The Senior Citizens Center of Oak Park-River Forest will honor Mary Kay O’Grady, Charles Williams and Robert K. (Bob) Downs at the 18th annual Ulyssean Awards Dinner on Sept. 24. The award, inspired by the hero of Homer’s “Odyssey,” celebrates individuals for their commitment to leadership and service in their elder years.
Mary Kay O’Grady started her career as a high school English teacher eager to spread her passion for writing. She eventually developed an interest in public relations, forming her own firm, the O’Grady Group. She also headed communications for several years at Oak Park and River Forest High School. O’Grady is also a longtime contributor to Wednesday Journal. Her column, “Aging Disgracefully,” offers a humorous take on aging in addition to political and social commentary. O’Grady, who developed her political views through her participation in 1960s era Civil Rights movement, is particularly passionate about issues surrounding race and gun ownership.
For 37 years. Charles Williams owned Oak Park-based Drechsler, Brown & Williams Funeral Home. The funeral home, at Marion and Pleasant streets, will close soon. It is the last funeral home in Oak Park. He is also a past president of the Oak Park-River Forest Rotary Club and a former chair of its foundation. In retirement, he hopes to volunteer for a non-profit organization.
Bob Downs was born in Oak Park and grew up pursuing a career where he could make a meaningful impact on his community. During his time at Stetson University School of Law, he became involved with Civil Rights activism in Florida. Upon graduation, he moved back to Chicago, where he continued his participation in social justice by helping establish 15 legal aid clinics and working to end housing and mortgage lending discrimination in Oak Park. Downs also has over 50 years of family law experience, and currently offers legal services to local residents at his firm, Downs Law Offices PC.
When asked to reflect on his career, Downs said “the number one enjoyment of being a lawyer is that it has enabled me to help people. And I can hold my head up and say I’m doing something meaningful.” In addition to his other efforts, Downs was president of the Illinois State Bar Association and the founding chair of Wednesday Journal’s board of directors.
Initially chartered in 1954 by Oak Parkers seeing a social and creative outlet, the Senior Citizens Center is the oldest senior center in Illinois. Early programs were hosted at Mills House, now known as Pleasant Home, but the center eventually moved to the Oak Park Arms.
Today, through a partnership with the Park District of Oak Park, the senior center is housed within the Dole Center on Augusta Blvd. Classes are offered in a variety of creative arts, including ceramics, weaving, lapidary, painting, stained glass and more. The Ulyssean Awards were started in 2003 during the 50th anniversary of the Oak Park River Forest Senior Center and proceeds from this year’s event will go toward additional art materials and membership financial aid.
This year’s event is particularly significant, as it is the first Ulyssean Dinner to be held in the Pleasant Home. Cocktails and dinner will be served at 6:30 with the program starting at 7:30. The ceremony will also be available on Zoom for those unable to attend in person. For tickets and additional information, call 708-383-8167.