It’s the biggest festival that Oak Park has all year and has brought up to 25,000 people out to the parks and local businesses—and it does it all with only a couple dozen volunteers.
The 39th annual festival, A Day in Our Village, will be held June 3 at Scoville and Rehm parks. As in previous years, there will be musical entertainment, food from local vendors and hundreds of local businesses and organizations making their presence known, said Community Relations Director Cedric Melton.
Unlike some of village fairs that mostly offer things for sale, this event is a way for new, old and prospective residents to learn about government agencies, social services, schools, religious organizations and community-minded businesses in Oak Park, said Mike Stewart, who’s been the chair of the organizational committee for the past three years and involved for at least 10 years.
This year there are about 150 groups that will set up booths in Scoville Park, while Rehm Park will mostly feature activities for kids. A free bus is available to shuttle visitors between the two places.
Within the last five or so years, “it’s more and more of a challenge to get volunteers to come help,” Stewart said. “We’re been making some big pushes to get some new blood,” including public service announcements on YouTube and notices in the monthly village newsletter. Committee members also keep a lookout for potential volunteers at the event, Stewart said.
Since the first event was held on June 4, 1973, residents have enjoyed it by taking double-decker bus tours around the village, roller skating for free at Ridgeland Common, running through foam at the fire department (later cancelled because it was deemed unsafe), and watching barbershop quartets and magic shows. A review of old newspaper articles at the Historical Society of Oak Park and River Forest showed the event was always a hit—until it was called off.
The 1996 Day was cancelled because of a lack of volunteers, the number of which had been dwindling in those lean years. Organizers couldn’t recruit the minimum of about 50 people needed at the time, and only a few offered to help out the next year. Organizers were worried they’d have to pull the plug for good if it was cancelled two years in a row.
Like Stewart, Ellen Plourde grew up in Oak Park. Some of her earliest memories are from the Day, like running through the foam at the south fire house and collecting pamphlets from businesses up and down Lake Street.
When she heard the festival was being cancelled, Plourde and a few others sprung into action and joined the main organizing committee. Its members serve as chairs of other committees—this year Plourde is in charge of activities—and some have headed more than one in recent years.
The event has had to scale back from activities in more of the village’s parks because of the lack of volunteers to man stations, but they pick up the slack by asking family members to help out. Plourde said the group involved since the event’s resurrection has an “unspoken pact” that they’ll continue to make sure the event lives on.
Melton said recruiting can be hard because people associate volunteering with long meetings. He said he’s implemented a policy that the monthly meetings the organizing committee holds beginning in January need to be an hour or less.
Despite the workload, Plourde said she expected this year’s event to capture the same small town charm she remembers as a child.
“If you don’t cover every inch of that park, you don’t know what you’re missing,” she said.
For information about volunteering, call 708-358-5405.