Smith Village Celebrates 100th Anniversary  

By Carol Flynn 

BAPA Icon Collection is a special series dedicated to honoring the legacy of local businesses that have been an integral part of our community for decades. Each article shares the rich history, the families that built them, their enduring contributions, and the secrets behind their longevity. Join us as we celebrate the timeless businesses that continue to shape the fabric of our community. 

 

“Nothing marks us so with good breeding as attention and respect to old people.” – Rev. George McGinnis, The Waukegan Daily Sun, October 29, 1912. 

That statement was made more than a century ago, as Americans began to respond to the growing social and public health issues of older adults. 

By 1910, the average life expectancy had risen to 54, and there were increasing stories of people living well into their 80s and beyond. Housing and meals for older adults who had no financial resources or families to take them in became a critical need. Especially poignant were the stories of older women who had outlived their husbands and children and now were penniless and homeless. 

In 1917, a group from Englewood that included ministers and women active in the churches and women’s clubs announced a community initiative to establish an old people’s home, with the suggested name of Oakhaven. In their call to action, they stated that, “Every old people’s home in Chicago and Cook County is full, with a long waiting list; hence, there is a need of the home proposed.” 

Oakhaven Old People’s Home evolved into today’s Smith Village, the “senior living community” at Western Avenue and 113th Place in Beverly/Morgan Park. 

The facility held a grand opening for its patrons and contributors on Easter Sunday in 1924 that was attended by almost 1,000 people. Oakhaven’s first residents moved in the following week, marking this spring as the 100th anniversary of the start of this “iconic business” in the Beverly/Morgan Park community. 

Although the initiative started in Englewood, many South Side communities, including Beverly and Morgan Park, became involved, and the neighborhood was chosen for the location of the home. 

Fundraising for the new home was an obvious priority. In addition to major campaigns to solicit monetary donations from wealthy citizens, women’s groups worked tirelessly to conduct events like bazaars and dances for the public. 

Many of the women’s efforts were practical in nature, concentrating on making the home an attractive place to live. Just one of the many small stories that illustrated this was of the “Comfort and Delicacies Committee” that gathered over 150 jars of preserved fruit, jellies, and honey to stock the cupboards for the residents. 

Architect Charles D. Faulkner was hired to design the first buildings. He published several articles about Oakhaven that included detailed information on his work, including interior pictures that helped to preserve the history of the original Oakhaven. 

Famed landscape architect Jens Jensen and associates in his company developed the plans for the outdoors. 

In January of 1923, Emilie Jane Smith, 84, the daughter of pioneering dry goods merchant Washington Smith, died. Her family estate established a trust to begin the Washington and Jane Smith Home for Aged People, named for her parents. The goal of the trust was to reach $1.3 million so the home could be built. 

The trustees worked diligently on the Smith fund, and by 1929, it totaled over $1.75 million. Although originally intended to be its own home, it was announced then that after two years of negotiations, the Smith fund would merge with Oakhaven, and the existing facility would be expanded. The name of the home was changed to the Washington and Jane Smith Home. 

For the next decades, the Smith Home continued to expand. In the 1990s, the Smith Home Board of Directors decided on a major redevelopment plan to meet the changing needs of society. The original Oakhaven building and the additions were all demolished, making way for a new, updated facility. 

In late 2007, residents started moving into the new Smith Village, the state-of-the-art facility that exists today. It includes independent living, assisted living, memory care, and skilled nursing care sections, as well as short-term stay for rehabilitation patients. 

To celebrate its centenary, Smith Village is engaging in public-oriented activities this spring. 

On Friday, May 10, Smith Village will be the location of the first Beverly Area Planning Association (BAPA) porch concert for the 2024 season. The band Return2Soul will play from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. in the facility’s quadrangle. 

Smith Village will also be the starting location for the BAPA Home Tour on Sunday, May 19. Home Tour attendees will pick up their materials at Smith Village beginning at noon that day and will be able to visit the first-floor common areas of the facility. These include the lobby and meeting spaces and the independent living dining facilities. Of particular interest is the wall mural created by the late local artist Jack Simmerling. 

More detailed information on these two events can be found elsewhere in this issue of the Villager. 

Smith Village is also developing a traveling exhibit that is scheduled to be on display at the Beverly Arts Center (BAC) from May 7 through July 29. 

“20/20: One hundred Years in Focus” will present a series of panels depicting world and local events and the evolution of “senior living” from the 1920s up to today. Viewers will be able to reflect on what it was like to be an older adult during certain eras as they consider milestones, trends, major discoveries, pop culture – and the radically changing attitudes about aging. 

BAC, located at 111th Street and Western Avenue, can be contacted at 773-445-3838 for the exhibit’s hours. 

Author’s note: Whether or not it is included in the exhibit, there has certainly been one radical change in attitudes about aging, and that is in terminology. One hundred years ago, they were not concerned with political correctness – old people were old people, no insult or disrespect intended. 

Researchers have been looking into what terms are acceptable today. They found that people associate being “old” with bad or negative things, but alternative titles were not much more acceptable. “Golden agers” and “geriatric” and “elders” were off the list. “Senior citizens” was patronizing. The term “seniors” was losing popularity while “retirees” was gaining some. Marginally preferred terms were “mature adults” or “older adults.” 

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