This is an Oral History of Park Forest Interview with Mrs. Elaine Garretson, in her home on August 30, 1980.
The interviewer is Cecelia Anderson.
Q. Mrs. Garretson, can you give me the date that you came to Park Forest, and from where, and why?
A. Well, we arrived in November of 1949 and we came from the small town of Hamilton, Illinois, downstate where Jim practiced law in a County Seat at Carthage. He decided he wanted to try the big city for practicing law, which he did on his own, and this was extremely daring, but he did it and we all came with him. It was coming home for me because I was raised in Wilmette and had gone to Northwestern and then out to Drake where I met Jim when he was in law school and had gone from there down to his home town of Hamilton and he practiced law. The reason we came was because he wanted to tackle the big city. Also, my parents were here and I wanted to come back. So, we came in with four little, tiny children and no money. We had trouble with trying to find a place to live, and it just happened that my mother, who lived in Evanston, had seen an ad for Park Forest where they quote, unquote, “welcomed children.” So we drove endlessly – I didn’t know there was so much area in Chicago – down to Park Forest. J im had already rented an apartment and I went back home and got packed up and we came up here.
Q. Very good.
A. So, we moved – we were the first ones in this apartment and we’re still here!
A. We’ve never moved out of it. We moved from a 10 room house into this and Jim was so relieved, we never got out. But, anyway, we moved in and the floors were not finished. We had to seal them and wax them. They give us very specific directions how to do it – no varnish, no shellacking, you had to get down and really wax, which we did.
Q. That was your responsibility?
A. Right. We had the tub with paper all over it and kids to bathe, you know, and stickers on all the windows – then walked in with two cases of the mumps.
Q. Oh, no.
A. So, immediately, we had to get in touch with a doctor. The doctors at that time were two pediatricians,
Dr. Lis and Dr. Marienthal, who were marvelous, marvelous men. They would come to your house and examine your child and would stay, maybe, for a cup of coffee. It was just delightful. So, that you really got to know your doctor and they knew your children and this was very nice.
Q. Were these doctors residents of Park Forest or were -- ?
A. Yes. At that time they were and there was, of course, nothing here but he rentals, these units. And then, eventually, they both left, Dr. Lis went into research and Dr. Marienthal went out to Frankfort. So, upon their heels came the famous trio of Lesser, Goldberg, and Brown. Well, Goldberg and Brown are still practicing pediatricians. They’re in the Heights now. But, anyway, they came in and well, I was going to mention that, I think it was 1951 and 1952, we had a terrible polio scare and this involved the courts a great deal because everybody was panicky, everybody was frightened. In 1951 there were three deaths in this court.
Q. Oh, my!
A. I think there were nine cases of polio and nobody knew how it happened. You’d look out your back window and see a little clump of your neighbors standing and talking and you’d know there was another case.
Well, we got through that year. Many people moved out. The next year our youngest got polio and so we had a long tussle with it. There must have been a great deal of it in Park Forest. We had a physical therapist by the name of Alma Mega, who was terrific. She would come to the home and work with the child in anyway it needed help, but there were so many cases that she started a South Suburban Therapy Center, physical therapy center in Chicago Heights and we attended that for five straight years. It was a very scary thing. We don’t have to go through that now with the Salk Vaccine.
So, anyway, getting back to the courts, it was a really kind of fun thing because everybody knew everybody else within the court. We were all new. People came from all over the country and the doors were open. It was before the time when women were seeking work. They were home; with their kids. We all had come from different backgrounds. It was interesting to get to know them. There would be coffee every morning, some place or other and every Saturday night you had a party, some place in the court. Sometimes they had court parties out in what was called a “tot yard”. They had a fence with a sand-pile in it and swings and teeter-totters. And, we would just put lanterns around it and have a party.
Q. That’s beautiful.
A. It was a very nice, small community within a community. Okay. We used to have to shop in Chicago Heights and a lot of us didn’t have a car during the day so you would wait on a street corner, somebody would pick you up, and you’d go in and do your shopping. (Laughter). Also you have to do your laundry, if you didn’t have a washing machine, so you had to go into the Heights to do that. The first store in Park Forest was a liquor store, right? (Laughter) Mr. Taradash’s store. It was the first building built in the Plaza and the liquor store in it. Where Sears is now, Forest Boulevard went right straight through, and there were units such as this one on Forest Boulevard and in there was a grocery store. That was the first grocery store. They didn’t have much, milk and bread and a few little things.
