I Am An American Day began in 1939 as a national movement to honor all United States citizens and to welcome newly naturalized citizens.
The City of Chicago sponsored a parade each year to publicly celebrate this event and, in 1953, they invited the village of Oak Forest to join them. However, village officials decided to hold their own parade in an effort to bring about a feeling of kinship among new villagers.
The purpose of the first Oak Forest parade was to unite religion and patriotism. The parade’s slogan was “Pride and Patriotism Forever.” According to past reports, that patriotic spirit “could be felt as the people walked down Cicero Avenue.”
Some residents may remember the first parades – the traffic that flowed right next to the floats, the participation ribbons, the reviewing stand at the train depot, and the second of the Fifth Army Band. Many may even remember Sue and Duke Schindler, who headed the committee for many years.
Through the years, the parade grew to include an entire weekend of festivities – dances, picnics, the crowning of queens and princesses. The parade route also changed from Cicero Avenue to Central Avenue.
In the mid-1980s, for some reason, the parade became a thing of the past. Like most people, Alderman Rich Simon had fond memories of the parade, which is why, in 2012, he asked the Oak Forest Veterans Commission to consider bringing it back. The commission agreed. And so the parade returned to Central Avenue that August in conjunction with a War of 1812 re-enactment to celebrate the war’s bicentennial.
Today, the I Am An American Day Parade is held each Labor Day Sunday and leads to the Oak Forest Park District’s Old Times Picnic. The parade includes local scout troops, sports teams, veterans groups, and businesses. It also includes boys and girls on bikes and scooters and parents pushing strollers.
In a letter dated July 23, 2014, former Oak Forest Mayor Dennis O’Connor wrote to us about his memories of the I Am An American Day parade. Here’s what he said:
Every once in a while I check the internet and look at where I have been in my life. Oak Forest is one of those places and I have many memories of the community and its people. Some of those are difficult memories but most are reflective of a positive experience where my family lived and grew. Much time has passed and I now live in California.
I noted the I Am An American Day event and I got quite excited. It brought back many wonderful memories of the event that was so important in those years. Many years ago I participated in that event which included a full weekend of activities. I was quite active including parade marshal. To this day I can still remember starting the bands and floats down Cicero Avenue. In those years, when I was mayor, it was quite a parade and attracted many people from the southern suburbs.
I want to compliment the Oak Forest Veterans Commission for having this wonderful event which not only honors our servicemen but this wonderful country of ours.
Let’s help the Veterans Commission restore the I Am An American Day Parade to its former glory by coming out strong on September 4 – either as a parade participant or spectator. Get out your red, white and blue and proudly proclaim you are an American! Gather with family, friends and neighbors on Central Avenue and then head over to the Old Times Picnic at the park district. We can’t think of a better way to close out the summer.
All dressed up and feeling most patriotic are parade watchers Mary and Billy Coppens. (Suburbanite Economist, September 2, 1970)
Eugene Winston and his four sons were trophy winners for their parade entry. (Suburbanite Economist, September 2, 1970)
Members of the Redeemer Lutheran Church wave to parade watchers. (City of Oak Forest, September 6, 2015)
Sharry Murawski and her daughter ride their bikes in the parade. (City of Oak Forest, September 6, 2015)