This is an oral History interview on Park Forest, with Leona DeLue, at 76 Blackhawk Drive, Park Forest, Illinois.
The date is September 25, 1980.
Betty Myers is the interviewer.
Q. Leona, where did you live before you came to Park Forest?
A. Well, we lived for five months at the Sherman Hotel, now being destructed, in Chicago. We had been without a home for ten months. I think that you probably are old enough to remember what the world was like after World War Two and there wasn't any housing in Chicago. The city of Chicago, and I guess Cleveland, Ohio, were in worse condition than any other cities in the United States and, certainly, Chicago was the worst. My husband had come back to Chicago in January of 1948 and, since he was a working newspaper man and had come back to his job, he thought he would have no problem in getting us an apartment. But he had a great deal of trouble and my daughter and I lived with my parents for five months. Then, since my husband knew the manager of the Sherman Hotel and he felt terribly sorry for us, he gave us a place to live in the Sherman Hotel. And we lived there for five months and then came to Park Forest. My husband will tell you the circumstances under which we came to Park Forest.
We moved here in August of 1948. Three of us moved in on the same day: the Heckmans, the Kanters, and ourselves. The floors in our apartment were not ready. They had not sanded them or finished them downstairs, so our furniture was all moved upstairs and we went back to the hotel and slept there that night while they finished the floors and then we came back the next day. We are the only ones left of the first three families who moved here on that day in August in 1948. Ah, the Kanters live in Oak Park and the Hechmans have lived in many places since they moved. They live in California now. I'm thinking about the questions you have listed there and will try to incorporate as many as I can.
Leona DeLue 2
Park Forest was a construction camp. Western Avenue was a dirty, muddy, two‑lane road with ditches on each side, deep ditches on each side. Mr. Klutznick and Ethel Klutznick and their children were supposed to be the first people to move into Park Forest, but since Ethel Klutznick had her fifth child a week or so earlier than expected, they didn't move here until several others of us had moved here.
Q. How many houses were already built when you came?
A. Well, we lived in Court B‑1. which is on 26th Street and Western Avenue and two of the building units were up. Ours, and the one facing onto Western Avenue. We lived at 2689 Western Avenue. Our building was up, which contained six apartments, and the one facing on Western Avenue, which contained . . . yes, six apartments were up, but the apartments were not ready. The other units were not finished; they were in the process of being constructed and there was construction all the time, you see. We had no paving in our court and because there were construction trucks in there, and concrete trucks, and bulldozers, all of the time. Let me see what I can tell you. The apartments were beautiful. I thought my apartment was, the most beautiful thing in the world; I had been without a house and without furniture and my child had been without her toys for all of those long ten months and I just thought my apartment was just beautiful. There was plenty of room for us and we had a full basement. During the war years I had traveled with my husband, my child had been born in service and we had traveled wherever we could with my husband, while he was in this country. When he was transferred we would go back to New York, from wherever we had been before, and live with my mother and father.
Leona DeLue 3
As I said before, when my husband came back to Chicago to his job on the paper, I had lived with my mother and father a great deal and they had been absolutely marvelous to us, but the war was over and it was time for us to get back to whatever kind of home we were going to have. Park Forest to us was just a marvelous thing, because we had a place to live and nobody else would give us a place to live. In Chicago, if you had a child, you were supposed to drown that child, or you were supposed to pay under the table for some broken down chairs and tables and pay a lot to get an apartment, if there was such a thing as an apartment.
A. My husband had lived for those five months at the Morrison Hotel by himself while we were living with my mother and father. So Park Forest, construction camp or otherwise, meant a great deal to us. It was not easy living here, but I think you had to be a person of vision and have a certain amount of courage, I guess, looking back on it, to go into it. Over these many years, I have met many people from other places, other communities who have said, "Oh, I was in the same position that you were in and we came out to Park Forest, but I wouldn't live in that mud hole," and I have thought to myself, "Lady, you don't know what you've missed." (laugh) Because we had a wonderful time, in those first days of Park Forest.
Q. As these houses were being built, did they stay empty long?
A. Oh, no, no, because everyone was on a waiting list to get into their apartments as quickly as they were finished. So just as quickly as they were finished these young families would happily move in, because many of them were living in furnished rooms, they were living with parents,
Leona DeLue 4
husbands and wives were separated as we had been, so we were all pretty much in the same position and very, very happy to be in our apartments. The Kanters, I might add, were just married; they were newlyweds. The Hechmans, at that time, had one little boy, as we had one little girl, and they had all been separated or living under very miserable conditions. So, we were all very happy to get into our apartments.
Q. How did you learn about Park Forest? Where did you hear about this
A. My husband, because of our experiences in not getting hous‑1‑ngwas what is called today an "investigative reporter." In those days it was called a feature writer, he did feature stories, and he became very interested in the housing situation in Chicago and that became his specialty. He met Mr. Klutznick through this kind of reporting that he did and could hardly believe his ears when Mr. Klutznick outlined to him the possibilities of Park Forest and [my husband] came out to see it. Mr. Klutznick felt very sorry for us. He was living in Chicago with his family and as a matter of fact, he recommended a nursery school to which we could send our child because it was pretty hard for a little girl to be living at the Sherman Hotel. I taught my daughter how to roller skate in Grant Park ‑‑ that kind of thing ‑‑ but he recommended a nursery school where his youngest child, at that point, was going to school, not his youngest, his child who was a contemporary of my daughters, was going to nursery school. So Mary did go to nursery school there. They picked her up at the hotel and delivered her at the end of the morning, so that at least she could be with other children.
Leona DeLue 5
She had been in nursery school where we had lived before, which was in Montclair, New Jersey. My husband's last station in the service was in Newark, New Jersey.
Q. How old was your daughter when you moved here?
A. Just five.
Q. I understand that the American Community Builders had their first meeting in a tent. Did you attend this meeting?
Q. Tell me about it.
A. Well, it was the . . . late fall, I think, as I remember. Somewhere in that area. It was cold, I know. They had a tent up off Western Avenue somewhere, and we all met there. I know that those of us who lived here were there and those who were prospective tenants, also came to the meeting. Mr. Manilow was there and Philip Klutznick was there, and a few other executives of American Community Builders were there. They spoke and we spoke and it was, I think, as I recall ‑‑ it was a long time ago ‑‑ it was a very productive meeting.
