A tree for Redd Griffin

Opinion: Obituaries

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This Saturday, Aug. 22 at 11 a.m., a tree will be planted in Scoville Park for Redd Griffin, a renaissance man who celebrated Oak Park.

Appropriately, the Park District of Oak Park will not be planting just any tree. It was grown from an acorn harvested from one of Oak Park's old-growth oaks, part of a program called the Historic Oaks Preservation Project (HOPP), a collaboration between Morton Arboretum and Oak Park Openlands TreeKeepers to propagate some of Oak Park's 200- to 300-year-old pre-European settlement oak trees. Back in April, on Arbor Day in fact, HOPP and the park district planted 18 descendents of these historic oaks in Scoville Park in honor of Oak Park's designation as an arboretum. 

According to Kathryn Jonas, one of the projects organizers, "A grove of oaks was planted on either side of the WWI memorial that meant so much to Redd. We selected a tree on the east side and a memorial plaque will be installed before Aug 22. It will read 'Redd Griffin 1938 - 2012, A Public Thinker Who Gave Generously to the People of Oak Park.'"

Jonas met with Mary Jo Griffin, Redd's wife, to choose the tree.

At the dedication, one of Redd's sons, along with Historical Society Executive Director Frank Lipo, Hemingway board chair emeritus Ginny Cassin, and close friend Rose Meyer will offer 2 minute testimonials of their recollections of Redd.

Why is Redd Griffin worth all this fuss? Here's some of what we wrote in his obituary in 2012:

Redd died unexpectedly of a heart condition on Nov. 20, 2012 at Rush Oak Park Hospital. He was 73. Writing the obituaries of most people, it is difficult to encompass them. With Redd Griffin, it is impossible.

He taught history at Morton East and West high schools. A lifelong Republican, he served a term as state representative in Springfield in the early 1980s. He was Oak Park's greatest champion of Ernest Hemingway, serving on the board of the local Hemingway Foundation, which he co-founded in 1983. He was also a co-founder of the Wright Trust in the 1970s and the Historical Society of Oak Park-River Forest in the 1960s. He was married to his loyal life partner, Mary Jo, for 42 years. They had two sons and two grandsons and lived in their home on Kenilworth Avenue with the beloved back deck where Redd held court with guests late into the evening (and early into the morning).

And none of that even begins to define him.

Redd attended Bishop Quarter Military Academy, located in the building that first housed Oak Park High School at East Avenue and Lake Street, and the truncated version of which now serves as the home of Stephanie Clemens' Academy of Movement and Music. During his time at Bishop Quarter, he commuted from Chicago State Mental Hospital (now Chicago-Read Mental Health Center) on North Oak Park Avenue, where his father was the superintendent and the Griffin family lived on the grounds. In later years, they moved to River Forest.

He attended OPRF High School for two years in the mid-1950s, then gained early admission to Shimer College, an experimental school based on the ideas of the University of Chicago's legendary president Robert Maynard Hutchins. There he became a lifelong devotee of Hutchins' Great Books program.

He served in U.S. Army Intelligence in Berlin during the early 1960s, when the Wall went up. He was there during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 and heard Kennedy's "Ich bin ein Berliner" speech. He experienced a profound spiritual conversion in Berlin, which he described as a mystical experience.

He worked for WTTW in the 1950s, and managed to have a private conversation with Frank Lloyd Wright as he waited for a televised interview. On a trip to California, he managed to track down and visit author John Steinbeck. He was still on the WTTW Community Advisory Board when he died.

He served a stint with the City News Bureau.

He was a Republican who was also a proponent of alternative medicine and vegan restaurants. And he cultivated friendships with local liberals like Tom Ard and the late Journal columnist Francis J. Walsh (not to mention a certain current columnist with Wednesday Journal).

He became state representative just as the effort to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution came to a head and a vote.

He and Mary Jo were avid supporters of Alcuin, the first Montessori school in the village, where they enrolled their two sons.

After retiring from Morton, he continued to teach courses at Triton College and Holley Court Terrace. He also gave presentations through Elderhostel.

He was a board member of the Illinois State Historical Society and was just about to join the board of the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame. He was also a recipient of the Senior Citizens Center's Ulyssean Award for his many contributions to the community.

He wrote and collaborated on readers theater productions and led Hemingway discussion groups for the foundation.

He established relationships with the Hemingway and Wright family and coordinated visits to Oak Park and River Forest by members of both — when he died, he was coordinating a visit by Ernie's grandson, Sean Hemingway.

Redd Griffin was a lifelong learner, a lifelong educator, and a master integrator of our past and present, finding value and meaning in it all. His heart was as expansive as his mind.

In addition to Mary Jo, Redd is survived by his sons, Daniel (Sarah) and Timothy Griffin; his grandsons, James and Reid Griffin; and his siblings, Michael Griffin and Marnie (Joseph) Fretty.

For the full text, go to OakPark.com http://www.oakpark.com/News/Articles/11-20-2012/Remembering-Redd/

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