River Forest Villager of the Year Runners-up
Talk about having too many people to thank by name. The weekend of Sept. 12-13, well over a hundred people, perhaps twice that many, waded through knee-deep water and ignored cold rain and aching backs to help their neighbors cope with devastating flood waters. Dozens more helped later with the labor intensive clean-up.
They all rate as River Forest’s Villagers of the Year runners-up. They won’t all see their name here, but they know who they are. Certainly the recipients of their assistance know them.
Oak Park and River Forest Township’s Winter 2009 newsletter got it exactly right when it called the response “a flood of caring,” saying, “The volunteer effort was truly the sunshine amidst these storms.”
“Without the volunteer help, we wouldn’t have won the battle,” Village Administrator Steve Gutierrez concurred.
A partial list of those who served
With apologies to those we missed:
No one was more involved in the early response than Rick Gillis and Police Officer Angie Hogan (now Cardenas). Gillis led efforts to reinforce the Lake Street berm that ultimately reversed flooding there. Early on Sept. 13 he witnessed “a huge stream of water flowing” from two backyards on River Oaks Drive. Realizing sandbagging would be required, Gillis skipped church to go on the Internet to check weather forecasts, which predicted record crest levels 15 hours later on Monday.
He then got a call from Village President Frank Paris, asking to make use of his large neighborhood association e-mail list to alert possible volunteers. Gillis called Charlie Thompson and Bob Conrardy, both active in River Forest Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts, who’d started a telephone chain, directing available scouts to report to the Thatcher/Chicago area for sandbagging.
People from as far away as Bonnie Brae and Harlem Avenue arrived to help.
“They heard about it and came,” said Gillis. “That was the most amazing thing about it.”
Cardenas came home from church on Sunday, Sept. 14, to find the basement of her house in Brookfield filling with water. Yet she left her future husband and his son to handle things and drove to River Forest to check on people’s welfare during the initial flooding. Over the next several weeks, she coordinated clean-up efforts and supervised security plans.
The work was strenuous but satisfying.
“To see this wall get built out of a pile of sand was just amazing,” said Gillis of sandbagging the Lake Street berm. “A lot of us with older backs, we were complaining, but we kept on working.” Gillis said he witnessed many impressive acts over the two soggy days.
“There were two in particular that were truly inspirational for me,” he said. Dawn Kerth, in her late 60s or early 70s, showed up to help sandbag despite undergoing cancer treatments. Dawn and Francie Coe, in their 70s, who’d come to check in on their son Mark and his wife Kristen, who live on Edgewood, saw what was happening a block west on River Oaks and joined the sandbagging efforts, despite the rain.
Meanwhile Alpine Food Shop of Elmwood Park, Starbucks in River Forest, Grandma Sally’s Restaurant on North Avenue, the River Forest Jewel on Lake Street and Jimmy John’s in Forest Park all sent food and beverages for the workers.
All told, around 40 homes were hit by the flood, many quite seriously. Thankfully, the effort didn’t recede with the floodwaters. Over 30 volunteers from the Oak Park-River Forest real estate community worked the following weekend to help rip out and haul away flood-soaked debris and belongings from basements. All told, over 50 volunteers helping to clean out 13 flood-damaged homes, most on Lake Street.
Realtor Jamie Hogan used her forum as emcee of the Sept. 17 installation lunch for new Oak Park Area Association of Realtors officers to recruit volunteers to haul debris, tear out ruined plaster and drywall and begin the process of disinfecting a dozen homes. Over 30 realtors responded.