Walking to the 'L'

by Kris Carlson Brucker C'79

View from Old Main's cupola, looking Northwest, 1915

View from Old Main's cupola looking towards the northwest, 1915.


One hundred fifty North Park freshmen meet at Hamming Hall and walk south on Kedzie Avenue, past soon–to–be favorite eateries and stores. En masse, they head west on Lawrence, past the Village Discount thrift store. They board the Brown Line train to downtown for a day of urban adventure. It is Saturday, August 28, 2010, “Chicago Day” of Threshold Week.

In more daily routines, some make their way to the train in order to commute. North Park Theological Seminary student Tim Bowyer S’2013 says, “When it’s too cold to bike or walk, I use the Brown line to go to work at the YMCA.”

For more than 100 years, North Parkers have walked the three primary routes from the campus to the elevated train station at the corner of Kimball and Lawrence. Before the streets were paved, before the existence of such landmarks as Von Steuben High School and Hibbard Elementary School, they made their way south to the El.

It was 1907 when the tracks, bridges, and stations of the Ravenswood “El”, now known as the Brown Line, were first laid and built. They connected the city center with the rural Northwest Side, where North Park College stood in the midst of open fields, among boardwalks and a few scattered buildings. When the Brown Line was completed, Old Main and its prominent cupola were only 13 years old. The train line provided North Park with an early transportation link to downtown, shaping the future of the multiethnic, densely urban setting that would rapidly grow around it.

Walking Down Spaulding

The central route that led from the North Park campus to the “El” was along Spaulding Avenue. When Wilson Hall was built as a men’s dorm in 1901, students in suits or long dresses navigated a long boardwalk that led to a wooden bridge crossing the North Branch at Spaulding. The flood–prone river was tamed by the construction of the North Shore Channel in 1910, which allowed the land south of the river to be developed with streets, homes, and a brand new school.

In 1916, William G. Hibbard School, (occupying the block between Spaulding and Sawyer, Argyle and Ainslie) opened as a K–12 public school. Since that time, Hibbard has been the primary fixture on the walk south down Spaulding Avenue. Its proximity to the North Park student residences Burgh Hall, Lund House, Anderson Hall, and Sawyer Court has reinforced its connection to the College, and later the University.

Hibbard School and its blacktop playground was the site of “Playtimers” from 1968–1985. This eight–week summer playground program for 150–200 Hibbard students was run by North Park Covenant Church’s Board of Community Concern and staffed primarily by North Park students and alumni. Flyers for the program were prepared in Spanish, Gujarati, Arabic, Korean, and English, and passed out to Hibbard students at the end of the school year. Federico Flores C’77, who is now the principal at Chicago’s Peabody Elementary School, served on the staff and as director of the program from 1974–77. Flores currently serves on the board of directors of Working in the Schools (WITS), a literacy organization that has used many volunteers from NPU staff and faculty to read to Hibbard third graders through its Power Lunch program.

In 1998, Hibbard’s huge addition, which replaced its cracked blacktop playground, added classrooms, computer and science labs, a library, and a lunchroom. This improvement significantly upgraded the physical appearance of the school and contributed to the ongoing revitalization of the neighborhood. Ten years later, the modern 7–8th grade Albany Park Multicultural Academy (APMA) and Edison Regional Gifted Center was built across from Hibbard on Sawyer Avenue. In this immediate area there are now 1,190 Hibbard students, 290 APMA students and 280 Edison students.

North Park is involved at Hibbard in many ways. In 2008, violinist and North Park student Deborah Wanderley dos Santos C ’2010 helped to found a Hibbard youth orchestra through the People’s Music School in Uptown, Chicago. Today, the orchestra partners with Ravinia and involves 150 Hibbard students.

The North Park University Writing Center sponsors a yearly school supplies drive for Hibbard students and facilitates the Hibbard Elementary Reach Out (HERO) program, started by student Kaitlyn Lehman C’2011. North Park’s School of Education uses Hibbard as a teacher practicum site, recently for students Becky Barbo C’2010 and Rosa Baez C’2010. Education graduate Daniel Kaiser C’2001 served on the Hibbard teaching staff.

Most recently, the North Park School of Nursing has been involved with the development of the new Heartland Health Clinic, housed at Hibbard, which will provide primary care for up to 1,700 students, including those at Edison and APMA (96 percent of whom come from low–income households). According to Linda Duncan, interim dean of the North Park School of Nursing, undergraduate nursing students will use the clinic as one site on their Community Health rotation.

Spaulding Ave. Bridge, 1900

The Spaulding Avenue bridge, 1900.

Walking Down Kimball

In 1930, 23 years after the completion of the “El,” Von Steuben High School was built between the bend in the North Branch and Kimball Avenue. When the North Park dorms Sohlberg Hall and Ohlson House were completed, college students frequently walked past Von Steuben, down Kimball, en route to the “El.”

In the 1970s and ’80s, Shan Martin S’80 and a group of North Park College and Seminary students began a Young Life program at Von Steuben. The volunteers initially included NPC basketball star Michael Harper C’80, who later went on to play professionally for the Portland Trailblazers, and Krista Brumberg Stevens C’81, longtime columnist for the Covenant Companion.

