Oak Forest banner effort focuses on meaning of Christmas
By Ginger Brashinger Correspondent December 24, 2013 3:54PM
The Redican family added a Christmas sign of their own to their front yard. | Ginger Brashinger~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: January 26, 2014 6:10AM
Putting Christ back into Christmas has been a mission for Oak Forest resident Mark Oldewald for some time.
He said he wasn’t sure how to do it when one day he realized that the residential fences along Central Avenue were just the “blank canvasses” he needed to start his “Christ on Central” project.
“When I was a kid, I was taught that God had a plan for each and every one of us,” Oldewald said. “Part of God’s plan for me was to promote Christ and Christmas.”
Through the efforts of Oldewald and about 10 volunteers, more than 30 banners with a variety of religious Christmas messages are on display on fences on Central Avenue between 147th and 159th streets in the city.
“I’ve outreached to as many family, friends, neighbors, local churches and (used) my own God-given talents,” Oldewald said, adding that he has met “many amazing and incredible” like-minded people who have supported the project with time, money, prayers and advice.
It wasn’t an easy project for Oldewald at the beginning. He said he almost got cold feet when he thought about asking others to join him in 2012.
“Last year, in December, I was terrified to go to my first door, all alone,” Oldewald said.
But then he asked himself “what would Jesus do” and made enough contacts to pay for 12 banners. And a chance meeting in the Oak Forest Jewel-Osco store with a fellow church member gave Oldewald the help he needed to hang the banners.
“That’s how the God Squad of Oak Forest got started,” he said.
Oldewald is quick to point out that the project is not affiliated with any church or business and spread more by “word of mouth” than anything else.
About four or five months ago, he started using his “bottle bank” system to save money. He shared the idea with others who used recycled water bottles as banks for the money they saved by giving up “unnecessary spending,” he said.
“I gave up using the tollway on the way home from work and things like Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts,” Oldewald said, adding that one month of eliminating afternoon tolls paid for a banner.
Margie Arnold, 89, said she found a note on her door, asking if she would be willing to place a banner on the fence of her corner lot. She took two banners so the street adjacent to Central Avenue has one as well.
“I called and told him I’d be very proud to have them,” Arnold said. “I think it’s a wonderful gesture on his part.”
Renee and Jeffrey Redican and their three young children were among the families who gladly displayed the banners for a second year. Renee, a fitness instructor at the Oak Forest Park District, said she called Oldewald to ask if she could be included again.
The Redican home is across the street from the district fitness center, and Redican said she wanted one banner strategically placed so people leaving the parking lot would see the message — especially the “I love Jesus” banner that her 4-year-old daughter Betty chose.
“Well, I think it’s just a really great reminder of what it’s all about,” she said of the banner program.
“It’s not about me. It’s about Jesus Christ,” Oldewald said. “... I talked Jesus. Neighbors listened.”