I miss Mark Rogovin. We became buddies in 1995, when I wrote about a Forest Park guy who painted murals and did carpentry for La Rabida Children’s Hospital. I had no idea that Mark would be a fountain of fascinating stories.
For the next 25 years, he kept me supplied with one topic after another. He introduced me to Mexican immigrants living in Forest Park, who all came from the same village. He set up meetings with heroes of the progressive movement. He uncovered stories all over Forest Park but especially in Forest Home Cemetery. Mark lived only a few hundred yards from the cemetery and it was his favorite haunt. His main focus was the Haymarket Martyrs’ Monument.
I could count on him mentioning Haymarket every time we had lunch together. He would engage everyone, from the owner to the busboy, in conversation. Mark never missed an opportunity to make new friends. He would be the first to welcome a newcomer to his neighborhood. He was the neighbor who always made time to talk.
Mark was curious and wanted to get to the bottom of every story in Forest Park. He was just like his dad, Milton, who endlessly explored his neighborhood in Buffalo, New York.
Mark and his sisters had the coolest parents I’ve ever come across. They were nurturing and creative and taught their children to never stop fighting for social justice. He took on many one-sided battles and sometimes enlisted celebrities in his causes. He had dealings with Bono and Yoko but never bragged about his brushes with celebrity. Mark didn’t have a self-important bone in his body.
He didn’t talk about his impressive academic credentials either because he didn’t measure a person by how many letters they had after their name. Mark was not only humble, he was fun!
He had a gap-toothed grin that contained a hint of mischief. We enjoyed our share of mischief during our adventures. In the early days of the Iraq War, we held signs with anti-war messages on overpasses above the Eisenhower. Mark made the signs, of course. He also cranked out buttons. He believed short slogans could convey powerful messages.
I chronicled Mark’s achievements so often, an editor pleaded, “No more Mark Rogovin articles!” How could I stop? When I was teaching, he was my go-to guest speaker. The students were enthralled by Mark and the images he showed them. When we screened the documentary Picture Man, one student had tears streaming down her face as she gazed at Milton’s portraits of the poor.
He spoke to the students in his distinctive rasp and his laugh was contagious. He was the only person to address me as “Jonathan” and it made me feel special. He made everyone around him feel that way.
Mark didn’t discuss pop culture or sports. He preferred history and politics. We talked often because he made many unexpected visits. Without warning, he’d suddenly be standing in my living room. Once I heard hammering in my backyard. Without being asked, Mark was reinforcing my rickety back stairs.
The last outing we had, four of us from Forest Park drove to see Haymarket: A New Folk Musical. As the cast danced, sang and played their instruments, Mark was in his glory. I also cherish the memory of our last lunch together. I went to his house and was fortunate to find him on a ribs-only diet.
Mark and I feasted on ribs and shared laughs. His wit was as sharp as ever and I waited for him to zing me. He didn’t disappoint. Besides eating ribs, Mark was gorging on sweets. He stayed up late, eating Ferrara Pan candy and watching classic movies.
When our lunch was over, we were beaming at each other. I promised to make him ribs but they were still in the freezer when I heard of his passing. I was shocked and saddened like everyone else.
His wife, Michelle, received this reaction from the people she informed: Mark’s regular UPS driver hugged her and teared up. So did restaurant servers and business owners all over town. The touching tribute Michelle posted on Facebook went viral and she received messages from Mark fans around the world.
As for his final resting place, there was no question it would be near the Haymarket Martyrs’ Monument. Mark was instrumental in the placement of a bench facing the monument. Ted and Kathy Pearson purchased the plot and Mark designed the black granite bench. Its inscription reads, “Sit and Hear the Voices for Peace, Justice and Freedom.” Mark’s ashes will be placed there.
Whenever I miss Mark’s spirit, I can rest on that bench and gaze at his favorite spot on Earth.
I might even bring some ribs.
John Rice, who grew up in Oak Park, is a weekly columnist for our sister publication, the Forest Park Review.