Also, in that unit, were the first doctors’ offices, and also buildings like this that were the first schools, called the Forest Boulevard School. And, they had kindergarten on the second floor, and first grade on the first floor. The first library was in that unit – the first public library. Some women just organized it. There was a need for this. It was just beautiful, you know, how as needs came along for our children, we kept developing things. We developed a town out of it. We had a nursery school, which was run by a very nice lady by the name of Elizabeth Waldmann. Her husband had been in the original builder’s company, ACB, and had died. She started this nursery school which was in a little building down at the corner of 26th and Western, on the northeast corner. It was a little white house. It became “The Center”, because there was no place else for a meeting. Elizabeth’s nursery school was used after nursery school, for meetings of the League of Women Voters and at night for town meetings. The first Village Hall was an old farm house, across the street from there, so between these two, we had places to meet.
Q. The public buildings?
A. They were the public buildings. Well, my little one went to the nursery school and also we started our first Unitarian Sunday School there.
Q. Was the Unitarian Church the first church?
A. Uh um.
Q. And who was the minister there?
A. Well, there wasn’t a minister at the beginning. My father and mother had retired here from Evanston. They were Unitarians, I wanted a Unitarian situation for my children because I had been raised Unitarian. So, my father brought Randolph Hilton down here who was in the Unitarian Organization and we met with several people out here who were interested. Georgiana Ragor, who lives in Matteson now, and we decided that the way to start it was with just a Sunday School for the children and then see what would happen. We had marvelous people teaching these children, really good, devoted people who were fine with the children. Then out of the Sunday School grew a fellowship for the adults. We met in homes in the evening. It was from the fellowship that we finally decided to get a minister. Then we got the building in the Heights, that we had for years. They just recently sold it and now they’re back meeting in schools (laughter), it just went in a circle – a full circle.
A. Now, let’s see what else do I need to tell you at this point?
Q. Are you familiar with the Burgle Hospital?
A. No, I’m not. I really don’t remember anything about that. I was, incidentally, Dr. Walter Abram’s first patient out here and I have seen him all the way through his career. He retired last year. I was his first patient and the first one he took to Ingalls’ Memorial, where I had a miscarriage. (laughter) That was rather interesting, too, not the miscarriage, but the fact he actually came to my house, and sat with me for an hour before – you know, holding my hand, pacifying me, before he decided I had to go into the hospital.
Q. Yes, the comfort.
A. It was just to good and just the kind of thing we don’t get any more.
Q. That’s true. You don’t know anything about the first police force, then?
A. No, I’d have to leave that to Jim, who probably would know more about that; that was his area. I very carefully have stayed out of politics and the law.(laughter)
Q. Well, tell me something abut the Playhouse.
A. All right. I was just going to add one more thing about schools. In the early days, you know, our children that got beyond the sixth grade didn’t have any place to go except Chicago Heights. My oldest girl went to the Washington School and then to Bloom, so that our contacts in the Heights were pretty special at that time because we had children in school there. At one time I remember a group of women here decided that our Bloom children should have a teenage sort of canteen thing, and that was one of the first of that type thing that was developed at all in this town and we had to do it very economically. I think we had it at Lakewood School and had a record [player] for dancing, you know, and refreshments. That was very early. Then, they built Rich East. I remember also during that period, they had children’s contests. They had one in the high school about the political meanings of what America means to you. Our oldest daughter won the prize, a typewriter was given to her at an assembly at Rich East by Senator Paul Douglas.
A. That was quite an event! Because we got Senator Paul Douglas down here, for one thing.
Q. That’s right.
A. They had a village-wide Father’s Day Contest, “Why I Love My Father,” some such thing, and our son Peter won that. He won a bicycle, which he gave to his sister because he had one. (laugher)
Q. Oh, that’s beautiful.
A. I just had to add that!
Park Forest Playhouse. We had been here one week when in a sheet called The Reporter, which was started as one sheet, there was a little notice that said anyone interested in forming a little theater group called Fode Wright, F-o-d-e-W-r-i-g-h-t. Well, I had majored in drama and had done some work in it before, so this was right up my alley. I called her immediately and we had a sort of a formation meeting, a lot of people turned up. People from New York, California, all around, that were newly situated here. So we decided that we would put on plays, without any money, of course. The only way we could do it was to start out very simply. We did it for free. We would do – I don’t know how many plays we did, but we did several selections from plays and one-act plays over at Jones Memorial Center in their big room, in the basement. We would invite people to see what we could do, and then we would charge 25 cents for refreshments that was the first thing that ever Park Forest Playhouse did. Then we started getting larger and more ambitious and we had to form teams to go out and sell tickets. We would cover all of Park Forest, which wasn’t a lot then, but we knocked from door to door and sold ourselves and tickets. We got enough people to attend our plays, so that we could pay the royalty on a play, we rented the Washington School Auditorium, which is where we performed for years and years and years. So, that was the start of it!