Was this soon after you moved in or . . . ?
A. No, we moved here in August and I think this was some time in November. I may not remember that too accurately. My husband remembers many of these things.
Q. But it was within months of that time?
Q. What were the feelings between the residents and the ACB?
A. I don't know what the feelings of many of the residents were; many
of the people were tremendously eager to move into Park Forest and then
Leona DeLue 6
when they moved in they were very angry because there was mud, there was water in a lot of the basements. In my particular court, the feelings were very positive. First of all, Ethel and Phil Klutznick and their children lived in our court, and we liked them very, very much. Ethel and Phil were grand people, and still are, and we had Very positive feelings about it. They were our neighbors, they were very friendly with all of us. I think most of us were very happy to have a place to live, so that there was never any commotion in our court about any of that kind of thing. Other courts were very complaining and very‑‑bitter toward ACB. They resented the mud, eager as they were to move in, I feel that once they did move in, they expected everything to be in ship‑shape order. And it wasn't and I think they were angry about that. I never heard of anyone in my court who ever complained. Our court, which as you realize, was the first court to be occupied, was a little bit different than many of the streets and courts that came after us. The other courts were very social. We were all very friendly and did everything for one another. We had to do everything for one another; we were interdependent upon one another and very friendly. But we never went in for drinking together or anything of the sort. We were a very quiet court. We had five or six FBI agents. We had a number of army people and we were, and we had a number of Argonne people, too, and the rest of us were just people. (laugh) But we were very quiet. We didn't complain and I guess if people had a wet basement, they would just go across the street to Phil and tell him that the basement was wet. And he certainly tried, as far as I could ever see, to correct whatever was wrong. By and large, we seemed to be a very happy court.
Leona DeLue 7
Q. Uh‑huh. Were there other such meetings as this first one in them tent?
A. You mean given by the ACB?
A. No, they attended meetings that we had and we as citizens were very active people from the beginning. You must understand that I think, had ACB wanted to, they could very easily have turned this into a company town. one of the things that Phil Klutznick did which I think was pretty remarkable, was that he gave us the opportunity to form our own government. One of the things that troubles' me tremendously is that the date of the birth of Park Forest is always noted as when this village was incorporated. In other words, people will say, "Park Forest is thirty‑one years old." Well, Park Forest isn't thirty‑one years old, Park Forest is thirty‑two years old. The people who lived here were the people who formed the village government, and it may or may not interest you to know that in the state of Illinois, you can have a village, you can have a city, or you can have a town. If you want a village, you have to have no more than 500 people in the community. So, ACB, knowing what the population of the village would be at a certain date, was very particular to ‑‑ since they knew we wanted a village, we had decided that we wanted a village, after many meetings that we had. We had an election and formed our village government before we had the 500 people, so that we would not have either a city or a town. We had decided that we did not want a city or a town because we didn't want wards, we didn't want ward politics, we didn't want aldermen; we wanted our community to be set up as a village so that we could have the kind of government that we have today.
Leona DeLue 8
And they encouraged us to be self‑governing. Many times we would all get very angry at them because they were putting a lot of responsibility on us, and we very early became a community of meetings. As a matter of fact, I'm sure you've heard this from many, many, other old‑time residents, the joke about how the kids used to play. The girls would put a hand bag on their arms and say, "Good night; I'm going to a meeting."
(Laughs) No, I never heard it.
A. You haven't heard that? That was an old joke and it was qui‑te~ue. That's how the children played, because that's all they ever heard. Mommy and Daddy were always going to meetings. And we had to take turns, because there weren't any babysitters, you understand. So we had to take turns on who went to what meeting on what night.
But we did form our own government. We had a community organization and we did have our own government and very early in the game, as you can well understand.
Q. Where did the children play, there was so much mud. Where did they play?
A. They played in the mud. They played out in the courts. Every court had what was known as a "Tot Yard" or Tot something, I can't remember. It was a squared‑off area with a fence around it and a sandbox and so forth, and the children played in the mud and you would just dig them out of the mud, that was all. They had a good time.
Q. Any problems with all these children in the rental area?
Leona DeLue 9
A. No, no more nor less than you would imagine. They had the same problems that kids have anywhere. They had fights or they didn't have fights, but in our court in any event, the seemed to get along very nicely.
Q. Where did they go to school?
A. Well, the City of Chicago Heights had told ACB that they would absorb our children, not realizing that there would be so many. So for the first six weeks after the school year started in September,.1948 the children did not go to school at all and then they parceled them out to the schools in Chicago Heights. I canndt remember how many children there were at that time. My husband will, but I can't. My daughter was registered in kindergarten. She started kindergarten in the old Grant School, which no longer exists in its place. It was at 26th Street and Chicago Road. In first grade ACB converted a block of apartments on Ash Street, which had just been built, and first graders went to school on Ash Street in these apartments. In second grade, my daughter went to school on what is known as Hunger Hill. She went to the Garfield School in Chicago Heights and then she went to Roosevelt School on Lincoln Highway. She got an excellent beginning for her education in the Chicago Heights schools, which at that time were superb. We lived on the East side of Western Avenue so that even when the 163 District was founded ‑‑ with which my husband was deeply involved, he was on the original school organizing committees ‑she still had to go to school in Chicago Heights, and she went to school in Chicago Heights until we moved into this house, when she went to Sauk Trail School.
Q. When were the schools built then, for Park Forest?
Leona DeLue 10
A. Let's see. Lakewood School was the first and I can't remember if it was 1950 or 1951; my husband would be better able to tell you than I. I don't really remember.
Q. Where did you do your shopping in those early days?
A. In Chicago Heights. I didn't have a car and we got a car very shortly after we moved here. We bought a car very shortly after we moved here, but I didn't know how to drive and I didn't get my license until April of 1949, when I was then able to go into the store by myself. Until then, I went in with my neighbors to Chicago Heights‑ ‑and did my shopping there. We all did.
