There aren't too many civic associations that can boast the same accomplishments as the German Village Society or cherish the fact that they have been doing it for five decades. For all of its faults, the society stands out as a remarkable example of what a group of neighbors can do when they are determined to make the very best of their surroundings.

There aren't too many civic associations that can boast the same accomplishments as the German Village Society or cherish the fact that they have been doing it for five decades. For all of its faults, the society stands out as a remarkable example of what a group of neighbors can do when they are determined to make the very best of their surroundings.

Schiller Park didn't always look as incredible as it does today. Without years of hard work from Janet Druen, Connie Swain, Elspeth Willougby and others, the master plan we rely on today wouldn't exist. Their success was built upon a strong working relationship with the city's recreation and parks department, and that plan continues to strengthen the society's relationship with the recreation and parks department.

At one point, Frank Fetch Park didn't exist. Schiller was at least always open green space, but Frank Fetch Park was a parcel with a few buildings on it. The buildings were long gone when Frank Fetch himself saw this open space, which, at the time, was used to store old cars, old tires and the like. Fetch worked with the city and developed a pocket park that has an incredible amount of foot traffic, as well as concerts, meetings, picnics and weddings.

German Village also enjoys two fourth-generation-run businesses: Franklin Art Glass Studios, Inc. and Schmidt's Sausage Haus und Restaurant. Katzinger's Delicatessen just celebrated its silver anniversary and Helen Winnemore Crafts has been here since the 1960s. The business community has added immensely to the vitality of the neighborhood and the German Village Society itself.

Several years ago, the society's staff wrote a grant application to the city that got our neighborhood a quarter-million dollars (spelled out for emphasis!). Since then, the society's streetscape committee has been hard at work deciding what to do with it. The funds will be administered by the city (so cancel any plans you have to ask to see the check) and the money must be used for infrastructure. Do you realize how much potential this has? No decisions have been made and the committee has been soliciting input from the public.

The society is working with professional planners because the society was told years ago it would need a plan to show how serious it was about receiving "real money." I'm not dismissing $250,000 in the least, but the kind of work our neighbors want done will require a lot more. The plan is that this grant funding will seed future grant funding (and so on and so on) and that we will see real change.

Does it seem difficult? Yes. Time consuming? Just ask the committee. But so did the Schiller Park master plan and I don't know anyone who regrets a thing about Schiller.

Each year, the German Village Society plans the Haus und Garten Tour. We get anywhere from 3,000 to 5,000 visitors, incredible media coverage and lots of word-of-mouth endorsements. We celebrate our history, our successes and our urban landscapes, and we get to show off. It seems like every nook and cranny has its own tour these days, but only a few can claim to be older than ours.

In 2006, the society submitted an application to attain Preserve America status and got it. Preserve America is a White House initiative focusing on communities that promote their history and heritage. A few years into the program, it started recognizing neighborhoods within larger cities. German Village was named the first Preserve America neighborhood in the state, a bragging right that makes us eligible for grant funding only offered to other Preserve America locations. Again, there is incredible potential.

The society may appear to be going through some growing pains, but frankly, how could we not after 50 years? We must remember how much good work the society has accomplished and that it is poised to do more. The society's committees are volunteer-driven, the board is focused and determined to move forward and it has an institutional knowledge that cannot be rivaled.

The state of the society is good. Your membership dollars are worthwhile and your involvement is critical. Join us in making German Village a better place -- no matter how great we are, I'd say there is always room for improvement, whether we are 50 or 100.

Make a mark on your neighborhood for the better and take pride in knowing that you have the German Village Society on your side, in your corner and at your back.

Jody Graichen is the director of Historical Preservation Programs for the German Village Society.

Jody

Graichen