After two years with not much to celebrate, summer events are back in Oak Park and River Forest. The summer event season launches on Monday with the return of River Forest’s Memorial Day parade. It steps off at 9:30 a.m. with 100 participating groups. The parade travels south on Ashland from Augusta and heads toward Lake Street where it culminates at Keystone Park with a ceremony and the traditional free hot dog picnic.

Oak Park is hosting a full schedule of summer events. The village is kicking off with the mostly annual “A Day in Our Village,” followed by Juneteenth. Fourth of July rounds out the season’s festivities.

The “A Day in Our Village” celebration is right around the corner, scheduled for June 5 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Scoville Park and Mills Park. Attendees can expect fun activity booths from local businesses and institutions, including Wednesday Journal, as well as food and live music. The inaugural “A Day in Our Village” event was held in 1973 and has only been canceled three times – the first in 1975 due to a shortage of volunteers. Like other community events, COVID-19 caused the cancelation of “A Day in Our Village” two days in a row, but Village President Vicki Scaman is excited to see it back on the calendar.

“I am very excited and grateful for all the volunteers,” said Scaman.

The village will celebrate Juneteenth with a parade and picnic June 19. The parade will start at 11 a.m. near Jackson Boulevard and then march north on Ridgeland Avenue to Augusta. A community-wide picnic at Taylor Park will follow. A special flag-raising ceremony is also being held in honor of Juneteenth at noon, June 11 in the courtyard of village hall.

Juneteenth became a nationally recognized holiday last year with President Joe Biden’s signing of the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act. The village of Oak Park formally recognized the holiday the year before, with a proclamation read by Juanta Griffin, Oak Park Public Library multicultural learning coordinator.

Griffin and community organizer Anthony Clark have been instrumental in planning Juneteenth celebrations in Oak Park. This year is no different.

“Juneteenth celebrated in Oak Park speaks to the relentless efforts of longtime resident Juanta Griffin who collaborated with community activist Anthony Clark to bring the village its first Juneteenth celebration,” said Village Trustee Chibuike Enyia.

Enyia has been involved in planning this year’s Juneteenth celebration, as has the village’s Community Relations Commission, which he serves as its village board liaison. It is the first year the commission has gotten involved in Juneteenth.

Summer would not be complete without Fourth of July fireworks, something the village had to forego the previous two years due to COVID-19-prompted restrictions on in-person gatherings. This year, fireworks are back on in Oak Park, but first comes the traditional parade beginning at 10 a.m., July 4 at Longfellow Park before heading north on Ridgeland.

When the sun sets on Independence Day, look to the sky to continue celebrations. The village’s Fourth of July firework display has been paid for each year by community sponsors. This year, the person or people behind the fireworks display is a mystery. An anonymous donor made a financial contribution through Visit Oak Park to co-sponsor this year’s firework display alongside the village of Oak Park, with the anonymous donor paying for the larger share of expenses, according to Scaman. The final donation amount has not been finalized but will likely be between $20,000 and $25,000. The village and park district will handle staffing and clean-up costs.

It is likely this will be the village’s last ever Fourth of July fireworks display. As the village moves toward becoming a more sustainable community, fireworks will likely get the ax in favor of more environmentally friendly light shows. Light shows, unlike fireworks, will also cause zero damage to turf, which Oak Park and River Forest High School plans to eventually lay down on some of its athletic fields.

“Unfortunately we didn’t have time to pull that off for this year,” Scaman said of a 2022 Fourth of July light show.

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