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Column: Neighborhood comes together to meet common goal

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They put a cap on the Forest Park Markers project over the weekend — literally.

Actually there were two caps (short for capstones) put in place atop stone pillars at the entrance to the neighborhood just off U.S. 31.

It was a symbolic ending to a symbolic project that restored the neighborhood’s identity.

That’s pretty heady stuff for a couple of neatly arranged piles of stone, but it’s the raised letters on the cement slabs inset into the bricks that are at the heart of this story.

They simply say “Forest Park.”

The neighborhood lost the original signs several months ago as a part of the widening of National Road.

Originally, there was a hope that the markers would remain in their original setting. But a change in the direction of the road because of federal regulations pertaining to the line of trees near North Christian Church forced their removal because they were suddenly in the right of way.

The residents negotiated with city and state officials and eventually hit upon a new location. They had disassembled and saved the pillars. In addition, they conducted a fundraising effort in the neighborhood to improve them, even adding lights.

All the work was done by residents.

Saturday, the last touches were put in place. An official celebration will be staged at a neighborhood block party from 2 to 4 p.m. Saturday at the Rocky Ford Road entrance.

Actually there’s more to this neighborhood than a couple of stone markers, but in their own way the identifying symbols at the area’s entrance have come to be seen as integral to the people who live within its boundaries.

That they’re returned is a sign of a stubborn resistance to societal trends. The neighborhoods of today are vastly different from their ancestors. Neighbors are more likely to be strangers today, and things such as block parties are regarded as bygone relics.

Not in Forest Park.

The markers had been a standing feature of the Forest Park neighborhood for several decades. No one is exactly sure when they were put into place, but once there they became identified with the communal nature of the residents.

Forest Park was developed in the early 1960s by three Columbus men: Bob Rogers, Bob Curl and Foss Taylor. The community was undergoing a growth spurt at the time, and the area was seen as a haven for upwardly mobile young professionals and their families. Some of the younger early residents who would become part of the Columbus establishment were John and Ann Hackett, Howard and Carolyn Lickerman, and Keith and Hester Ann Moore.

But it also had a mix with older and more prominent families such as Don and Joyce Tull, and Harold and Marian Higgins. Don Tull was president of Cummins Engine Co., and Harold Higgins was the chief head hunter for Irwin Management Co.

The neighborhood was developed at the height of the Cold War when worries of a potential nuclear holocaust were well placed. One of the first homes to be built (by developer Bob Rogers for his family) was equipped with a fallout shelter.

It was also a time of the stay-at-home mother, a societal trend that was critical to the “old-time” neighborhoods when everyone on the block knew each other.

Out of that evolved a series of events that served to solidify the communal nature of Forest Park.

One of the first was the neighborhood tea.

Marie Huntington, who moved into Forest Park in the 1970s, recalled her introduction to the afternoon teas in a column she wrote for The Republic in 1997.

“One day I found a block-printed card hanging on my front door knob inviting me to a neighborhood tea,” she wrote. “My then-neighbor Cynthia Sakai called and said she wanted to take me so she could introduce me. I remembered how overwhelmed I was to find nearly every household represented, plus some women who had moved away (who came back) to see old friends.”

The teas began as a Christmas tea shortly after the opening of Forest Park. Its first organizers were Alice Weisenberger, Nancy Myer, Ginny Ster, Mary Butler and Ann Hackett.

It grew in popularity, and current Forest Park resident Donna Tull recalls a time when “we had to break it up into two shifts, one from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and the other from 1 to 3 p.m.”

The Forest Park Afternoon Tea eventually became a victim of societal changes.

“So many women went into the work force that it got to be nearly impossible to gather enough people during a work day,” Donna Tull recalled.

Other neighborhood events proved to be more lasting.

A traditional luminaria program was started several years ago by Lori and Dave Wright and continues today.

The one event Forest Park is most commonly identified with these days is the annual Fourth of July parade and party in which neighbors don patriotic outfits and march through the streets.

The tradition was started in 1997 by Dan and Claudia Slabough and Richard and Ann Grayson. Since 2000 it has been coordinated primarily by John and Harriett Armstrong.

Although Forest Park has retained many of the characteristics of the “old-fashioned neighborhood,” it has also changed. Donna Tull said she has yet to meet a number of the families that have moved into the area. Still there is a sense of togetherness.

Now it’s once again symbolized by the markers at the entrance.

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