Since its founding as just a single classroom in 1873, Oak Park and River Forest High School (OPRF) has grown into a cornerstone of the community, with its million-square-foot building, multiple athletic fields, and 3,400 active, engaged, energetic students. To mark the illustriousness of its 150th anniversary, OPRF is celebrating in a variety of ways throughout the 2023-2024 school year — and not just by looking back at the school’s many accolades.

OPRF also plans to demonstrate the school’s current impact with the Sesquicentennial Challenge, an effort to rally current and former Huskies around the world to log 150,000 hours of community service between July 1, 2023, and June 30, 2024.

Students, staff, parents, alumni, retirees, and Huskie supporters are invited to participate by volunteering for the cause of their choice and logging their hours through the OPRF website. To help promote the cause, alumni and the school’s Newscene student news class collaborated to produce a video ( featuring such notable alums such as Food Network star Jeff Mauro, Paralympics silver medalist John Register, and ABC-7 news reporter Evelyn Holmes.

Logged hours are at 3% of the goal so far, with volunteers involved in activities such as building bike-pedestrian trails in Wisconsin, taking care of goats at the Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site, and restoring the oyster population in New York Harbor.

‘Our Time to Grow’ mural

To commemorate the school’s sesquicentennial for generations to come, the Huskie Booster Club parent group donated $50,000 to create a mosaic mural on the west side of the school. OPRF art teacher and internationally recognized mosaic artist Tracy Van Duinen worked in partnership with local artist Carolyn Elaine and the Oak Park Area Arts Council’s Off the Wall program to bring the enormous piece from concept to finished work in just four months.

Each summer, Off the Wall hires young adults, age 16-22, to apprentice with master artists to design, construct, and install mosaic and bricolage murals in local communities, including several around Oak Park. This year the program put its funding toward employing 14 students and recent graduates, who designed and built the mural in sections in the OPRF auto shop over the summer.

A dedication of the mural is planned for Monday, Sept. 18, at 6:30 p.m., and all are welcome to attend.

Oak Park River Forest History Museum exhibit

On Oct. 4 at 7 p.m., the  Oak Park River Forest History Museum (129 Lake St., Oak Park) will host a grand opening for its exhibit “Ever-Changing, Yet the Same: OPRF High School at 150.”

For the next two years, the exhibit will feature memorabilia, yearbooks, school spirit wear from throughout the decades, photos, dance bids, scrapbooks, and a wide range of other artifacts that will help tell the rich story of OPRF, which enrolled its first students in 1873 in a classroom at Lake and Forest and graduated its first three alumni in 1877. The exhibit was developed with the assistance of a grant from the Oak Park and River Forest High School Alumni Association and in partnership with the Sesquicentennial Steering Committee, comprising faculty, staff, residents, students, and alumni.

The grand opening doubles as the first of monthly “A Night at the Museum” events to be held the first Wednesday night through May 2024; the series name is inspired by 1988 OPRF graduate and comedian Tom Lennon, who co-wrote the popular A Night at the Museum movies. The Nov. 1 Night at the Museum will focus on stories of the Science Fiction Club.

In addition, the museum’s annual Tale of the Tombstones walking tour of Forest Home Cemetery in Forest Park will use the sesquicentennial as its theme this year. The tour, held on Sunday, Oct. 15, at noon, will include the story of Walter Gale, one of the first three OPRF graduates; May Estelle Cook, a Tradition of Excellence inductee and graduate from the 1880s who taught at Austin High School for decades; and Dorothy Charlton Kerr, an OPRF basketball player from around 1904 who later was the first woman elected to the Oak Park Village Board in the 1930s.

Homecoming Weekend alumni events

All OPRF alumni are invited to join a walk-about on the stadium field before the Homecoming football game versus Downers Grove North on Friday, Sept. 22. Alums will gather at Lake Street and East Avenue at 6:15 p.m. and are invited to wear Huskie gear — especially vintage items — and bring pompons, pennants, etc., to show their school spirit. RSVPing will help organizers know how many folks to expect and from which classes.

On Saturday, Sept. 23, from 9:30 to 11 a.m., alumni can take a tour of the building and see the $40 million of renovations completed in the past several years, the most significant changes to the building since the late 1960s. Meet in the North Cafeteria.

Additional events

Other planned events include:

April 27: Alumni and Student Musical Revue
May 19: Huskie Pride Community Picnic and Celebration

Karin Sullivan is the OPRF High School communications director.

Join the discussion on social media!