West Chicago, Illinois: July 8, 2013 -- The memory of the fast-moving storm that delivered a hefty blow to the western suburbs on July 1, 2012 still lingers in the minds of many in the community of West Chicago and the surrounding suburbs.
A little more than a year has passed; cleanup and repairs to homes and property have been long completed. But a walk through the parks and neighborhoods of the community bring a sad reminder to the many long-time residents of what was lost of the mature, majestic trees claimed by the raging winds of the storm. According to Jesse Felix, West Chicago Parks Superintendent, "Reed-Keppler Park was one of the first and hardest hit of the parks. We lost nearly 200 trees, accounting for approximately 15.6% of the park's tree canopy providing shade. Most of the trees were red or white oak and over 100 years old."
One life-long resident deeply moved by the overall loss of the community's tree-stock was Ron Meyers, a woodworker and sawmill operator by trade. He witnessed trees go down on that July 1st at his brother's home on Prince Crossing, saying "It seemed like it happened in all of 15 minutes". Meyers, like so many others, jumped in his car and drove through the neighborhood to assess the damage and offer help where he could. "As ugly as the situation was, the opportunity was great if I could only convince people to save the logs. The next day, I called the Park District and spoke to Jesse Felix and West Chicago Parks Director Gary Major."
Meyers hope was to save any suitable wood for the design and construction of functional objects and furniture pieces that could be raffled or sold at West Chicago's annual Railroad Days event on July 11- 14, 2013, with the proceeds benefiting Reed-Keppler Park and The Conservation Foundation.
Once given the green light, Meyers recruited nephew and architect Jeff Perkis, a recent graduate of IIT. "Jeff had the idea of asking an assistant Dean at IIT if any professors might care to get involved. Architecture professor Paul Pettigrew stepped up and thought it would be a good fit for his class and students. This entire project for myself and Jeff was and is about conservation, education, giving back, and maximizing our resources in repurposing damaged trees."
The result is 50+ pieces of functional items including rings, whistles, tables, benches, lamps and more made from the recaptured wood of the storm of 2012.
The Architecture students of IIT and the community members involved in this project hope to demonstrate to Railroad Days' visitors that although the trees of Reed-Keppler Park are gone, their ability to contribute to the community is very much alive and well.
For more information about the project, visit www.out-ofthewoods.com; and for more information on The Conservation Foundation, visit www.theconservationfoundation.org.