By Megan Dooley
Inside Roosevelt Middle School in River Forest, there's a room full of bronze plaques commemorating the servicemen and women who fought or participated in World War I. The room contains the names of some 250 individuals, and represents the contribution of a tiny village to an epic war.
Today, the room is used for storage. But Nicholas Trivelas is determined to change that.
"It's a beautiful room, but it's sort of fallen out of use," said the 16-year-old sophomore at Oak Park and River Forest High School. Trivelas, an Eagle Scout, chose Memorial Hall (as the plaque-filled room is called) for his final project to achieve scouting's highest rank.
"The idea came when I was at Roosevelt, going to school there," said Trivelas. As a student, he admired the room and wondered about the stories behind the engraved plaques. He also noticed they needed a bit of work.
Several years later, charged with designing and implementing a service project to benefit the community, Trivelas dug deeper into the Memorial Hall idea. He knew the people listed deserved respect for their actions, but he didn't know exactly what those actions were. In fact, he knew nothing about the individuals listed.
He began to cultivate a plan to restore all 250 plaques in the memorial room. He introduced the idea to the school principal, who later brought the plan before the District 90 school board. All were enthusiastically onboard. Trivelas had found his Eagle Scout service project.
"I figured the restoration would be beneficial to Roosevelt and to River Forest," he said. And even more if he took things a couple of steps further.
Many of the names on the plaques in the room have fallen into obscurity. With the passing years, most River Forest residents don't know who they are or what they did, whether they had spouses, parents, or children left behind when they left to serve their county. Most don't even know if they lived or died or what they did when they returned from war. Trivelas hopes to tell those stories, as many as he can.
"I will be researching these people and collecting information on them," he said. "About their life at home, before and after they went to war." He'll compile his research onto DVD.
This part of the project will be interactive and open to all members of the community. As soon as school is out, Trivelas plans to set up a program with the Oak Park Public Library to reach out to locals who might know more about the people behind the plaques. Everyone will be invited to help bring their stories to light.
He's working at spreading the word any way he can. "It would be really nice if the public knew about it," Trivelas said.
Roosevelt School has also agreed that if Trivelas completes the restoration project, they will put the room to more adequate — and public — use. And for that, they'll do their own bit of restoration.
"The school will be doing renovations on the room so they can use it as a board room," Trivelas said. One way or another, he hopes the room doesn't continue to serve as a storage area. "It's really quite a beautiful display," he said of the memorial.
Trivelas is already collecting bids for the plaque restoration portion of his project, which he anticipates will cost some $2,500. He's off to a good start on fundraising efforts. He attended a district meeting of the VFW and spoke to representatives about making a contribution.
"They liked it enough that they gave me a $200 donation towards the project," Trivelas said. He said he'll continue speak to other groups with special interest in such a project, and he's confident he'll be able to raise the funds himself.
"I think it's doable," he said.