Ethel Cotovsky, 74, village activist and ‘a firecracker’

An ode to Ethel Cotovsky
I met Ethel several years ago
it was Oak Park politics, wouldn’t you know.
We both served on a VMA selection committee,
what a breath of fresh air she was to me.
You never had to worry about what was on her mind
and she spoke it clear you were soon to find.
As we’d interview, discuss and debate
she’d move us along, no time to wait, mate.
Clear headed, yes, and a great big heart
and when needed she was able to keep them apart.
I got to know her better during the last trustee campaign.
She worked her butt off and kept me sane
and when we lost all seats but one
I declared, “Losing sucks, this is no fun.”
And she said, “Let’s all get together and celebrate.
Stop licking our wounds, our past has been great
Fifty years of good governing here
We’ll rise again never fear.”
?#34;Doug Wyman

Ethel Cotovsky was blunt, caring and, says her daughter, Sara Armstrong, “always had a strong sense of right and wrong.”

Oak Parkers might have gotten a dose of Ms. Cotovsky’s commitment to social justice in various forms. She was a founding member of the Oak Park Lesbian and Gay Association, an active member of the Village Manager Association and a member of the Oak Park Area Arts Council board.

Whatever the venue, friends and family of Ms. Cotovsky’s said Monday, she was always ready to “talk about the elephant in the room.”

“Some of us were raised to not talk directly about controversial issues,” said Bob Kane, president of the VMA and a long-time associate of Ms. Cotovsky’s. “Ethel looked forward to bringing up issues. Whether it was race, economic equity, gay rights, she had no qualms about it. She helped people address issues, clarify issues.”

Ethel Cotovsky, 74, died March 9, 2006 of cancer. Asked if his mother, a long-time smoker, had died of lung cancer, her son Joshua Young, said, “Surprisingly not lung. It was everything-else-cancer.”

A memorial service will be held for Ethel Cotovsky this evening (March 15) from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the 19th Century Club, 178 Forest Ave., Oak Park. Arrangements were by the Cremation Society of Illinois.

Born on the West Side of Chicago during Depression years, Ms. Cotovsky grew up in what OPALGA described as an “activist Jewish family.” After earning a sociology degree at Roosevelt University, her son said she headed to the University of California at Berkeley in the 1950s to get a degree in social work. There she was also active in a number of Socialist organizations, he said. She returned to Chicago and in 1967 moved to Oak Park. She married in 1968, gave birth to twins Joshua and Sara in 1969. By 1974, Joshua Young said, his parents divorced as his mother “came out of the closet” and acknowledged she had “always been gay.”

“I’ve always been real proud of how she stood for what she believed even when she had stuff to lose” because of her stands, said Sara Armstrong. “She was a firecracker.”

Doug Wyman, a long-time VMA member, called Ms. Cotovsky “a breath of fresh air” during VMA candidate selection sessions. “She was always clear thinking. No nonsense. But with a big heart.” Asked why he thought she had moved to Oak Park, Wyman said, “Oak Park to her was a special island. What was going on in Oak Park was to her more special than anywhere else in the country. It was what she believed should be happening in a community. That we were serious about raising diversity. We were there doing it.”

Ray Johnson, an Oak Park village trustee, first met Ms. Cotovsky in OPALGA during the early 1990s. “With Ethel there was always a strong call to action. She held people accountable. She wasn’t afraid to call people out when there was an injustice. … I was close to her publicly and privately. She was like a teacher who inspires you.”

Brad Bartels, a current leader of both OPALGA and the VMA, remembered Ms. Cotovsky as someone with whom you could “have a major or a minor disagreement. But she could put it aside. She’d call you up and say, ‘Let’s go out and have a drink.’ A lot of people just can’t get past it. Ethel could.”
?#34;Dan Haley

Florence Michod, 87, Helped save farm buildings
Florence Wise Michod, 87, long-time resident of River Forest died at her home on March 9, 2006 after a valiant battle with cancer. She was born Nov. 27, 1918 in Charlotte, N.C. to Earl and Anna Wise. She was raised in Champaign, IL where she was a graduate of the University Lab High School and she also received her B.A. from the University of Illinois in 1940. Mrs. Michod was a member of the PI Beta Phi Sorority (University of Illinois), the Infant Welfare Society, and the River Forest Tennis Club. She also enjoyed golfing at the Oak Park Country Club.

