Congratulations to the Historical Society of Oak Park-River Forest for a wonderful celebration of two outstanding women. The Heart of Our Villages Award presentation at the Carleton Hotel on Nov. 21 was a festive way to honor Sherlynn Reid and Chatka Ruggiero, who truly deserved the recognition as individuals who have made Oak Park and River Forest better places to live and work with their volunteerism, activism and community spirit.

As president of the Historical Society, Peggy Tuck Sinko took the opportunity to brag not only about her first grandchild but also about the Oak Park River Forest Museum, which earlier in the week had been honored with an Award of Excellence by the Illinois Association of Museums for the current exhibit, “Open House: Fifty Years of Fair Housing in Oak Park.” If you haven’t seen the exhibit yet, I encourage you to visit. It will give context to the struggles for equity that continue to this day. 

The Reid family is featured in the exhibit, as the first African-American family to purchase a house in Oak Park using a conventional mortgage. (To learn why that’s important, visit the exhibit!) In his introduction to her, Ken Trainor called Sherlynn one of “the three R’s” (Reids, Robinets, and Registers) who broke down barriers and built community. Her many years of service as director of community relations for the village helped ensure that a culture of inclusiveness took root. 

And though many of us know Chatka for her work with the Animal Care League, Carlotta Lucchesi was quick to point out that Chatka also broke barriers. Many in the audience shook their heads upon hearing that Chatka needed her husband’s signature on loan papers when she bought her first building. She would go on to own more rental units than anyone in Oak Park, improving these aging buildings along the way. 

I hope the Historical Society will continue to present these awards for many years. It would be nice to think that the number of people who meet the criteria for them increases as time passes, so that the selection committee is never faced with the question, “Who deserves this?” but must always struggle with “Which individual shall we choose this year?”

Mary Ann Porucznik

Oak Park

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