Allen Stryczek - Transcript

Transcript of Allen Stryczek
Interviewee: Allen Stryczek
Interviewer: Dorothy Nygren
Place: Chicago, IL.
Date: Dec. 1, 2015
Transcriber: Dorothy Nygren
Time: 22:09

Copyright © 2016 Edgewater Historical Society

DN: This is Dorothy Nygren of the Edgewater Historical Society interviewing Allen Stryczek at his home on Dec. 1, 2105. First of all let me congratulate you on being a Living Treasure and to thank you for all the work you have done for the Edgewater community.

AS: Thank you Dorothy for this wonderful honor. I have high regards for the Edgewater Historical Society. I’m aware of those who have received the Living Treasures award and it’s a privilege to be in their rank.

DN: Well, we’re privileged to have you doing the work you do. I’d like to ask you when you came to Edgewater and why you came here?

AS: My wife Suzanne and I came here in 1981. It’s the year we got married. A big reason why we came here was because of Paul Boyd who pretty much recruited us out of the Lincoln Park area. We were in the market to buy and he convinced us that we could get much more home for our money here. And it’s true. We did. We got quite a bit of home and we’re very happy to be here all the time.


DN: How did you become involved in volunteer work?

AS: We were first introduced to the Edgewater Community Council through Paul Boyd as well. I think he may have even been president of the Edgewater Community Council at that time. He brought us to a Christmas concert by the Edgewater Singers and from there he just sort of introduced us to others. We immediately became members of the Edgewater Community Council, but weren’t very active. Paul encouraged us little by little and said, “Pick an issue. Pick something.” So there was the opportunity for the “Save the Mansion” over at Berger Park. I became involved with that initially.

DN: You were also very active at St. Gertrude’s. Was that before or after your involvement with the Edgewater Community Council?

AS: We moved here in ’81. I probably became involved with Berger Park about ’82. I was not involved [in St. Gertrude’s]. It was very hard to break into St. Gertrude’s initially actually. There was a wonderful program at St. Gertrude’s called Christ Renews His Parish. After being involved for two or three years, we met a small group of people and then over the years that just blossomed into lots and lots of relationships within the parish.


DN: I want to ask you a little bit about the Spiritual Adoption program that you talked about and organizing block by block parents’ census and other activities.

AS: One of my first major activities was being president of the parish council. That pretty much helped set the direction for the parish. We also during that time period created the first strategic plan for the parish. That was sort of modeling what Cardinal Bernadin was doing in the Archdiocese. A few years after that we held a census where we went block by block and had block captains and had people going around and interviewing all the other people – once again just to build a spirit of community.

The Spiritual Adoption program that you asked about is basically parishioners praying for other parishioners that are pregnant. We done this for the last three years and in each of those years we’ve probably had about twenty five or thirty mothers that wanted to be prayed for and probably one hundred to one hundred twenty five people willing to pray for them for the course of the year. It lasts for a full nine months just like a pregnancy would, even though some of the mothers are halfway through their pregnancies when they are asking to be prayed for. We still pray for them after they’ve had the kids as well. It’s been very successful. It’s been done in other parishes. We weren’t the first place to do it. The cathedral does it downtown. I think St. Ignatius up in Rogers Park is doing it as well right now.

DN: I think there is more and more scientific evidence that shows the power of prayer.

AS: There are so many reasons to pray. Yes, the mothers very much appreciate it. Some of the mothers have difficulties during their pregnancies and we’re just there to help them.


DN: Before we go on to the Sustainability Project, I’d like to cover some of the other things first too. What about the Loyola community relations and the community action scholarship work that you do?

