Join me this Saturday, September 17th, at 11 a.m. for the dedication of Helen Doria Beach Park – Columbia and the Lake.
You may recall that a group of Rogers Park neighbors asked me to support a proposal to rename Columbia Beach Park in honor of the late Helen Doria, a long-time Rogers Park resident and advocate for the parks and cultural affairs, who passed away four years ago this December. The community response was overwhelmingly in favor of the renaming and the Chicago Park District Board of Commissioners made the change earlier this year.
The dedication ceremony will feature my remarks as well as those by Cook County Clerk David Orr, Helen’s longtime friend Katy Hogan, and Peggy Stewart of the Chicago Park District.
The neighbors who led this effort included Katy, Brandon Neese, Harriet Russell, and Dona Vitale. Their work was bolstered by the support of the Cook County Clerk David Orr, Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky, and the Loyola Park Advisory Council, which oversees this beach.
Below is a brief summary of Helen Doria’s life and accomplishments:
Born and raised on Chicago’s southwest side, Helen Doria moved to Columbia Avenue in Rogers Park in 1969 to attend Mundelein College. Helen remained in Rogers Park after graduating from college and quickly becoming a part of the fabric of our community, working on a variety of political campaigns and community initiatives.
She served in the early 1980s as a staff assistant to my predecessor, then-49th Ward Alderman David Orr, where she worked with neighborhood activists in both Rogers Park and Edgewater to preserve the Berger Park mansion and establish Berger Park.
She left Alderman Orr’s office in 1983 to work for Mayor Harold Washington at the Mayor’s Office of Special Events and later the City’s Department of Cultural Affairs, where she gained national and international recognition in the field of cultural programming by developing and expanding Chicago’s “Sister-City” relationships with cities around the world.
Helen joined to the Chicago Park District in the early 1990s, where she launched mini-festivals in the neighborhood parks, drawing thousands of residents with an array of creative arts and cultural programs. The festivals led to Parks Partners, a union of cultural institutions and the Park District, that fostered programs in Park District fieldhouses on subjects from theater to gardening.
Helen was later appointed by Mayor Richard Daley to the Millennium Park Board of Directors and was the park’s first executive director, serving from 2004 until the end of 2007. She is widely credited with making the park an open and inclusive place for people from all cultures and economic classes and was instrumental in establishing the “Made in Chicago: World Class Jazz” concert series.
Helen left Millennium Park to launch Helen Doria Consulting in 2008, working as a nationally recognized arts consultant on arts, culture and public spaces. She took a lead role in the development of the 606 Recreational Trail and worked on many other projects and programs that made Chicago a more culturally rich place in which to live and work.
Her wide experience in the fields of culture and recreation led Mayor Emanuel to ask Helen to serve on his arts and culture transition committee after his election in 2011.
From her days as a student at Mundelein College to her untimely death in December, 2012, Helen lived in close proximity to Columbia Beach Park. It was a place of relaxation and a source of inspiration for her. Helen Doria Beach Park joins a growing list of parks, including Toby Prinz Beach Park at Pratt Boulevard and the lake and Marion Mahony Griffin Beach Park at Jarvis Avenue and the lake, named for women whose accomplishments inspire future generations.
I hope you can join me in a beautiful spot in the neighborhood as we celebrate a remarkable woman who gave so much to our community and Chicago.