When Jennifer Morris died 30 years ago, in June of 1989, she was known to have a “winning smile and compassionate heart,” her husband Gerry said in a recent letter he wrote to acknowledge the revitalization of the Jennifer Morris Park, on the southeast corner of Custer Avenue and Washington Street.
Ms. Morris, who co-owned Off the Hoof Leather Goods on Custer Avenue with her husband, was one of the artists and antique dealers who founded the initial Custer Street Festival of the Arts, which now brings out thousands of people each June. She was known to be a vibrant part of the neighborhood and a prolific gardener. The park now named in her honor had been a vacant lot before she worked to have the land donated to the City, which planted trees and installed a pathway.
On June 21, the summer solstice, some 30 Evanston residents came out to celebrate the revitalization of the park, which includes new seating areas, a potted herb garden for public consumption and extensive new plantings.
The Main-Dempster Mile business Cultivate Urban Rainforest & Gallery, owned by Louise Rosenberg, installed the park’s planters and boulder seating, as well as the pots filled with fresh herbs. Ms. Rosenberg provided a tour of the garden, which now includes extensive plantings of ferns and a wide range of other shade-loving plants.
In addition to the tour, the celebration included readings and a public writing workshop. Ms. Morris was the focus of the readings, one of which was written by former Custer Fair Director, John Szostek, for the event. “The re-dedication of this memorial park is perhaps a sign that Jennifer is still at work, improving South Evanston,” wrote Mr. Szostek. “That is what Jennifer did, she took responsibility, for South Evanston, Evanston as a whole, its people and their experience of life, their safety and their appreciation for plants and flowers.”
During the event, local poet and educator Alice George asked those present to contribute to a future installation by writing “Impossible Letters,” letters “which can never be delivered,” that were addressed to “Dear Jennifer Morris” or to inanimate park features. The Main-Dempster Mile Organization plans to include writing from the event in a site-specific art installation.
Organizers at the event encouraged those present to use the park in the future as a meeting place to be shared with their friends and neighbors. They also requested help in maintaining the park, suggesting that those interested could pick up trash and come out to weed.
Speaking about Ms. Morris, Main-Dempster Mile Executive Director Katherine Gotsick said, “After her untimely death, this park was named for her. We hope, with this small event, to introduce a new generation of Evanstonians to Jennifer Morris, and to inspire them to own their own little piece of the City, just like Jennifer did.”