring since March 2012, is accused of sexually assaulting two women when one was between 12 and 17 years old and the other between the ages of 6 and 9.

Gaskill and his wife, Mary, had operated a foster care service out of their Ashland Avenue home since 1992.

River Forest mourns

Anne Smedinghoff died in April, one of five Americans killed when a roadside bomb exploded in Zabul Province, Afghanistan.

Smedinghoff, a 2005 Fenwick High School graduate, was delivering books to a school when the attack occurred.

She had assisted U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry during a recent visit to Afghanistan, and Kerry informed Smedinghoff's parents about the news and visited them to offer his condolences to the family.

American flags and white ribbons graced trees in River Forest and Oak Park to honor the 25-year-old's service and life. Grace Episcopal Church of Oak Park also organized people via Facebook to place ribbons on parkway trees.

The funeral Mass at St. Luke Church in River Forest attracted an overflow crowd, some of whom watched on TV from the nearby gymnasium. Even in windy, rainy weather, people lined the streets to pay their respects as a motorcade drove through town after the service.

The garden at the River Forest Public Library was dedicated to her memory in June.

Reader Comments

3 Comments - Add Your Comment

Comment Policy

Bill Dwyer  

Posted: December 25th, 2013 3:05 PM

Stay away from the peyote, VA. The poster was talking about River Forest leadership and a murdered diplomat. What's that got to do with drone attacks?

Violet Aura  

Posted: December 24th, 2013 5:31 PM

@RF: So you approve of children and other innocents dying at weddings and just in their daily life because of drone attacks? I don't.

RF RESIDENT from River Forest  

Posted: December 24th, 2013 9:05 AM

I am glad we live in RF. It is such a beautiful and thoughtful town. We have the right leader, the right people working on behalf of kids, we respectfully mourn a beautiful woman. WE are heading in the right direction! Thank you and bless you all.

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