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  • David A.F. Sweet

Residents Young and Old Embrace Lake Forest Day – A Constant in a Changing World

By David A. F. Sweet 

 

It’s likely that no resident alive has seen more Lake Forest Days than Larry Crone. 

 

At 93, he remembers what they were like as a boy during The Great Depression. He recalls the time two elephants joined the parade, as well as the day he served as the grand marshal, waving to the crowd from a convertible. For years, the Korean War veteran ran the event’s raffle for the Lake Forest American Legion – which operates Lake Forest Day – and helped build the Post’s hamburger and beer stands in West Park, along with picking up empty soft-drink bottles to return to vendors. 

Lake Forest Day has been a beloved tradition for more than a century.

 

He knows where he’ll be during the first Wednesday in August this year. 

 

“I’ll go watch the parade,” said Crone, who will be driven to it by a friend and take in the festivities. “I enjoy watching the little kids passing out candy or getting candy from the people on the floats.” 

 

For 116 years, Lake Forest Day has been an important piece of the fabric of the community. Thousands walk into town, ride their bikes or take a short drive to attend the two-day event. This year, all of the staples residents love – the West Park carnival opening on Tuesday, Aug. 6, the 5K and Fun Run followed by the parade on Wednesday, Aug. 7, and then more rides and games at West Park into the evening-- has delighted generations. 

 

“Lake Forest Day is a great way to bring our residents together,” Mayor Randy Tack said. “It’s such a special event for families; grandparents who went to it as kids take their grandchildren.” 

 

Aside from taking place on the first Wednesday in August (many businesses in Lake Forest used to close early on Wednesdays to give employees the afternoon off), the 21st-century version of the city’s special day little resembles the first one back in 1908, when Theodore Roosevelt was President, automobiles were new and switchboard operators were plentiful in town (along with wooden sidewalks). According to the book Lake Forest Day: 100 Years of Celebration, written by the History Center of Lake Forest-Lake Bluff, the inaugural event on Farwell Field at Lake Forest College featured a cutest-baby contest, a mind-reading dog, a greased-pig chase and a hot-air-balloon, among other attractions.  

 

At the suggestion of the Young Men’s Club, the Lake Forest Woman’s Club put on the first festival and charged 25 cents admission for those over 17. The lion’s share of the $857.40 in proceeds was earmarked for a new contagious hospital, forerunner to today’s Northwestern Lake Forest Hospital. It is unclear how many of the 2,000 residents of the time attended, but those who did were well-dressed – the women wearing hats and bedecked in long dresses, the boys unhappily ensconced in jackets and ties. 

 

Once the American Legion took over Lake Forest Day more than 100 years ago from the Young Men’s Club, various themes have been associated with it. As noted in Lake Forest Day, patriotic themes abounded during World War II, from “Prelude to Victory” to “On to Tokyo.” The Legion itself was honored in 1969, when the theme was “The American Legion: Fifty Years Service to God and Country.” More recently, local organizations and people have been saluted (this August, “Our Welcoming Community” is the theme). The Legion uses proceeds generated from Lake Forest Day – its only fundraiser each year -- to fund college scholarships, assist veterans and more. 

Legion member Larry Crone (left) poses with the car to be given to the winner of the Legion's Lake Forest Day raffle in 1976.

 

Understanding the crucial role of the Legion in operating this special event, the Lake Forest Day Foundation was founded in 2007 by then-mayor Jack Preschlack along with citizens Art Wood, Willard Bunn, Howard Adams and Legion members Bud Turner and David Nash. Its mission was to ensure that Lake Forest Day would continue even as Legion members dwindled and grew older, meaning younger citizens would need to volunteer to undertake various event chores. In 2008, a 100th Lake Forest Day celebration at Forest Park Beach served as a crucial fundraiser for the incipient non-profit. 

 

Once the first donation numbers arrived, founding member Bunn enjoyed a pleasant surprise. 

 

“The amazing thing was how generous the Lake Forest people were in supporting the cause,” said Bunn, who noted that at least one donation exceeded $100,000. 

 

Save for his stint serving his country in the Air Force, Crone has spent his entire life in Lake Forest. He’s seen businesses come and go, new schools appear and the population jump. Through it all, Lake Forest Day has been a welcome tradition -- a constant in a changing landscape. 

 

“You get the whole community involved, and a lot of your old classmates come to town,” said the Lake Forest High School graduate. “It’s a great day for Lake Forest.”  


Lake Forest Day Festivities Schedule of events


Tuesday, August 6

6 p.m.-10 p.m.: Carnival at West Park


Wednesday, August 7

7 a.m.: 5K & Fun Run at South Park (150 S. Maywood Rd.)

10 a.m.: Parade along Western Ave heading north to West Park

11 a.m. - 10 p.m.: Carnival at West Park

(Beer Garden will close at 11 p.m. on Wednesday)


The Lake Forest Day parade route starts at Western Avenue and Vine Avenue, then proceeds northbound towards West Park. Please note there will be no access to Western Ave during the parade between 9:45 a.m.-11:30 a.m.


Find more information on the festivities at LakeForestDay.com.


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