...And That's My Opinion©
By Sandy Goldman
The Rogers Park Community Curmudgeon
(And Other Thoughts)
The First Thought:
“Where have you been,” my good friend asked, “Lost in China somewhere?”
“No, I said, “that was last month and we were not lost.”
“Well, if you two would stop running around the world, you would know what’s going on.”
“Don’t lecture me,” I said, “that’s what I do. So what’s got you all tied up?”
Flushed in the face, he gasped, “They have finally raped and ravished the Leone (Touhy Beach) Junior Guard Program. I knew immediately what he meant. He meant the Chicago Park District had finally succeeded in effectively killing the Leon Beach Jr. Guard training program.
For those who don’t know about it, the Leone Beach Jr. Guard Program was started sometime around 1925 by a five-year veteran lifeguard, Sam Leone. Its purpose was, to say it simply, to train new lifeguards for the north side beaches. At that time it was known as the Rogers Park Beach Junior Lifeguard Program.
As the years passed it became more than that. It became a place where boys became men. It became a place in later years where girls were made aware that they could (and should) be all that they want to be.
The beauty of the program was that it also included an array of other activities, because Sam knew that the junior guards could only stare at the water for so long? There was swimming, boating, rowing, sailing, scuba instructions, camping at the beach, leader trips, weight lifting, wrestling, boxing, calisthenics, running, tumbling and racing. The kids competed with their own records, improving and increasing the number of pushups, chin-ups etc. they could do. They were proud of their prowess and somewhat disdainful of ordinary Park District summer programs – they were heard on occasion to chant “Loyola boys play with tinker toys,” referring to the artsy/ crafty Loyola Park summer program.
Our son Steve joined the program at the ripe old age of 5, when Sam spotted him walking with his mother and said, “Hey kid, you look like you should be in this wrestling class – you look like a natural.” Steve ran right over and smiled up at Sam. He was hooked. He stayed in the program, as a camper, then volunteer “leader,” then a program life guard, until he was 19 and off in college and the rest of his life.
In 1970, our daughter Lisa was one of three girls allowed to join the program (the others were Eileen Colleran and Kathy Rogers), much to the objection of her brother and his lifelong friend John Skipper. The program was evermore open to all comers
Sam devised other programs to train them for the jobs at hand and it became a year-round program. It also became the envy of the Park District. Although Sam was technically a Park District employee, he was tough enough to stand above and protect his “kids”.
To help him, the Touhy Beach Parents Association formed, composed of parents and former Junior Guards. The program grew and flourished, but always the Park District had a covetous eye. The Parents Association rebuffed the Park District for years. The roll call of parents and alumnae reads like an honor roll of Rogers Park, Chicago, and the State of Illinois and for that matter the country. Much of the history is detailed in an excellent book written by a former Jr. Guard, Chris Serb, titled “Sam’s Boys” published in 2000 and available in bookstores and libraries.
From the original $500 donation the Parents Association went on to provide thousands of dollars to buy equipment for the Jr. Guard Program. The Parents Association earned the envy of other programs throughout the city and was considered a thorn in the side of the Park District. The Park District tried in many ways to destroy the program. Every year they were unsuccessful – year, after year, after year.
Now, it seems, without notice, the Park District has struck a final blow and carted off not only with the equipment, but also our hearts. Where there was swimming, boating, rowing, sailing, scuba instructions, camping, weight lifting, calisthenics, running, tumbling and racing, I am told that only swimming remains. What the Chicago Park District has left the children of Chicago and Rogers Park is but a shell of our formerly glorious program for kids.
I, for one am glad that Sam is not here to see it!!
The Second Thing:
“…And furthermore,” my friend said, “ I haven’t seen you at the neighborhood meetings about the problems on Lunt Avenue and Morse.
“No,” I answered, “In fifty years I’ve been to too many Aldermanic/Neighborhood /Developers / Slumlord fiascos. The scenario is always the same. Disturbed neighbors, caretaker aldermen, obsequious slumlords who listen intently, promise everything the neighbors want and then do nothing.”
“This scenario is followed by irate letters, followed by Aldermanic explanations, followed by nothing, followed by still more irate letters, followed by still more meetings, followed by organizing and followed again by nothing. . While all this is going on over building is going up and the slumlords make no changes and the drug dealers continue. Suddenly it’s all done – over! Complete! Fait accompli!” Enough talk! Legal pressures can be applied! Ways should be sought !!
Some of the problems identified by the irate neighbors are demographic.
These are not the problems of the developers; they are our neighborhood’s problems. They are police problems. They are political problems. They are the problems of poor screening by unconcerned absentee landlords. Imagine allowing someone else to screen your tenants, someone who has been in and out of Housing Court for at least 25 years, has owned and managed badly, many buildings in Rogers Park and Edgewater and who has been the target of at least four community groups in that time. That’s what one owner is reported to have said he has been doing!
They are the problem of overcrowding. They are the problem of vacant storefronts, lack of shopping opportunities and dirty streets. They are the problem of citizens who throw waste on the sidewalks and from the windows of cars, who use sidewalk planters as benches, rip pickets from fences and spray graffiti on mailboxes and light poles.
New development does not have to detract from neighborhoods – the ne’er-do-wells who care not – are the problem.
...And that's my opinion.
And I'm Sandy Goldman
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