Q. Did the Chicago Heights merchants seem happy to have a new village as a neighbor?
A. They hated us, except with very few exceptions. They would tease us and make fun of us when we came in. We always wore boots because we had to go through the mud and they thought that was hilarious because we were always covered with mud. They teased us and made fun of us and were not at all receptive to us because they thought that this was just another development that was going to fall apart. There were ,however, exceptions to that. Mr. Kline and Norman Rothbardt from Kline's department store were absolutely wonderful to us and Esther Rothbardt was absolutely wonderful. People of that kind were just great, but the average supermarket employee ‑‑ again with a few exceptions; there's a man who works in the meat department of our Jewel named Pete, who is still there, but he was at the Chicago Heights store on Chicago Road and he and his wife had just been married, she was a checker and he was a butcher and for some reason or other, they were very nice to us, but the rest of them were miserable. (laughs)
Leona DeLue 11
Q. He's in our Jewel store now?
A. In our Jewel store now.
Q. Does he live in Park Forest?
A. No, I don't think so. I don't know where Pete and Josephine live. I think they still live in the Heights.
Q. Did you have any trouble finding doctors in this new area?
A. Yes, there were a few doctors in Chicago Heights and a doctor friend of ours had recommended a doctor to us in Chicago Heights before we moved out here and we used him when we needed him. It was not the most convenient or greatest thing in the world, but it worked we managed.
Q. How about other people without recommendations?
A. Most of us used this particular doctor.
Q. What was your source of water?
A. Well, you've probably heard this from others. The water softening plant, of course, was in the process of being planned and built and ACB provided us with water. The water that ran out of the taps was not drinkable and it was hard as hard could be(laughter). Incredible! If you washed your hair in it you never knew if you had hair or‑not when you got finished, it was just that bad. But they provided us with Blue Rock distilled water and every kitchen had a stand in which there was a five‑gallon jug of water. Once or twice a week, I forget now, the water man would come and give us this water. We did not pay for it. This was provided by ACB, and that's where we got our water.
Q. This was just your drinking water, is that right?
A. Drinking water, that's right.
Q. And how long did you have these circumstances?
Leona DeLue 12
A. Until the water softening plant was finished and that must have been close to a year, it seems to me. I may be wrong. I may be wrong about that, but I think it was close to a year.
Q. Now you were so happy to find a house but did you have any regrets in those early days about moving?
A. No, never.
A. It became almost immediately very exciting and stimulating and [an] interesting place to live and the people were very unusual d‑ET‑,great from the beginning. I think that Park Forest attracted a certain kind of person and I think that that level of personality, perhaps, has changed, of course, over the years, but not that much. I think Park Forest has always been an unusual community and I think it still is.
Q. I agree. (laughs)
A. It really is.
Q. I understand you had party phones.
A. We had what?
Q. Party telephones, eight on a line?
A. We did not. My husband because of his job had to have a private phone, so we had a private phone. our number was the same then, well not really, because we didn't have numbers, you know, we just had a few digits.
Q. Those that did have the party line, did you hear of any funny or unhappy experiences that any of them had?
A. Not that I recall. I'm sure that they did, but it was just difficult to get people on the phone that you wanted to speak to because
Leona DeLue 13
everyone had an eight‑party line except for Phil Klutznick and ourselves. We were the only ones in those first days that had single party lines.
Q. Did you watch any of the building and progress going on in the village?
A. All of it, all of it. How could I not? I sat in the middle of it.
Q. How long after you were here did Park Forest begin to look like a
A. A long time, (laugh) I can assure you. It was a construction camp for a long time. I think when the shopping center opened, you know it didn't open all at once in one fell swoop, but as that began to develop, I think we began to feel that we were in a more comfortable situation, certainly.
Q. What were some of the first stores that moved into the Plaza?
A. Well, the liquor store, as I recall, was the first. George and Irv Taradash opened the liquor store about where Maeyamas is now and [they] had milk and bread and a few other staples and we just thought that was heaven, because. . . .
Q. A liquor store?
A. Yes, yes, that was, as I recall, that was the first store that opened and George and Irv had bread and milk and a few other staple items that you really needed and it was great not having to go into Chicago Heights for everything that you needed. I might add, however, that not too long after we moved in, Lambrechts' truck came into the court, with butter, no, ‑‑ you probably don't know about Lambrechts. That they ‑‑ I don't know too much about them myself and it's been many
Leona DeLue 14
years since I've heard of them, but Lambrechts, I guess, was a very established dairy company in this area and they came about in trucks and we bought butter and eggs from them when they came around, which was very good.
Q. What did our plaza look like in those early days?
A. Well, the plaza was being built, it was like an extension of this just general construction camp, and as the stores were built they would be occupied. It looked beautiful as it was being built and certainly when it was finished it was a beautiful plaza.
Q. Where did you conduct your religious services?
A. We actually had never been affiliated with any formal religious institution. We are Jews and we have always observed our religion. We were active in the formation of Temple Beth Sholom and although I was for a number of years a sisterhood member, we, for many reasons, much too complicated to go into at the moment, did not join the congregation.
Q. Are there a large number of people in Park Forest of the Jewish faith?
A. Not too many now. I can't give you the numbers, but there were in the early days. There was a large, proportionately large, Jewish population, and one of the first services that the National Council of Jewish Women provided for the religious community was a door‑to‑door survey for everyone in Park Forest to find out how many Jews there were and what kind of religious institution they wanted and this was helpful in forming the first congregation in Park Forest.
