The balloons are back!

Opinion: Columns

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By David Wick

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For those of you who remember your childhood days in Oak Park, Carmen Pistilli was a legend. Mr. Pistilli sold balloons on the corner of Oak Park and Chicago avenues for 50 years. On Sunday afternoons, the Balloon Man, with his colorful balloons, was always cause for jubilation among the children of Oak Park.

It has been almost 30 years since Mr. Pistilli stood on this corner, but a lifelong resident of Oak Park will restore that tradition this Saturday in the same spot where Mr. Pistilli stood, selling balloons. I'll be there for two reasons: The first is to bring back the nostalgic days of Oak Park and share the story of the Balloon Man with anyone who is willing to listen. The primary focus, though, will be to raise funds for an iconic Oak Park institution — Hephzibah Children's Association. All proceeds from this sale will benefit Hephzibah, and its mission "To help children thrive and families flourish through innovative, community-based programs" (Hephzibah website). As a member of the Oak Park Auxiliary Board for Hephzibah, I believe strongly in its mission.

One day as I drove past the corner of Oak Park and Chicago, I remembered the man who sold balloons for so many years and thought it would be great to bring back this tradition. And why not tie it into a charitable cause such as Hephzibah? I spoke with the owner of the home on that corner, who supported the event. I then went to the village to obtain a permit to sell (solicitors are only allowed to sell on Saturdays and not Sundays) and then went to the Oak Park River Forest Museum to research the story behind Mr. Pistilli and his balloons. 

The last step is selling the balloons. Twelve different varieties of Mylar balloons, geared toward children, will be offered. Each balloon costs $5. Free-will donations will be graciously accepted. Meanwhile, I will share the stories of both Carmen Pistilli and Hephzibah, as well as listen to any memories you might wish to share. I previously hosted a balloon sale at this site in September. He was happy to tell the story of both Carmen Pistilli and Hephzibah. We had good success with sales and hope to do even better this Saturday.

In the end, I'm hoping to raise funds for a worthy cause like Hephzibah and reminisce about Oak Park, bringing back a piece of Oak Park's folklore. It should be fun. If you have any questions, feel free to email me at 

Saturday, Oct. 20 (rain or shine), 11 a.m.-3 p.m., northwest corner, Oak Park and Chicago avenues, $5 for each balloon, proceeds to Hephzibah Children's Association.

Reader Comments

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Mauna Shanti  

Posted: October 27th, 2018 9:47 PM

Yes! I remember it being on Sundays. Magical.

Dick McKinlay  

Posted: October 17th, 2018 4:39 PM

Good job David! I have warm memories of the Balloon Man's long-time presence on that corner, and appreciate your tribute on behalf of Hepzibah. Carmen would have been pleased.

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