For over 30 years she was an active and successful manager/owner of the family farm business, the Wise Farms, located in Savoy and Pesotum Illinois. Part of the farm is an Illinois Centennial Farm given recognition for remaining in the family for over 100 years. In this role she learned of the need to recycle and restore farm buildings. One of her projects was an outstanding success and won the 1976 Distinguished Architects award from the Chicago Chapter of the American Institute of Architects as one of the first farm reuse buildings ever done in the State of Illinois. Little did she know that she had helped start a revolution called “Adaptive Reuse” of historic buildings.

She is survived by her husband Charles L. of River Forest, her children Charles L. Jr. (Susan) of Chicago, Richard E. Michod of Tucson, AZ and Sally M. Matson of Traverse City, MI. She was the grandmother of Alexander, Richard and Michael Michod, Kristin and Kayley Michod, and Bradley and Jennifer Matson. A memorial service was held March 13 at the First Presbyterian Church of River Forest. Memorials to the church, 7551 Quick Ave., River Forest, IL 60305, are appreciated. Arrangements were handled by Drechsler, Brown & Williams Funeral Home.


Maria L. Arbeen, 71, Real estate appraiser, volunteer
Maria L. Arbeen, nee Thys, of River Forest, died at home at age 71, on March 10. 2006 after a five-year battle with cancer. She is survived by her husband of 49 years, Lynn A. Arbeen, her three children; Jo Anne, Kurt M., and Mark F. (Heather), and six grandchildren; Nicole, Tyler, Kelsey, Dana, Brooke, and Jacob. She was a 38-year resident of River Forest. Prior to that she resided in Maywood, Harvard, and Oak Park.

Mrs. Arbeen was a National Honors Society graduate from Proviso High School in 1953 and attended the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. She was a staff writer for the Daily Illini in 1954. She graduated in 1957 with a Bachelor of Science Degree from the College of Applied Life Studies. After graduation she taught physical education in the Maywood school district,

Mrs. Arbeen started in the real estate profession in 1978 and worked for over 25 years as a real estate appraiser and broker. She founded her firm Arbeen Appraisal Associates in 1998. She served the real estate community with the Oak Park Board of Realtors since 1978.

As one of the nation’s foremost experts in historical and religious building appraisals, she served as an expert witness in many court cases, and taught Historical Property Appraisal for many years.

Her deep interest in Prairie School architecture led her to co-found the Women’s Architectural League in 1959. She served as president from 1968-1970. She co-authored, with Patricia Kostopolous, “The Guide to Prairie School Architecture in Oak Park and River Forest,” and “A Guidebook to the Architecture of River Forest,” with Jeannette Fields.

She and her husband began a 45-plus year relationship with St. Mary’s Services during the adoption process for their daughter, and later their sons. Mrs. Arbeen volunteered many hours of service to St. Mary’s, serving on the board for years, and as its president from 1995- 2004.

Mrs. Arbeen was active in many other groups, including the Infant Welfare and the American Red Cross where she was a certified water instructor. For over 20 years, she taught young, developmentally-disabled children to swim through the West Suburban Special Recreation Association.

Visitation was held March 15, 2006 at Drechsler, Brown and Williams Funeral Home. A funeral service will be held March 16 at Christ Episcopal Church with interment following at Bronswood Cemetery, Hillside. Memorial contributions may be made to St. Mary’s Services, 717 W. Kirchoff Rd., Arlington Heights, IL 60005 or the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation.


Herbert F. Gielow, Park district landscaper
Herbert F. Gielow, 75, a lifelong resident of Oak Park, died Feb. 22, 2006 in his Oak Park home. He was born in Oak Park on May 25, 1930 to Leo and Ida Gielow. Mr. Gielow was a 1948 graduate of Oak Park and River Forest High School. For a number of years, Mr. Gielow was a landscaper for the Park District of Oak Park retiring in 1980. He was a member of Grace Lutheran Church in River Forest. Graveside services were held Feb. 24 at Oakridge Cemetery in Hillside. Arrangements were handled by Drechsler, Brown & Williams Funeral Home, Oak Park.

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