Less than a mile away from where volunteers and law enforcement officials were searching for one-year-old Bryeon Hunter, Vincent Puente, a freshman at Proviso Math and Science Academy and a resident of Forest Park, was picking up garbage along the Prairie Path. Puente was apart of a group of about ten volunteers from several towns led by Lennel Grace, a Maywood resident and board member of the Illinois Prairie Path corporation. The group included Vicky Franzese, a member of the corporation, and recent candidate for trustee JoAnn Murphy. Every year, Grace leads efforts to clean up the Path in commemoration of Earth Day.
“My mother met my father over there,” said Grace, pointing off into the distance, toward 11th and Madison. His mother would commute here via the Chicago, Aurora and Elgin (CA&E) rail line from Robbins, IL. That was before the CA&E rail went belly-up. Grace still recalls the day. “One day, they went bankrupt and left commuters stranded in the Loop,” he said. All of a sudden, the public was stuck with miles of dormant rail line.
In 1963, a woman named May Thielgaard Watts published a letter in the Chicago Tribune “advocating for a public path along the [CA&E’s] abandoned route.” Watts’s letter struck a chord that would resonant across municipalities. According to the corporation’s website, “individuals, families, neighbors, organizations, businesses, schools and scout troops volunteered to remove tons of rubbish along the 27 miles of Path in DuPage County.” Today, the Path, which stretches from 1st Avenue and branches out toward Aurora and Elgin, is maintained by the public and private efforts of citizens such as Grace and his small band of volunteers.
“[The annual cleanup event] should turn into a monthly thing,” said John Rice, who along with his wife, Rayetta, walks the path every morning. He suggested that elementary schools in Maywood assign students to clean up the Path as a lesson in civic engagement and municipal beautification. “Volunteering is helpful in itself, because it makes the community cleaner and sets an example for our youth,” said Rice.
There also may be the added benefit of attracting residents from other villages to Maywood. Vincent Puente’s father, Daniel Puente, said he drives through Maywood all the time. Today, however, the Forest Park resident was out of his car, standing in front of the CeaseFire Building on 11th Avenue. Puente grew up in Maywood, on 7th Avenue, so he’s no stranger to the town by any means. As Puente looked into the distance, perhaps reminiscently, I discovered a truth that we tend to evade while traveling at high speeds. Maywood is more than a physical space. Maywood is in our minds.