Last Friday, I met with three dear old Oak Parkers (aka DOOPers) — Bob Trezevant, John Thorpe and Frank Lipo — to talk about a particular era in local history (late ’60s to the mid-’70s), which we hope to highlight in some future edition of Wednesday Journal, coinciding with the 40th anniversary of the Frank Lloyd Wright virtual theme park we have — thanks to the efforts of a good many good people — created, developed, nurtured and sustained over the past four decades.

That was a long sentence, but Oak Park is the kind of town that requires them — probably one of the reasons Hemingway had to leave. Didn’t he say we were the village of wide lawns and long sentences?

The story of preserving our remarkable cultural heritage has many sidebars, we all agreed, because it’s complicated and interwoven. The story of the late, great Elsie Jacobsen and the Beautification Committee alone would fill our feature section … and it has … and will again. 

We agreed it’s very important to tell (and retell) these stories so this community, which is constantly refreshing every few years, can understand itself by learning where we came from and how we got here.

Many of the people who helped preserve our cultural heritage at crucial moments, and who passed it on, have died or left town, but a large number still remain — and remain active. We weren’t sure what term to apply to these stalwarts.

“Preservationist” is closely identified with architecture, but that’s only one branch of our cultural tree. “Cultural creatives,” “precursors,” “improvers” and “preservers” also came up.

But at the moment, I’m partial to “stalwarts.”

The stalwarts among us should not be forgotten, but it’s easy to lose track of them, especially as they get older and more frail. You don’t see them around as much, especially during a winter like this. The old adage, “out of sight, out of mind” springs to mind.

We owe a lot to these stalwarts. That’s true of any community, but Oak Park more than most. We are who we are because certain people lived here at crucial junctures, and they loved the village enough to plunge in head first.

People like Ginie Cassin.

Virginia Cassin and her late husband, Bill, were part of the south side Oak Park Catholic wave in the 1950s and ’60s that helped make the Village Managers Association a dynamic political force — and made the fair housing movement and managed integration efforts first possible, then successful.

Ginie was village clerk from the 1970s into the 1990s. She co-founded the Hemingway Foundation in 1983 and was the longtime board chair. I traveled to Cuba with the Cassins (and Elsie Jacobsen and Barbara Ballinger and others) in 2000. I even watched the execrable election results with them in their Havana hotel room.

Ginie was the Hemingway Foundation’s secret weapon, according to the late Redd Griffin — the foundation’s other secret weapon — because “no one could say no to her.” That includes me. It’s hard to remain an objective journalist when your source is giving you a big hug.

I haven’t seen her since November when she walked into George’s Pancake House with Mary Jo Griffin on the anniversary of Redd’s death. It was Ginie’s idea, so Mary Jo couldn’t very well say no.

Last week I found out why I haven’t seen her. Sheila McLaughlin, her daughter, emailed that her mom fell in December and broke her arm, so she’s been recuperating and, like I said, the weather hasn’t exactly been conducive to going out. Being out of circulation is not a good thing for Ginie Cassin, and her daughter asked if I might mention to readers that she is uncharacteristically down in the dumps and could use a boost. 

“She would love phone calls, little notes of good cheer, maybe even a surprise lunch visitor with a sandwich from Erik’s Deli,” Sheila said. “Little things like that would mean so much.”

If Ginie’s reading this (Hi, Ginie!), it won’t be a surprise, but who cares? It’s still nice to know you’re in people’s thoughts. She lives at 206 S. Grove (60302) with her son, Pat, who is, Sheila says, her “guardian angel.” You can call Ginie at 708-848-2815.

And while you’re at it, thank her for all she’s done to make Oak Park what it is today.

Thank her for being one of our stalwarts.

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