The latest from our series highlighting extraordinary people on the Northwest side of Chicago that are true local heroes, as nominated by their neighbors. This hero was nominated by Dickie Nichols on behalf of the GIPNA Board of Directors.
Pat Clark has lived on the Northwest side of Chicago for 32 years with husband George. In her time here, she has left quite an impact, especially locally in the Independence Park community. She has been a long-standing member of the Greater Independence Park Neighborhood Association (GIPNA) and has held many titles within the organization, including Vice President, Farmers Market Manager, Proofreader, Advertising Manager, and more. But titles don’t mean much to Pat, who approached this Northwest Side Hero title reluctantly and with her own signature sense of humor.
“This must mean I’m a big muckety muck. HA!”
Pat remarks her favorite thing about the Northwest side is the people.
“We have new neighbors that moved in across the street recently and they were saying, ‘Everyone is so friendly here!’ They were in total shock and it’s true. We watch out for our neighbors.”
Pat would know. Though GIPNA started back in 1996 before Pat’s involvement, the group went into hiatus for a few years until 2004 when it was brought back to life by David Dumo; Bobbie and Jim O’Connor; and John and Heather Aitken, among others.
“All wonderful people. They were the spark plugs in getting it going again and Heather invited me to join the board.”
Together they started a neighborhood phone tree and assigned captains to each block in the Independence Park area (Central Park to Pulaski; Addison to Irving Park) to help foster a tight community feel and ease communication among neighbors. They developed a newsletter, The Independence Park Community Voice and Pat has helped in all areas of the publication: interviewing, writing, advertising, proofreading and delivery.
“Jim O’Connor was the longtime editor—he’s a professional writer and editor. I was interviewing neighbors for articles and wrote a ‘Green Knowledge’ column about things like recycling or not letting your car idle—that’s one of my pet peeves.”
Pat comes from an advertising background and others at GIPNA wanted to tap into that skillset.
“Somewhere along the way I got talked into selling ads—I don’t know how that happened. I remember I stepped out for a minute during a meeting and came back and was notified that I was the new Advertising Manager.”
At the same time, Pat, along with John Aitken and others started up the Independence Park Farmers Market, now entering its 15th year.
“I ran that for nine years. That was probably the biggest and toughest thing we tackled. We started with nothing. We knew nothing.”
But they were smart enough to look at how other successful markets did it.
"At that time, Marge Laurino was our Alderman, so John Aitken and I approached her about starting a market and she set up a meeting with the Mayor’s Office of Special Events to talk about city farmer markets. We left and all said ‘We have no clue what they were all talking about! We are all so screwed!’ ”
But it didn’t deter them from trying it anyway. Their first market was in 2004 and it poured.
“It was a disaster! We only had two vendors show up because they took pity on this poor, startup market. It was a tremendous learning curve on my part. It was a real education.”
But there was a silver lining. Pat met Greg Stivers of Stivers Gourmet Coffee that first market, and he’s been serving coffee to the crowds that did eventually show up ever since.
“He was our first vendor and still is. I consider him a friend. The community really comes together now to make the market a success.”
The Independence Park Farmers Market runs the second and fourth Sundays of the month from June to October, alternating weeks with nearby Portage Park. The market now has closer to 20 vendors and includes area musicians.
“Years ago, I was cutting through Independence Park and these musicians were just sitting on a park bench singing and I said, ‘You guys sound really good. Would you like to come to the farmers market to play?’ They said, ‘Oh we’d love to!’ ”
Bob Huston and his group, the Indy Park Jammers, welcome any and all musicians to come and jam with them every market Sunday. This staple of the market all started because Pat Clark had the courage to speak up.
“I had nothing to lose by asking. They could have said no, but thankfully they didn’t. I’ve gotten a lot of enjoyment out of it. You develop relationships over the years. I like talking to people and I guess I like bossing them around, too.”
After managing the market for years, she passed the baton.
“At some point it got a little overwhelming. It’s like having a baby. I built this market. I was kind of proud of it, but I did get burned out. We’re so happy that Greg Shea stepped up to the plate and this is now his sixth year of running it.”
Other GIPNA events have kept her busy, including the Pre-Mother’s Day Fine Arts Craft Fair, a selective, juried art fair that has given local artists a wonderful platform to sell their wares since 2007.
“This was my last year doing it. Other neighborhood women have stepped up, such as Terry Cunningham and Debbie Solomon.”
Pat has also been a dedicated volunteer for GIPNA’s annual Wine & Cheese Party in November and Father’s Day Gourmet Pancake Breakfast in June. All event profits go right back into the neighborhood, funding area schools and community groups such as John B. Murphy Elementary and Lydia Home.
“We’ve had some good parties over the years.”
Though Pat’s done a lot over the years, she hardly calls herself a hero.
“I’m just an area resident who loves their neighborhood. I’ve been very lucky to find a wonderful group of highly intelligent, honest, and fun people to be around. I’ve become good friends with them, and it helps that everyone carries their weight and follows through.”
Being an involved member of the community has its perks. People get to know you.
“I walk a lot and I’ll see people waving at me and yelling, ‘HI PAT!’ I just wave right back and usually can’t come up with the name fast enough. It’s a good feeling.”
How can others get more involved?
“Come to the Independence Park Farmers Market or any of our events and just say you’d like to pitch in! We’d love to have you.”