Q. So, then you supplied all – you supplied your own costumes, and you supplied your own makeup and –
A. We did it with so little money, you can’t believe it.
Q. You probably didn’t have scenery?
A. We had scenery, but we started out very, very simply and then as we went along and made more money, it all went back into the theater. We happened to have some very ingenious people who were competent in sewing, or makeup, or something. So, anyhow, we did – oh, I can’t tell you how many plays. I directed 27 plays myself. So, you can tell there were a lot of them.
Q. Which was your favorite?
A. I think, “Oh Dad, Poor Dad” was my favorite. I loved that play. And then I was in a lot of them. I was in seven plays. Park Forest Playhouse did a children’s program, too and for a number of years and along with CCT produced children’s plays – this was good. The children had a chance to see live theater.
Q. What is CCT?
A. Children’s Community Theater.
Q. I see.
A. So, we had really for a long time a very good program going with a very good audience. There were ups and downs, of course, because grassroots theater is always difficult. But, the thing that was important about Playhouse to me was the fact that it was a group enterprise and everybody was creatively pulling together for a final artistic performance, so that you had company, and fun, and friendship, but with a purpose. Now, the artistic quality wasn’t always good, but that didn’t matter because everybody really did try. There were different levels of a creativity so that everybody had some contribution that they could make. If you made up one face for one performance, you felt that it had to be good for the all-over picture. It got a lot of people involved, and also there were – there was an intensity of personal reaction created – this created a growth spot for friction and the solution of friction, which was very interesting. It became a very maturing thing, because, by golly, if somebody did a beautiful set, and the lighting brought out the set but the makeup on the actors was washed out by this lighting, there was friction. You had to see the actor or else what’s the use of the play. There would be a going back and forth so that somebody who was being creative could still be creative and be cooperative. That was a very good experience.
I know there were a lot of people in Park Forest who thought, oh, Playhouse is full of wild people. (laughter). Well, part of the reason for that is because anyone who is interested in theater is usually outgoing and you know, it wasn’t any wilder than any other group, they were just louder about it. (laughter). They had marvelous parties after the plays. I think Playhouse was very functional. We did not have group therapy in these days. We had young married couples from all over the country, away from their families and with problems. We all had little children. We could compare notes. You may have marital problems that you could discuss, etc. It became a very close-knit group and also sort of an extended family.
Q. Family, yes.
A. This was much needed at that time, and it also was a testing ground for creative output, as I said before, which was much needed. It gave us the opportunity to work with others and understand others in extremely tense situations and in very relaxed circumstances. There were many, many discussions that I remember all the way from philosophy of religion to sex. We covered the gambit. There were very many, many, bright, bright people that were involved and then there were many who weren’t. You had a choice of so many friendships; I have lasting friendships from that group, life-long friends. A lot of them moved away at an early date and on to theatrical things. Elaine Young went to California and was involved in some movies. She was in “Hawaii Five-O” and in many commercials. Bernie Kuby just a couple of weeks ago, was in a production, a TV production, and he has done commercials and was on “Hawaii Five-O”, Laura Campbell, who is the daughter of Lee and Louise Campbell, who were in the early Playhouse has been on “The Waltons” and in commercials. A lot of people from here have gone on to better things. Len Bedsoe went to New York and became stage manager for some big production; now he’s in California. Michael Sullivan, who was not really in Playhouse, he was too young at that time, has gone on and has done a lot theatrically. A lot of people from Park Forest have really gone on in theater.
Q. It’s a good base.
A. Yes, really, it was very good.
Q. I have heard some stories about what fantastic “sparkling parties” there were …
A. Oh, yes.
Q. …from the Playhouse. Can you tell me why someone said that?
A. We opened parties to our audience for one thing. They were never closed parties. We had Mickleberry’s Restaurant, which was a mainstay of Park Forest, because the owners were very generous about letting us use rooms for rehearsing, and we had our parties there. It was in the center of town and everybody could get there easily. People who had been in the audience were welcome to come to them, and so they entered into the excitement of the first night performance and the party afterwards, and so on. Usually they would have some kind of a program and they’d have dancing; they usually had a band and they’d dance.