AS: Well to go back to the environmental project, in 2007 we had something called Edgewater Earth Day. This was just an environmental event held at Peirce School. One of the people that had a table there was Loyola University – Jennifer Clark of Loyola University. At the end of it she said, “I think Loyola can do it a little bit bigger.” So she invited me to meet with Loyola later that year. Along with Anne Comeau we had that meeting. We basically transitioned it from Edgewater Earth Day to Loyola and it became North Lake Shore Earth Day which went on for several years. During that time period I got involved a lot with Loyola community relations. We looked for a broad spectrum of different ways that the university could partner with people in the community. So with my ties with both the Edgewater Community Council and my ties with the parish, I eventually became a member of the Loyola Community Relations Board. There was a group of maybe ten or so of us from both Rogers Park and Edgewater that would meet. Loyola would tell us different things that were going on or Loyola would tell us different things that they were thinking about to see if they made sense. We’d tweak them a little bit and finalize it. The Loyola Community Action Scholarship Fund was something started in 2013. They had a fundraiser at one of their Christmas parties. They raised maybe five thousand dollars that year. This last September we awarded the scholarship for the first time to a young lady – Marina Garcia – who is on a milkweed and monarch project. Milkweed is the habitat for monarch butterflies. Monarch butterflies are the number two pollinator after honey bees. She went around and she’s been planting milkweed at some of the local schools: over at Swift School; over at Berger Park; a couple of places up in Rogers Park as well. She’s been planting some of the plants in other areas come the spring time. That’s the first of the scholarships. We’re going to be meeting in January or so to start figuring out who will be the next awardee for the coming year.


DN: It’s interesting that the awardee has to do with Edgewater Beautiful, the environment, gardens, etc.

AS: I think eventually the scholarship will be tied to environmental concerns. That’s something that has crosses both communities. Not necessarily – but this year we’re partnering with environmental studies. Marina’s faculty advisor – Kevin Erickson, is head of the urban ag[ricultural] department there. It really ties in very nicely.


DN: In your email to me you said that you thought everyone’s top concern is safety. Yet you’ve chosen sustainability as the issue that you devote your time to. Is that because you feel that the safety issues in the neighborhood have been addressed satisfactorily and that it’s time to move on? Or that there are other people working on sustainability issues so you can devote yourself more to sustainability? How has your focus shifted?

AS: I believe that safety is a necessary precedent before you can move on. But there are a number of wonderful people working on community safety. We’ve known Lynn Pierce and the Thorndale Task Force and all the wonderful things that she’s done over the years. I just totally applaud that and all the things she’s been doing with that. I know a number of other people who have been involved with safety. During early years of Edgewater Beautiful, and I’m talking about the early 90s, they were doing a lot of paint out and graffiti removal, which was gang related. In a way we worked on it [community safety] but it wasn’t always our direct focus.


DN: How has Edgewater Beautiful morphed into the sustainability work you do now?

AS: Edgewater Beautiful started in about 1990. I think Dawn Wyman, who was the Edgewater Community Council president at the time, asked Thom Greene and myself to co-chair the Edgewater Beautiful committee. We were co-chairs and we did some planting of corners, some graffiti removal. We just did some of the basics. I stayed on the Board for a three year period there and then got involved a lot in my own work world, but then came back when I took a very early retirement. I came back in about 2007 to the Edgewater Community Council. At the time Edgewater Beautiful was sort of languishing. I said, “Okay. I know what to do here.” I volunteered to re-chair that [committee]. At that time, there was another person named Jeff Boehm, who was the senior vice president of the Animal Health and Conservation Center at the Shedd Aquarium. We were asked to take Edgewater Beautiful beyond it [ECC committee].


So back in 2008 or so, after we had had the first Edgewater Earth Day, Jeff ended up leaving and going out to California to head the Marine Mammal Institute of the Pacific in San Francisco. I needed a partner to do this. Early on I asked Anne Comeau who had been coordinating the tablers at the first Edgewater Earth Day to be my co-chair. We were both good at organizing and hands on work but we didn’t have all the technical knowledge that Jeff Boehm had. We were very fortunate to find Tom Murphy who is the former head of the Environmental Science Department at DePaul University. So the three of us from that time became pretty much the core of what is now the Edgewater Environmental Sustainability Project.

DN: And what do you feel the focuses of that project are? What did you hope to accomplish?

