Now living in assisted living in Norridge, one Oak Park woman’s dream came true when she took a very special tour of all her old neighborhood haunts last month. Courtesy of the “Dream Adventures” program, 102-year-old Jean LaFruit returned to Oak Park and River Forest, where she lived almost her entire life, and visited the houses she lived in, the school and the churches she attended, and some of her other favorite spots.
“Dream Adventures” started in 2019, when Central Baptist Village (CBV), an assisted living residence facility, asked its residents what they would do if they could take a trip in the community’s new wheelchair-accessible van. Their widely varied responses became the basis of the program.
One resident chose to tour Wrigley Field, while another opted to spend a day shopping at the mall with her girlfriends. The “Dream Adventure” for one resident, a former folk-dance instructor and bolo tie aficionado, was having friends perform for his birthday.
LaFruit just wanted to go home to Oak Park, where she was born and where she raised her family.
“I was touched that going to Oak Park was Jean’s adventure trip,” said CBV CEO Dawn Mondschein.
An Oak Parker herself, Mondschein accompanied LaFruit on her Oak Park outing.
“How lucky I am to live in a town that someone would want to visit as a dream adventure,” Mondschein said.
Mondschein, LaFruit’s sons John and Michael, chauffeur David Zeno and Becca Galuska, CBV director of Life Enrichment, also accompanied the wheelchair-bound LaFruit.
“We went by Hatch School,” said John, who lives in River Forest. “When she went to school there, there was a pond where they used to catch pollywogs.”
Hard to imagine now, but when LaFruit attended Hatch, the area just north of the school was nothing but farmland, according to John.
Over the course of LaFruit’s 100 years in the area, she lived in many homes, which the group took her to visit, including the house in which she was born, located on Maple Avenue by the Eisenhower Expressway.
“My grandfather built that house and that’s where she was born,” John said.
The group then traveled to the home LaFruit was raised in on Lombard Avenue. Later in her life, she lived in a house on Cuyler Avenue, which they also visited.
“I don’t know if you can believe this or not, but they bought that home on Cuyler in 1940 for $6,000,” John said.
She also lived in River Forest for a time, so they took her to see that home as well.
LaFruit and company also paid their respects to her parents, laid to rest in Forest Park’s Forest Home Cemetery.
A stay-at-home mother of five children, she worked hard caring for her family, growing vegetables in their backyard.
“My mother was a tremendous cook,” her son said.
When she could, LaFruit also helped out at her husband’s business downtown.
“She worked as hard as my father,” John said. “Once the kids left home, she was downtown with him all the time.”
Kind and friendly, she also had a lot of fun spending time with her girlfriends.
“Until she was about 92, she’d pick up the girls and they’d go play cards in River Forest,” John said.
Now that she is unable to live independently, he is grateful for the care and kindness his mother receives at CBV.
“I have nothing but good things to say about that home,” John said.
Due to her advanced age, LaFruit doesn’t speak much anymore, but her son said the trip was a “very good experience.”
“Our mission is to serve and celebrate seniors,” Mondschein said. “It touches my heart to make a special wish come true for our residents.”