Q. Tell me about your work with the National Council of Jewish Women.
Leona DeLue 15
A. My husband as a child and as a growing young man had, of course, belonged to Sinai Temple. His family had belonged to Sinai Temple in Chicago. I, coming from New York, had not ever had any religious training, except in my home, at all and we had traveled in service for so many years that we certainly had no religious affiliations. I had never belonged to any kind of organization in my life. There was in Chicago Heights the Chicago Heights section of the National Council of Jewish Women. The president of the section at that time was a woman named Polly Levy, who still lives in Chicago Heights and they‑‑had a National Board Member in the Chicago Heights section named Mrs. Berlsheimer, and they had decided to get the Jewish women in Park Forest together, the handful of us that there were, and form a section, so a meeting was called in the home of Myra Levin, the young woman who had recently been married and lived in the community. She was a nurse. And Polly Levy and Mrs. Berlsheimer spoke to us. I went very reluctantly. Not in any way because I was reluctant to affiliate myself with my religion, but because I was kind of anti‑organization. However, the friends I had here prevailed upon me to go and I did go and I realized after these two women talked, that the things that the National Council of Jewish Women stood for and the things that I stood for were one and the same. [They] stood for social justice and humanity and all the things I had always lived by. So we decided to form a section in Park Forest and Myra Levin became our first president and I became the administrative vice president. Now, you might ask, "Why did such an inexperienced organizational person as myself become the Administrative Vice President, no less?" That was
Leona DeLue 16
because I was the only one with a five‑year‑old child, almost six years old at that time, I guess, who was not pregnant. Everybody else was pregnant (laughter) and had one or more children.
Q. How long after you moved into Park Forest did this all come about?
A. Well, I moved in here in August of 1948 and we formed, the National Council of Jewish women, Park Forest section, in May of 1949. When we had our twenty‑fifth anniversary a few years ago ‑‑ of which I was the principal speaker at Ravisloe Country Club, which was just great ‑‑ I was the chairman of the twenty‑fifth anniversary celebration and we had as many of our charter members there as we could get, including Myra Levin, who had just moved back to the United States after several years of living in Israel and was and as far as I know now, is still living in Evanston. She, as I said earlier, was a nurse. She was gone all day and most of the responsibility, I'm sorry to say, fell on my shoulders (laughs) and I was indeed very inexperienced in organizational work. But it was very exciting and I met wonderful people and wonderful women, and most of my friends, my close, dear friends have come from that organization and it taught me many, many things.
Q. What are some of the things that you did for people within this organization? Like, I understand, bus shelters and the Well‑Baby Clinic and Safety Town?
A. Well, I should tell you that we were the first organization in Park Forest. We were the first of any denomination of any kind. The basic principle of the National Council of Jewish Women was to find the needs of your community and meet those needs, and when those needs were met and the need could stand on its own two feet, you turned it over to the
Leona DeLue 17
community and this is what has happened over the many, many years. The bus shelters were very necessary. They seem ridiculous at this particular point, but they were a very necessary thing. As I said earlier, we did a survey, a house‑to‑house, door‑to‑door survey of the community to find any Jews that were there and to find out‑what kind of congregation they wanted; I mentioned that earlier. We were the first group to recognize the needs of mental health and we were the ones that started the so‑called Pink Ladies that went to Manteno. A group of women went once or more a week. We started Handicamp, as you know.
Q. What was Handicamp?
A. Handicamp was a camp for handicapped children in the south suburban area and we started that in the fifties. Handicamp is still going strong, as you probably know, in the south suburban area. We had the Aqua Center pool. We used Lakewood School as the meeting place for Handicamp. It was a tremendous thing for an organization of women to do. A tremendous thing, because no one had ever done anything like it before. Our national organization, when we told them what we were going to do, told us we were crazy, but we did it and we did it very successfully and very well. There's a by‑product to it; we used teen‑agers in the community as counselors for these handicapped children on a one‑on‑one basis and this was a new innovation. It not only worked out beautifully for the campers, but of those teenagers, especially in the original group, it directed their lives. Many, many of them went into teaching the handicapped, doing therapy for the handicapped, becoming social workers, doing all sorts of things and that was formed by their experience in working summers at Handicamp.
Leona DeLue 18
There were many, many things that the National Council of Jewish Women did in Park Forest, countless things that I can't even begin to tell you, but we met needs wherever they were. We started the Well‑Baby Clinic. We always worked with the Health Department of Park Forest. We always found the need in the community and met it.
Q. What did you do in regards to the Well‑Baby Clinic?
A. We always supplied volunteers to the Health Department and to the Well‑Baby Clinic and we still do. As you know, Sue Sonduck and Shirley Dietch are both very active in the Well‑Baby Clinic and were‑‑there regularly, but we always volunteered for whatever need the Health Department might want.
Q. Safety Town, what is that?
A. Safety Town is a very new thing. When I say new, it's relatively new, of course, and this is for young children who ‑‑ I can't tell you too much about it because I'm quite removed from that particular project ‑‑ but I know enough about it to tell you that it is filling a need for young children in the community to learn how to conduct themselves safely on their bicycles and crossing streets and anything of that nature.
Q. And this is also sponsored by the National Council of Jewish Women?
A. Yes it is. Yes it is.
Q. How about the Newcomers Circle? Welcome Wagon, did you start that?
A. Oh . . . Well, Welcome Wagon did come to see us from Chicago Heights shortly after we moved in and told us where to shop and so forth in Chicago Heights, and they gave us a plant. (laughs) I do remember that.
Leona DeLue 19
Q. I had understood that your organization had started it in Park Forest.
A. I don't remember if council sponsored that or not. It wasn't Welcome Wagon and it wasn't a Newcomers Circle. I can call Bess Rosenberg if she's still home and ask her. That's the woman I was talking to when you came in, but they had a group of women . . . and I can't remember if that was sponsored by council or not. I really can't. But a group of women went out and called on newcomers to the community and tried to be as helpful to them as they could.
Q. Now you said that the youth, the teenagers of Park Forest helped with the Handicamp. Did you have another youth employment service as well?
A. Yes we did. We had, I'm glad you reminded me of that. I should digress a little when you're speaking of youth; we also started the first youth canteen, a teenage canteen. We started the Youth Canteen. Mr. Maros, who owns all those McDonald's today, had an ice cream parlor and luncheonette where El Sombrero is now and we prevailed upon him to give us his basement, which he did, and we turned that into a youth canteen for teenagers. Youth Employment Service was the first one in this area and it had an office in the Village Hall and supplied jobs for the teenagers in the community. That was also very successful.
