Shnay: Park Forest theater maven will be sorely missed
By Jerry Shnay Citizen Journalistfirstname.lastname@example.org April 12, 2012 1:24PM
Updated: May 16, 2012 8:08AM
Time is the great deceiver. In sweet, gentle whispers it fools us with the lie that we will always have more than enough “time.” It is a trickster and a dissembler. We know this to be true when we finally realize that time promises us joy but dashes our dream; that it gives us hope but takes our friends. Time shows no mercy. It is the ultimate destroyer.
Since she died late last month, thousands of words have been written and spoken about Etel Billig’s life and her lifelong passion for the theater. We cannot add more or better than what you have read.
It was once said of soldiers who were lost in battle that they died “with their boots on.” It was that way for Etel. She collapsed while sitting at her desk in the theater she nurtured for 36 years. At her funeral the following week some 200 friends and family members filled the room. Etel finally got her “standing-room-only” crowd, but at what cost?
The show goes on and the final presentation of this year’s Illinois Theater Center series opens this week. There will be few empty seats and perhaps even fewer dry eyes at intermission when we congregate around the box office, listening for Etel and not seeing or hearing her.
It has been said that the ITC board has plans to carry on. The first thing it will need to do is to find six people to do what Etel did by herself — to get the actors, to select the plays, to direct, to teach, to promote the arts, to welcome patrons and to sell tickets. It will not be an easy task.
Some years ago the Village of Park Forest dedicated plaques to soprano Dawn Upshaw and jazz pianist Art Hodes on Artists Row, the sidewalk area in front of Etel’s beloved Illinois Theater Center and the Tall Grass Arts Association next door. It would be nice to put up a plaque honoring her.
It has been a bad year. In the first 90 days we’ve lost Rhoda Adler, Leona DeLue and now Etel Billig. No more. It is enough.
Hall of Fame
The standards for induction into the Park Forest Hall of Fame are simple enough. Each year, those who have made “consistent, substantial, and beneficial contributions to the life and citizens of Park Forest over a considerable span of time” are eligible for induction.
This year, the ceremony to be held at 3 p.m. today in Freedom Hall will honor nine who have lived up to the guidelines. They are:
• Mary Davidson, who helped transform the old Park Forest Art Club into the Tall Grass Arts Association.
• Fran DioGuardi, who rose from the ranks of auxiliary officer for the Park Forest Police Department to its Police Chief.
• Marie Iafollo, who guided decades of school children through various cultural projects, from learning how to paint to producing an opera.
• Margaret McDannel and her late husband Leonard, who dedicated their lives to teaching and the welfare of teachers.
• Roger Paris, the former director of the Tall Grass Art School.
• Al and Barbara Sturges, who have worked diligently for the arts and civic involvement to the promotion of bicycling in the south suburbs.
• The Tall Grass Arts Association itself.
The event is free and is sponsored by the Park Forest Historical Society and as some of you know, this writer is a member of the Society Board.
Jerry Shnay is a citizen journalist and can be reached at email@example.com