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posted: 7/11/2013 6:00 AM

Fallen trees return to Reed-Keppler Park for West Chicago Railroad Days

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  • The Railroad Days Parade, with a theme of "We Have a Dream," steps off at 1 p.m. Sunday, July 14. The festival opens Thursday in Reed-Keppler Park

      The Railroad Days Parade, with a theme of "We Have a Dream," steps off at 1 p.m. Sunday, July 14. The festival opens Thursday in Reed-Keppler Park
    Daily Herald File Photo

 
By Sean Hammond
shammond@dailyherald.com

Ron Meyers was at his brother's house in West Chicago when a storm blew through the Chicago suburbs July 1, 2012. The storm was no different from any other summer storm: It moved in fast and intensified quickly.

Within 15 minutes the storm was gone and trees were strewed across his brother's lawn. Meyers tried to get to his mother's house, about a mile away, but fallen trees blocked the neighborhood streets.

Meyers soon would learn of the damage the storm wreaked on Reed-Keppler Park, the 89-acre park that is home to some of the area's largest and oldest oak trees.

In all, 196 oak trees were damaged, about one-third of the park's total. Thanks to a quick cleanup, the park still was able to host the West Chicago Railroad Days last July. But during the cleanup, Meyers -- a woodworker and lumber salesman who runs his own business -- had an idea.

Meyers convinced the West Chicago Park District to save the wood from the damaged trees, and this year Meyers and his nephew, Jeff Perkis, along with the help of Illinois Institute of Technology architecture students, will be selling items at this year's Railroad Days made from repurposed wood from trees damaged by the storm.

"When I saw this storm, things clicked and I thought, 'All this wood, people should try to save this stuff and maximize it,'" Meyers said. "It was more or less second nature for me."

Students from architecture professor Paul Pettigrew's architecture and furniture classes at the Illinois Institute of Technology have built more than 50 items -- including tables, benches, lamps and rings -- that will be raffled and sold at this year's Railroad Days. All the proceeds will go back to the park district or to the Conservation Foundation, which works to educate children on the ecosystem and the role trees play in it.

Perkis, a 2012 graduate of IIT's architecture program, brought the idea -- which he and Meyers call the Out of the Woods project -- to his alma mater. He served as a teaching assistant in Pettigrew's classes and says more than 30 students worked on the project.

"Everybody has done a really good job at producing some unique items," Perkis said. "I don't know that I can put my finger on a favorite (item). There's so many that are interesting and different."

Meyers, who's been in the lumber business for more than 30 years, remembers learning to play baseball as a kid at Reed-Keppler Park. He said the trees were what made the park so unique, and he will always remember it as a mature forest.

"It was a neat place to be because of the trees," he said. "Now that they've been knocked down, I thought we needed to do something."

Railroad Days will open at 4:30 p.m. Thursday, July 11, and run through Sunday, July 14. The Out of the Woods exhibit is unique to this year's event, and Meyers thinks it will be a popular addition to the festival.

Like always, Railroad Days will bring a carnival, live music and fireworks to Reed-Keppler Park, 129 W. National St., West Chicago. Railroads also will return to the festival that honors West Chicago's beginnings as a railroad-building community in the mid-1800s. New this year is a model train exhibit on display all four days of the festival.

Perkis and Meyers are both eager to show off what the IIT architecture students were able to create from the wreckage of last year's storm.

"I'm excited to see people's reaction," Perkis said. "Everything we've done is such a positive after it was so negative following the storm. We can take that negative and turn it into a positive."

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