Q. In the early days, did you think the people living in Park Forest were conformists?
A. No. No, I don't think conformists would, of their own volition, move out here. No, I did not. I think they were exceptionally bright.
Leona DeLue 20
My husband used to say that when he got on the IC platform the Phi Beta [Kappa] keys would dazzle you in the sunlight. (laughter) They had a high level of education, which doesn't necessarily mean that they were not conformists, but particularly considering the times in which we were living, those post‑war years where people wanted peace and quiet and conformity, [I] would say that, by and large, they were not.
Q. Do you think they are today?
A. No, I don't. I'm sure there are many people who are, but I would say that by and large, we are not. Because of the circumstances under which, we lived in the early days of Park Forest, we wore very casual clothes, to say the least, and I think we are still casual. I think we're an exceedingly friendly community. Very friendly. I think, because when we formed this community, everyone came from somewhere else. We were interdependent upon one another. Those of us who became close friends, became family to one another, and to a great degree, I can say from my own experience that this is till true. We take care of one another, still, and we have a feeling for one another that is very different, I think, than exists in most communities. I wouldn't say that Park Forest had ever been made up of people that are considered conformists. Nobody looked at your furniture or your possessions as the most important thing in the world and I think that this is still true. I think our sense of values perhaps has always been a little different and continues to be a little bit different than it is in other areas.
Q. So it helps to make it a special town, huh?
A. Yes, it is. It has been and I think it continues to be.
Leona DeLue 21
Q. Were you or your husband interviewed by Mr. Whyte for his book The Organization Man?
A. No, no, we were not.. We did see him, however, when he came back to the village a few years ago and we were delighted to listen to him. He had a great deal to say and we were . . . As a matter of fact, no one in my court was interviewed.
Q. Uh huh. Did you know anyone who was?
A. Oh yes, yes. People by and large, who lived on the other side of Western Avenue, on the west side of Western Avenue, seemed to have been the people who were interviewed.
Q. Did you read his book?
A. Yes, yes, I did.
Q. And did you agree with him?
A. At the time there were some disagreements with it, but it was very interesting then and I think that the things he had to say when he came back were very interesting.
Q. Before Park Forest had its own post office where did you get your mail?
A. Our mail was delivered to us by an ACB truck, from Chicago Heights, our address was Chicago Heights.
Q. How was Park Forest named?
A. It was named by the developers and not too long after we moved here the developers felt that perhaps we ought to change the name because people used to find it very confusing. There was Forest Park and there was Oak Forest and it also sounded to many of us like the name of a cemetery. There were several other names that might have been
Leona DeLue 22
considered by the developers but they had just chosen Park Forest, kind of off the top of their heads. They had an election. I can't remember when this was, after we moved here, but it was not too terribly long afterwards. One of the names was Indianwood and that name came from the fact that, you may or may not know that there was a country club where Park Forest is now named Indianwood Country Club. Another name was Skyline and I can't remember what other names were considered. But the majority of people who voted ‑‑ and we all voted ‑‑ voted for Park Forest. The reason that many of them decided to continue with title‑name was that a lot of people had already bad their stationery printed. (laughter) They didn't want to change the name of the town, so they went along with it.
Q. Did you have a fire department?
A. We had volunteers, a volunteer fire department.
Q. How about the police department?
A. Well, really when I came here, we didn't have any police. We had, as I said, we had an awful lot of FBI agents around. We didn't have a police department for awhile. I can't tell you exactly when. I guess we were protected by Chicago Heights in the first months that we lived here. We certainly didn't have any of our own policemen. ACB had security people and it will interest you to know that nobody ever locked their doors at first. Everyone was screened by ACB before they moved in, before you could rent an apartment you were very carefully screened. That may seem today, when everybody does their own thing, like a very unconstitutional thing to have done, but they did screen everyone who came in and we were relatively safe.
Leona DeLue 23
We had in the first year we lived here one unpleasant experience. I was having a council meeting in my apartment and a friend of mine who was sitting near the door ‑‑ and I was sitting on the floor not far from her ‑‑ thought that we heard someone in the kitchen. I got up and went into the kitchen and there wasn't anyone there. My husband was out at a meeting and we thought we heard the sound again. I got up and went into the kitchen again and there wasn't anyone in the kitchen. So we let it go at that and my meeting dispersed. I was sitting on the couch in the living room and I saw my FBI neighbors running in pairs along the front sidewalk, which I could see from my apartment window, and I knew that something was up hut I couldn't imagine what it was. I certainly wasn't going to stop them to find out. My husband came home and I told him about it and we could still see our FBI neighbors running around and then it was over. Our closest neighbor, Bill Hechman, who was an FBI agent, came to the door and asked me if anyone had been in my apartment and I said I thought there had and I told him of this experience. Well, a woman and her son, a nineteen‑year‑old, I think he was, had moved into an apartment and this young man had gone into a number of apartments. Across the court from me was an army family. His wife, believe it or not, came from Russia, could barely speak English, she was sitting alone in the living room and this young man came in and she began to scream. Her husband was upstairs sleeping and he ran down and this young man who had come into her apartment ran out the front door and hid in a ditch on Twenty Sixth Street. Finally, my FBI neighbors found him and this family ‑‑ I don't know if they ever pressed charges against him or not ‑‑ but this family was asked to leave and move from Park Forest. It was
Leona DeLue 24
just a mother and son. It really was not a family as most of the rest of us were, but it was a very frightening experience. After that I locked my doors. Nobody else did that I knew of, but I did, because it had been a frightening experience.
