"Downtown Don" — a well-liked and highly visible maintenance man whom some have called "the face of Downtown Oak Park" — is back at work a few short months after getting laid off.
For more than 20 years, Don Peter, 66, had been tending the area near Harlem Avenue and Lake Street, sweeping walkways, blasting gum off the pavement and watering plants. But in January, Peter's boss, the Downtown Oak Park (DTOP) business association, gave him a pink slip, saying they could no longer afford a full-time maintenance man.
However, Peter is back on the job, this time working for Oak Park-based Shaker and Associates, 1100 Lake St. He's been tasked with maintaining three company properties in downtown Oak Park, along with another in Oakbrook Terrace.
There's no love lost between the company's owner, Anthony Shaker, and DTOP. He sued the organization and the village back in 2007, looking to kill the special property assessment that funds the group. The suit was later settled out of court, with the village paying Shaker $16,000 and claiming no wrongdoing.
Shaker said Monday that he was "shocked" to hear of Peter's firing. He believes the appearance of downtown Oak Park has taken a hit since earlier this year.
"He's a good man, he knows Oak Park, he knows people, he's very friendly, and he keeps the place spotless," Shaker said. "Downtown Oak Park has suffered since he left, and we always have our eyes open for good people."
Peter, who has lived in Oak Park since 1950, said he was disappointed to get let go in January, but he has no hard feelings. He said he was told by DTOP that the organization needed to make more room in its budget for flower plantings.
"It was a great job," Peter said. "I got to talk to a lot of people and meet a lot of friends, and I have no regrets about it. I bear no grudges to anybody."
Pat Zubak, the head of DTOP, was out of the office this week and unavailable for comment on Monday.