Karina Koncius was 9 years old in 1988 when the residents of Maplewood Road decided to have their first block party. She remembers it as a fun time — so much so that 30 years later, Koncius is still enjoying the party, which celebrated its 30th anniversary on Aug. 18.
In 2017, Koncius, her husband, Rob, and their three sons, moved back to Maplewood Road, an isolated half mile long U-shaped street just south of 31st and west of Woodside Road in Riverside, after living for 14 years on Selborne Road.
Koncius had inherited the house she grew up in after her parents died. But her childhood home, a 1920s English Tudor, needed a lot of work so they made the difficult decision to tear down Karina’s childhood home and build new.
“It was very, very hard,” Koncius said. “We knew we wanted to move on, but at the same time, the memories, in every room, in every inch of it, was an emotional roller coaster.”
But while her house is different, the block she grew up on remains much the same.
“To come back and realize that there are still the old timers who are still here when I was here,” Koncius said at Saturday’s Maplewood block party. “It’s nice to see them — familiar faces.”
Maplewood has a special atmosphere, because it is isolated. Few people enter other than those who live there. It’s almost a world of its own, even if it just a short walk away from L.J. Hauser Junior High School where Koncius teaches broadcasting and communications.
The secluded nature of the street makes it ideal for little kids who have the freedom to roam around but also can be easily watched.
It was an idyllic place for her two teenage children to grow up says, Nikki Hajer.
“They were able to do a lot more because we lived on this block and because it was so protected,” Hajer said.
Many people active in Riverside public life live on Maplewood, including former Village President Michael Gorman, current Riverside Village Attorney Michael Marrs, current District 96 school board president Jeff Miller, Cook County Judge John Allegretti, former District 208 school board member Dan Moon and former District 208 Superintendent Chuck Klingsporn.
Former District 96 superintendent, and former interim District 208 superintendent David Bonnette lived on Maplewood until he moved out of town little more than one year ago.
The back yards of the houses on the west side of Maplewood slope down to the Des Plaines River making those homes some of the only one in Riverside with direct river access.
There are 56 homes on Maplewood and 162 residents. There has been an influx of young families with young children in recent years, rejuvenating the block and the block party.
Currently there are 58 children, including three sets of twins, under the age of 18 living on Maplewood. But almost half the homes, 27, are occupied by empty nesters.
“There are a lot more kids than I remember having when I was growing up so that’s neat for my kids,” Koncius said. “As a child you get to know the ins and outs of the block, and now as an adult I know the ins and outs of the blocks for my kids, so it’s neat.”
Many of the old-timers enjoy the influx of new families and young children.
“It makes it a lot more exciting,” said Dennis Topolski, who moved to Maplewood from Berwyn with his wife, Dolores, and two daughters 42 years ago in 1976. “There’s always action, kids running around, having a good time, and that’s a good deal.”
This year 30 of the 56 families, mostly the younger ones, attended the block party.
“It’s wonderful having a community,” said Tricia Baum, who was the lead organizer this year. “When we lived in Chicago, when we lived back in New York City, and other places we lived we didn’t know our neighbors and this block party helps.”
Baum and her husband Alex, the youngest homeowners on Maplewood, moved to Maplewood from the Lincoln Park neighborhood of Chicago about five years ago.
“We wanted to be in a big city, but we wanted a small-town feel,” said Baum who grew up in Dubuque, Iowa.
The Durbins, who have twins, are the most recent family to buy a house on Maplewood. The bought their house last November, moving over from Addison Road.
“The sense of community is awesome,” said Pete Durbin.
There is a Maplewood directory, now a Google Doc, which lists each resident, their address, phone numbers, email addresses, the year they moved in, the names of any children and the month of the children’s birthdays.
“Everyone has access to everyone else’s contact information,” said Tina Ritzler, who moved to Maplewood six years ago from LaGrange Park.
Six years ago, when there were fewer children on the block, the block party was losing steam. Nick and Lisa Lambros, who have lived on Maplewood for 17 years decided that it needed a jolt.
“It was kind of dwindling and it wasn’t very much fun, and so we did a lot of games for the kids and my husband said, ‘Well we need something exciting, we need an award,'” said Lisa Lambros.
Lisa Lambros and Gail Crossman, who died in May, found a log in the yard of Doug and Audrey Korslund’s home and created a sculpture by carving a river into the varnished wood. They called it the Maplewood Award.
Every year at the block party, a slip of paper with the name of each family who attends is put into a bag and the award winner is drawn by lot. The winner is supposed to display the Maplewood Award in their front yard for a year and add something to it.
This year, the log had decayed, so Lambros created a new sculpture based on the old one. The winner this year was the Marrs family.
This year there was a core group of 17 women who did most of the party planning. This year’s party featured an inflatable bounce house, a piñata, a ride on a vintage fire truck owned by a friend of Allegretti, three-legged races, and egg-and-spoon race and a mixture of catered and home-cooked food including burritos, hot dogs, salad, and steak on a stick.
“Since it is an anniversary thing we’d thought we do some retro games,” Baum said.
The block party begins with a parade of kids on bikes and scooters and an adult — this year Paul Gamboa, dressed in raccoon costume — calling everyone out into the street.
The party concludes after dark with a movie projected onto a white sheet draped over a garage with popcorn provided by a popcorn machine owned by the Conboys.
The adults enjoy watching the kids scamper around. It’s the one day a year that kids are allowed to play in the street.
“I’m happy to see the new little kids,” Nikki Hajer said. “I just remember back to my kids growing up here and what a great experience it was, so I’m glad another generation gets to experience that.”