AS: We really wanted to raise awareness of a variety of different environmental concerns to people in the community. Some of it concerned the traditional cleaning and greening we do on days. More of it was educational as well so we had different events being held at the library, or other venues as well - sometimes at the churches.


So what can an individual do to help with environmental concerns? We have about sixty people in Edgewater who have volunteered as recycling block captains. They put out a sign every two weeks and hopefully encourage everyone on their block to recycle. Now everyone can recycle. It’s so easy to set aside the paper, the plastic, the glass. You just put them in a blue bin. Everybody can do that. Everybody can cut down their electric use. They can switch to CFLs or LEDs. They can help save on energy use that way. Everyone can cut down on their water use. They can put a little aerator in their faucets. They can eliminate the time they’re wasting water by cutting it off when need be. There are lots of little things that people can do. I think we can all encourage each other to be more conscientious, not that we not wasting or overusing the limited resources we have.


DN: How can we come together as individuals to make a more profound difference in the environment, such as the quality of the water, the quality of the air?

AS: That’s what we are trying to do in the Edgewater Environmental Project. We’re trying to get people together to have special events; to have special initiatives to do things. That’s why when we have a clean and green day we have twenty or thirty different organizations in different spots all around the community all trying to clean up at any one time. That’s why when we have education on environmental concerns we have maybe a hundred people come out and hear what they could be doing. We can partner together. It’s much nicer to do this as a group rather than as an individual effort. Even in the coordination, as Tom and Anne and I work together, that’s one of the real benefits. We’ve done this together so we are always a source of encouragement and inspiration for each other.

DN: That’s great. I’d like to ask you how your spiritual journey has informed your volunteer work.


AS: Wow. My spiritual journey is probably been the biggest thing that has changed or evolved over these last thirty years. I came here pretty much as a baby Christian and through that initial program probably in 1983 at St. Gertrude’s Parish called Christ Renews His Parish developed a more personal faith relationship with Christ. That has become very much alive to me. It’s made me want to be a better person, a better citizen, a better encourager of a strong community in so many ways. I’ve been a member of a faith sharing group that meets on Friday mornings for perhaps the last thirty-two years. We went through the Sunday readings for the first five years. We went through the entire Bible for the next twenty [years] and now we’ve gone through a couple of books and we’re doing the Sunday readings again. Having that fellowship, that constancy, of being with the same group of people over the years really helps and encourages me.

DN: What about the Thanksgiving dinner [E.C.R.A. – Edgewater Community Religious Association]? How does that impact on your daily life – that coming together with people of other faiths?


AS: Just a few weeks ago E.C.R.A.’s annual thanksgiving service was held here at St. Gertrude’s. We had a wonderful gathering of perhaps 250 people. It showed how people of diverse faith backgrounds or no faith backgrounds at all, can still come together and have community. We’re all here. We’re all humans. We all want to live together in harmony. We may have disagreements over beliefs, but more importantly we all agree about our humanity. That makes me thankful for living in such a wonderful and accepting community. Originally when we moved here we were going to be here for five years and move out to the suburbs. But it’s because of this strong sense of diversity yet acceptance that encouraged us to stay here way beyond it. This is our home.


Over the last thirty years my wife Suzanne and I have been foster parents to eight children; some for as short as a couple of months; one for as long as about fifteen years. During that time period we not only got to know the kids and their families, but we also got to know a couple of different schools. They’ve gone to both Hayt and N.C.A. [Northside Catholic Academy]. So we’ve gotten to know the parents and the teachers there and have a wonderful appreciation for that. Now we’re blessed at St. Gertrude’s to also have a foster and adoptive parent group. So there are many many families, maybe ten or fifteen families that we know of, that have had either foster children or adopted children. We’ve formed a little community. Sometimes during Lent we’ve had shared soup suppers. We’ve all made meals together. Sometimes we’ve done things together. That’s been a wonderful sense of encouragement and support for us as well.

DN: So it’s not just that you’re giving to the community, but the community is sharing that effort with you?


