Longtime La Grange Park resident, Jack Ryder, has posthumously received the Illinois Association of Park District’s 2020 Best of the Best Award for Outstanding Citizen Volunteer of the Year for his work in identifying and memorializing La Grange Park veterans that were killed or missing in action.
The Illinois Association of Park Districts (IAPD) Best of the Best Award for Outstanding Citizen Volunteer recognizes citizens' volunteer efforts to enhance a park district, forest preserve, conservation, recreation or special recreation agency program, service, parkland, open space or facility. Recognizing the impact of Jack's research and dedication, IAPD President and CEO Peter Murphy said, "I know that Jack's spirit lives on through the work that he did."
Jack was no stranger to service and volunteerism. A Navy Veteran, member of the American Legion and Lions Club, 12-year Village Trustee, and a representative of the First United Methodist Church in LaGrange at the local, national, and international levels, he dedicated his life to serving his country, friends, and neighbors.
On September 20, 2014, Jack attended the dedication ceremony at the Community Park District of La Grange Park’s new Veteran’s Memorial in Memorial Park. Unbeknownst to anyone, the ceremony would inspire Jack to complete one of the most unique, heartfelt, and generous projects in the agency’s 75-year history.
In 2016, Jack approached the Community Park District about his mission to identify any and all La Grange Park residents that were killed in action during their military service so that they may forever be remembered with a place of honor at the Veteran’s Memorial. With the park district’s support, Jack embarked on a 3-year journey that would reconnect 19 families with their lost heroes. Jack began by compiling a list of resident names he had found in the book American Soldiers of World War 1. One-by-one, he traced addresses, family names, and cross-referenced draft cards to determine if any of them had been Killed in Action. Once he had exhausted that resource, Jack spent countless hours at the La Grange Park Library, combing through the earliest newspapers on file. Searching each issue, page by page, looking for any war-time news. Over the years, Jack would update the park district on his research and any leads he had. Oftentimes he would share stories from old articles that featured his neighbors and classmates, and always commented on how much he enjoyed the memories it stirred of his own life in La Grange Park.
The road to identifying and verifying soldiers was not an easy one. Oftentimes, it was difficult to trace people as spouses would go to live with their in-laws or parents while a soldier was at war. But with patience, perseverance, and passion, Jack would connect information gathered from draft cards, real estate records, marriage licenses, and military death notices to locate and verify 19 La Grange Park residents that were Killed in Action from the Civil War through the Vietnam War. At the end of his journey, Jack said “he truly felt like he got to know the soldiers and felt connected to them.”
Jack finally finished his research in the summer of 2019. He brought three large binders full of information and documentation to the Community Park District Recreation Center and was ready to lead the fundraising necessary to purchase 19 bricks. Sadly, shortly thereafter, Jack died.
But his generosity and passion for this project did not end there. Just weeks after his death, Jack’s wife, Deb, stopped by the administrative offices with a gift no one expected. She presented the park district with a check from Jack himself and said that he had left money in his will to personally purchase the bricks for each soldier.
On Monday, November 9, 2020, Jack’s wife, Deb Ryder accepted the award on his behalf at the Regular Meeting of the Community Park District Board of Park Commissioners. Jack will also be honored during the virtual Illinois Association of Park Districts Best of the Best Awards Gala on Thursday, November 12.
In May of 2021, the Community Park District of La Grange Park will celebrate the life and work of Jack Ryder by dedicating the 19 bricks of the soldiers he honored. The park district will also donate his research to the La Grange Historical Society so future generations will forever have access to the life, lessons, and history they contain.
Veteran's Memorial KIA Project
The Community Park District is asking for your help in locating the family or descendants of the following KIA soldiers so that we may honor them this May at the Veteran's Memorial.
This request is the culmination of the tireless work of Jack Ryder, a long-time resident of La Grange Park and a Veteran's Memorial volunteer. Jack spent more than two years researching and compiling a list of La Grange Park servicemen that were reported KIA and worked to ensure that they will be forever remembered here at home with a place of honor at the Veteran's Memorial.
If you know of anyone connected to the soldiers listed below, please email Amanda Kennedy at firstname.lastname@example.org or call the Park District office at 708-354-4580.
La Grange Park Soldiers KIA:
Stanley L Anderson | Brewster Ave
Harry Edger Brown | 400 block of N. Kensington
Robert E. Coulter, Jr. | 500 block of N. Waiola
Kenneth Wayne Ebert | 400 block of N. Waiola or 200 block of 8th Avenue
Elmer H. Kemman Jr. | 300 block of N. LaGrange Road
Ralph H Leavitt | 500 block of N Spring
Harry Allen Neal | 400 block of N. Stone
Earl A Neitzel | 600 block of N. Kensington
Charles Richard Quinn | 600 block of N. Waiola
Arthur Craig Rutter | 300 block of N. Stone, 400 N. LaGrange Road or 900 Arlington
George A Smith | 500 block of N. Waiola, 900 N. Spring or 300 S. Gilbert
Victor E Stolla | 600 block of N. Kensington
Robert A Block | 500 block of N. Catherine
Allen Erwin Drallmeier | 900 block of Beach
Charles Mason | 400 block of N. Catherine
William Moody |400 block of N. Catherine
Gary E. Becker | 600 block of Homestead
Thomas Paul Cadieux | 600 block of East 31st Street
William Pritchard | 800 block of N. Lagrange Road
Honor the veterans in your family with a brick at the La Grange Park Veteran's Memorial: https://www.communityparkdistrict.org/about/veterans-memorial