As I was reminded about Oak Park’s path to integration, however imperfect [Why I’m proud to be from Oak Park, Ken Trainor, Viewpoints, May 16], I felt a lot of pride and it reminded me of my path in choosing Oak Park as my new home. I wonder how you got here?

I grew up and lived on the Southeast Side of Chicago (South Chicago, steel mills area) for the first 25 years of my life. This blue-collar-worker, ethnically-varied part of town gave me solid values, a social justice spirit, and a great work ethic. Yet there were few cultural, progressive, or educational opportunities and I felt like a minority. Even worse, it was a severely toxic environment with the steel mills pumping 24-7. I yearned for a new community that was integrated, progressive, safer and offered me opportunities to root and grow. It was 1975 and time to find a church music job.

I started exploring where to re-root. The rule of thumb when you’re from the South Side was to move farther south, even if that meant Indiana. My whole family had already moved by that time for various reasons. 

I loved the Oak Park ad in Chicago magazine: “The People Place” with the stylized tree. I thought, “How cool that a community would advertise and flaunt that they are a people place!” I knew it was an integrated community and I very much wanted that. I asked a friend who lived there, “Are there a lot of churches?” He said yes.

I was studying at the American Conservatory of Music and ready to find a music director and organist job. There were only two job postings, hand-printed on index cards, posted on the bulletin board. One was for Ascension Parish in Oak Park. I made an appointment to interview for the Ascension job%u200B and, as soon as I saw the church, it felt very familiar and I had that wonderful intuitive feeling that “this is it.” 

I knew I’d get the job and Oak Park would be my new home, but this was 1975, so I had to grow in my job, create a piano teaching practice and save money. I moved to Oak Park in 1977. For my family, my move to Oak Park which is north and west from my home turf, was akin to moving to Alaska (yet only 35-45 minutes away from where I grew up). 

It doesn’t take much to be a rebel sometimes!

I remain ever grateful for those synchronicities and the hand-written index card that allowed me to move and root here for decades. My membership and involvement at Unity Temple was also rich, and ultimately where I met my husband. Oak Park has offered me more than I hoped: culture, progressive ideas, a beautiful and cleaner environment with environmentally active people, educational and work opportunities, the ability to write and teach as I shifted into my second career in holistic health practice and education, spiritually expansive churches and ideas, and being surrounded by lots of trees and so many amazing people. 

It’s really a perfect community for us. And yes, it is a people place.

How did you come to call Oak Park your home?

Gina Orlando, a longtime resident of Oak Park, teaches at DePaul University.

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