Betty White was the virtual guest of honor during the Be Like Betty celebration at the Lake Theatre on Jan. 15, honoring the Oak Park native’s centennial. | FILE

You are not alone if you have found yourself scratching your head, wondering, “What even happened this year?” With the back-to-back-to-back holidays, it’s hard to think of much else this time of year but the next celebration. Memories from the previous months seem to fall from the brain like snowflakes from the sky, leaving vague confusion in their place.

A lot did transpire in 2022, however, and for those trying to piece together all that happened, Wednesday Journal has made it easy for you. Let’s revisit some of the year’s top stories, beginning, of course, with the year’s beginning:

Oak Park found itself in the national spotlight in January, as the world mourned the death of beloved icon Betty White, who was born at West Suburban Medical Center on Jan. 17, 1922 and died Dec. 31, 2021. To celebrate her life on what would have been her centennial birthday, roughly 500 fans of the comedic actress flocked to downtown Oak Park for a special event in White’s honor sponsored by Growing Community Media, Wednesday Journal’s parent company. The “Be Like Betty” event included a pop-up pet adoption by the Animal Care League and a rendition of “Thank You for Being a Friend” by River Forest resident Cindy Fee, whose cover of the tune served as the “Golden Girls” theme song.

Kevin Jackson, Oak Park Village Manager | Provided

February saw both the arrival and departure of some major taxing body administrators in Oak Park. After narrowing down the search to three candidates for Oak Park village manager, a fourth finalist was announced Feb. 1 in a move that took the public by surprise. That fourth candidate, Kevin Jackson, accepted the job less than two weeks later, beating out the internal candidate, Deputy Village Manager Lisa Shelley, who had been serving as interim village manager. Jackson was sworn in Feb. 22. As Oak Park welcomed Jackson, the community bid adieu to the Oak Park Public Library’s long-time executive director. David Seleb announced he was retiring from the position, which he had held for almost a decade. Seleb, who was integral in establishing the OPPL’s equity and inclusivity efforts, served his last day as executive director on Feb. 25.

While the Oak Park village board sparred over plans for a sustainability incubator and made efforts to engage the community in developing the village’s climate action plan in March, more staffing shakeups were on the horizon. Oak Park Police Chief LaDon Reynolds announced March 25 he was retiring from the department. He would later go on to accept a position as a U.S. Marshal, but at the time, he was characteristically taciturn about his future plans.

The Oak Park village board also set to work dishing out its share of American Rescue Plan Act funds to community groups. Roughly $3.5 million of the $38.9 million provided to Oak Park village government was committed March 14 to various organizations, including $1 million to the Park District of Oak Park. Not long after, the park district broke ground March 22 on its net-zero community recreation center.

Oak Park had a police-filled April. Representatives of BerryDunn, the consulting firm hired to conduct an assessment of the Oak Park Police Department, told the village board on April 4 that the final report would be released sometime in late August – a deadline they ultimately did not meet. At that same meeting, the village board voted to set up eight controversial automatic license plate reading cameras in Oak Park. The decision was made without the input of BerryDunn, citizen commissions or the public.

Reynolds retired from the Oak Park Police Department April 15. The previous day, Deputy Chief Shatonya Johnson, already the department’s highest-ranking female officer, was named interim police chief.

First United Church of Oak Park got some police action in April too. Several conservative media outlets spread the news that the church was “fasting from whiteness.” The church’s clergy and laity received such significant harassment for its Lenten theme that Oak Park police cars were stationed outside the church.

Things warmed up in May, starting with Oak Park village board members’ tempers over the possibility of putting in a public restroom somewhere downtown. While the proposed self-cleaning models ranged in cost from around $181,300 to half a million dollars, Trustee Ravi Parakkat told his fellow board members the expense would render Oak Park too expensive to live in, making it “exactly the trend that will push [residents] out of the community.”

Parakkat further critiqued the plan by questioning staff’s lack of metrics for measuring the commode’s success. This prompted an incredulous reaction from Trustee Arti Walker-Peddakotla, who responded, “I don’t know what the success metrics for this are – how many people go pee in a bathroom?” Walker-Peddakotla said. “That’s just a wild question to me.”

Reggie delivers mail on Thursday, May 26, along his route in Oak Park. | Alex Rogals

Hearts were warmed by beloved postal carrier Reggie Love, whose retirement spurred an outpouring of love and displays of appreciation. Love spent 28 of his 30-year mail delivery career carrying mail in Oak Park.

Later that month, just around midnight on Memorial Day, a shooting broke out among patrons of Berwyn bar Mike’s Place, that carried over into Oak Park, terrifying residents. One man, a registered gun owner, was arrested for reckless discharge of a weapon after he shot after another vehicle, chasing it from Berwyn through Oak Park. He gave up the chase to take his companion, who had been shot twice in the leg by someone in the other vehicle, to the hospital.

