Friends Remember Mary McCall

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Mary McCall speaks at her induction into the Park Forest Hall of Fame in April of 2007. (PHOTO ENEWSPF)

Park Forest, IL–(ENEWSPF)– Friends recalled the life of Mary McCall this week. The former Park Forester was the originator of the Park Forest Scenic 10, a founding member of the Park Forest Running and Pancake Club, and the first administrator of Freedom Hall, Nathan Manilow Theatre. Mrs. McCall died of acute respiratory distress syndrome Monday, March 9, in Silver Cross Hospital in Joliet, according to the Chicago Tribune. She was 78.

Mary McCall was inducted into the Park Forest Hall of Fame in 2007. The Park Forest Historical Society’s Web site carries a biography of Mrs. McCall, calling her “the primary shaper of two significant events in the history of the Village of Park Forest.” Along with J. Ron McLeod, she spearheaded the fundraising effort to build Freedom Hall in the 1970s after the village received Federal Revenue Sharing funds to create a bicentennial building.

After it was completed in 1976, she became its first administrator, and developed the Freedom Hall series, and scheduled speakers as varied as Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross and Buckminster Fuller in the Nathan Manilow Theater as well as planning events in the main meeting rooms. She truly integrated Freedom Hall into the fabric of the community and helped it blossom into a village asset.

The prestigious Park Forest Scenic 10-Mile Run began in 1977 with a group of runners who wanted to create such an event. Mary was the originator of the race with the help of her late husband, Tom. Over the years she contributed most of the ideas that made the event so distinctive, including that of having musical groups at various locations on the route. This event has become one of the most important distance races in the Chicago area, attracting runners from around the world, and has long been named the “Race of the Year” by the Chicago Area Runners Association.

As a reporter for the Park Forest Reporter, Mary won a “Golden Dozen Award” for her article “Let’s Get it All Together,” which reflected on the integration of Park Forest.

“There’s something about Mary,” and that something is a legacy she has given Park Forest through her talent, energy and dedication, the Historical Society’s Web site says.

Resident Warren Utes says Mary was a promoting force in the America’s Marathon of 1981, 1982 and it was done in class.

“I won my age group each time and the award plaque was in brass with raised lettering and a blue background. They contain complete information about the race. They will hang on my wall as long as there is a wall.

“Tom McCall owned an airplane and Tom and I flew down to Bloomington to pick up the chair that the angry coach threw across the basketball court. The chair was autographed and we flew it back for Mary’s auction, signed by Bobby Knight.

“Tom later became Mary’s husband and they had quarters near the entry to the woods and our running path. We would gather on the second floor after a Sunday run for pancakes and conversation.

“I believe that’s where the running club was born,” Mr. Utes said.

Mel Muchnik recalled Mary McCall creating the Park Forest Scenic 10 while working in Community Relations for the Village of Park Forest. Later, Mary became an early Race Director of the Chicago Marathon.

“It was Mary who brought music to the Scenic 10 and the Chicago Marathon,” Mr. Muchnik says. “The string quartet in the woods, later joined by other musical groups was all Mary. She was also the first Administrator of Freedom Hall in Park Forest.”

According to Mel, in the 1970’s, Mary and her late husband Tom, with a little help from their friends, created the Park Forest Running and Pancake Club. The motto “Start slowly and taper off” and the logo of the running turtle with knife and fork come were brought to Park Forest from the Dolphin Running Club in San Francisco where Tom used to live. More recently Mary created a painted and autographed chair auction that raised many thousands of dollars for Chicago area based charities. Celebrities nationwide autographed Mary’s chairs. Through that she became a good friend of such luminaries as Muhammad Ali and visited him many times in his Michigan house.

“She was a creative force with a marvelous sense of humor and an ever present twinkle in her eyes. We’ll miss that twinkle, her laugh and her incredible loyalty to her friends and her friends’ children, and so many in the communities where she lived fully and passionately,” Mr. Muchnik said.

Sections of this article were taken from the Park Forest Historical Society’s Web site, used with permission.