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Central Park Historic Marker Celebrates Community Partnerships

Nancy Harless, daughter of Marion Reiter Lutz, holds up her mother’s diploma from Des Plaines Junior High School at the dedication ceremony in Central Park on December 4.
Nancy Harless, daughter of Marion Reiter Lutz, holds up her mother’s diploma from Des Plaines Junior High School at the dedication ceremony in Central Park on December 4.

Marion Lutz, Thacker Junior High School graduating class of 1932, unveiled a new historic marker in Central Park, 1555 E. Thacker Street, on Wednesday, December 4 at a dedication ceremony attended by community leaders and several graduates of Des Plaines Junior High School. Lutz, accompanied by her daughters, Marge Bejeck and Nancy Harless, brought a photo of her graduating class and her diploma. “We were all poor, but we didn’t know it,” she said. “Des Plaines was just a great town to grow up in.”

In 1842 Stephen Thacker purchased 160 acres, including what is now Central Park, through the U.S. Land Office. In 1902, Maine Township High School was built on the current Central Park site at a cost of $15,000. Subsequent additions included more classrooms, a gymnasium, an auditorium, and a swimming pool. In 1931, when Maine East High School was completed, the building became the Des Plaines Junior High School. In 1954, it was renamed Thacker Junior High School. In 1968, the building was torn down and replaced by Iroquois Junior High School at 1836 E. Touhy Avenue. The land is still owned by Community Consolidated School District #62 and maintained by the Des Plaines Park District.

Reverend Doctor William G. Grice III worked closely with the Park District to fulfill his mother’s wish that the site be recognized as part of the history of Des Plaines. “My mother, Dorothy Grice (1915-2011), wrote a letter a number of years ago to the Park District, School Districts 62 and 207, and the History Center suggesting that there should be a marker of some type in Central Park, commemorating the time it was a High School and a Junior High. She attended Thacker Junior High, as I did years later. One of my five cousins, who attended the school, became a teacher and returned to Thacker to teach. This site has great personal significance to my family and my mother would be so pleased to see history realized today,” said Grice. “By placing this historical marker here, we honor all of those who educate and we remember everyone involved in the education of Des Plaines students past, present, and future.”

 “Today we celebrate partnerships,” said John Hecker, Executive Director of the Des Plaines Park District. “The Park District has had a great relationship with the School Districts in Des Plaines since the early 1900s, and our dedication ceremony today is just another indication of how we all work together for the benefit of our residents. We’re proud to be a part of what makes this a great city in which to live, work, and play.”

Several of the graduates spoke about their memories of attending the Junior High. Ray Imig, a graduate of the Junior High, met his wife, Ginger while at school. “We went together in the 7th grades, but broke up over the color of her bobby socks,” Imig said. “We reunited in High School, and have been married 55 years now.” Another spoke fondly about how he hunted, trapped, and fished in the area, and that one of his teachers “paid him fifty cents for each rabbit he brought in.” Grice read from his mother’s diary about how she had been sent to the principal’s office for laughing and chatting too loudly with her friends.” She was told to act in a more lady-like fashion, which was also referred to, in those days, as “acting naturally.”

District 62 School Board President, Brenda Murphy and Shari Caine, Executive Director of the Des Plaines History Center also spoke about the importance of preserving the history of Des Plaines and the importance of community partnerships. The event concluded with a gathering at Grice’s home. “History is realized.”

For more information about Des Plaines Park District parks, and to see the amenities in Central Park, visit www.DPParks.org.

 

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