Firefighters, City officials and neighbors of the Simpson Street/Maple Avenue area saw the results of hundreds of hours of labor on July 22 at the rededication of Fireman’s Park at the corner of Simpson Street and Maple Avenue. The park, created in 1993, honors the three firefighters killed in the line of duty in the Evanston Fire Department’s 135 years of existence: William Craig and George Stiles in 1905 and Marty Leoni in 1985.
The date of the rededication was chosen in honor of the 25th anniversary of Mr. Leoni’s death: He was killed in a fire at 1927 Jackson Ave. in 1985, entering the burning building without sufficient protection because he was told a child was inside.
Evanston Firefighters Local 742 spearheaded the renovation of the park, in which the monument to fallen Evanston firefighters had been vandalized. They donated labor, recruited volunteers and solicited donations of materials, said union president Brian Scott at the dedication. Once they began work on the monument, he said, it became apparent that other work was needed: Asphalt was cracked, the paint was chipping off the fire engine, and much of the grass was dead.
Betty Ipjian, granddaughter of George Stiles, attended the rededication. She said the property had originally housed a church. When the church relocated, the City wished to create a park that would have been named Stiles Park in honor of her grandfather, who, along with William Craig, had died in the Clayton Marks fire at Dempster Street and Dodge Avenue. Her grandmother, said Ms. Ipjian, said the park should be named in honor of all firefighters instead.
All the speakers emphasized the dedication of firefighters. Father Kenneth Simpson said fire is a “terrible beauty” that embodies the mystery and sacredness of the firefighters’ profession.