Q. It sounds fantastic –
A. It was marvelous, it really was. These parties were much looked forward to. In fact, when I was going through some clippings, I noticed an invitation which said, “Park Forest Playhouse invites you to the first Beaux Arts Ball.” So, they were the first to have a Beaux Arts Ball. They still have them, but now it is under the auspices of the Art Center but we were the first ones and I’d forgotten that.
Oh, one thing I was going to tell you about early Playhouse that is interesting is that we did all of our rehearsing and tryouts and everything in a basement uptown, underneath Shelly’s Delicatessen. You went down these long stairs in the back and into a room full of pickle barrels and ham hanging about and that sort of thing. We cleared out a space and rehearsed there, and then later on, we went – it got pretty small for the number of people we would have in a cast, so we transferred to what was then called “Sexton’s-on-the-Mall” which was a tavern. It was in the same building. They had a finished room in the basement where you could have parties and they would let us rehearse down there. It was very handy to the bar, a little too handy (laughter). Because sometimes I can remember not being able to get lines out of people, you know. Later this became the Village Inn. Sheldon Weiss was the man who owned the delicatessen and Aaron Greenberg was the proprietor of Sexton-on-the-Mall. I guess people have forgotten about Aaron, he was very generous to us, he really was. After rehearsal we would all go upstairs and have a beer and sing, you know, so it was always fun.
Q. So, it was on-the-house, then?
A. Well, sometimes, and sometimes not. But, he was very generous with us. So, that’s where we started rehearsing and then there were times, like with children’s plays when I rehearsed right here in my basement. I cleared a spot and if it was a small enough cast, I’d rehearse them there. We rehearsed in other people’s basements also. We always found a spot, but it wasn’t always easy. Sometimes we had a very hard time finding a theater. We had to get out of Washington for some reason or other. I don’t remember I did “Country Girl” at Sauk Trail School and it was a disaster because they had portable chairs, which were noisy, and a small stage and the acoustics were never good in that multi-purpose room. It was sad. The acting was not that bad, but the circumstances were very bad for the people in the audience, so we couldn’t do that again. Then we did children’s plays at Rich East and, finally, toward the end of Playhouse, we used Rich Central Auditorium by that time the need for Playhouse had dwindled. The original gusto and need of – as I say, this group enterprise, was starting to fade out. I think partly because the village was getting so much bigger. A lot of the original enthusiastic people had left. The transportation to Chicago was better. The roads were better, you could get into Chicago easier than you used to be able to. There were things available in the city that you could get to more easily. There were supper theaters developing also.
A. Yes. So, actually, the last two or three years, a woman named Betty Parfet, bless her heart, really held the whole thing together. She insisted that it was going to be successful. I just kind of gave up at that point, I’d had it. She really kept it going way beyond the time that it might have folded. Then it finally just petered out, as did the Children’s Community Theater.
Q. What was the lifespan of the Playhouse? How many years?
A. Well, from about 1950 until I’d say 1975, approximately.
Q. That was fantastic.
A. Yes. It had its ups and downs, but we put on three plays a year every year.
Q. Three plays a year?
A. Oh, yes. And then sometimes more, because we did some children’s plays. Then, of course, a fantastic “Analysis in Wonderland”, which was done early in the game and involved a lot of Park Forest people and names that have gone on. Jerry Myrow did all the music, M-y-r-o-w, fantastic man, did the music which was outstandingly good. He’s dead, unfortunately. He died a couple of years ago and it’s a great loss because he still was composing and doing a lot of good things. He was the main composer. The lyrics were done by Al Englehart, who is dead; Dr. Feldman, who’s still around; Nadine Levin – oh, numerous people.
Q. Now, that’s an original play?
A. That was an original musical.
Q. The dialogue, who wrote that?
A. Well, there was a lot of it done by Al Englehart. There was quite a staff that wrote the lyrics and the dialogue. It was, of course, entirely about early Park Forest, which made it extremely interesting and fun for the audience because they all knew what you were talking about. The standing and strap-hanging on the IC, coming home tired at night, the pop-pop-population, the losing yourself in weird streets such as “Kickapoo Court.” It was fun – people since, have thought of reviving it, but it wouldn’t go because it was too indigenous to that time, you know, and people wouldn’t really appreciate it now. But it was great then, and there are many people around who still remember how fine it was. It was a really neat thing.