In 1982, Von Steuben became an “Options for Knowledge” school, renamed Von Steuben Metropolitan Science Center. The school began drawing its students from the 500+ Chicago public elementary schools, making it a microcosm of Chicago’s diversity: 31.6 percent Hispanic, 29.9 percent African American, 24.3 percent Caucasian, 14 percent Asian or Pacific Islander, and .2 percent American Indian/Alaska Native. Since 1982, many Von Steuben students have commuted long distances by train and bus. Each weekday morning and afternoon, hundreds of them make their way to and from Lawrence and Kimball, via Kimball.

Over the years, many members of the North Park community have been involved at Von Steuben. Former NPU nursing instructor Becky Knipp, whose husband, Larry, served as professor of biology, was Parent Teacher Student Association (PTSA) president in the 1990s, when her children Matt and Laura (Knipp) Werling C’99 were students there. After her tenure as PTSA president, she served on the Local School Council alongside Mel Soderstrom C’60, a development officer at North Park.

James Edstrom C’86, son of retired Covenant missionaries Vivian JC’51 and Carl “Cully” Edstrom JC’40, is currently the head of the math department at Von Steuben and has also served as the girls’ soccer coach. Von Steuben serves as a student teaching site for North Park’s School of Education, recently for alumnus Patrick Rholl C’2009. Von Steuben is the alma mater of many generations of North Park students, as well as the children of local faculty, staff, and Seminary students.

Further south on Kimball, the Albany Park Community Center (APCC) serves Albany Park as a nonprofit social service agency. NPU student Clare Yukevich C’2010 leads a Conversation Club with Hispanic immigrants at APCC, a United Way agency whose mission includes adult education, business assistance, children’s programs, employment, ESL, a food pantry, governmental services, housing, mental health services, parenting training, and youth services.

Yukevich says, “We talk about such things as what we eat in our respective home towns, cultural customs, and more. They come from all different countries—Argentina, Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, Guatemala, Mexico. We are truly a mix of people in this group, but it’s nice to have so much difference when we only have one common goal—to understand each other better.”

The Conversation Club involves 30 minutes of English conversation and 30 minutes of Spanish conversation, so it also serves as an opportunity for the NPU students to practice their Spanish. Yukevich has gained richly from the experience, “I have learned more than I could have ever imagined from the people I have interacted with in this club. I have been taught about culture and learned how to share my own culture.”

APCC’s executive director and CEO, Harold Rice Jr., serves with North Park officers on the Chicagoland Leadership Council. According to Mr. Rice, North Parkers involved with the APCC include recently retired senior vice president Dan Tepke C’70, who served as a community advisory board member, and Pier Rogers, director of the Axelson Center for Nonprofit Management, who served on its Student Project on Organizational Challenges. Currently, School of Business professor Gianfranco Farruggia serves as a governance board member and strategic planning facilitator for the Community Center.

Across the street from the Brown Line station, at the corner of Kimball and Lawrence, Albank has served as the bank of choice for many North Parkers over the years. Senior Vice President Geoffrey Cooper–Stanton remembers that North Park’s 1980 decision to stay in its urban location was critical to the neighborhood’s improvements in business and economic conditions since that time.

“We’ve supported North Park University, since they have been so supportive of the area,” he says. “We have recently hired students as summer tellers, and we remember Debbie (Johnson) Fogel C’79, who worked here, and became an officer of the bank.”

The improvements Cooper–Stanton mentions paralleled a huge upswing in ridership on the Brown Line. Between 1987 and 1998 ridership increased by 30 percent as a result of a rebound in the population and popularity of neighborhoods along the Brown Line, including Albany Park and North Park.

Walking Down Kedzie

Old Main and Foster Ave., ca 1895

Foster Avenue and Old Main, c.a. 1895.

For most of North Park’s history, Kedzie Avenue was not the primary walking route to the Brown Line trod by the entering freshmen, including those in August, 2010. Pedestrian traffic patterns were primarily a few blocks west, because campus housing was closer to Spaulding or Kimball and because Kedzie was primarily an industrial corridor. The 1990s saw the beginning of major changes, creating a shift toward Kedzie.

Since the early 1990s, the North Park campus widened its orientation to the east, adding a soccer field in River Park and additional campus housing, including many apartments. Helwig Recreation Center now fills most of a Kedzie block from Carmen to Argyle. The students who live in Park North, Sawyer Court, and the Carmen apartments now walk south on Kedzie to the “El” along a revitalized business corridor. When the 150 incoming students walked south on “Chicago Day,” they were introduced to the popular Taqueria Los Mogotes De Michoacan, at 4959 N. Kedzie; Dawali Mediterranean Kitchen, at 4911 N. Kedzie; and Andy’s Fruit Ranch, at 4733 N. Kedzie, a quick walk from the North Park apartments.

The stretch of Kedzie between Argyle and Lawrence has many new businesses, but it also has important new social service institutions. The Korean American Senior Center at 5008 N. Kedzie is a community activity center for Korean senior citizens. In 2010, the Erie Family Health Clinic, located just south of Lawrence on Kedzie, was the recipient of North Park’s Alford–Axelson Award, presented by the Axelson Center for Nonprofit Management. The award was given for this organization’s service to 33,000 low–income, underinsured, and uninsured Chicagoans citywide.

For 103 years, generations of North Park students, faculty, and staff have trod the same paths to the train at Kimball and Lawrence. These three routes represent the vast web of connections and relationships over time between an institution and its community, but perhaps more importantly, between the residents and citizens of an urban family.

See more photographs in the flip book version of this edition of the North Parker.
All historic photographs in this feature are courtesy of Covenant Archives and Historical Library, North Park University, Chicago, Illinois.