Clarification about the change in leadership for 4th on 53rd events

To the Editor:

A few clarifications are apparently required regarding your on-line article about the 4th on 53rd Committee meeting on March 29. A little history will be helpful: The 4th on 53rd Event consists of 3 parts – the Parade, the Picnic in the Park, and the George Franklin Memorial Sunday Concert Series. Until this year, the Event has been produced by the 4th on 53rd Committee of the Nichols Park Advisory Council.

This Event exists because in the early 1990s, a group called the Ad Hoc Committee for 53rd Street had formed to think up ways to enliven 53rd Street businesses and foster community involvement. We met at Mellow Yellow. At one such meeting in 1991, Nancy Stanek, Rebecca Janowitz, Nancy Finke and I were tossing ideas around. Rebecca said “We need an ‘Event’!” – whereupon Nancy said “The 4th of July – a Parade!” and the 4th was born.

Since a marching parade needs somewhere to march to, and since the new north addition to Nichols Park in the geographic center of Hyde Park had just opened the year before, Nichols Park became the Parade destination for an afternoon of family picnics and children’s games. The Nichols Park Advisory Council agreed to host the event in partnership with the Chicago Park District, and the first 4th on 53rd Committee of the NPAC began soliciting community businesses for support.

Nancy recruited the former Old Glory Marching Society, led by Fran and Marv Gordon, to help organize the Parade, and we prevailed upon everyone we could think of to volunteer for organizing children’s games in the Park. That first Parade and Picnic, on the 4th of July, 1992, involved perhaps 200-300 participants and a Planning Committee of about 8 people. In 1995, because Mother Nature rained on our parade, the music groups we had hired – Steve Thomas and the Hyde Park Hot Five, and L.V. Banks and the Blues Kings – could not play, and so the Sunday Concert Series became the third part of the 4th on 53rd Event.

Fast forward to 2016, our 25th Anniversary year. All three parts of the 4th on 53rd Event have grown exponentially. Last year, attendance on July 4th was estimated at 5,000, while the Concert audience approached 500. Fortunately, the Planning Committee has also expanded. The SECC volunteered several years ago to assist with fundraising, and four years ago the Hyde Park Chamber began to assume a larger management role for both the Sunday Concerts and, in 2016, the Park activities. Literally, thousands of details for the Event have to be tracked and coordinated: permits submitted, venders contracted, volunteers recruited, bands and performers found and signed, decorations found and ordered, deliveries arranged, and financial backing solicited and collected. Even with some positions yet unfilled, the 2016 Planning Committee did an amazing job.

I had previously decided that after 25 years it was time for me to step back from the position of event manager. Therefore, at our wrap-up meeting last July 13, because the 2016 Committee members have had some years of experience and most were willing to carry on, I announced my resignation as 4th on 53rd Chair. The Committee refused to accept it; and gratifying as that was, I actually resigned last July.

I had several conversations during the fall with both the chamber and the SECC about various options. In February this year, the chamber submitted a proposal to the NPAC, stating that the chamber would assume administrative responsibility in partnership with the 4th on 53rd Committee for production of all three parts of the 4th on 53rd Event, in exchange for a management fee of $1,500.00.

In our discussion, NPAC members expressed some concern that a switch to chamber management could lead to changing the character of the event. The 4th has always been an all-volunteer, community-run celebration, with no paid positions. We agreed, however, that the 4th on 53rd Committee would be the safeguard of the event’s character, and would provide a check against dominance by any particular participant. Financial compensation for the production manager was in fact proposed several times in the past, but had been refused. All agreed that the recent chamber involvement has been a plus, and has not thus far exerted undue influence on the ambience of the event. The motion of the NPAC to accept the chamber’s proposal passed unanimously, pending approval by the 4th on 53rd Committee, which approved the proposal at its March 29 meeting.

So, the 4th on 53rd is alive and well. The parade will continue to be an ‘everybody marches, nobody watches’ community extravaganza, the park will provide an afternoon of fun and games, and the Sunday Concerts will enthrall the audience. We still need many more volunteers (sign up at 4th on, and financial support from our local businesses and/or individuals. The chamber is now in charge of all the administrative logistics.

Stephanie Franklin, President
Nichols Park Advisory Council