Q. Are there many people around now that belonged or performed?
A. Not too many. It’s surprising. I run in to people periodically who I’ve known for years and years in regard to the Playhouse, but lots of them are gone, lots of them are. As far as the Children’s Community Theater is concerned, I’m not really the one to talk about that. I remember that it was started by a woman – I hope this is right – by the name of Elizabeth Bosworth, who was a very dynamic, dramatic lady, and the purpose, of course, was to bring live theater to the children. They did that and worked hard. Many, many women were involved in this. They gave up a lot of time and effort, made effort to produce the plays. They were on the whole very, very good and the children enjoyed them. They brought in other groups, from Evanston, even from New York, they brought in a dance theater, and they had mimes from different parts of the country, along with the plays they produced. And then they did what I think was a terribly altruistic thing. They developed what was called “ The Reading Theater” and they would have a play that they would just read, but they took it for free into all the schools and during school time. They did it as simply as they could because it had to be portable. Maybe they’d all sit on stools in costume, you know, but it was very, very well done and a very good thing for the school.
A. I was always sorry that that petered out. It was too bad, really. I guess everything has to come to an end.
Q. Or start the circle again.
A. Right. Right.
Q. Let’s see, there was “South Pacific”, was that a hard one to do?
A. Oh, yes. Yes, it was hard. I did not direct that, but I did help with it. Lee Campbell directed that and I helped him by coaching. I coached different scenes, or if people needed help in interpretation, or something like that. It turned out very, very well. It really did. It was a big undertaking because when you do a musical, it involves not only a lot more people than a play, but you’ve got royalties on music, you have to have the music performed, you have to pay the musicians, and there’s a union, a musician’s union, you have to watch for that. So, it became very complicated. But, they worked it all out.
Q. But, you did it.
A. We did it. And it was successful, it really was.
Q. You played Reba Spelding in “Visit to a Small Planet”.
A. Oh, my goodness, I forgot that one. That makes eight plays I was in. Yes, I did.
Q. How did you like that?
A. Oh, that was a fun part. She’s zany, you know, the part was a little hard because it never related to anything anybody else was saying. She just sort of came out with things, and the cues were hard to follow because she was always knitting, or doing something, and thinking her own thoughts, and saying them. So, in that way, it was sort of a hard part to do. But, yeah, I’d forgotten about that, that was a fun one. My favorite one though was Birdie, which I did in “The Little Foxes.” That was a very sensitive, nice part and I enjoyed it above all. That play turned out very successfully. I think it was one of the best ones we ever did. It was very early, very early in the game. It was a good part and I liked that a lot. There was another – can I go on with this?
Q. Sure, sure.
A. There was another enterprise that I know everybody’s forgotten about, and it was promoted by the Holiday Theatre here. I had a very dear friend who I met in Playhouse – her name is Geri Cogan, and her husband, Tom, actually was in “the Little Foxes” with me. She had been a secretary to Helen Hayes, been a secretary to Gladys Swarthout, and had done a lot of publicity and theater in New York City. She came from New York. She did a lot of our publicity for Playhouse and she did publicity for the Holiday Theater, so, somehow, we got going a small Fryer’s Children’s Theater. We did holiday plays for the Holiday Theater and this involved only children. We did plays such as, “The Housing Shortage in Mother Goose Land,” which was done at Easter time because it involved chickens, and so on. Then we did a play called, “The Day Before Thanksgiving,” at Thanksgiving time and so on. That little stage is about three feet wide. It was not easy to do. The children would audition for the play – we would have 40 and 50 kids coming to try out for these plays and we gave the performance just before the matinee on Saturday, the children’s matinee. So, you had your audience there already. (laughter).
Q. Pretty clever. (laughter).
A. That was for, oh, I don’t know, two or three years, I guess. It gave the children a chance to perform and so on, and it was advertising for the Holiday Theatre. That’s way in the past. Then I worked with Festival of Performing Arts in the junior high. I started that when my daughter Elizabeth, was in junior high, this is a program which is still going on, which involves the junior high – they do poetry, characterizations, and such and they usually have a team of about 20 or 21. They compete with other junior highs in the area. So, I worked with them quite a lot – and what else do you need to know?
