By Colleen Taylor Sen

The Rogers Park/West Ridge Historical Society’s 2018 Annual Meeting was held March 24 at the Rogers Park Library. President Ken Walchak opened the meeting by reviewing the accomplishments of the past year, noting that it was the first year in recent memory that the society has been in the black financially.  Ken attributed this to the very successful fundraiser held in October to celebrate the neighborhood’s food diversity and to proceeds from sales of the cookbook The World in One Neighborhood.  Cookies and Irish soda bread based on recipes from the book were served.

Two new board members were elected: Jim Cusick, who has been active in the now-disbanded Rogers Park Garden Club, and Alyce Itta, both longtime residents of Rogers Park with a strong commitment to the neighborhood.  In his remarks, Ken noted that as a teenager Jim had worked at Clark-Devon Hardware, the Walchak family business, and remembered him as a good worker.

New Board member Alyce Itta chats with President Ken Walchak.

VP Kay McSpadden presents a cookbook to Senator Steans, who contributed a recipe.

Senator Steans congratulates Jim Cusick and Alyce Itta on their election.

The featured speaker was Heather Steans, State Senator for Illinois’ 7th district which includes Rogers Park.

Senator Steans said in her talk that the factors that built Rogers Park are those that concern Illinois today: Lake Michigan, immigration, education, transportation and activism, which was the theme of the Society’s programs in 2017. She noted that while Lake Michigan is one of Chicago’s greatest assets and largely responsible for the growth of Rogers Park, maintaining the shoreline and the water system is an ongoing project. There is need for a water management plan among all the political entities surrounding the Great Lakes, while pollution remains a challenge. She also mentioned that Loyola students recently made a documentary on the lakefront and the fact that it is not entirely open to the public.

Senator Steans pointed out that Rogers Park has always been a gateway for immigrants; today eighty languages are spoken, making it one of the most diverse neighborhoods in the country.  But immigrants need to be protected and politicians have worked hard to make Chicago a sanctuary city and to make Illinois a sanctuary state in the future.

It was railroads that created Rogers Park. The population grew from 3,500 in 1893 when it was annexed to the city to 53,000 by 1930 with the construction of rail and el lines and stations.  Easy access to Metra and the Red and Purple CTA lines remain a priority for our neighborhood.

Senator Steans referred to Rogers Park as a seat of education and leadership.  She talked at length about the important role played by Loyola University, located here since 1912.  But funding for higher education remains a challenge to Illinois.

Finally, Senator Steans noted that Rogers Park and West Ridge residents have played an active role in shaping Chicago politics, starting with the famous Cabbage War of 1890. The neighborhoods were leaders in embracing the CAPS Program (Chicago Alternative Police Strategy) which brought police officers and community together to reduce crime, when the 24th Police District was named one of the pilot sites for the program in 1993.

Her talk was followed by lively questioning, with audience members expressing concern over the future of transportation in the city and developments in state government.

The presentation shown at the meeting is below. If you have any questions or comments, email us at or call (773)-764-4078.

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