From the President

Vol. XXI No. 3 - Winter 2010

By: Robert Remer

I usually get to thank people; this time I want to thank an organization as well.

This last year has been the 50th anniversary of the Edgewater Community Council (ECC), incorporated in January 1960, then launching five decades of continuous service and major accomplishments.

We at the Edgewater Historical Society (EHS) were born of ECC back in 1988 when the momentum of its successful oral history project (ably led by Kathy Gemperle, Betty Mayian and the late Sr. Mary Cramer, among others) led to our incorporation as a separate entity. This has been a productive and useful relationship; EHS proudly includes the present and three past presidents of the ECC on its current board. Our commitment to the community is fundamental to our mission.

Many other community institutions and programs exist for no other reason than that the community and ECC cared enough to make them happen. Started by community and religious leaders, ECC took on the nascent urban battles of the 1960s of safety, crime, housing, development, community institutions, immigration, recreation, etc.

Look around this compact 1.7 square mile community of Edgewater, packed with over 62,000 residents. You can’t go far without seeing or being served by the many progeny of ECC. Besides EHS and its museum, there is Berger Park and North Lakeside Cultural Center; the Edgewater Library; the Armory as the city’s largest indoor park facility; the Edgewater Chamber of Commerce; Edgewater Development Corp.; and especially Care For Real serving over 4000 of our fellow neighbors; the list goes on. In terms of programs, ECC can proudly point to its Operation Winthrop Kenmore which generated over $50 million in investment that turned around a declining neighborhood; or Operation Ridge, the Senn Park Plan, the Edgewater Sustainability Project, the Balkan Outreach Program, numerous safety programs, and on and on. The list is very impressive.

For fifty years, ECC was the magnet drawing community talent and desires, and focusing that energy like a beam of light – which led to the Anniversary Motto: Lighting the Way for 50 Years.

EHS is proud to be displaying an exhibit commemorating those 50 years, including wonderful memorabilia like the Miss Edgewater Contest, a photo of the world’s longest picnic table, and the program agenda when the first bylaws were passed. The exhibit runs through January. Thanks go to Kathy Gemperle for again curating an important exhibit; and to LeRoy Blommaert, Dorothy Nygren, Tom Murphy and others for the finishing touches that can make all the difference in an exhibit. We hope you will all have a chance to enjoy this tour back to the 1960s before it closes the end of January.

There would not have been a 50th Anniversary Celebration Year, but for the persistent and caring leadership of ECC President Reggie Griffin and former ECC President Marion Kennedy Volini.

The symbol of the celebration has been the two dozen painted lighthouses throughout Edgewater. Built by Marion’s wonderful sons Mike and David and their friends, they were painted by local residents and organizations to reflect their community view. You can’t miss them. They are a great tribute to Edgewater.

This anniversary year celebration saw a lot of other wonderful achievements including a fabulous community cook book, with proceeds to help the work of ECC, Care For Real, and the Edgewater Chamber of Commerce. A wonderful summer Art Fair at Berger Park reprised the many July 4th art fairs that had been an Edgewater tradition thru the 1960s. Beautiful banners flutter from light posts to spread the light house message. And finally, there was a wonderful October community celebration with walking and trolley tours of the lighthouses and a final celebration at the Armory, a fitting and robust symbol of ECC’s many accomplishments.

Marion and Reggie, the anniversary co-chairs deserve special acclaim for their decades of devotion to Edgewater.

Marion was president of ECC during the 1970s when, would you believe, Lakewood Balmoral was “red-lined” and homeowners could not get insurance, because Edgewater was considered blighted! She went on to become Alderman of the 48th Ward, ably serving from 1977-86; she set in motion a model for community based politics that has continued to this day, and set the standard for other communities in Chicago. Many of Edgewater’s successes occurred on her watch. Marion has stayed active in the community and continues to show her love of Edgewater and its wonderful citizens. Thank you, Marion, for all you have done.

Reggie Griffin, known by most of us as “Reg,” retired in 2010 as the longest serving president in ECC history. Limited by bylaws to no more than three consecutive yearly terms at a time (only equaled by six others in 50 years Reggie served not one, but TWO 3-year terms during the past three decades. He has continuously been on the ECC board since 1976-77. I remember when he, Kathy Osterman, and I joined the board when a new phase of activism began. I fondly remember when he and I used to go out on the ECC Safety Program radio patrols on weekends, long before there was a CAPS program in the city. When he wasn’t President he served as the Chair of the Care For Real board; he distinguished himself and Edgewater by his many city wide leadership roles in community safety and feeding the hungry. We are also proud to have him on the EHS board where he ably chairs our Board Development Committee. I can say without equivocation that nobody has put more heart and soul into Edgewater than Reggie Griffin. Our hats are off to you, Reg! Nobody cares the way you do, friend.

As ECC looks to its new future, we know that, like many non-profit service organizations in this tough recession, its leadership faces difficult financial challenges and must consider the best way to go forward and how to best serve Edgewater. We hope that its history will help light the way – to use the fabulous talent and devotion that exists in this community, whether in the religious institutions, the schools, the neighborhood associations, and the business community and channel it to tackle what will be the unique needs of our urban community for the next 50 years. Much of that talent is now being channeled into the very programs and institutions that ECC spawned. And that is all good. But that only raises the bar to find new ways to channel community spirit and keep ECC vibrant and relevant.

We wish you the best. You were there for us. We are here for you now. Thanks, ECC.