The Eagles Aerie 1344 was founded in 1906, just before Harlem became Forest Park, when the Harlem Racetrack was hanging on in business, and as automobile racing was dominating the horse track. Just moments older than the Forest Park Amusement Park, the Aerie has survived to this day.
Members of the Historical Society filled the Eagles Hall on Sunday, November 13th for a member appreciation party. Smokey Joel’s provided chili, Italian beef sandwiches, and his signature Chicago Style Hot Dogs. The Bingo machine, which takes center stage at the Hall, filled the room with anticipation as guests tried their luck. The Bingo cards were pure 1950s-era vintage, as was the lighted Bingo display high on the wall.
At the top of the agenda was honoring the Volunteer of the Year Amy Binns-Calvey and recognizing Orland Awardee Augie Aleksy. Amy helps the Society immensely by conducting popular tours of the Forest Home Cemetery. Augie was President of the Society and responsible for bringing us into the modern era. His support of the Des Plaines River Anthology was a highlight of his speech. After all the Bingo prizes were distributed to winners, the Gulyas Brothers played sixties tunes until closing time.
The members of the Historical Society are a distinctive group, worthy of great celebration. Every person in attendance has been an integral part of our Society, either as a volunteer, a supporter, or a lover of local history. Bringing everyone together was a tremendous pleasure, and we look forward to next year’s celebration.
Dr. Orland Award
Dr. Frank Orland, a respected dentist, teacher, and researcher, was also a visionary and a man who dearly loved his hometown Forest Park. “Everybody has a story,” he was fond of saying, and he made it his mission to record, research, and give a voice to the rich tapestry of our history. Dr. Orland was an early and important proponent of fluoridation and taught for many years at the University of Chicago.
He brought his skills as an educator and advocate to the task of creating a Historical Society from scratch. He and his wife Phyllis, a physician in town, recognized that Forest Park was special. Although neither were professional historians, they were drawn to Forest Park’s unique and thrilling heritage.
As the first President of the Historical Society, Dr. Orland put together a Board of Directors and organized tours of Forest Home Cemetery. He collected treasures and artifacts and displayed them in the Forest Park Public Library while moving the Historical Society forward despite a slim budget, a small membership, and no permanent home for an ever-growing collection. Dr. Orland died in 2000 and Rich Vitton, Orland’s successor as President, moved the Society’s collection to his own basement and graciously stewarded the collection for many years.
Citizens approached Mayor Calderone to ask for his assistance in transitioning the Historical Society’s collection out of one man’s basement and within reach of everybody. Mayor Calderone reached out to the community and brokered a way forward for a new Board of volunteers and the Historical Society of Forest Park was reborn.
Stepping up to create a more stable and professional organization, Augie Aleksy became President. Never again would the Historical Society lose sight of its mission to be an active part of the community. Augie, the owner of the acclaimed Forest Park bookstore Centuries and Sleuths, was an ideal choice to get the Society on its feet again. Under Augie’s leadership the Society sought to hire an Executive Director and find a permanent home. The Society was able to secure space in Saint Peter’s church until it was sold, and Augie helped the Society secure a home in the Village building on Adams and Des Plaines where it currently resides.
During this time, the Society came up with innovative ideas for fund-raising, like the Des Plaines River Anthology—both a book and a theatrical adaptation that was performed locally. Augie also shepherded the creation of the board game Forest Park-opoly.
Committed to keeping history in the public sphere, Augie helped acquire space for a modest museum at First United Church on Harvard and Elgin. Hoping to secure a permanent long-term home at First United, Augie helped broker a deal with the congregation. When structural flaws and challenges of co-habitation with an active congregation proved insurmountable, he worked to broker a mutual agreement to part ways.
After eight years Augie reached his term limit as a board member but his spirited assistance and support of the Society continues. For the past 5 years Augie has been our Madison Street face, our Garden Walk starting point, a receiving point for donations, our box office for ticket sales, our host at the annual Holiday Walk, and our exclusive retail merchant.
In the spirit of "everyone has a story," we are honored to grant Augie Aleksy the 2022 Frank Orland Award.