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Smith Village exhibit celebrates century since opening in Beverly as Oakhaven Old People’s Home

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A century after opening as Oakhaven Old People’s Home in 1924, the nonprofit Smith Village in Chicago’s Beverly community along with its offshoot, Smith Crossing in Orland Park, is celebrating its centennial with an exhibit illustrating how care for older residents has changed over the decades.

The exhibit also casts a wider look at outside events large and small that have shaped the community.

“It just brings back memories — you forget certain things,” said retired nurse Phyllis Tucker, 85, who has lived at Smith Village with her husband, Roosevelt Tucker Jr., for over three years. “It really made an impression. … I think it’s really good for the young folks to see that.”

Titled “20/20: One Hundred Years in Focus—Smith Communities in a Changing World,” the exhibit, open for viewing until June 29, traces the retirement community’s roots to 1924 when it started out as Oakhaven. The name was changed to Washington and Jane Smith’s Home in 1929 as a way to honor benefactor Emilie Smith, and later was renamed Smith Village.

It provided homes for older people and jobs during the Depression, offered a “safe haven” for them during World War II and the Korean War, when many residents had children in the Armed Forces, the exhibit states. And Smith Village met a key need in the 1960s when the number of older people “surged.” In 1991 a new wing was installed for continuing care.

Around Smith, the world was changing. There was the prohibition in 1920-33, the World’s Fair in Chicago 1933-34 and the first nuclear reaction unveiled at the University of Chicago as part of the Manhattan Project in 1942.

“You just saw how time passed and everything was changing,” Tucker said. “It shows you the radio age — I remember sitting on the floor listening to the radio with my family.”

An exhibit panel describes the origins of Smith Village in Chicago’s Beverly community. The exhibit was developed to mark the facility’s 100th anniversary and is open to everyone through June 29. (Janice Neumann/Daily Southtown)

Sandra Morrison, Tucker’s sister, has lived at Smith Village for 12 years, and, like her sister, was already a longtime resident of the neighborhood. She said several of her neighbors and friends have also moved there.

“Smith is like a community, everyone knows one another and we’re all so close, which seniors need,” said Morrison, who is in her early 80s and worked as a teacher, social worker and several other jobs before retiring.

Morrison said she recognized some of the changes in the facility as a resident.

“One of the things that really impressed me is how Smith had to make adjustments according to the population of the world, even with communication,” said Morrison, who participates in computer classes there. “When I first came here, they stuck things on the elevator. Now you go online.

“We’ve had to learn to adapt and push ourselves, too, which is a good thing.”

She also noted that a road was built when Smith opened, “so it advanced the community right away.”

Mary Ellen Lavoie, who has lived at Smith for several years, was impressed with the exhibit.

“It covered a lot of history of the area and how they’ve grown with the area,” said Lavoie, who taught scripture at Mother McAuley High School before retiring. “It was easy to go around and see.”

Kevin McGee, president and CEO of Smith Senior Living, who has worked there for more than 25 years, said family, staff, current and former trustees had spent the past 18 months mulling over ways to celebrate the 100 year milestone, and how “we as an organization have changed with the times as well.”

Among those who contributed to the exhibit were Linda Lamberty of Ridge Historical Society, Elizabeth Paulson, who supervises Orland Park’s heritage sites, and Orland Park history researcher Mike Duffy. Photography is from archives of the Chicago History Museum, Ridge Historical Society, John H. Vanderpoel Art Association, village of Orland Park, and photographers Mark Ballogg, Robert Bonicoro, Greg Lochow, Mati Maldre, Marc Monaghan and Waldemar Reichert.

McGee said his grandmother was a resident of Washington and Jane Smith Home, and now his parents live at Smith.

“We’re just excited about this milestone,” said McGee. “It’s a yearlong celebration for both our residents and staff and hopefully the community at large.”

Janice Neumann is a freelance reporter for the Daily Southtown. 

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