On Flag Day, Cook County committee chooses new banner designed by Glenbrook South student

A flag designed by a Glenbrook South High School student has been tabbed to become the new banner of Cook County, county commissioners decided Tuesday.

The selection of Drew Duffy's "I Will" flag by unanimous vote of the county board's legislation and intergovernmental relations committee is the culmination of a nearly three-year process centered on a high school student art competition that sought ideas for a new county flag.

The committee's decision Tuesday afternoon - on Flag Day - comes 61 years and a day after the old county flag was raised over the County Building for the first time. The outgoing flag is the county seal - depicting a map of the county's 30 townships and January 1831 founding - on a blank white background with the name "Cook County" surrounding it.

The new flag, which is pending formal approval at the full county board meeting Thursday, uses colors, shapes and symbols to represent the geography, history and mission of Cook County.

Its central symbol is a sideways Y shape that hearkens back to the so-called original Municipal Device of Chicago - seen on buildings throughout the city, such as on the Chicago Theatre marquee, and in the Chicago Public Library's symbol. Similar to the city's Y shape that dates to 1917, the symbol on the new county flag represents the confluence of the North, South and main branches of the Chicago River at Wolf Point. But in the county's case, the horizontal Y also represents other regional rivers, such as the Des Plaines River to the north, and Grand Calumet River to the south.

On the left of the banner is a grouping of six red stars representing foundational moments of the county: its founding in 1831; the founding of Stroger and Provident hospitals in 1832 and 1891, respectively; the Department of Public Health; the Forest Preserves in 1914; the Arthur J. Audy juvenile detention home in 1899; and an ode to townships and local governments that make up the county (formerly represented by a circle of 30 stars on the old flag).

The Y shape utilizes blue to symbolize the county's waterways and is bordered by green stripes for its preserved lands and riverbanks. The red used in the stars symbolizes social change, and the flag's blank white canvas represents the innovation to come, officials said.

"There is geographic representation. There's historical representation. And it's not something that's limited," said Matthew DeLeon, the county's historian who co-chaired the advisory panel that guided the flag redesign selection process. "This is going to be a living, breathing historic document and artifact in many ways."

Commissioner Scott Britton, the other co-chair, championed the flag redesign effort that formally launched in December 2019 by board resolution. He's a member of the North American Vexillological Association, which deals in the scientific study of flags.

"Often I've said to people, 'You know, we can do more than one thing at a time.' We do deal with very complicated and important issues, but sometimes we also have to look at the symbolism as to what we do as a county," the Glenview Democrat said at the committee meeting Tuesday. "The 'I Will' flag represents all that we are, and all that we will be."

The process started at the onset of the pandemic when the flag advisory panel reached out to the 550 high schools and other educational entities in the county. In total, 297 submissions - including hand-drawn, digitally-designed, and even a physical flag - were sent by students from 40 schools. The list was narrowed to 23 semifinalists, and six finalists.

Duffy, whose original sketch was marker on paper, got help refining the design from Martin Burciaga, a graphic designer in the Cook County Bureau of Administration.

"The entire flag design process, from the first rough draft to the final committee meetings, has been an amazing, educational and fun experience," Duffy, his school's incoming student body president, said in a statement released by the county. "I am incredibly grateful to everyone who helped me create my design."

A public ceremony to raise the new flag is planned for late summer in Daley Plaza.

Banner for the next generation Glenbrook South, Maine East students are finalists in Cook County flag competition

The new Cook County flag, "I Will," was chosen by commissioners Tuesday as the official banner of county government. It will replace the current flag that's featured the county seal since 1961. Courtesy of Cook County
The current Cook County flag, depicting the county seal, was raised June 13, 1961, at the County Building. It will soon be replaced with a new flag that was designed by a Glenbrook South High School student. Courtesy of Cook County
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