By Ken Trainor
I don't get out enough during the week (a tale for another time), but I did just that last Wednesday night and, in the ensuing hours, rediscovered my village.
On the second floor of the Oak Park Public Library, in the Veterans Room, which doubles as the cultural epicenter of this village, the Historical Society of OP-RF hosted Our Village, a two-person rendition of the Oak Park history play penned by Kevin Bry, co-starring Diane Pingle.
Bry is a local attorney who has had no success whatsoever in suppressing the creative side of his personality. Hell, he's even produced a comic-book version of this play. You can see him in Open Door's current production of Superior Donuts, where he gets the crap beaten out of him in a donut shop in Chicago's Uptown neighborhood, and if that isn't enough to make you want to see it, well, you don't know donuts from a hole in the dough.
As a staged production, Our Village needs a little work (yes, that sentence has a second meaning), but as a creative presentation of our rich cultural past, it's very engaging. A juicy exchange of letters between Ernest Hemingway and his mother is worth the price of admission (if there were an admission price).
Afterward, I walked to the reception that followed an unusual tri-board meeting, during which the District 97 and District 200 school boards, plus the Oak Park village board, approved a unique intergovernmental agreement to fund the efforts of the Collaboration for Early Childhood, which works with children, age 0-5, their parents, and early educators to level the playing field by the time those kids — especially those from low-income, resource-restricted backgrounds — enter our school system.
It's a gamble, but the payoff could be enormous, and Oak Park's pioneering effort on this front may someday be hailed as historic. Funny how often the word "historic" attaches itself to our village.
Anyway, I had a little time to kill, so I took the long way, strolling up to Chicago Avenue under a full, luminous moon, the same one that shined on Hemingway and Frank Lloyd Wright. The same one that will someday shine on our at-risk 0-5 year olds as they graduate from high school and head off to college — not a single one left behind (we hope).
The same moon shining on our public safety personnel — paramedics and firefighters — as they raced past me, lights flashing, sirens screaming, to Kenilworth, where they stopped on either side of an at-risk young girl, maybe 14 or 15, sitting on the parkway next to a driveway, clutching her book bag and looking dazed.
The neighbors on either side of the driveway stood on their porches and watched as a firefighter bent over and asked her gently, "Are you OK?"
Our reactive response to at-risk kids evidently well in hand, I proceeded to Frank Lloyd Wright's Beachy House, one of the many residential works of art that families actually live in. Here, thanks to the hospitality of Carollina Song and Alec Harris, the board members and associated champions of a more pro-active response to our at-risk kids gathered to celebrate the night's potentially historic vote.
For some, it was one of the last votes before leaving their respective boards. For others, this vote set the stage for their imminent board tenures. The home's beautifully designed rooms were packed with plenty of intellectual firepower, humming with best intentions. No dreamers here. Local governance grinds that out of you. And the newly elected, no doubt, have been briefed that a rendezvous with reality awaits them.
Everyone on hand seemed to recognize the risk, realized it was worth taking, and understood they might very well be part of something tide-turning. They didn't just grip and grin and disappear. They stayed and savored and looked as if they were eager to work together. And not just Oak Parkers. Even newly elected River Forest Village President Cathy Adduci was on hand, as was her Oak Park counterpart, Anan Abu-Taleb.
Carolyn Newberry Schwartz and Eric Gershenson, who have done more than most to launch this Collaboration and keep it aloft, looked half thrilled, half humbled and half terrified (that's three halves, but it was that type of evening). It was also the type of evening where people shed their roles and simply enjoyed each other's company. At any rate, that's how I felt. I enjoyed it so much I was one of the last to leave.
As I walked home under that same full moon, risen higher and brighter, all of it stretched ahead of me, under me, behind me — the past, the present, and the future.