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OP needs a ‘brand,’ then we need to promote it
Dear Oak Park Village Board:

Looking at very recent copies of our local papers makes me think, “Maybe you are trying too hard.”

Headlines about the Gay Games, the Lane Bryant fiasco and the Colt controversy paint a very clear picture to me. Taken together, they indicate to me that we may be missing the forest for the trees.

Let’s start with the Colt controversy. While I believe you are all trying to be as thorough and fair as possible in deciding the building’s fate, it seems that you are doing it in a vacuum. Likewise on desired retailers. I think that is why every issue that comes up lately seems to draw a passionate, even split of supporters on each side. Build a new street versus Save the mall! Restore the Colt versus Tear it down! Recruit Lane Bryant versus Support small, unique retailers!

It is dizzying. This on-going lack of consensus tells me you may be forcing the wrong solution on the wrong problem.

Call it a brand, a vision or an identity. I believe what we need first and foremost is a common understanding of what is unique about our village (and its key business districts) to drive decisions about buildings, retailers and more. We need to understand how this identity appeals to both locals and visitors (regional or tourists). From there it would be easier to see what mix of buildings and retail space make sense. And then a professional, focused on recruiting retailers, could target the right mix of national, local and small businesses to fill those spaces.

It is amazing to me that we don’t actually have a brand because we have so many unique qualities of local pride and worldwide acclaim. You can check out many a water tower to see the humdrum ways that other towns identify themselves.

More headlines: Look at what outsiders–even “The View”–have been saying; Ernest Hemingway and Frank Lloyd Wright spent their formative years here; we are a community where we made diversity work … and thrive!

So, you can continue trying to force the Colt issue. And you can continue to dream about forcing a regional shopping destination downtown, despite the fact we do not have the right characteristics to support it, not to mention we’d be competing for economic viability with all the other Anytown, USAs out there. That Crate & Barrel I’ve heard mentioned would be the first store they’d close when things get tough.

But if we maximize our unique identity and how it appeals to residents and visitors, we can have the right mix to generate tax dollars from local errand-runners and tourists.

On the tourist front, a few ideas to make us more of a destination:

  • What about a Frank Lloyd Wright festival?  The key aspects are here: Save the prairie-inspired shops from moving to Forest Park and tie that in with the race, housewalks and our street festival that needs a theme makeover anyway.
  • Same story for Hemingway. Why let Pamplona and Key West have all the fun?
  • And how about a third major event around racial diversity? Perhaps a symposium for the best minds on the topic that concludes with a star-studded gala. Off the top of my head, maybe start by recognizing Oprah for calling attention to disparity in quality of education among America’s black and white high schools. Finally, maybe there is an opportunity to celebrate and mark any key sites that helped us sustain racial diversity.

Learn from our recent headlines. The Gay Games taught us that people from around the world love to visit our village en masse, that we are wonderful hosts, and we love the tax dollars. The Lane Bryant fiasco and the Colt controversy taught us that our focus now throughout the superblock and downtown is just not working.

I believe your decisions will be better made and less controversial if you first take leadership around who we are and what makes us unique. Decisions based on protecting our “brand” will help us attract locals, visitors and special-event-goers and solve many of the issues you are trying to address. It will also make it much easier to identify the right mix of businesses to fill the buildings that make our village the wonderful place it is.

Laura Sturkel


Personal data theft is happening faster than you think
Surely you have noticed that personal data is being stolen from computers at a remarkable rate. It has become so common that most of the thefts don’t make the news anymore. Lest you think that this is a mere inconvenience or minor problem, here are some of the thefts reported since December of last year:

Bank of America (1.2M Federal employees), Ameritrade (200K), University of California (100K), Iron Mountain, Inc. (600K Time-Warner employees), San Jose Medical Group (185K), Georgia Southern University (unknown thousands), MCI (16.5K), Valdosta State University (40K), Bank of America, et al. (676K), Lexis-Nexis (310K), Colorado State Health Dept. (1.6 K families), California Dept. of Health Services (21.6K), Cleveland State University (44K), Omega Travel, et al. (80K).
Motorola (unknown numbers), American Red Cross (unknown numbers), Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (6K), City National Bank (unknown numbers), Blue Cross-Blue Shield (57K), J.P. Morgan (unknown numbers), Kent State University (100K), North Fork Bank (9K), Children’s Health Council (6K), National Nuclear Safety Administration (1.5K), Wilcox Memorial Hospital (130K), University of Tennessee Medical Center (3.8K), Keck School of Medicine (U.S.C) (50K).
Safeway (1.4K), TransUnion (3,623), ING BAnk (8.5K), First Trust Bank (thousands), LaSalle Bank/ABN Amro Mortgage (2M), Ford Motors (70K), Marriot (206K), Uiversity of Washington Medical Center (1.6K), California National Guard (hundreds), Atlantis Resorts (55K), People’s Bank (90K), Ameriprise Finaqncial (226K), State of Hawaii (40K employees and families), Providence Home Services (365K), U.S. Dept. of Agriculture (350K), Mt. St. Mary’s Hospital (unknown numbers).

PriceWaterhouseCoopers (4K), Deloite &Touche (9K client employees), Ernst & Young (unknown numbers), Olympic Funding Chicago (unknown numbers), Metropolitan College of Denver (93K), Georgetown University (41,000 elderly D.C. residents), Choice Point (150K), Hotels.com (243K), Medco Health Solutions (4.6K), Ernst & Young (again) (thousands of IBM employees), Hewlitt Packard/Fidelity Investments (196K), Verizon (significant numbers), Vermont State Colleges (14K).

Georgia Technology Authority (570K), U.S. Marine Corps (207K), American International Group (AIG) Medical Excess LLC (930,000), American Red Cross (again) (8K), Iron Mountain, Inc. (again) (17K railroad employees and retirees plus Bronx VA Hospital patients), Ohio Secretary of State (7.7M), University of Alaska (38,941), Fraser Health Authority (thousands), University of Texas McCombs Business School (197K), Morgan Stanley, et al. (2K), Aetna (38K), U.S. Dept. of Defense (14K).

Purdue Engineering School (1,351), University of Ohio (137K), Columbus Bank & Trust (2K), U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs (28.7M), Wells-Fargo Bank (unknown numbers), Humana Medicare Program (250 Medicare applicants), University of Ohio Hudson Health Center (60K), Texas Guaranteed Student Loan Corp. (1.3M), American Institute of CPAs (330K), Miami University of Ohio (851), University of Kentucky (6.5K), American Red Cross (still again) (unknown numbers).
Florida International University (thousands), Mercantile Potomac Bank (48K), Sacred Heart University (unknown numbers), University of Delaware (1,076), Equifax (2.5K), YMCA Rhode Island (65K), IRS (291 IRS employees), Buckeye Community Health Plan (72K), Royal Ahold (unknown numbers), Hanford Nuclear Reservation (4K), Humana Medicare Program (17K), Minnesota State Auditor (493 SWtate employees), KDDI Telco (4M), Union Pacific RR (30K), Oregon Dept. of Revenue (2.2K).

Denver Election Commission (150K), Federal Trade Commission (1,100 FTC employees), VISA U.S.A (possibly millions), University of Alabama (9.8K), ING Bank (again) (13K), U.S. Dept. of Agriculture (26K), U.S. Dept. of the Navy (28K), Allstate (unknown numbers), Minnesota Dept. of Revenue (2.8K tax payers and 48K businesses), Nebraska Treasurer’s Office (300K), Western Illinois University (180K), and Neinet (188K).
Sleep well.

Morrie Seeskin 


Mildenhall asks big questions, in the right spirit
Although I have not met Helen Mildenhall personally, I am impressed by her thoughts and questions in our Wednesday Journal exchanges that have come about quite spontaneously. Her response to my response to her initial article on why she no longer attends church expressed genuine interest in getting answers to what I would call big questions of faith. And her sincerity showed in every word, worthy of appreciation not only of what she said but how she said it. Further comment is in order. Eavesdropping is invited.
@normal:She asks, in response to my comment that God is no enemy of an honestly inquiring mind: “How can I be sure that my inquiry is honest?” The question is right on.

My answer–at least for starters: Seek God for his own sake, on his terms. Meaning what? As one devoted to Jesus as Lord, I cite his call to love the Lord our God with all our heart and mind and soul and our neighbor as ourselves. My conviction is that every person who makes that word the heart of honest inquiry before God will not be disappointed. I can say from experience that pursuing God in response to his love transforms the one seeking, shapes the mind in whole new directions, and brings seekers together as partners in serving the neighbor. That takes time and much grace in an honest inquiry that is part of what Paul the Apostle once called the good fight of faith.

