†This is an interview for the Park Forest Oral History Project on August 31, 1980, with Yvonne Robinson.†
The interviewer is Bonita Dillard.
Q. Yvonne, Iíd like to thank you for agreeing to be part of our Oral History project.
A. Well, I think itís a very good project and Iím very happy to take part.
Q.† Iíd like to ask you a few questions and Iíd like to start off with your background.† Where were you born?
A.† I was born in Chicago Heights, Illinois and I lived there all my life until I moved to Park Forest.
Q. And what is your occupation?
A.† Iím in the field of education; Iíve taught school since 1962.† Iíve been in education all my working years.
Q.† And where do you teach?
A.† Well, Iíve taught at Gavin School, in Washington McKinley Junior High School;
†presently† Iím the assistant principal at Wilson Elementary School in Chicago Heights.
Q.† Oh, all of these schools are in Chicago Heights?
Q.† How did you come to be interested in Park Forest?† How did you find out about it?
A.† Well, living in Chicago Heights, which is a neighboring town, of course I knew about Park Forest, probably from itís first beginning.† After Park Forest was partially established, my father had a cleaning route in Park Forest and we went on this cleaning route many times with him.† So we were very familiar with Park Forest.† When the plaza came to be, we shopped in Chicago Heights as well as Park Forest.† So it was always like the neighbor next door.† So I kind of grew up with Park Forest, although I lived
in Chicago Heights.
Q. Oh, you probably remember a lot of the issues that went along with the building of it.
A. More than issues, I just can remember Park Forest when it first started; many times - we would take a ride through the village and kind of watched it develop.† We remember the very beginning.† It used to be a kind of joke that when you saw people with muddy shoes you knew they were from Park Forest, because it took all of this to get Park Forest started.† So I was quite familiar, plus I knew a lot of people in Park Forest who were actively involved in human relations and issues of that type, and we were in close contact with people from Park Forest from the very beginning.
Q.† Are most of these people still in Park Forest?
A.† Some of them are, Shirlee Wheeler is one and, of course, Harry Teshima, and Jane Dick. There are a number of people I know Iím forgetting, but these are the ones who stand out most vividly in my mind.
Q. You have to answer your telephone?
R. Yes. (tape turned off, then on again)
Q.† O.K.† So Jane Dick, you said, and Shirlee Wheeler, these people are some of the ones who are still living here that you knew before?
A.† Thatís correct.
Q.† O.K.† Well, when did you come to Park Forest?
A.† We moved to Park Forest, oh, about seventeen years ago, which was about 1963.
Q.† Oh, O.K., well, what reason, you know, since you were this close to Park Forest already, what made you come over from Chicago Heights?
A.† We basically moved to Park Forest because, like I said, we kind of grew up with Park Forest and so after we were married and moved back to Illinois, we looked into Park Forest.† We thought the schools were good. We thought it was a good community to rear our children.† We kind of liked the things that we heard about Park Forest, and I thought I could be in Park Forest and it was still like being home.† Most of my family is either in Park Forest or in Chicago Heights Ė thatís my immediate family Ė and weíre spread between the two communities.
Q.† Well, at the time you moved here, there were not that many Blacks living in Park Forest.† So how were you treated, was it easy to come here?
A.† O.K.† When we moved to Park Forest I think there were about six other Black families in the village.
Q.† Do you happen to remember any of their names?
A.† O.K., I remember Dr. Jackson and his wife were here;† I believe the Simpsons moved in just before us or right after, I canít really remember.† The Hendersons were here, and, of course, the Robbins family was here.† Then, I can recall other families who moved in about the same time but I canít recall if they were just before or right after, but they were about the same time that we moved in, such as the Irons family, ah, who now have moved to California and the Clarks, over on Orchard.† But when we first moved here, when you asked what it was like:† first of all, we integrated Illinois† School, our family. †We had two children in school, one in second grade and one in kindergarten, and I think they adjusted rather well.† We were told at that time they did a survey of the neighborhood to find out what kind of atmosphere you were moving into, and they didnít tell you exactly who said what, but you had a general idea how your neighborhood felt about your moving in.† I think the village fathers did what they thought was necessary to protect Black families when they moved into Park Forest, and having a family whose home was just recently burned, like two years before we moved into Park Forest, I did welcome any kind of protection that the village had to offer.† I do recall the policeman would sit in front of our house and if they saw strangers entering the building, whether they were Black or White, they questioned them to make sure that everything was O.K.: they even questioned my own sisters and brothers, I respected that and I thought it was a good idea, and like I said, I did welcome any kind of protection because I experience, you know, what it means to have a home burned down by people who are against your moving into the neighborhood.† So I did welcome that protection.
Q.† I can see, why you would be.† So, your move here, you were protected very well, but what about the neighbors?† How did ...?
A.† Most of the neighbors I found friendly.† I could tell they were very inquisitive.† My children made friends rapidly.† There was one or two families that I could feel were quite hostile, but they stayed out of my way and I stayed out of theirs, so we never had any confrontations, but you kind of knew which neighbors were friendly and which ones were not, you just did what you had to do to get along.
