Recorded on August 10, 2012. Length: 30 Minutes.
JH: Today is Friday, August 10, 2012. Welcome to Northbrook Voices, an oral history project sponsored jointly by the Northbrook Public Library and the Northbrook Historical Society. My name is Judy Hughes and I am pleased to welcome Sandy Frum who has lived and worked in Northbrook since 1977. Welcome, Sandy.
SF: Thank you. I am glad to be here.
JH: You moved to Northbrook in 1977. What brought you to Northbrook?
SF: We had fairly recently moved back to the states from Israel where my husband and I had been living for about nine months. It didn’t work out to live there permanently as we had originally planned so we came back to Chicago where we had lived previously. We knew that in moving to Chicago we would relocate to the suburbs as we had one child who was almost two and I was pregnant with our second. I had lived on the North Shore for the first 11 years of my life before my family moved to California so it was automatic for me to look on the North Shore and we looked at a number of communities. I had a cousin who had lived in Northbrook and ironically was moving to California. We still looked at Highland Park and Deerfield but the property taxes were significantly higher and we could get the same house for less and know we would pay less in property taxes. So somewhat by default we ended up in Northbrook, knowing the schools were good and it was an up and coming community. It wasn’t exactly intentional; sort of we came here because.
JH: What was the Northbrook of 1977 like compared to what it is now?
JF: It was younger. That is the only thing I can really say. Obviously there were more properties still to be developed. I can’t really recall what properties were or were not developed. I believe the average age was about in the late twenties. The average age today is only 40 so it is an older community. There was still open space but a lot of the major residential development had already occurred.
JH: When you first came to Northbrook, you mentioned open space. Actually it was open space that sort of started you on your volunteer career, is that correct?
SF: Yes, and it is sort of ironic because our first house, we’ve only lived in two houses in Northbrook, our first house was on Landwehr, just north of the Cherry intersection and it was while Ancient Tree was under construction and it so happened that the access driveway for the construction was just across the street from our house so there were lots of trucks going in and out. At the same time, there was a proposal on the books to turn all of Sportsman’s Country Club which was larger than the current club and privately owned, into a multi-family development. I don’t remember how tall the proposed buildings were – probably 4-5 story condos. There was a large group of people in the community, particularly those who lived in the surrounding area, who were opposed to this development. From what I remember the Park District didn’t want to buy the property. They said they were not interested and did not want to float a referendum for the purchase. Meanwhile this community group – OPEN, Organization to Preserve the Environment in Northbrook – wanted to push for a referendum and I got involved at that point. It was just near where we lived and I didn’t think that was where multi-family belonged. I had two children, one only two months old. Carlos encouraged me, as he always has, to get involved and make a difference.
JH: Let’s step back a bit and talk about your family. You have mentioned Carlos and two of your children. Do you want to tell us about your children, your family?
SF: Let me back up a minute – I think it is important. I get a kick out of saying to people that I am a first generation American and a Daughter of the American Revolution, by the same side of the family. My mother was a war bride, my father met her in Italy in WWII while he was a soldier in Italy. Her great, great, great grandfather actually fought in the American Revolution with the French and then returned to Italy. She came to this country in 1945. I met Carlos in 1968 in Israel. I went to Israel as an exchange student. My father said I couldn’t go because I would get killed which didn’t happen. My mom said I couldn’t go because I was going to marry a foreigner, which did happen. Obviously, I met my husband and we got married and lived in the United States about five years and then moved to Israel. Carlos isn’t particularly a name from Israel. He actually moved to Israel from Argentina where he was raised by a Russian family that had emigrated from Russia. As I said we moved to Northbrook in 1977; my husband opened a business here – Northbrook Computers – which was very successful and we raised three children in Northbrook. All of them graduated from the high school here. Our oldest son, Alex, is in New York. He went through West Point, served five years, the biggest one in Kosovo. He got out of the army after 9/11 but before the Iraq war. What is ironic about him is that he married a girl who was raised in France. I have three grandchildren – Juliet, Jonah and Genevieve, all of whom speak French – well the two of them old enough to talk.
My second son Josh owns a restaurant in New York, so I have two children in New York. My daughter Daniella who I had not previously mentioned is in Colorado and is going to school studying nursing. She is married to a Kiwi – a guy from New Zealand so I guess it continues – we have to be international.
JH: That is amazing. How do you think your volunteerism has affected your children?
SF: Well, I know they talk about getting involved in their communities but they are at an age where I think it is somewhat more difficult. Let me back up a bit. It affected them in many different ways. Part of me thinks they were proud of me and my activism. I wasn’t just staying at home and doing nothing. They saw me getting involved. It was always interesting when I was on the Village Board, before I became president and the kids were here, and how people reacted to them because I was a “leader in the community.” That was different for them. They have always been involved in volunteer work of some kind. Even being in the military which is volunteer but not volunteer, it is service to the country and not something you “have to do.” It is a way of giving back to the community. I think my other two understand that as well. What I was going to say is that I think it is harder today to volunteer. I was lucky in that I didn’t have to work and my husband made a good living and I didn’t need to make a living. I did feel the need to do something – to be challenged academically. I think it is much harder today for both spouses not to work. I think
the commitment is so much greater and it is hard to make the time to get involved in the community too.
JH: Before we talk about your community involvement, I would like to have you touch on the other things you have been involved in outside of this community.