Q. Do you think the crime rate is low in Park Forest?
A. Statistically, I guess it is. We were very badly robbed here not quite two years ago. Very badly. The robbers were never found, nor were our possessions. We had a great deal of damage done to the house. We lost $3,000 worth of jewelry, most of it things that belonged to our parents that were irreplaceable. The trauma was simply awful. We had dead bolt locks on our doors. They smashed our door down with a crowbar. The lock held, but the door didn't, a big heavy door. They smashed a window in, that was how they tried to get in at first. So I think there's no question, if people want to rob you, they're going to. We were only gone for twenty minutes, from 5:30 to five to six and they did it in that length of time. We saw the guy running out the door. My
husband tried to catch him but couldn't. So, I don't know, you know, I guess that this kind of thing, statistically, in Park Forest is very low.
Q. Do you feel safe on our streets?
A. I don't think anyone feels safe on any street anywhere in the United States, unfortunately. I sometimes, in the summer time, take my garbage out late at night. The garbage has been taken out, but if I have anything else I go out and put it in the pail and very often when I am out there doing that, car loads of guys will pass by and hoot and holler and do that kind of thing and ‑‑ it's just the world in which we live. It has nothing to do with this community or any other.
Leona DeLue 25
Q. Do you think Park Forest is good to their youth?
A. Yes, I do. I do, I think that we're fine to them.
A. I think we try in every way possible to provide them with the things they need. I'm sure that they, growing up, feel a great sense of isolation because that is the of youth. I think that we certainly try. I think there's enough here to keep them occupied. They're not so far, from Chicago that they can't participate in the cultural activities of Chicago. And they don't need a great deal of money for a great deal that is available to them in Chicago.
Q. How about our senior citizens?
A. I think the community is fine to our senior citizens and I might add
that the township is very helpful to senior citizens, too.
Q. What about the lecture series that the NCJW sponsored?
A. We never had a lecture series from the Park Forest section of the National Council of Jewish Women. That was the Chicago Heights section that had a lecture series in which they brought out Eleanor Roosevelt, among many, many other prominent people of the time. I, having shaken hands with Eleanor Roosevelt at that time, didn't want to wash my hand for a week; I was so thrilled and excited to have shaken hands with her and had a few words to say with her. But that lecture series was held at the Washington School in Chicago Heights. The Park Forest section never had a so‑called lecture series at all.
Q. Did a number of Park Forest women go there, though?
A. Oh. yes. Yes, indeed. We did indeed. We were delighted to.
Q. What were some of the other celebrities that were there?
Leona DeLue 26
A. I wish I could remember. Except for Eleanor Roosevelt, I really can't remember too many of the others. I'm sure many other people I know would remember, but she is outstanding in my mind.
Q. How about your activities with the PTA?
A. Well, I was active in the PTA from the beginning in Chicago Heights. My daughter went to school there and that was where I was active. My husband, as I mentioned earlier, was a founder of the school organizing committee and he was primarily active in school affairs. Certainly when we moved into this house and my daughter began to go to school in Park Forest, I was active in the PTA in the school to which she went.
Q. What school did she go to in Park Forest?
A. She went to Sauk Trail School and then she went to Westwood Jr. High School
when it was opened and then she went to Rich East.
Q. And where is your daughter today?
A. My daughter lives in New York City. Does she miss Park Forest?
A. I don't think so, really. I don't think she does. I think for a long time she felt that it was a very sterile community. Today, she thinks it's really great. She thinks it's very pretty. She loves her house here. I say, her house because although she doesn't live in it, it's her house too. I think she feels she was very fortunate in having gone to Rich East when it was a top high school and she had a relatively good high school education and was given a lot of opportunity, but I don't think she misses it especially. She's been away for a long time.
Q. But she does feel happy to have grown up here, I guess?
Leona DeLue 27
A. I think she does. After all, she's thirty‑seven years old now and she certainly can look at things with a different point of view and a different perspective than she looked at them twenty years ago, but I think that she would hate to see us move from here because this, although it's not really home to her, she enjoys coming to Park Forest.
Q. When did Park Forest get its own newspaper?
A. Well, a group of people started a newspaper here called the Park Forest Reporter, and mimeographed it. Adele Saxe, who lived off Western Avenue in a court I can't remember, was really the guiding spark. Many
other people were helpful to her in starting the Reporter and it was
a great little paper and, of course, became independent after that and I
think you have most of the copies, or we have most of the copies at the
Q. Did your National Council of Jewish Women help with that in any way?
Q. Like the Community Calendar?
A. We had a Community Calendar, we always were responsible for the Community Calendar that ran in the Reporter and in the [Park Forest] Star. That was a responsibility of the National Council of Jewish Women. As I said earlier, we did so many things that unless you spark my memory. . . . We worked at Saint James Hospital always. Wherever there was a need for volunteers, we always were there to help.
Q. I understand you were chairman for the Freedom Hall Advisory Committee?
A. I am now, yes.
Q. You are now?
Leona DeLue 28
A. I am now, yes. I am the chairman now.
Q. What are your duties there?
A. Well, the Freedom Hall Advisory Commission, as the name implies, makes decisions and advises the Village Board of Trustees on the needs of Freedom Hall and the day‑to‑day operation of Freedom Hall. As you know, there are a number of commissions in Park Forest that are in this advisory capacity and I was a member of the Freedom Hall Commission and then became its chairman. This is the end of my second year as chairman of the Freedom Hall Commission. It's very interesting.
I was also a member of the Bicentennial‑Commission; the Bicentennial Commission was chaired by Ron McLeod, and that Commission was responsible for the building of Freedom Hall. Ralph Johnson, whom you probably remember as a former village president, dreamed of such a building and that was our contribution for the Bicentennial year to the community, and we're very proud of it. It's a beautiful building, just beautiful.
Q. Do you find it hard to get volunteers in Park Forest?
A. Well, actually, I'm not in a position to say. I can tell you that the condition of the National Council of Jewish Women is very indicative of the changing role of women in the world today. First of all, we have comparatively few Jewish people moving into Park Forest. That is one thing. The second thing is that women today go to work and it's mighty hard to get women who go to work to then volunteer in a volunteer organization, so that our membership in our section of the National Council of Jewish Women is half of what it was. And they find it very difficult to get volunteers, I can tell you that, extremely difficult to
Leona DeLue 29
get volunteers. But from my own experience with Freedom Hall, since we have our full complement of commissioners, who are appointed by the village president with the consent of the Board of Trustees, and we have a fine group of commissioners, all of whom are volunteers, as I am. . . . So I don't know if the village finds it difficult to get volunteers, but obviously, people are still willing and happy to work for the community, as you should know. Look at you, working for the community.