Would you want to know something about my music?
Q. Yes. But, I was going to ask you a question about the theater first. The one-man art shows at intermission, when did that start?
A. The what?
Q. One-man art shows, you know, at intermissions there were displays of art –
A. Oh, oh, yes, well that is in more recent times.
Q. Is it?
A. Yes. That has been done, of course, with ITC, Illinois Theater, a lot.
A. But, I don’t think we promoted that too much until way later, much later, but I’d forgotten about that, as a matter of fact, but you’re right that we did –
Q. I had seen an article –
A. Yes. And I can remember even at Washington having in the hallway, you know, different artists, usually Park Forest people who could show their work and become known. Yes, I’m glad you brought that up, I’d forgotten it myself. I’ve taught, since 1950, it has been really a marvelous experience, I studied to be a concert pianist, but turned to teaching which has been most rewarding. It kept my kids in new jeans! I hadn’t really intended to teach, but a friend of mine said, “Please teach my child,” and it just snowballed from then on. I have taught hundreds, and hundreds, and hundreds of children. I had taught the Klutznick boys, way back, went to their bar mitzvahs, and so on.
I helped with the first meeting creating the Park Forest Conservatory of Music and Dance, but I never went into it because I already had a class, and I had children at home, and I thought it best to just stay here. Bob Spahn, S-p-a-h-n, was really the businessman in back of that; and Jay Hoel, who taught for years and did such a beautiful job with the choruses at Rich East, was involved in that; and Linus Carroll, who was the Director of the Band at Rich East, and now, I think, is still at Flossmoor, as a matter of fact, or he has been at Flossmoor-Homewood . And Sara Hewettt, who is a piano teacher in the area. I’m sure there were others, it has been marvelous, it really has. They’ve done very good things. They have had a dance studio, they’ve had private piano, class piano, they even had a nursery school. So, they’ve been very, very active in this community, and still are. Well, I think that should tell you a little bit about the school. I have really been involved in your usual way in the schools, I mean, I never was president of PTA, right, but I have had my hand in it, of course, having five kids go through the schools, you get involved. But, I do remember the very first superintendent, Dr. Robert Anderson, who asked me to go and help buy a piano for the school. So, I did go with him downtown and we very carefully selected, within our budget, the best we could find -- they weren’t the greatest, but they were alright. Later on, it must have been around 1965, they – had during the summer what they called an “enrichment program.” This was keyed actually to attract children who had special interests and usually quite bright children who during the course of the year were not able to use their creative abilities. They had art projects during that period, during the summer; -- I did creative drama, they also had science projects. That sort of thing. Anything that a child might be extracurricularly, interested in. Well, at that time I had become extremely interested in Carl Orff, who created a method of teaching young children music. It was done entirely through melody and rhythm had been a director of music at the Raygor Day School, and had worked in this area on my own quite a bit. I went to the Northshore School of Music in Winnetka, where they were teaching Carl Orff and Studied it out. And then, -- Oh, I got really enthusiastic about. The problem was that it was expensive because they had all precision-made instruments, like the xylophone of various kinds, and so on, and they were extremely expensive.
A. Well, yes. So I improvised. – I went into this enrichment program – begging things like a celeste from the band, and used piano, which you weren’t supposed to use, but I used it anyway, and drums, and triangles, and all sorts of things, but used the Orff Method. The children were excited about it. It really was a good thing, I also found out that many areas in the United States were putting it into the public schools. So, I thought, all right, we will see what we can do. So, I talked to Don Austin, who, I think at that time, was at the head of the Enrichment Program, and said, “I think that you should try to train some music teachers, in Car Orff and see about brining it into the schools, because it’s a fine thing, especially for children who never get to study music outside of the school.” So, they did, they bought the instruments, and it’s been a going thing ever since in the Park Forest schools. They really did it nicely. Then one other thing that I got involved with, as far as the schools were concerned, was having belonged to the Homewood-Flossmoor Art Associates. They had a marvelous program called “Picture Ladies.” They send women from our Art Associates group into the schools of Homewood and Flossmoor. They would get prints from the Art Institute , and talk about them, and leave them in a room for a week or two so the children could look at them, then come back and change them and answer questions and talk about another group of paintings.
