2008 Hall of Fame Inductees
Park Forest has always looked to take the lead in blending the Arts with education for children and adults. The work of Jean Bernstein in supporting educational and community outreach programs of arts organizations has been a major force in maintaining that lead. Ms. Bernstein has a long list of credits from her work in School District 163 including founding the gifted program, directing the Center for Ethnic Studies and the Desegregation Project. She continued on with great acclaim, as both assistant superintendent and superintendent for the district. Working with the Illinois Philharmonic Orchestra, Jean co-chaired the docent program and work tirelessly in various committees and fundraising efforts. Continuing her blend of arts support and educational activities, she acted as the chairman of the Arts in Education Committee for the Center for the Performing Arts at Governors State University. Her work with the committee allowed 30,000 school children, including those in Park Forest, to attend Center performances. The library has also benefited from Ms. Bernstein's leadership. She has served on the program committee, planned the Thursday morning Potpourri lecture series, and headed up the David Bernstein Foundation, a book donation program. She has also contributed to other organizations such as the League of Women Voters, Tall Grass Arts Association, and the Homewood Flossmoor Art Associates. To top off these many activities and contributions, she has taught both in the classroom and through tele-classes, in the School of Education at Governors State University. Jean and her husband George have lived in the community since 1949, raising four children in the village.
Long time Park Forest resident Suzie Brown exemplifies dedication over time, resulting in the accumulation of good works which have benefited Park Forest in many areas. "GI Stories for a GI Town", League of Women Voters, Respond Now, the Park Forest Unitarian Universalist Church -- these are just some of the activities Suzie Brown has contributed to significantly during her years as a Park Forest resident. She raised a family of 2 children here. She taught school, specializing in helping children with reading difficulties, and continued to generously volunteer her time at Blackhawk School as well. Her oral history project documenting the lives and memories of Park Forest area WWII veterans is ongoing, and her dedication to this project is typical of her work for the community. Ms. Brown used her educational background to serve as the school liaison during Park Forest's 50th Anniversary celebration. As a member of the Park Forest area League of Women Voters, she has done various projects. For example, Suzie led a research and study group looking into ways to improve regional cooperation in education, the environment, business development, housing, and the arts. As a result, she led a forum to discuss the obstacles to regional cooperation presented by the State of Illinois tax system. Suzanne takes great pride in her hometown, acting as a vocal advocate for Park Forest in all her activities, including organizing a team of Park Foresters to travel to Louisville to compete for an All American City award. Her streak of 15 years of beautification awards for her home is yet another manifestation of her dedication to our community. Suzie is a typical example of someone who is always reliable, always ready to help, and always ready to serve with dedication, whether behind the scenes or in the lead.
KENNETH W. KRAMER
Ken and his wife Sue have lived in Park Forest since 1958, raising two children here. Ken has been active in the community from very early on. In 1961 Ken and Sue joined Faith United Protest Church where he has served as Chair of the Church Relations Committee, the Finance Committee and the Building Committee during a major renovation project in the 1990s. He served as Faith U.P.'s delegate and later as chair of the Park Forest Association of Churches and Synagogues, which helped start the Park Forest Blood Program. Ken became active in Republican politics as a block captain, and served on the Monee Township Board of Trustees from 1973 to 1985. He was also a member of the Park Forest Environment Conservation Commission from 1971 to 1981, helping with Earth Day, Beautification Awards, a Noise Ordinance, and other issues. Elected as a Park Forest Village Trustee in 1985, he served from 1985-1989, and 1990 to present. Ken was chair of the Park Forest Housing Authority from its inception in 1988 to 2000. He was a delegate and chair of the Eastern Will County Regional Council which worked on planning for the future of the six eastern townships of Will County, developing plans with and without a regional airport. Currently, he is a delegate to the Thorn Creek Ecosystem Partnership, which is working to preserve the headwaters of Thorn Creek and the surrounding environment, including assisting in promoting the Wetlands Redevelopment in Central Park. Ken has served as President of the Rich Township Area AARP since 1996, organizing programs of interest to senior citizens of Rich Township and surrounding areas.
BARBARA J. MOORE
Barbara is the epitome of Park Forest spirit. She and husband Carol moved to Park Forest in the early 70s and she immediately began to get active in the community. Before she became a 24-year employee of the Village, Barbara was active in the League of Women Voters of the Park Forest Area. During her presidency, the League launched the Park Forest House and Home Improvement Fair which includes the LWV House Tour. The Village joined the League as a co-sponsor and Barbara has chaired this event since its inception 24 years ago. The LWV House Tour promotes remodeling, renovations and redecorating and has been a major community event each October. Her talent and interest went beyond the local league as she became an ambassador for Park Forest on the LWVIL board and on the LWVUS budget committee. As Director of Community Relations for the Village she championed integration initiatives to foster the community's appreciation of cultural, racial and economic diversity, guided the establishment of the Park Forest Mediation Task Force and the Illinois Chapter of the National Coalition Building Institute which offers diversity workshops to the community and beyond. She staffed the Human Relations Commission, and the Fair Housing Commission. When the Village celebrated its 50th Anniversary, Barbara worked with a committee to plan a special event and exhibition in Freedom Hall celebrating the contributions of African American to the history of Park Forest Barbara says she embraces the theory that Park Forest "is not an island" and understands that the quality of life of the village is tied to the quality of life of neighboring communities. She is a founding member of both the Unity Coalition and the region's Diversity Dinners, programs that celebrate the Southland's rich cultural diversity.