One thought more: Religion always goes wrong when seeking God on self-serving terms, i.e. claiming the Almighty for our cause over theirs, wrapping him in this flag or in that ideology, prescribing the outcome before the inquiry ever gets started. None of that appears in Helen’s quest. My hope is that she, and all of us with her, won’t quit too soon on life’s most important inquiry. Nor go it alone.

She also asks why so much of the focus on divine grace calls it “undeserved.” Again, she’s right on when saying that people who love her don’t tell her she doesn’t deserve it; they don’t even regard that as an issue. The trouble is, though, our loving each other is too confined to those who are already lovable. When it comes to loving people difficult, even impossible to love, the grace of God is needed to reach out to the unlovable. I find a cross at the heart of that love, revealing a grace that is costly beyond measure and hardly deserved. In short, sin turns us all inward upon ourselves, hemming in what is intended to flow out freely with transforming power. The marvel is, our God gives his grace anyway!

Finally, Ms. Mildenhall wonders if people of Christian conviction are getting better at avoiding the pretense that we have God all figured out. I can’t speak for everybody, but I do know many of the faithful near and far who show a winsome humility born of reverence for the majesty of God’s greatness. I’ve learned something about that humility from experience. Among the first hospital calls I made as a newly ordained pastor in town brought me to the bedside of a very sick person. I launched into an overlong rehearsal of the mighty works of God when she stopped me in mid-flight with: “Young man, get down on your knees and in one sentence pray to God that I can get through this day–and then leave!” I did. He did. And she did. It was an early lesson in humility I’ve not forgotten.

F. Dean Lueking


Passeggiatas would put OPers in a contemplative mood
In your Aug. 2 edition, several views and articles hint of quieter waters below surface storms about development and preservation in Oak Park. A question from those depths is, how can successful economic growth be compatible with superior communal quality?

This question was awakened by Christine Gawne Vernon’s contribution to Viewpoints [Downtown OP is a treasure worthy of passeggiata, Aug. 9]. Her letter focused mainly on Downtown Oak Park and proposed instituting leisurely “passeggiatas” or public strolls through our communal space–an idea that might surprise villagers who could only imagine future life here as a rush hour out of control.

But her spirit recalls the founders of our bustling mother city to the east. In the 1830s, Chicago’s developers believed their city needed factories, offices and shops to grow. But they knew it also must be a kind of garden, drawing people to visit, work, trade and reside. So the first Chicagoans chose to build what is still stated in their seal, “Urbs in Horto,” a city in a garden.

“Urbs in Horto” respects life’s ultimate environmental gifts: nature, openness, variety, harmony, scale, and a sense of place and time. In such a garden, visitors walk, sit and talk civilly with others, peacefully contemplating life past, present and to come. Its builders are gardeners tending life’s natural and cultural wonders–including people and their works. They inspire individuals and make communities whole.

Frank Lloyd Wright’s inspiration, Friedrich Froebel, once had a vision of flowers in a garden with human faces. That’s what we sense in tours like Christine’s vicarious one. The buildings we pass with her reveal people and stories important to our village and beyond.

This approach to our built world evokes the inner lives of those contributing to it. Oak Park’s buildings express the ideas and values of the people behind them. Village streetscapes reveal the spirits of earlier villagers’ times–and other eras they revered. Viewing our town anew in an informed and sensitive way puts us in touch with the characters and lives of villagers across the decades. Their streetscapes are the settings for our working, trading, worshipping and recreating today.

Most Oak Parkers over the years have built, tended and enjoyed treasures along our streets with a vision loftier than profit. Those who built exclusively for the bottom line have projected lifeless buildings onto our landscape. Heartless, rootless architectural husks only show the ATM-like speed and efficiency used to produce them.
These impersonal qualities are not enough to make attractive communities, as Chicago’s founders wisely saw. So Oak Park, like Chicago, has needed the qualities civilized gardeners bring. Bright, sensitive, imaginative villagers with this kind of vision have harvested the best from our history–defining a heritage that brings thousands of tourists, scholars, shoppers and residents from around the world. We are charged with maintaining the best qualities of that heritage for their sakes and ours.

