Shnay: Rich East enters Park Forest Historical Society’s Hall of Fame
By Jerry Shnay Citizen Journalistfirstname.lastname@example.org April 4, 2014 3:04PM
Rich East High School in Park Forest. | File photo
Updated: May 7, 2014 6:14AM
In 1951, the pioneer residents of Park Forest did what today would be unthinkable — they approved the creation of a high school district to serve their sons and daughters by raising their taxes.
These citizens of a new community were more than willing to pay to have their children taught in a high school close to home. The vote wasn’t even close — 1,812 to 12.
In September 1953, the same year that Park Forest was named an All-America City for this effort, Rich Township High School opened at Sauk Trail and Lakewood Boulevard.
Through the years, both academic and athletic excellence has created a pattern of outstanding achievement for the school and the community. The most recent honor came in 2012 when U.S. News & World Report, for the third time in four years, recognized the school, now called Rich East, as one of this nation’s best.
Actor Tom Berenger, soprano Dawn Upshaw, longtime Green Bay Packers center Larry McCarren, Chicago Bulls star Craig Hodges, author Kathy Reichs and seminal rock musicians Kim Thayil and Hiro Yamamoto are some of the school’s notable graduates.
Former Rich East basketball coach Steve Fisher later coached Michigan to an NCAA championship and this year led San Diego State to the Sweet Sixteen. During the 1960s, the school’s debate team won consecutive state championships.
It’s a record of academic and athletic distinction that will be honored at 3 p.m. Sunday in Freedom Hall as Rich East High School is inducted into the Park Forest Historical Society’s Hall of Fame — joining eight men and women who have made significant and long-lasting contributions to the welfare of the village.
The free program is an annual event of the historical society, which has now inducted more than 150 people and institutions into the Hall.
Other honorees today include:
Former village manager Robert Pierce, who helped create Thorn Creek Woods, the planning and financing of Freedom Hall, the formation of the Aunt Martha’s youth service center and new housing options for senior citizens.
Wayne Mann, who for more than 50 years helped create after-school youth programs and oversee special events for the village.
Robert Navid and his wife, Ruth. For nearly 25 years, the two took active roles in village life — he as village prosecutor and magistrate, she as a teacher who developed creative approaches to education in School District 163.
Ralph and Terry Medhurst, who contributed their time and talents toward various causes. Ralph established the “Friends” program for the Park Forest Health Department, helping to extend medical services to the elderly. Terry worked to promote the visual arts and music in both a villagewide and schoolroom experience.
James and Ruth Henkel, who gave their time and effort to all things Park Forest. James maintained the Kiwanis Club’s venerable Pankatron machine used in its annual Pancake Day fundraiser. Ruth was a founding member of the Park Forest Nurses Club.
One cannot imagine the boys baseball season in Park Forest without thinking of Al Joens, who died suddenly last week at 52.
He was chairman of the league, a field director of PONY Baseball and a man whose volunteer efforts in and for the community he loved were given unstintingly, unsparingly and always in the hopes of making things better.
His was a big heart, a heart that should still be beating today. It is not, and that is our loss.
If it is any comfort for his widow, Mary Kay, and their son, A.J., it is knowing that Al never faltered, never wavered and always did his best. It is as good an epitaph that one could wish for.