Well, I thought that was just great, but I was the only one, I think, at that time from Park Forest in the Homewood-Flossmoor Associates, and they forgot that there was such a thing as Park Forest. So, I said, well, we have schools here, too. (laughter)
Q. We’re lucky you were there.
A. So, I went again to my friend, Don Austin, and I said, do you know about the Picture Ladies, and he didn’t. So, I went to the PTA Board meeting and described what this was about and asked if they would see to it, because I thought it was important, and I would see then that they got Picture Ladies down here. So, that started, and I’m not sure whether it’s still going or not. It went on for years and it may still be going. So, that has become a whole South Suburban enterprise, Art Associates really did a good job on that.
Let’s see, oh, there was one other thing that I know nobody had remembered at all, and I got a big kick out of it as I was looking through some clippings. They had at one time what they called the South Suburban Homemaker of the Year. They had interviews with a lot of people who were suggested by other people as being a “perfect homemaker”. Well, I was not judged, but I was a judge. I was one of five or six judges and I remember somebody from the Heights, and a couple of people from here, Marge Cory was one and I was another on that judging committee. We had to read all these letters, interview the people that we selected, and then make a final choice of Homemaker of South Suburbia!
Q. What were the qualifications?
A. Oh, you know, I don’t think it was just limited to being able to cook well. I think it was the idea of being rather an all-around person, being involved in schools, and interested in children. Most of these women were in the League of Women Voters, for instance, and were active besides being homemakers. I think it was to stimulate women to get active in things besides just sitting at home. I don’t remember too much about it, but I ran across one picture in the paper that showed the judges judging and that’s why I thought about it. (laughter).
Q. There were other contests too, weren’t there?
A. Oh, yes. There were. Let’s see – they had a program through the Bank of Park Forest. They had a “Distinguished Citizen of the Month” program, and the idea of that was to give some recognition to people who really had been very active and had done a lot and yet were not noticed, there weren’t write-ups about them and things like that. The politicians, the people on the Board of Trustees, etc., etc., etc., all got recognition, but there were many people, such as Silca Cohen, who involved with the League of Women Voters and really just was so marvelous in it, did so much for it, stimulated it. And, so, she was, I think the first woman that was the Distinguished Citizen. There were some men ahead of her. And then, I think, she was the first woman. There was Mary Christopher, who had been into all sorts of things. She was very active in the League and other things in the early days. Her husband was on the school board and she was involved in the schools.
Q. Now, were all of these – were all the women that were chosen or who won, were they member of the League of Women Voters?
A. No. No. I was one and I was, I’m sure, not because of the League but because of Playhouse and because I was involved with children so much.
Q. Very good.
A. Unless you have some more questions –
Q. Well, I want to know – tell me – can you tell me one thing which makes you the least proud or – least proud of Park Forest or most disappointed with Park Forest?
A. My goodness. I’ve been eulogizing for so long it’s hard to switch my mind.
Q. Maybe something you expected to develop or happen and didn’t or –
A. I think that I honestly have to say I have been disappointed in the qualities of the schools. I think they started without -- with very idealistic motives, and I don’t mean they’re bad. I think that a lot of it has been due to the lack of money, I’m sure that’s true. But, I have felt with all of my children , I felt a lack of something. I think that there could have been a lot more academic know-how. I think it’s been fine as far as sports are concerned and that sort of thing, but I have been disappointed that the music programs haven’t been better except for, bless his heart, Jay Hoel, who always promoted good music and encouraged children in it in high school. And, we’ve had marvelous people such as Marie Ifolo in the Art Department of the grammar schools, who has done a terrific job of introducing children to art. But, it has never been a steady enough thing or an important enough thing in my mind. But, of course, being dramatically and musically inclined, I think they’re important things, and I always have felt that this has been a neglected area. I suppose that as far as the three R’s are concerned, they get a pretty good basis, but I think there are a lot of things they could have – or I wish they could have done, they probably couldn’t’ or they would have, but I’ve been disappointed in that area.
Q. Now, can you tell me one thing which makes you most proud of Park Forest?
A. Oh, I think that the fact that it has been a groundwork of helping people to mature, and to lead full lives is its biggest asset, and I think it still is doing that, on a much larger scale. I think it’s always been conducive to the needs of people or always has tried to be, and I hope that they can pull together and go on. I think there are many difficulties now, but it always has had an aura of support to its citizens and the citizens have been supportive of it. They’ve always been factions and frictions and so on, but I think on the whole, people have been very involved in their village and it has been conducive to this kind of living.
Q. Thank you very much!
A. You are very welcome.
(End of interview.)