WEB EXTRA: Follow the growth of this group of kids in pictures, in size and numbers, from 2000-2006. Scroll to the bottom of this article to see the pictures.
Every year a small group of residents on the 1100 block of South Grove Avenue gather to commemorate the first day of school. The Shepelak, White, Moyer, Plonas, Rumoro, Frank, Richardson, and Stewart families do so with the simple action of snapping a picture of their children huddled together on the Rumoros’ porch, smiling and eager for their first day of class.
The tradition began spontaneously with only a few families, but over the eight years since its inception participation has ballooned to nine families and involved upwards of 20 children.
“We think it’s going to go away with kids getting older but it just keeps growing,” said Rick Rumoro. “We cause traffic jams sometimes with people trying to see what’s going on,” he joked.
To some, picture day may seem like nothing out of the ordinary on the first day of school. But to these families it means much more than a simple snapshot.
“It’s a wonderful way to mark the passage of time, gives us an annual reminder to see how the neighborhood changes and grows up,” said Marcia Frank, whose family has lived on the block for more than 12 years.
Mary Shepelak also sees the picture as a historical artifact. “It catches the moments of childhood as the generations pass, captures and records the kids as they grow up.”
On the other side of the camera, Chris Rumoro, 10, feels the same. “It’s good that I get to see, when I’m older, how I used to be.”
Danette Rumoro, sister-in-law to Rick, lives across the alley from Grove on Oak Park Avenue, but she still considers herself a “pseudo Grove resident.” She believes that picture day is almost therapeutic for the children.
“It subsides any fears about the first day of school and lets them know that they’re not the only ones that are feeling the way they are,” she said.
Most importantly to the “dead enders,” a nickname they gave themselves in reference to the cul-de-sac at the end of the block, picture day symbolizes friendship and the sense of unity they feel with one another. “It proves how close we are as a community and shows the kids what it means to get along with everybody,” said Rick Rumoro.
The cohesiveness of people in the neighborhood was one thing that drew Mary Shepelak into living in Oak Park. “I was impressed by the warmth of the people for one another. They were all excited about each other and their kids.”
“[Picture day] symbolizes friendship?we take care of each other. It’s very important that the neighbors are close and that friendship grows,” said Lisy Plonas.
“If you need anything at anytime, somebody’s always there to help,” said Molly Stewart.
James White, a professional photographer, knows the importance of photos. “Pictures mean a lot to me?There’s a history to things and it’s nice to keep that history going. It’s like we’re writing our own new history every year.”
Rick Rumoro says that sometimes the adults look like they’re having more fun than the children. “We joke around and say we should take a picture of the adults with all the smiles on our faces. We’re probably smiling bigger than the kids. Maybe it’s because they’re going back to school, but maybe it’s because we’re proud.”