Q.† O.K.; and you said that your sons integrated, it was Illinois School?† And in that school they didnít have any problems or ...,
A.† Well, I guess it depends on what one would call problems. I think what some people would call great problems, another person might feel that they were very minor.† I managed to take off about a week, when we moved in, because we moved in in November, and so I did take off to try to help my children adjust to their new surroundings Ė as I would have in any community, whether it was a Black community or White.† We were told that before we moved in, the village fathers talked with the superintendent and, in return, they filtered the information down to the classroom teachers, to let them know that a Black family was moving in, and that they did not expect the children to experience any harassment .† And, of course, there were some problems.† There was some name calling. [about] which we had talked to our children the best way we could, the best way you can speak to a kindergartener and a second grader.† We talked with them and we tried to tell them to expect this kind of thing, because we knew it was going to happen.† It had happened to other families, so we were prepared for some of that to happen.† There were families on our block that really kind of went out of their way to make us welcome.† Some of these families are still in the area:† Bob and Adele Wolf lived on our block, now live in Olympia Fields.† And then there was Polly and Ed Harris, who since have moved away.† There was the Frank Family that was on our block, and the Gompers who still live on Hay street.† These four families, in particular, really just kind of went out of their way to make us feel welcome, and introduced us to other people on the block and in the community; they had parties and coffees to introduce us to neighbors.† And so we learned quite a few people rather early in the game and that did help us to adjust, as well as our children.
Q.† O.K.† Is there any other thing that you feel would be of interest, you know, about your move to Park Forest that I have not asked you?
A.† No, not really.† I think I just about covered the thing that concerned me at the time that I can recall.
Q.† Oh, one thing that I did know, your children, you said didnít have any problems and they all went straight through the Park Forest school system from kindergarten and now they are all just about grown, right?
A.† Yes, they are grown, two of them are grown now.
Q.† O.K., I know that you were a member of the Fellowship for Action.† Do you know about when it was organized?
A.† I canít remember the exact date, but before it was called Fellowship for Action there was a group of people that would get together from time to time to talk about issues that they thought should concern us.† And then, as I recall, later this group organized formally and called themselves Fellowship for Action.† Itís the kind of organization that I would say was basic Ė that dealt with issues in Park Forest, it was part social.† They put a great emphasis on human relations to make sure that people who moved into the village felt welcome and had a chance to meet each other.† Many times, when newcomers moved in, they called on these people to try to welcome them into the community.† When there were village elections, they would† encourage people to go to the various coffees or even to have coffees, so that people would be more familiar with the candidates, so they would mark the ballot the way that they thought would best serve Park Forest.
Q.† O.K., the members came from just the Park Forest area?
A.† Most of the members were from Park Forest.† There were a few who lived outside of Park Forest, but I think, as I recall, all of the members were in the Park Forest school district.† Because there were some from Chicago Heights but their children attend Park Forest schools, so naturally they would be interested† in things that were† happening in the village.
Q.† The Gavin Foundation, that was another organization that youíre very active in.† When was this organized?
A.† The Gavin Foundation was organized in 1971.† It started in January of 1971.† And I guess every person has their favorite charitable organization, and I think the Gavin Foundation is mine.
Q.† Why? (laughter)
A.† Well, first I guess itís one of my favorites, one, because it was named after my brother, Dr. Gavin.† Buddy, as we called him, passed away on January 9th of 1971 and on the evening of his death, several of his friends and patients and family member were in his home and they decided that night that something should be done to perpetuate the kind of lifestyle that he lived, and some of these people are people who live here in the village, such as Dr. and Mrs. [Dr.] Racher, Dr. Southwell, Dr. Ellison, and there was Dr. Pettit, who lives in Chicago.† And then there were some of his patients, like Katherine Bartlett Barfoot, who at that time lived in Park Forest; she now lives in Richton Park.† And then there was Nancy Navario who lived in Park Forest and now lives on the north side of† Chicago.† All of these were either patients or friends of Dr. Gavin.† Many of these people lived here in the village, as well as Chicago Heights and Crete and the areas surrounding the Chicago Heights/Park Forest area.
Q.† What is the Gavin Foundationís purpose?
A.† They mainly zero in on three areas: one is education, medical services, and human relations.† These are their three areas of concern.† And they do many things, many† activities and programs are developed in the foundation to cover these areas.† One of the activities that the foundation has done, they appointed a feasibility to study the medical needs of Chicago Heights, and this was headed by Jim McEldowney of Park Forest and my husband, and the two† chaired this committee.† They did a very extensive study of the are to find out what the medical needs are.† As a result of this study, they found out that there were many programs for people who were on welfare and, of course, the people who could afford medical services could take care of their own medical needs.† But there was a great need for what we call medical indigent.† These were the families who earn too much money to be on welfare, but not enough to take care of their medical needs.† So with that thought, they started the Gavin Health Clinic.†† And it was basically staffed by volunteer doctors, and there were about thirty-two doctors in the area who volunteered their time.† They did not come to a particular building, they volunteered their services right in their own offices.† They would come to the Gavin Clinic and the Gavin Clinic was like a referral service.† For an example, if you and your family came to the clinic and said that you needed medical care, well, we would call one of the volunteer doctors and say that Mr. and Mrs. Dillard are in need of medical services and they would take your entire family and provide medical care without charge, or a very small charge.† And then if there was surgery that was needed, if it could not be paid for, the foundation had an emergency medical fund that they would pay for the surgery.† And then if the family could pay, they could pay it back on, you know, on installments that would fit their need.† If they could not pay, well, then the foundation just picked up that sum.
