Photos courtesy: Forest Glen Community Club
Here is the fifth story in my Northwest Side Hero Project, highlighting stories about local heroes (as nominated by their neighbors), who are doing great things in the neighborhood.
Steve Reardon has lived in the Forest Glen area of Chicago for over 30 years. He and his wife Maureen came upon the area unexpectedly as they were looking further north, but then fell in love with Forest Glen.
Surrounded by forest preserve on the North, West and East sides, there’s a lot to love about the area.
While the area is still densely wooded, a lot has changed in the time he and Maureen decided to make a home here. The demographic of Forest Glen has gotten younger, and more diverse.
“It’s nice to see younger people moving in,” said Steve. “We were the youngest people when we moved in 1984. All our neighbors were in their 60s and 70s. We bought the house from people in their 80s.”
Now Forest Glen is home to Asian, Hispanic and African American families, with homeowners closer to 30 or 40 in age. With downtown Chicago accessible by Metra train, many of these families are working professionals, who enjoy the mix of urban city life with a suburban feel. Though still technically Chicago, the area has much of the charm you might find in a small town. A lot of that is thanks to Steve and many others like him in a group called the Forest Glen Community Club.
Originally founded in 1924 as the Forest Glen Men’s Club, the neighborhood organization has seen many changes. Women entered the scene in the 1940s, as area men were off to war.
“We still have books of the minutes taken by the ladies during the war,” said Steve.
In 1955, it became the club it is today. Many of their current traditions date back to this time, including holiday parades, award ribbon ceremonies, and the garden walks.
Steve served as President of the Club for 3 years, from 1991-1994.
“Everything that went wrong did so during my three terms,” said Steve with a laugh.
Steve had his hands full. He helped organize neighbors to petition a Deep Tunnel development that was planning to locate a vent right in a residential yard. After hearing from 500 concerned neighbors, the Tunnel developers moved the vent to an empty lot.
When Steve and other local activists saw Labough Woods being used as a giant outdoor bar, they lobbied local mayors and the Cook County Board to ban liquor in forest preserves.
“We were a pain in the neck, but we got a lot done,” said Steve.
While their protesting and petitions were successful, the Forest Glen Community Club is better known for their ribbons.
“We give out a lot of ribbons,” said Steve. “We give out green ribbons for best gardens and yards, red ribbons for the best Christmas decorations, orange ribbons for best Halloween houses, and blue ribbons for best bicycle and tricycle decorations.”
The annual 4th of July parade is a hit in the community, with sometimes three generations of spectators all enjoying the sights and a hot dog to go along with it.
“This parade has been going on since 1963. Adults, kids and grandkids come to see this thing. It’s one of the longest running parades here in Chicago.”
Steve has been lining up this timeless, patriotic fun for Forest Glen for almost 30 years.
“They were looking for someone one year, and in a moment of unclear thought, I said I’ll do it. Well, here we are 29 years later, and I’m still doing it.”
While the parade may sound quaint, the numbers are not. The Forest Glen Garden Walk has attracted as many as 400 attendees.
But other times of year, the neighborhood is quiet, and the residents like it that way.
“We get the commuters parking during the workweek, but other than that, it’s a quiet little neighborhood.”
Forest Glen and the larger Northwest Side is not likely to see Steve retreat anytime soon.
“I’ve always been involved in community and political things. I come by it honestly, and it keeps me young.”
Nora Kerr is the owner of Memoir for Me, documenting life stories that matter.