VALERIE L. NICHOLSON
Valerie, the first Hall of Fame inductee born in the village, has been an active participant in Park Forest since she was 9 years old when she provided the cover artwork for the Park Forest Parks and Recreation Department winter brochure after winning the Villager youth art competition. Her contributions are in many areas but most particularly in art and music. She says the musical moments that stand out the most for her are her performance at Freedom Hall playing Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" as a guest artist with the Suburban Youth Symphony Orchestra in 1987, involvement with the Park Forest Black History Month Poetry and Jazz performances in 2006 and 2007, and supporting the Tall Grass Arts Association musically through jam sessions and benefit performances. She was commissioned to compose a piece for the Rich East High School jazz band in 1990, and assisted the Village in the purchase of a grand piano for Freedom Hall in 1996. From 1995-2006 she provided musical groups annually to the Scenic 10 mile race. She has also been the organist and choir director at Grace United Protestant Church for several years. Through involvement with her church, Valerie has also worked with the homeless and with the youth of our community. She organized a very successful all-day Christmas celebration for the homeless in cooperation with Congregation Am Echad and Grace U. P. Church. Her work with the League of Women Voters has meant a great deal to her-- everything from lively board meetings to candidate forums to decorating hats and making posters. She served on the Executive Board nearly continuously from 1999-2007, and organized the League's Fourth of July Parade entry nearly every year since 1999. Valerie is a professor of music at Prairie State University, and is the moving force behind their annual Jazz concert featuring area performers.
ELMER L. WASHINGTON, SR., PH.D
As a resident of Park Forest for almost 40 years, Dr. Elmer Washington has strengthened our community as a result of his selfless giving. Elmer Washington has volunteered an enormous amount of time to Faith United Protestant Church. He is the long-term chair of the Church and Society Committee, and has provided leadership establishing and maintaining a South Suburban PADS program at the church as Site Manager. His willingness to give so much of his time and talent makes the committee run smoothly. A book discussion group, The Diversity Book Club, which he serves as chairman, provides an ongoing dialogue on issues of race and diversity. He has also given his time to organizations affiliated with the church. There have been achievements beyond the church activities for which he has been recognized. Elmer is currently serving a four-year term as a member of the Illinois Board of Higher Education and Chairman of the Medical School Scholarship Committee for the Dr. Charles E. Gavin Memorial Foundation. Immediate Past President of the Kiwanis Club of Park Forest, he created and published a new Kiwanis newsletter and club directory. Always a top Pancake Day ticket seller and tireless worker on Pancake Day, Elmer has previously served as club president and has held other elected offices. The club was awarded "Distinguished Club" status for the 2006-07 Kiwanis year. Elmer Washington and his wife Anna are proud parents of Lisa and Dr. Elmer Washington, Jr.
MICHAEL J. WHEELER
Michael Wheeler moved to Park Forest in 1973 with his wife Mary Ann and their children and became a Park Forest volunteer fireman. Becoming one of Park Forest's first paramedics in 1975 and a career firefighter in 1977, Mike has served the citizens of Park Forest as a firefighter and paramedic for 35 years. As one of the first paramedics, he would respond from his home directly to the scene of an emergency in order to provide advance life support services to the citizens of Park Forest when no other paramedic was available. Mike revived the Firefighters Memorial Parade in 1981 developing it into a Silent Twilight Neighborhood Parade designed to bring fire safety awareness to all the citizens of Park Forest. The parade format has been copied by fire departments throughout the area. Mike parlayed his interest in fire fighting history into a means of teaching Fire Safety to audiences of all ages. Serving as a fire safety public educator for 30 years, he designed innovative programs using puppets, special audiovisual aids, magic and a radio controlled fire hydrant named "Pluggy." He taught school, babysitting and senior programs in fire safety to 3 generations in Park Forest. He was istrumental in obtaining grants to help fund the purchase of a trailer that would become a mobile classroom to further educate the public in schools, at the fire department and at community events. During this time, Mike made contributions to Park Forest in many ways outside the fire department-- through church, schools and various community groups. Michael Wheeler is the consummate firefighter, paramedic, public educator and fire inspector who has always placed the safety and welfare of the citizens of this community above his own and his career.