Q.† Were any of these doctors residents of Park Forest?
A.† Ah, yes.† Doctor Racher was one; I think ah, Doctor Duke, I think, was one of the volunteer doctors.† I canít recall [more] of† them but they were from almost every community here in the south suburban area, but they did include doctors in Park Forest, yes.
Q.† And the patients, did you say they were basically from Chicago Heights, or were they from Park Forest or ...?
The clinic was in Chicago Heights, so most of the patients were from Chicago Heights, but no one was denied medical services.† They tried to run the clinic in the lifestyle that Dr. Gavin lived, in which he turned no person down, regardless of what their circumstances were.† No one was ever turned down in his office and they tried to make the clinic live up to that some kind of commitment.† Presently, the clinic now receives government funding and they cannot carry on that same philosophy, because after youíve once received federal money, then you have to go by the federal guidelines.† And the federal government said that the clinic must become self-sustaining, so because of that we could no longer use the volunteer doctor concept and now there is hired personnel there.† At one time the Gavin Foundation donated like, from ten to fifteen thousand dollars a year to that clinic.† Presently, because they do† have the federal grant, it was no longer needed.† So now the foundation uses that money to provide medical scholarships for young men and women who want to go into the field of medicine.
Q. I have here what were some of the accomplishments.† Now you mentioned the medical center and the scholarships.† Were there any others that would relate† to Park Forest?
A.† Yes, there is one that we were very interested in that I thought ---.† Just before, I would say several years before Doctor Gavin passed away, he became very interested in young men and women who wanted to go into the field of art.† And so he gave several art scholarships to children who attended what was then Franklin School; now Franklin School has been renamed Gavin School.† But at that time he gave art scholarships to children in Franklin School and Lincoln School and these children attended the Park Forest Art Center.† Then, after the foundation started, we continued that concept, and we would give art scholarships to children not only from Gavin School and Lincoln School, but many schools throughout District 170 in Chicago Heights.† So this ties in with Park Forest.† I would say thereís a great deal, a great percentage of the membership of people are in Park Forest and Chicago Heights.† We meet at Freedom Hall in the King Room, and our youth committee, which is compsed of teenagers, most of those members are from Park Forest.† Many of our activities are in Park Forest; we participated in the Park Forest Charity Days for many years.† Weíve had meals for senior citizens and usually those meals were held in various churches in Park Forest.† And so we have a great tie-in with Park Forest.† Our first treasurer was Dan Kaplan, who is now one of the vice-presidents of the Bank of Park Forest.† So I feel that Park Forest and Chicago Heights serve as the home of the Gavin Foundation.
Q.† So the Gavin Foundation is an integrated organization?
A.† Thatís correct.
Q.† Are there any other things that you can add to the development of Park Forest?
A.† Well, through the years that we have lived here weíve watched many people come and go.† Our neighborhood as it stands now seems to be pretty well established and it still has much of the friendliness that it had been when we first moved in.† That doesnít mean that thereís no room for improvement;† thereís a lot of things that could be improved.† One of the things that happened since we moved in is, of course, the Open Housing ordinance.† When we moved to Park Forest there was no such thing and it was not like you rode down the street and saw a ďfor saleĒ sign and said, ďthatís the house I want.Ē† We had to choose from a list of homes that were repossessed by the government and, because of the Presidentís executive order none of these homes could be sold on a discriminatory basis, and with that we were able to move into the home we are now in.† Of course, shortly after that, Park Forest did pass an open housing ordinance and thatís a plus for Park Forest.† Another thing that I really kind of admire about Park Forest, when many communities did not want to integrate their schools, Park Forest did start an integration program before someone said they had to do it, and so I think we can give Park Forest a plus on that, too.
There are things that could be improved; the shopping plaza, for example;† I would like to see some kind of concentrated effort among the residents of Park Forest to make that plaza the kind of plaza that it used to be.† Iíve thought about many things that we could do, but I donít know what the answer is, because, Iím sure, the things that Iíve thought of, Iím sure that many other people have also thought of.† But I think thatís one of our areas of concentration.† I think the other thing that we need to concentrate on as a village is to make sure that we either maintain and improve relations among all races and religions in Park Forest.† I would like to see that concept continue in Park Forest and improved upon.
Q. Thank you very much.
A.† Youíre welcome.