Q. What were your feelings when the first Blacks moved to Park forest?
A. Very positive ones and I might add that council had some thirteen do with the peace and quiet of Dr. and Mrs. Wilson moving in happily. I had very positive feelings about it, certainly. I felt that, both my husband and I felt, that it was about time and we had always felt badly that Park Forest had not been an integrated community from the beginning. Oddly enough, there had been Orientals here from almost the beginning, but not blacks and we had always felt badly about that. Nevertheless, we could understand, considering the times in which we were living, why this was not an integrated community. After all, the insurance companies had put a lot of money into Park Forest and no matter what the feelings may have been of the people in ACB, the insurance companies certainly weren't going to face up to an integrated community, not in 1948 they weren't. So that we had very positive feelings.
Bob Dinerstein, at that time, I believe, was the chairman of Human Rights Commission and he called me one day. I was then the president of my section of council ‑‑ this is a story I don't tell very often, but I guess it's an historical part of something. There were many people in
Leona DeLue 30
Park Forest who were dreadfully against Dr. and Mrs. Wilson moving in, as you know, and particularly, I guess, people who lived in that immediate vicinity. Many of them were very upset. Bob called me one day and told me that one of the vice presidents of my section of council and her husband were among the most vehement protestors of. Dr. and Mrs. Wilson and as a matter of fact, were spearheading a movement to get them out. And Bob said, "As president of your section I think you better know about this and do what you can."
I contacted Mil Fisher, who is a very dear friend of mine and who as a past president of our section, and told her that I would like her to join me in going over to see this particular woman and her husband and Mil said she certainly would join me. I called this particular woman and her husband ‑‑ they no longer live here, I might add ‑‑ but I called this woman and told her that Mil and I were coming over to see her. She was not too happy about it but I didn't ask her, I told her. And we went over and she and her husband and Mil and I sat in the living room and we were subjected to just the kind of conversation that was absolutely sickening to us both and they were not going to back down. They were going to get rid of these people. They were not going to, quote, "Ruin their neighborhood." They lived not far from the Wilsons and they were going to get rid of them. Well, we left, finally, after many hours, finally asking them to reconsider. And I told this woman in no uncertain terms that I would expect her resignation as the vice president in our organization if she fulfilled her threat. I would not tolerate her being a vice president in the National Council of Jewish Women that had always stood for the rights of everyone, to in any way
Leona DeLue 31
be connected with our organization if she continued to fulfill her threats. She was pretty adamant when we left, and Mil and I were pretty sick to our stomachs when we left. But before either of us got home, this woman had called here and told Ross that they had reconsidered and that they would not do anything at all.
And although many people were very much against Dr. and Mrs. Wilson moving in, you have to put everything in the co‑‑text of its time. At that time, other Blacks were moving into other communities and there were very few communities where there wasn't physical violence. ‑‑And although people harassed Dr. and Mrs. Wilson, no one in Park Forest hurt them physically. No one set fire to their house, no one hurt their children and no one hurt them, and it was a sad thing that anyone would harass them. I had a neighbor at that time, now dead, and I suppose I shouldn't even say it, but she used to get in her car every morning and drive around and around and around the block, just to bother them. And it just made me sad and sick. But no one ever did hurt them or hurt their property and after awhile, people forgot about it and just seemed to accept it.
Q. Did you join the Aqua Center when it first opened?
A. Yes, we did, but we have not belonged for many years because we have our own pool. We've had our own pool for, my goodness, I guess seventeen or eighteen years.
Q. Oh. Why did you move to this house, 76 Blackhawk Drive?
A. Well, our court began to change. Since it was the first court to be occupied, I guess sociologically, they say "The first neighborhood to be occupied is the first neighborhood to change," and the court began to
Leona DeLue 32
change. We had grown used to the fact that people came and went, because, as I said at the beginning, people were in the army, people were in the FBI, people belonged to large organizations and they, you know, worked for large organizations, but some of the people that were moving into the court were not quite as attractive as neighbors as they could have been. So we thought it was time to move on, perhaps, and we thought of leaving Park Forest, but this house, which was a model house that had been built for Parents magazine, was in the process of just being built and Phil Klutznick called my husband and told him that he thought that this would be a great house for us, that he'd like us to take a look at the plans and take a look at the area in which it was being built and so forth. Well, the last thing in the world we ever wanted to do was own a house. First of all we were both apartment born and bred and owning a house was not really anything we had ever dreamed about and we had never owed anybody a cent and to us having a mortgage (laughs) was owing money. But we decided that we would give it a try, so there was nothing here but a concrete foundation and some two‑by‑fours sticking up in the air, but we had seen the plans of the house and we thought that would be nice, and we did like Park Forest; we really hated to leave it. And I might add that it was the smartest thing we ever did in our lives and it has been a very comfortable and satisfactory house for us all these years.
Q. When was this that you moved here?
A. In 1953.
Q. What do you think of the houses in Park Forest, according to other
Leona DeLue 33
A. Well, I think that people are very comfortable in them. They seem to be. The people that I know who are still here certainly seem to be comfortable enough in them. They certainly made a good investment when they bought them. My neighbors seem to be comfortable in theirs and most of the people who live on this particular street are people who have lived in Park Forest for a very long time. We have a young man who lives down at the end of the street who was raised in Park Forest and now he and his kids and his wife live here and certainly everyone seems to be comfortable enough and seems to stay in their houses.
Q, Do you think Park Forest was deserving of the All‑America City Award two times?
