By Ken Trainor
Scoville Park at Oak Park Avenue and Lake Street takes up just shy of 4 acres, or one square block. It doesn't look big, but there's a lot more going on here than meets the eye. The park is collared by trees and almost every one tells a story. This is the epicenter of the park district's memorial tree program, the largest concentration of trees dedicated to individuals, the dead and the living.
In honor of Memorial Day, I decided to take a self-guided tour and found 56 plaques, if you don't count the World War I monument, most of them planted at the foot of an oak, crabapple, elm, horse chestnut, hackberry, pine or redbud. They testify to our need to remember and to cherish — "in loving memory" being the most commonly repeated phrase.
If you think Twitter is compact, you should see these plaques. Yet they still manage to tell a story.
Under the low-hanging boughs of a ginkgo tree, an older plaque reads: "In loving memory of dear husband and father, Dr. Emanuel W. Demeur, 1898-1982." Zigzagging north through a shady grove inhabited by practitioners of benign indolence who recline at various angles of repose on blankets, chairs or unmediated interface with thick green grass, the plaques multiply:
"Charles R. Navolio, 1920-1998, We'll always love you, Dad."
"Our friend, Harry Talmage, 1916-1986."
"Celebrate Life, Florence A. Navolio, 2001."
"Martha W. Conn, 'Mi Chiamano Mimi,' Inspirit."
"Joseph M. Cheney Sr., Beulah A. Cheney, in loving memory, Joe, Jim, Ann."
Under a large, speading maple: "In memory of Barbara Downs, 1939-2010, Gardens were her pleasure."
Beneath a red oak: "Best friends, Jimmy Krenzer, from Pat Berggren."
The oldest plaque dates back 85 years: "Presented to the Park District of Oak Park by the Garden Club of Oak Park and River Forest for use as a permanent Christmas tree, May 1, 1937." This is not, however, the tree the park district lined with lights each December.
The most elaborate tribute can be found at the foot of an ornamental pear tree nearest the corner of Oak Park Avenue and Ontario Street:
"A fiery horse with the speed of light, a cloud of dust, and a hearty 'Hi, Ho, Silver!' Dedicated to the memory of Peggy Stallone and champions of justice everywhere." The Lone Ranger rides again.
Close to the sign for the Continental Divide, which runs diagonally through the park (did you know?), there is a white oak, tall and true, the truest tree you know, located kitty corner from Ernie's museum. The plaque reads, "In memory of Ernest Miller Hemingway from his sister, Madelaine M. Miller."
Hunting memorials is a surprisingly interesting way to see this place. I have walked past this park or through it many times, but I have rarely "visited." Under a chestnut tree near the tennis courts, covered by grass clippings, is the second oldest plaque: "In honor of Col. H.R. Brinkerhoff, 1836-1921. This tree was planted on Nov. 5, 1939 by St. Mihiel Auxiliary to Col. Brinkerhoff Post V.F.W."
Nearby is one dedicated to "My treasures – gardens, trees, people. Barbara Furlong, June 1, 2002." Fortunately, Barbara, a former village president, is still with us.
Beneath a young maple (perhaps a second planting) is a plaque honoring the "10th anniversary of the United Nations, 1945-1955." This has to be the handiwork of the late, great Elsie Jacobsen, who lived by the motto: "Live well, inspire others, and do good work," which makes a pretty good epitaph. Maybe you can find it on a memorial tree in one of our other parks.
Under a pine tree, thick with soft needles, on the hill that slopes down toward the former front lawn of James Scoville's mansion, you'll find "Lived well, laughed often, loved much. Terrance W. Stone," which makes an equally good epitaph. To its right, an older pine, the one the park district did deck with lights in past Decembers, commemorates "the distinguished service of Clarence W. Schilke to Oak Park."
A nearby Hawthorn remembers "Bill Stone. His love, smile and a wink blessed us all." Never underestimate the power of a good wink.
Directly west of Peace Triumphant, aka "the war memorial," by the walkway he traversed each morning and evening on the way to and from the Green Line (until cancer prematurely took him from us) is the majestic elm dedicated to "John Lukehart, committed to a diverse village." He (and many others) were successful.
On the west edge of the park now, heading south:
"In loving memory of Peter M. Constantinides, Oct. 21, 1952 – Feb. 15, 1985. To live in hearts we leave behind means not to die."
"Nick Allabastro, 1973-1999, to your giving heart."
"Robert A. Papp, Eileen L. Papp, Two souls soaring on together."
"What a Wonderful Life, Kenneth Van Wieren, July 8, 1931 – Feb. 17, 1995."
"In our hearts forever, Michael A. Powell, dedicated 2006."
A beautiful breeze is blowing. Parents and kids gambol in the expansive meadow. This place, surrounded by memorials to those who have died, couldn't be more alive. In the shadow of the main library, several trees honor word-lovers:
"Barbara Ballinger, librarian, friend of reading, 2001" (and, I'm glad to say, still among us).
"In loving memory of Peter Saecker, author, editor and library friend, 1935-2001" (and my travel companion on the Hemingway Foundation excursion to Cuba in 2000).
"Sue Blench, reader, gardener, friend. Mom's Book Club, 2002."
The place is a thicket of memorials:
"Edy Eul, we'll always remember you."
"Richard A. Murphy, a giving man who lived, loved, laughed always."
"David Pintor, beloved father, florist and friend."
"Mondi Fosco III. Like this tree, our love shall always grow. Grandma Gloria."
On the south edge along Lake Street, "Gerry's Tree" is "dedicated to him by his friends and fellow park district employees for a dedicated guy who always appreciated a good joke, a good cigar and a job well done, 5/31/94."
"Morris Buske, teacher, author, historian, Oak Park advocate, May 11, 1996."
A red oak for Carolyn Poplett (should have been a poplar), "a dedicated volunteer, calls others to serve," and, like this park, also very much alive.
I never would have guessed that the best way to see Scoville Park is tree by tree. It made for a memorable afternoon.