AS: Some of the kids, some of the people…when we’ve had a new child in the home have reached out to make them feel so welcome. If we’re walking down the street with someone new they’ll come up to us and say, “Hi!” Some of them have welcomed them to their front steps and given them a hat, just to say, “Welcome.”

DN: Just to make them feel at home, outside your small house but to make them feel the community cares.

AS: Right. Some of the kids we’ve had have done chores for people up and down the block or around; shoveling snow; raking leaves; whatever tasks might be needed. Just to help. They’ve been thoroughly involved and active in the community. My son as well has involved some of the kids involved in community clean up.

DN: It sounds as though it is a remarkable complimentary activity in the community – supportive in both ways. You support the community and the community supports you – a nice reciprocal example of life just going on in a circle – the circle of life going on. Beautiful.

AS: Yes. It’s beautiful.

DN: So you’re involved in all different kinds of things since you’re been retired: at St. Gertrude’s Parish at the parish level, the Sustainability Project [at the community level]; fostering parents and so on [at the social level]. How does this all come together? What is the source that comes from you that makes you want to do these things?


AS: I’d say the unifying thing for me is this vision I had. It’s called “Our City Aflame with the Love of God.” I really see as a harmonious interplay between diverse groups working together for the common good. So for me it dies in naturally. In addition to the E.C.R.A. experience we’ve had a series of programs called Sacred Seed which is more dialogue. We had one in May this year on the environment looking at environmental concerns from the Muslim, Jewish, Lutheran and Catholic perspective. Seeing people come together and talk about important topics. Two months ago we had one from tolerance to acceptance, another topic. Having people come together and talk was great. A year ago we had a Thanksgiving service, but before that I was at St. Ita’s. I had read a book called I am Malala by the Nobel Peace Prize winner and it was interesting. We had a book discussion over at St. Gertrude’s and I enjoyed that. Later on I was downstairs over at the St. Ita’s basement and I talked to a Pakistani woman about what it means to be educated as a woman in Pakistan. She said, “That’s my story too.” [Our subsequent brief conversation] far exceeded any expectations of anything I had in the book club by having this conversation with a Pakistani woman about what that book meant to her. We have that rich diversity [in Edgewater]. You mentioned you’ve been talking to fifty-six people this year – just seeing that different diversity and experiencing it and understanding the experience of the rest of the world through the people we live around is just so enriching.


DN: What would you say to young people to encourage them to being a volunteer, into participating in activities for the greater good of the community?

AS: I’d encourage the younger people to get involved. There’s much more that you receive than you give. Sure you give a little bit of your time and perhaps some of your money, but the friendships that come out of that and the richness that comes out of that is so deep. Your world really expands. I’d thoroughly encourage it for every young person, for every person who’s not so young. That’s really the heart of living is being involved and being active. It’s not just being shut up in your own world. It’s involvement and cooperation in your own community.

DN: Making connections with other people; supporting and sustaining them; as well as with the environment? Have I captured that aspect of your life?

AS: I think so.


DN: Now this is your interview Allen. Is there anything else you’d like to share with us about your life or your experience?

AS: One of the other questions is what I’d like to see in the community. I’d love to see a rejuvenation of the Edgewater Community Council. It was a vibrant organization for many many years. It may get re-birthed in a different way – perhaps as an organization of organizations with block clubs, religious institutions, and places like the Edgewater Historical Society, Loyola University, and the Sustainability Project. All of them can come around a common table and share. We’ve been blessed with good elected officials but I think to have a counterpoint to those elected officials where it’s just individual citizens talking and setting the agenda about what goes on would be very important. So I’d like to see that re-invigorated sometime soon.

DN: Any other thoughts that you would like to share?

AS: The whole key is cooperation and a sense of community. We need to live in cooperation with one another. We’re not in competition. We’re not isolated islands. We’re here together. So the more that we can find partnerships; the more that we can cooperate; the more alive we are going to be and the vibrant our community will be. Thank you.

DN: Then I think we’ll stop the interview here. It’s been a delight. Once again congratulations.

AS: Thank you.