Seeing the old family home put to good use in Oak Park

Opinion: Columns

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Diane Nelson

"One life, t'will soon be past. Only what's done for Christ will last" is my life motto. My childhood home, located at 317-319 Chicago Ave. in Oak Park had been lived in and owned for 75 years by my family. My grandfather, Hans Peter Neilsen, and his son, Edward Christian, built both buildings, completing their work in 1906 when Edward was 18.

The 150-by-50-foot lot is the site of a brick two-flat building and a frame house, known as "the cottage." My family and two families of tenants occupied the three residences. Tenants included high school teachers, FBI agents, a psychologist, and a professional photographer. My memories are of coal being delivered outside the building, down a chute into the coal bin.

I can still picture the ice man with a huge block of ice atop his leather-covered shoulder making his delivery. I recall my brother bringing buckets of hot water from the two-flat across the yard to our cottage so we could take baths in our old-fashioned tub with feet. My father made a swing and in front was a sandbox. I would swing high and at the apex jump off, landing in that sandbox. It must have been the start of my athletic career.

My grandparents, Hans and Gustava, met on the ship leaving Denmark and Sweden, coming to America. Their marriage produced five children, four girls and the youngest, a boy, named Edward Christian. He changed his last name to Nelson and married Lillian, 16 years his junior in 1928. Their marriage produced Manford Warren and me, Diane Louise Nelson.

Manford's talents involved stellar high school and American Legion years as an outstanding first baseman. He signed with the Chicago White Sox, starting in their farm system. He belonged to two professional magic organizations, performing in veteran hospitals as well as Shriners schools, churches, nursing homes, and for the Boy Scouts. He was a clarinetist, playing in university and dress bands. Manford and I sang solos and as a duet in churches. I was my brother's assistant for his magic shows.

My talents include writing, especially poems (I co-lead the Scribblers writing group for seniors), sports (degree in Health and Physical Education), singing a cappella solos, being a member of the Singing Belles and Beaux, Sing to Live and the Oak Park Concert Chorale, and last but not least, caregiving. I have a love of Jesus Christ, family, people, and music.

The current owners of the 317-319 Chicago Ave. property is Oak-Leyden Developmental Services. Eight developmentally disabled adults live on the property in a Community Integrated Living Arrangement knows as a CILA. They are provided comfortable, family-like homes in communities throughout western Cook County.

These adults are provided 24-hour support and care, which promotes personal independence and physical well-being. Basic living skills are learned so they can live as independently as possible. After being given a personal tour of my childhood home, I am happy to know that Oak-Leyden Developmental Services is using the property for such a worthwhile purpose.

There is a true connection and spirit of unconditional love of life, people, and music which somehow passed through the walls from one family to the current residents. I am amazed by the multiple and careful physical changes made under the direction of Bob Atkinson to accommodate and improve the lives of the eight tenants. Upon leaving my old apartment, I noticed the banner on the front door that reads: "Home Sweet Home, Love is Patient, Love is Kind."

These words and ideals are lived out by the Oak-Leyden staff and their caregivers every day. Words we should all live by.

Diane Nelson lives at The Oaks in Oak Park.

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Posted: July 17th, 2013 9:06 AM

Love to read articles like this about the long-standing community connections that have made Oak Park the amazing place it is today!

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