It makes good historical, aesthetic and economic sense to become better acquainted with our landscape’s face and soul. Those who appreciate this heritage should ask if new buildings advance our “village in a garden.” Will new architects and planners contribute to our heritage or develop even better ones?

Will villagers and visitors want to walk past our buildings and down our streets as the Italians do in their “passeggiatas,” looking at them, reflecting on them, talking with each other–not just using their built world economically, but enjoying it for its own sake–for the history it holds, the beauty it projects, the memories it awakens?

As human faces express the souls of people we love, so buildings’ faces express the lives that gave them shape and meaning. And what better way is there of responding to them than not just using them, but looking at them with appreciation born of understanding and caring?

The time for that is in a meditative mood such as Italians and Oak Parkers might find at dusk, with the height of rush hour over.

Redd Griffin

Our heartfelt thanks for helping the kids in Nepal
The members and sponsors of Dudes Makin’ a Difference, a service group for high school boys, would like to thank the community for its support during their recent used sports sale. The very successful event was held on Saturday, July 15 and raised upwards of $1,400, which will be used to support the education of sponsored children in Nepal.

We especially wish to thank all those from the community who generously donated used sports equipment for the sale. Also, we want to thank Wednesday Journal for their excellent coverage both before and after the event, especially staff writer Kristin Gehring and photographer Josh Hawkins.

The Dudes will continue their charity work this fall. New members are welcome–please contact Janet Schiffman (848-5076), Alexis Rasley (848-5216) or Dale Clarke (383-9010) for information. 

Dudes Makin’ a Difference
Oak Park


A faith more transparent to itself: Why I still do go to church
I read Helen Mildenhall’s article on why she doesn’t go to church anymore with great interest [Viewpoints, July 5]. I am drawn to her statement because I think our paths both converge and diverge in ways that would be worth writing about.

Helen, I greatly admire the courage it must have taken for you to “come out,” as you say. I gather there would be little support from among the people you know for doing such a thing. I wonder how many others there are who have thought about doing what you have done, but have not had the courage. I think there are many whose faith is very shaky and who are reluctant to examine the grounds for their faith too closely lest all they find is habit, tradition, guilt or fear, not something alive, viable and relevant to the world in which we live today.

You have a need for honesty, even in an area where there may be little reward for being so. You know something which I think is very important–which is that faith is nothing if it is not honest. That’s one place where I think our paths converge.

You write with a sense of relief, as one released from some kind of bondage. I gather that believing in the Bible and God, as you have understood them, has become more and more of a burden to you. Here our paths touch but then veer away from each other. Like you, I have spent a lot of time weighing and shedding things in my faith tradition which I believed were not compatible with the essential elements in that tradition. I like what you said about needing a God who could exceed the best standards you could imagine. I can also understand why you would not want to believe in a “God who hadn’t been able to figure out how to save most of humanity from eternal torment.”

Here our paths fork, however. Do I hear in your protest the disillusionment of an undeclared fundamentalist? Where else than from some fiery fundamentalist doctrine would you have acquired a belief so antithetical to the heart of the gospel? Yes, I agree, better to have no God at all than such a God. Those who think they know more about God than they really do place themselves at great risk. When such a gerrybuilt tower of false certainties topples, great will be its fall!

But having no God at all is also risky because other gods, unrecognized, can enter in. Atheism holds for me no prospect of liberation, only even more susceptibility to idolatries which rise up endlessly like some great monster which regenerates itself each time its head is severed.

Again our paths touch. There are a number of things in my faith tradition which are either no longer helpful to me or never were. The classical arguments for the existence of God would be one example. The ontological argument claims that having the mere idea of a supreme being implies there must be one. The cosmological argument looks at the chain of cause and effect and says there has to be a First Cause. The teleological argument claims the intricacy and order to be found in nature is proof of divine intention. The current flap over “intelligent design” is a variation of this argument.

Modern philosophers, starting with Hume and Kant, have long since demonstrated that none of these arguments constitute proof. They are meaningful to someone who already believes.
Others claim to have had some kind of special event or epiphany or conversion experience in which God became very real for them, and they base their faith on that. I have had no such experience. Sometimes I have wished I had. Most of the time I am just as glad I have not because it is so easy for us to trick ourselves into thinking we know something about God that we really don’t.

