seop stories – melissa elsmo

We’re excited to share another SEOP story. Meet Melissa Elsmo, from the 1150 block of Taylor Ave.

SEOPCO: Tell us a little about yourself.

ME: My husband, Leif, and I bought our home in SEOP more than 20 years ago. We fell in love with our tiny bungalow and our SEOP community immediately. We raised two kids, Emma and Finn, in the community and still miss spending time at Irving School. These days I am a food writer for Wednesday Journal and work on Oak Park Eats–a food related vertical supported by Growing Community Media. I adore celebrating our local food artisans!

I am also a passionate chef and my SEOP bungalow has become a sort of secret (ish) dining destination for food-lovers who live both locally and globally. Sharing my SEOP home with both friends and strangers has become on of the greatest and most unexpected joys of my life!

SEOPCO: What do you love most about living in SEOP?

ME: I love the smaller footprint living exemplified in our SEOP community–as a result I find our little corner of Oak Park is made up of very close knit families and tight friend groups who are committed to celebrating our community and setting the stage to keep things great for the next generation. SEOP is made up of forward thinking, open minded and down-to-earth people who are thoughtful about creating and maintaining our vibrant section of Oak Park.

SEOPCO: Tell me something interesting you’ve learned about your house/block/neighborhood?

ME: I learned my house and the houses to the north and south of me were all build by the same person. They were identical in layout and completed in 1921, 1922, and 1923. I learned the builder, a mailman, was running out of money so each home had less woodwork than the next. The house to the north had two oak cabinets flanking the fireplace, my house only had one, and the home to the south had none. Today my 1922 bungalow still sits between its siblings, but is the only home with any of the original woodwork in tact- including that lopsided fireplace cabinetry. The vintage touches in my house makes it feel more like a home.

SEOPCO: How would you describe SEOP in one word or phrase?

ME: Genuine. 🙂

SEOP Stories – Billy Kunz

Family is on everyone’s mind this time of year, and we’re proud to share another SEOPCO Story, of someone who raised their children in Southeast OP. Meet Billy Kunz!

William (Billy) Kunz lives on the 1150 block of South Lombard. He’s a retired CTA bus driver and yogi who enjoys READING, his grandchildren, and travel (emphasis his). You can check out his and wife Angela’s Little Free Library in the front yard right… near one of the oldest American Elm trees in Oak Park!

When asked to name something he loves about our neighborhood, he says SEOP is “The red-headed step-child. No heated sidewalks down this away.” But being close to Maze Library, Trattoria 225, and Awaken Your Spirit & Embrace Your Journey more than makes up for it.

Billy can swap more stories about “infamous” residents and politics (self-proclaimed Bernie or Bust guy) if you find him and his grandkids at The Looking Glass or playing in the cul-de-sac.

SEOP stories – Tim Giuffi

Tim's bread

Meet Tim Giuffi, of Lyman Avenue Bread.

Q. Where do you live?

A. 1100 Block of Lyman Ave.

Q. Tell us a little about yourself.

A. Born and raised in Brooklyn; began baking sourdough bread as a hobby when I became a stay-at-home dad six years ago…which has since turned into a small home based business: Lyman Ave. Bread. You can reach them on Instagram @lymanavebread

Q: What do you love most about living in SEOP?

A. It’s a great community filled with friendly people. Our daughter has had a wonderful experience at Irving Elementary (which she misses nowadays).

Q. Tell me something interesting you’ve learned about your house/block/neighborhood.

A. The previous owner of our house was a professional trumpet player and played in Frank Sinatra’s back up band.

Q. How would you describe SEOP in one word or phrase?

A. Community

SEOP stories – Jim Kelly

We want to share some of the stories of our neighbors in South East Oak Park and there’s really no one better to start with than Jim Kelly. Jim was one of the founders of SEOPCO in 2003. He was one of a small group of people inspired to form a community organization that would work diligently to create a reinvigorated sense of place and identity for the our neighborhood, and to showcase the south east area to the rest of Oak Park as a vibrant, diverse and welcoming place to live.

Here’s a little bit more about Jim Kelly and his partner, Bruce Broerman.

Jim and Bruce live on the 1000 block of south Harvey. Jim was a Peace Corp volunteer, then worked for 25 years in Peace Corps training. He moved to the neighborhood in 1988 to join lives with Bruce. Jim and Bruce were founding members of the Oak Park Area Lesbian and Gay Association. Bruce has two children and five grandchildren who affectionately call them Papa Bruce and Papa Jim. In this year of 2020, the oldest is graduating from high school and will be off to college, while the youngest will finish kindergarten and begin first grade. Jim served as a SEOPCO board member for 13 years, and current board members still call on Jim’s expertise and experience.

The thing that Jim loves most about living in SEOP is his neighbors.

One thing that he has learned about the neighborhood is that some Oak Parkers used to call the neighborhood “North Berwyn” as a derogatory term. These days we are proudly South East Oak Park.

Jim describes SEOPCO as a neighborhood advocate.

We’ll be posting more of the South East Oak Park stories. If you’d like to share your story with us, we’d love to hear it. You can use this Google form to submit a response.

https://docs.google.com/…/1FAIpQLScYqkEp8RFzIWWQ0b…/viewform

2020 Accomplishments

  • Carried out in March our first ever Cabin Fever event at Oak Park Friends School, featuring musician Mark Dvorak. SEOPCO collaborated with two important organizations, Beyond Hunger and Music & Potlucks.
  • Initiated a meeting with neighbors and five leading Oak Park officials to discuss the proposed Taco Bell at Roosevelt and Austin in February. Neighborhood concerns were aired, the role of the Village in the development was clarified and mitigations to traffic and noise issues were discussed. 
  • Kept the community informed about Zoning Board meetings and changes to the Taco Bell proposal. 
  • COVID 19 – 
    • Communicated village news via Facebook and our email list regarding the SIP from the village, parking, 
    • Promoted the restaurants that were open and how they were accommodating customers
    • Helped publicize their efforts as Oak Park Porchfest was forced to become Couchfest, moving their stellar music series from our porches to Zoom.  
  • Inaugurated our series SEOPCO Stories, sharing  some of the narratives of our neighbors in South East Oak Park.
  • Represented the neighborhood in the hiring process for new Police Department’s Resident Beat Officers and Neighborhood Resource Officers.
  • Worked with our Neighborhood Resource Officer, Derrick Verge, as the monthly meetings he hosts with John Rumoro moved from Barrie Center to online. Each month Officers Verge and Rumoro gather to discuss how to increase safety in South East Oak Park.
  • Partnered with the Rotary Club of Oak Park and River Forest to make donuts for the Oak Park Farmer’s Market. It’s a fun morning and a great way to raise funds for Pilgrim Congregational and both of our organizations.
  • Reimagined our annual BarrieFest as a moving musical feast by partnering with Fitzgeralds. Five musicians performed short sets in seventeen locations, offering a socially distanced good time for many appreciative South East Oak Parkers.

South East Oak Park Community Organization