June saw two more shootings in Oak Park. While the village was still recovering from the shock of the vehicular shootout over the holiday weekend, 32 shell casings were recovered June 6 from a different shooting, this time near Austin Gardens at Forest Avenue and Ontario Street. No injuries were reported.

Later that month, hearts were broken by the murder of recent Oak Park and River Forest High School graduate Jailyn Logan-Bledsoe, who was fatally shot in the head at 1:45 a.m., June 22 in the parking lot of the BP gas station at 100 Chicago Ave. The 18-year-old was a passionate activist, who was described as a “fierce and brilliant young leader.”

Two siblings, respectively 21 and 17 years old, were charged in July with first-degree murder for Logan-Bledsoe’s death, but that was not the last of the discussions surrounding the safety of 24-hour gas stations. Logan-Bledsoe’s murder served as a catalyst for those fed up with the violent crime occurring at 24-hour gas stations to demand change.

Later in July, Oak Park police were busy investigating another shooting death, that of 41-year-old Chicago resident Terrence Roebuck, who was found unresponsive in the 100 block of Lake Street on July 23.

In August, Oak Park was abuzz with the news that a new Dom’s Kitchen and Market was expected to fill the beautiful and historic, but long-vacant Marshall Field and Company store, 1144 Lake St.

Danielle Walker made Oak Park history Aug. 16, coming on board as the village’s first ever chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer. The St. Louis native was chosen after a lengthy search that began in April.

The good news was perhaps overshadowed by the resignation of Trustee Arti Walker-Peddakotla, who handed in her notice Aug. 18, citing mental and physical health problems related to her being in elected office. Defiant or resolute, depending on who you asked, Walker-Peddakotla was known for her dedication to mental health services, racial equity and the abolition of police.

To sweeten a deal for Dom’s Kitchen and Market, the village board entered into a 20-year sales tax sharing agreement Sept. 6 with the high-end food and beverage retailer. Under the agreement, Dom’s and the village would split local sales tax revenue 50-50. Sadly, it was announced Sept. 30 that Dom’s had backed out of the deal and would not be opening an Oak Park location.

Not forgetting what happened in June, the Oak Park village board made strides to eliminate violent crime at gas stations by passing an ordinance Sept. 19 that effectively banned them from operating 24 hours a day. Gas station owners are currently disputing the ordinance in a lawsuit against the Village of Oak Park filed Sept. 30.

Joslyn Bowling Dixon

October was a time for new faces in Oak Park. Joslyn Bowling Dixon became the new executive director of the Oak Park Public Library and Cory Wesley was appointed to the village board to fulfill the remainder of Walker-Peddakotla’s term. Wesley previously ran for village trustee in 2019.

Early Oct. 14, the Oak Park police force successfully ended an 18-and-a-half-hour standoff with an at-risk individual who had been experiencing a mental health crisis.  Patience paid off when the individual surrendered himself and was taken to a local hospital for a mental health evaluation. Neither the individual nor any citizens or police were harmed during the standoff and the areas surrounding the 1100 block of Harlem Avenue were reopened to traffic.

Not long after, Interim Chief Shatonya Johnson was appointed chief of the Oak Park Police Department.

Shatonya Johnson, Oak Park police chief (Village of Oak Park)

 A temporary restraining order preventing the Village of Oak Park from enforcing its ban on 24-hour gas stations was rescinded Nov. 11 by a Cook County Circuit Court judge. The restraining order had been issued 11 days after the village adopted the ordinance back in September. 

In a lighter piece about Oak Park village board members, Wednesday Journal explored Trustee Jim Taglia’s love of clocks. The veteran trustee has about 30 different clocks, including an antique 7-foot-tall grandfather clock.

Resilience Healthcare took over operations of West Suburban hospital Dec. 3, after reaching a final sales agreement with Pipeline Healthcare. The process of selling the hospital, along with Weiss Memorial Hospital in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood, to Resilience Healthcare began back in March.

Right before Christmas, another shooting caused a frenzy in Oak Park. The gunfire stemmed from an altercation between patrons of Distro Music Hall in Berwyn. Two were injured in the shooting, several individuals were detained, and one firearm was recovered.

If you’re exhausted from reliving 2022, who could blame you? COVID-19 has seemingly loosened its grip, but the year wasn’t exactly smooth sailing, despite Oak Park resident Jasmin Washington placing second in a sailing championship last August. Allow yourself a moment of respite. A nap never did hurt anyone. And if 2023 proves to be anything like its predecessor, rest will be needed.

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