Recently I listened to a series of lectures on the philosophy of religion by James Hall. He characterized himself as a “religious agnostic.” He lays no claim to any kind of knowledge of God based on reason, experience or revelation but he chooses to see the world (read cosmos) as “an arena of divine intention.” He was raised in a conservative brand of Protestant Christianity in southern Illinois and is currently an active Episcopalian. His designation of himself makes a lot of sense to me.

“But what about the Bible?” some may say. “Isn’t that the inspired word of God?” I believe it is. I also believe it was written by human beings who used the thought forms and modes of perception of their time. I am not a fundamentalist. I have never felt any obligation to believe that events happened in many parts of scripture exactly as they are reported. I regard the Bible as a witness in its various forms: narrative, psalms, wisdom, letters. It has authority for me, but I still regard it as an imperfect document. All witness is flawed. All witness is human.

So I have given up a lot, too, Helen, but here our paths diverge one final time. My journey, so similar to yours in at least some respects, has taken me deeper into faith. The more I realize that seeing the world as “an arena of divine intention” is a choice, the more I am aware that it must be nurtured. And for me it has been. Before I came to the point in my life where I could meaningfully choose to use religious interpretation, a choice had already been made for me by those who raised me and exposed me to religious culture. I need to be with people of faith if my own faith is to thrive.

I can imagine someone saying, “What a puny faith if you have to go to church all the time to keep it going!” My response to that is that I have a hunger for God that will not quit. Were I never to read or hear read another passage of scripture or darken the door of another house of worship, I would still have that hunger. Not a day passes but that the God question does not come to me as both a blessing and a torment–a blessing because it is to me profoundly meaningful and satisfying to ask that question, a torment because I know that it will never get resolved to the level of certainty that I would like.

So I keep going to church not because I am afraid I will lose my faith if I don’t, but to be with those who carry on the witness–my faith ancestors and contemporaries. 

Franklyn “Bud” Hayes

Who can predict the future of village fortune-telling?
The Historic Preservation Commission will allow the demolition of 256 Lake St., which houses Dominique, the only palm-reading, tarot-card-decoding psychic I know of working in Oak Park.
I find this very odd. You can’t get more historical than fortune-telling. People have used divination for 4,000 years, back to Babylonian times. How can a historical commission disturb something so historical?

You would think the commission would have made recommendations to the village board to keep the psychic, maybe give Dominique a job as an expert consultant to the village. I know some may scoff at a psychic advising the village. They would say psychics are experts in nothing but bogusity.
However, a psychic doesn’t need accuracy to provide benefit. My father used a psychic to find a rare German World War I medal he lost. The medal was called the Kreis von Wurst or the Cross of Sausage. It was a petrified blood sausage twisted into a cross. The Kaiser awarded the medal to the army cook who made the best sausage, the so-called “wurstest Wurst,” during an Allied gas attack. The Kaiser instituted the medal near the end of the war in the belief a tasty sausage would lift the morale of the troops and enable them to fight a final offensive that would make the Axis Powers victorious.

Few cooks received the medal. They had more important things to do during a gas attack–like desertion, and I don’t mean desertion in the form of some faddy neologism as dessertion: the process of creating trend-plushy, gaudyhoo desserts. I mean it in its original form as in extreme absconding in utter vamoose mode.
My father wanted to hide the medal somewhere in the house so burglars wouldn’t steal it. Time passed, and he, eventually, forgot where he hid it, so not only burglars couldn’t find it, but also he couldn’t find it.

Throughout my boyhood, he searched the house for that medal. Finally, he figured he failed to find the medal in the house because it somehow had gotten outside the house. He never explained the process by which this might have occurred. Maybe it was some form of desertion.

This meant, in his mind, he would need to search the entire planet Earth with the exception of his house. For an area that large, he needed help, so one day he called up a radio show which had a psychic as a guest and asked her where he had hidden the Cross of Sausage. She told him to look near water.

He felt elated: I was skeptical. I told him, “Dad, water is everywhere. That medal could be anywhere.” But dad seemed happier than I had seen him in years. He said, “Hell, the earth is 7.5 million square miles and two thirds of it is water. Now I only need to look in only 5 million square miles.”

That psychic really made his day. A psychic could do the same for Oak Parkers if the historical commission would think more about history and less about buildings. Now Oak Parkers will have to travel to Berwyn or River Grove or Melrose Park to engage a psychic and feel that sort of elation.

Byron Lanning
Oak Park

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