When outsiders think of Chicago, they likely envision State Street or Michigan Avenue. They think about the Sears Tower (not the Willis Tower!), the Picasso, or more recently, the Bean (not Cloud Gate). But a true Chicagoan knows that this is only the façade—that the real lifeblood of the city lies in Chicago’s neighborhoods and, more specifically, in the people and organizations that make up those neighborhoods.
Like many other neighborhoods, Garfield Ridge has its share of special people and amazing organizations, which provide a sense of community like nothing else. If you are a business in Garfield Ridge you talk to Mary Ellen Brown, the president of the Garfield Ridge Chamber of Commerce, or Anita Cummings, the president of the United Business Association of Midway (UBAM). If you are an individual with a local concern, you talk to Henry Pukala, the president of the Garfield Ridge Civic League. Have a security concern? Reach out to Al Cacciottolo of the Garfield Ridge Neighborhood Watch. And finally, to find out what is going on in the neighborhood and to get all your questions answered, talk to Louis Kujawa, branch manager of the Garfield Ridge Library.
The Chamber of Commerce sponsors parades, farmers’ markets, and holiday decorations among other things. UBAM holds seminars for small businesses, dedicates parks, and provides a way to network in the community. The Garfield Civic League hosts tours and luncheons for community leaders. The neighborhood watch serves as the community’s Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy (CAPS) organization and hosts rummage sales, car shows, and other fun activities for the neighborhood. And of course the library is the community hub, serving as the go-to place for students looking for help with their homework or adults looking for help in finding a job.
In the last year, community organizations like these have taken on more importance as we lost much of our personal connection to others. They also have adapted themselves to take on new tasks, as the pandemic necessitated. The Chamber of Commerce provided special banners for graduates in 2020 and 2021 who were unable to have in-person graduations or parties. The neighborhood watch helped community members get access to much-needed help and health-care needs. The library stayed open during most of the pandemic, held virtual programs, and helped people connect to vaccines and unemployment registration.
A community can be defined by its people and organizations, and in 2021, Garfield Ridge is certainly an example of that. (Rob Bitunjac)
Best Advocate for Local Business
Garfield Ridge Chamber of Commerce
“Wow, we do really do a lot of stuff!” said Mary Ellen Brown, president of the Garfield Ridge Chamber of Commerce, when asked to list the things that her organization does.
She’s not kidding. Aside from providing businesses in the community with many resources, including Business 101 seminars and chances to network, the Chamber of Commerce also sponsors several parades each year during Independence Day and Halloween, hosts “Back to School” events, holds a farmers’ market each week, coordinates the making and hanging of decorations for the holidays, has put on a “Breakfast with Santa” program for the past thirty-eight years, and too much else to list here.
When asked why she does it, Brown is at a loss for words. Like other community leaders, she’s not in it for financial gain—she is not paid—but because a sense of community is important to her. Just before we spoke, another community leader called her up and suggested they do something to honor the veterans that were lost recently in Afghanistan. Brown also said she would like to feature local crafters, home-based businesses, and local authors at future farmers’ market events. This is an example of how community works together. Because of organizations like the Chamber of Commerce residents can feel that connection and be proud to live where they live. (Rob Bitunjac)
Garfield Ridge Chamber of Commerce, 6554 W. Archer Ave. (773) 767-0014. firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Land Just East of Archer, Narragansett, and 55th, Near Where Sizzler Used to Be
As most people know, Chicago streets are laid out on a grid. The few diagonal streets are not only unique but create unique intersections when they cross both a north-south and an east-west street.
One such intersection exists where Archer Avenue intersects Narragansett Avenue and 55th Street. The result is a triangular piece of land that has been used for a variety of purposes over the years, and known by many as simply “the Triangle.”
It may look like a nondescript triangle of land notable only as a place for John F. Kennedy High School students to wait for the bus, but history tells a different story.
If you go back far enough this piece of land was known as the “Turn O’ The Road,” because at this point Archer ceases to run diagonally as it merges with 55th to run due west. When the Sanitary and Ship Canal was being built in the 1890s, it was said that workers often gathered at this spot and held Sulky Races, horse races with a cart and person in the back.
Later, part of the land was dedicated to Lech Walesa, the Polish labor leader, and dubbed the “Lech Walesa Triangle.” More recently, part of the land has been dedicated to veterans and has taken on the moniker Veterans Park. Several historic cement posts that used to adorn Archer Avenue from 1910-1990s have been reused as bases for statues honoring our fallen heroes. A fitting and timely tribute.(Rob Bitunjac)
Intersection of S. Archer Ave., S. Narragansett Ave., and W. 55th St.
Best Park Named for a Chicago Mayor
“Long John” Wentworth lived up to his name. A contemporary of Abraham Lincoln, Wentworth was 6’ 6” and towered over our tallest president.
He was also a big personality. As mayor of Chicago in the 1860s, he once fired the entire police force. Another time, upon being visited by the Prince of Wales, he introduced his colleagues by stating, “Boys, this is the Prince of Wales. Prince, these are the boys.”
In another larger-than-life gesture, he once owned the 4,700 acres of land that now comprises the neighborhoods of Garfield Ridge, Clearing, and the neighboring suburb of Summit.
In honor of his legacy, Wentworth Park is the main park in Garfield Ridge and the center of much of the community activity. The park serves as a playground for both Kinzie Elementary School and John F. Kennedy High School. It also is home to an ice skating rink and a newly built baseball diamond, home to the Clear-Ridge Little League, the 2016 Senior League World Series champions. It is also where, on any given Sunday in the summer, you can watch the Chicago tradition of 16-inch softball being played.
It is also home to almost every major community activity as it serves as the end point for several different neighborhood parades, community rummage sales, and a community Christmas tree lighting.
In other words, much like its namesake, the park is larger than life. (Rob Bitunjac)
Wentworth Park, 5625 S. Mobile Ave. (312) 747-6993