A. Indeed I do.
A. I think it's a very special community. For a long time I took Park Forest very much for granted. Although this was where I lived and I was certainly happy enough living here, I took it very much for granted, but I think it's a very special community. I think that, even though the times have changed and people have changed, I think that it still has some very unusual qualities. I think we have an excellent form of government, I think that we have very honest people leading our government and we always have. There are so many scandals connected with so many other suburban areas and their particular governing bodies and sometimes our village trustees make mistakes and they do foolish things and they do dumb things, [but] I think they are interested in the community as a whole and they are fine people to give of their time. We've been very fortunate. It's astonishing how many of the old‑timers
Leona DeLue 34
are still in this community and living their lives and still giving their time to the community. It's just astonishing how many there are that still wouldn't want to live anywhere else, even given their choice.
Q. Is being judge of elections in Park Forest here interesting work?
A. I think so, it's interesting; I've been doing it for many years. I stopped doing it for a long time and then began to do it again. I think it's interesting. It's very hard work; it's a very long day. A very long day and a very hard job and unless it's a particularly busy election it's a very monotonous, boring day, because unless your very busy, you just sit there all day and do what you have to do and greet each voter if it's a slow election. You greet each voter with a great deal of happiness because it's such a long, long day. It's very underpaid work, as I'm sure you know, but those of us who do it, do it because it's a need. As a matter of fact, I had a call the other day that they're very short of judges and would I please call and recommend anyone I know and I've been trying to think and can't think of anyone I know who isn't a judge who would like to be a judge.
Q. Do the majority of the people in Park Forest vote on election day in
comparison to other communities?
A. I really don't know. I really don't know. I would say that it probably at this stage of the game is the same as the national norm. In the early days I might tell you that we had tremendous turnouts at elections, especially at village elections. Today, I think our village elections are sadly responded to. I find that very disturbing, because too few people come out to vote for the village elections, let alone national elections.
Leona DeLue 35
Q. Is Park Forest considered a Democratic or a Republican community?
A. It used to be very Republican, as most suburban areas are, and I would still say that the majority of voters here are Republican. I think that's somewhat changing. (noise here is Mr. DeLue rattling grocery bags.)
Q. What is your work with the League of Women Voters?
A. I never have done any work for them. I became a member of the League of Women Voters when they started, but because of my involvement ‑‑ and I was always greatly involved ‑‑ in the National Council of Jewish Women,, I never had time to become active in league. We always were sorry about it, but I couldn't possibly give as much time as I had always given to council and be active in another organization.
Q. You've told me a few upsetting experiences that you've had in Park Forest. Do you have any others that you would like to relate here or even particularly happy experiences that happened?
A. I think that very few of our experiences in Park Forest, as relates to the village itself, have been unhappy. You can't go through life for 32 years, (laughs) living in a community, without having happy experiences and unhappy experiences. It has just been 32 years of living. I think that the community has been very good to us. I think that the day we moved in here, as far as both my husband and I are concerned, was a very, very lucky time for us. We were willing to go through the hardships of living in a construction camp, really, and it has been a very productive 32 years. I think that Park Forest can keep you as busy and active as you want to be. You can do whatever you like,
Leona DeLue 36
or not do anything if you don't want to. I think that people, as I said earlier, take you at your value as a person, rather than what you have, and I think that that is unusual and to me, really, is a great thing.
Q. In those early days could you actually imagine that Park Forest could develop into the village that it has become today?
A. I guess not, really. I think not. It was almost impossible. we certainly didn't expect to stay here. We expected to move back to Chicago, really. We signed a three‑year lease, which was what you had to sign when you moved in here, and we never really expected beyond that. We certainly expected to find an apartment in Chicago and move into that. I think if anyone had ever told us that we would be here 32 years later, we would have told them they were crazy, but we've been very delighted to stay here for this length of time. We don't think in terms of moving, for so long as we can keep the house up and keep ourselves going we certainly will continue to stay, I'm sure of that.
Q. Is there anything in particular that you would like to add to this interview that we haven't discussed?
A. Well there's really so much to say, it's almost impossible to paint a picture of what Park Forest was in those early days. I think that one of the things that I am most grateful to are the number of wonderful friends I've made in this community. I think I speak for my husband too. Wonderful, wonderful friends, many of whom don't live here any longer and still we are the greatest friends and I think that most of us who have lived here for any length of time have the same thing to say. The people who have lived here ‑‑ we have many, many acquaintances, good
Leona DeLue 37
solid acquaintances, people who we don't see that often socially, but who we've known for a long time and with whom we have wonderful relationships. I think both my husband and I have given a good hit to the village, but we have gotten just as much back from the village as we've given.
I really know Park Forest has faults. I don't mean to paint a picture of perfection or anything of the sort, but there isn't anyplace that's perfect. I think we could use more police in Park Forest. I think the village knows we can use more police in Park Forest, but the police we have, in my experience with them, which has been minimal, have been fine. I think they certainly try their best, and in my relationship with the village, I think we have had a fine group of village presidents over the years. Certainly a man like Henry Deitch, Ralph Johnson, Barney Cunningham, I think these have been really people who have guided the village very well. I think Mayer Singerman has been a fine village president and has given a lot to the village, a lot of himself to the village.
One of the things that the National Council of Jewish Women was a founder of is the Non‑partisan Committee [which] was founded in the early days of Park Forest. A group of organizations, which included the National Council of Jewish Women, started it and it is an organization that guides the village in the selection and election of our village trustees. My husband is a member of the Non‑partisan Committee [board]. They set up meetings in neighborhoods, so that the people who vote, hopefully, can judge the people who are running for office in the village. It is a wonderful committee and I think has done a great deal for the kind of people that we have running for village trustee.
Leona DeLue 38
Q. Let's sum up here. What has living in Park Forest meant to you?
A. Oh! I think it has meant a great deal to me. I think it has really been a good life here. As I said before, we have made wonderful friends and I think that this is the basis of anyone's life, are the kind of friends that you make and the kind of life you make for yourself. I said too, and I can only repeat, that you can give as much of yourself as you like. You can find as much to do here as you want to do, or do nothing if you don't want to do anything. I hope I've been coherent and articulate and helpful. (laughs)
Q. You've been very good. We thank you very much.
A. You are very welcome.
(End of interview)