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October 4, 2005
It's the people
I grew up in Oak Park, but I now live in the middle of the Canadian prairies, so it was difficult to watch the news and see that the little bedroom community I called home for many years was in the path of a large fire.
I watched the news on TV, read the newspapers online, and kept refreshing the Web page for the Ventura County Fire Department. My parents are still in Oak Park and I was, of course, worried for their safety.
Thursday morning, I woke up to hear that the fire was approaching Oak Park. After several phone calls, I finally found my parents at my brother's house. They had gone there after having spent a few hours at a shelter. Once I knew that they were safe, my attention to the details on the news shifted. I started noticing that reporters were talking about Oak Park and its million-dollar homes. I knew that they did not know Oak Park the way I did.
Oak Park is about the people, not the property values. The schools in Oak Park are among the best, but the funding is based on enrollment, not property taxes. It is the community that has made the schools so good. It was members of the community who started the Oak Park Unified School District in 1978 and who volunteer for the various parent-faculty clubs, the Oak Park High School Grad Night Committee, and Friends of the Oak Park Library, which are all invaluable to the success of the schools.
Oak Park has never been about million-dollar homes. A price tag cannot be put on the true value of this community.
Oak Park is not great because of the value of the homes, but the value of the people who live in those homes. Many of the community's residents have lived in Oak Park since long before the price tag of any house there was higher than the low five digits.
They lived there when the Fourth of July meant a community picnic at Mae Boyar Park and a parade with floats entered by residents of the various streets. They lived there when the cafeteria at Brookside Elementary School hosted almost all community events and when Medea Creek Middle School was a bunch of trailers. They were at the groundbreaking ceremony for Oak Park High School.
They were there when the last major fire burned through the area in the early 1980s and flames scorched the land across from the high school.
It was these events and the people who have made Oak Park what it is that gave the community its unofficial slogan -- Miracles Happen In Oak Park.
The heroic firefighters kept houses in Oak Park from burning more than 25 years ago and again during the Topanga fire. All of us, those who reside in Oak Park, and those who have ever called it home, should thank them.
But had they not succeeded in their mission to save the homes in this little bedroom community, Oak Park would have survived because that is just the way this community is. So, the next time the news organizations talk about Oak Park, I want to hear them talk about the people who live their lives in those homes, not the price of the property.
Heather M. Ross, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada
Reproduced with permission from the Ventura County Star.
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