SF: The two main things I have been involved in over the years is I am still on the board of Knox College which is a small liberal arts school in Galesburg, Illinois, where I went to school. I was asked to be on the board, probably about the time I went on the park district board, about 30 years ago, and I have found that to be extremely satisfying and have enjoyed being a leader, chairing committees and getting involved with academic issues. Knox is committed to the idea that anyone can attend college – particularly first generation college students. I subscribe to that also. I also got involved in the National Alopecia Association. Alopecia is an autoimmune disease where the immune system attacks the hair. My daughter when she was 10 years lost about 90% of her hair. She is currently what I would call in remission so I am no longer involved. For many years I was very involved including serving as the 1st chair of the board after the founding chairperson and working to move that organization forward. The founding chair had been chair for about 25 years so I was really moving the organization to a whole different level. The other organization I have been involved in was The League of Women Voters in Northbrook although it is no longer active in Northbrook. It was a group of women, although I think men are included now in League memberships, who researched issues, our group was involved in local issues but issues could be state-wide or national and then coming out with positions on the issues. The positions were apolitical and were researched positions and studies.
JH: As I recall I believe the League members observed the boards?
SF: Yes, they had members attend and observe at board meetings because at that time meetings were not taped or aired live. At the time, I observed the library board and found it very interesting.
JH: Mentioning the library board – let’s talk about Carlos and the library board.
SF: It is sort of ironic that my husband now is on the library board. He always felt that libraries and books are very important. He still remembers when he was growing up in Argentina, his mother taking him when he was about five to the library to get his own library card and how important that was. I think he has been on the library board for about 16 years. He still feels it is very important to have that asset in our community.
JH: You have talked about OPEN and the League of Women Voters. What happened with OPEN?
SF: OPEN was successful – passed a referendum and forced the Park District to buy a large parcel of land. I believe there were two 18-hole golf courses. I believe they purchased 27 acres but nine belonged to the high school district so the park district only owned 18 acres and used the other nine acres that belonged to the high school but purchased that later. They have maintained a huge golf course to this day and the rest of the property because of where it was located and because there was a huge golf course was developed as single family and kept single family homes on the south side of Dundee Road.
JH: And from that you went to the library board?
SF: No, I was never on the library board. However, I did decide to run for the park board. I was not selected by the Caucus so I ran as an independent and was not elected but that was not the end of that. I submitted my name to be on the advisory council to the park board and was selected. I chaired that council and after four years was elected to the park board where I served for six years. Then I decided I wanted to do something more for my community and ran for the Village Board as I thought there was going to be an open seat. It ended up that the person whose seat I ended up taking decided to run again. I won and served on the board as a trustee for some 20 years. Then about four years ago I decided I did not like the direction that the village board was going under the president, Gene Marks, so it was time to step up and run or step off by not running for another term as trustee. I went before the caucus and was selected and ran against the incumbent president and the former president Mark Damisch and won with a large number of votes. I felt I had a huge responsibility and had to do what I said I would do. I was pleased that my community wanted to head in the direction I had put forth in the election. That was nearly four years ago. In May of 2012, I finished my 3rd year as Village President.
JH: What have been some of the changes in direction that have happened since you took over as Village President?
SF: I would say my first priority was to look at the commissions of the board and the committees of the board. The committees are made up of the board members and the commissions are residents appointed to examine issues assigned to them and make recommendations to the board. In all but one case, the board makes the final decision. I cannot remember in all the years I have been on the board that we had ever looked at our committee structure or looked at the commissions. In doing that we restructured some board committees of the board such as one is now called “Community and Sustainability” with a broader scope than before when it was Senior Services. It is a much broader committee that handles many more things. We also ended up getting rid of some of our commissions that were no longer effective, combining some of our commissions, increasing the responsibility of some of our commissions. I wanted to increase the focus of some commissions as the community is older now so the senior housing commission dealing just with Crestwood Place is now Senior Services Commission that would look at issues for the whole community. Just recently we did a community-wide survey of seniors to find out what services are offered in the community for seniors by the village, the park district, the library or other agencies and what unmet needs of seniors remain. That is one of the things we have done.
I would say that the thing I am most proud of accomplishing in my first three years is that we now have a revised Master Plan in place that we have funding for and came up with a funding plan – $20 million of projects. It will not stop flooding in Northbrook – streets, sidewalks and back yards are meant to flood but basements are not. Hopefully, we can at least make things bearable for a lot more people in Northbrook. This is something I have wanted to deal with for the last twenty years and I am happy we now have a plan in place and we can move forward on that.
JH: Now, as president you can’t do it alone?
SF: No, ultimately – you know what is interesting is that I thought I knew what the job of the president was because I had watched presidents for twenty years. I used to say to Mark Damisch, which he never appreciated, that he only had one vote. Well, that’s true – he only had one vote and I only have one vote. But there is a lot more that we do than just that one vote. To a great extent the president can set the agenda. The individual board members can too. But I work almost on a daily basis with staff, particularly the Village Manager, trying to figure out where do we want to go, how do we want to get there and sort of trying to figure out what are my concerns. I did meet with the board six months ago so I could learn their individual concerns and priorities so that I could also incorporate them into mine. But going back, I would say that stormwater was my concern and I was able to bring that forward. Now I have forgotten your question.
JH: The question was about the board and its role?
SF: I think we have a great board and we work well together. I think what is important to remember with respect to Northbrook, that has a community, Northbrook tends to be very apolitical. We focus on an issue. We don’t try to trade off things for votes. We focus on the issue and once we are done with it, it is complete. We don’t go back and try to rehash and continue the arguments. Once it is decided, that issue is over. I think the community tends to be that way as well. But it takes a majority of the board to make a decision. I think one of my strengths is that I can look at disparate issues and look at the board members and see what we have in common. When we find something we can agree on, we can put that aside and find the next thing we can agree on to move forward.
JH: You mentioned the uniqueness of Northbrook – what are some of the things you think make Northbrook unique?
SF: Well, the fact that we have our own water as I am sure some of the others have mentioned. We are the ONLY community not on the lake – Illinois, Michigan or Wisconsin communities – that has its own water main drawing from the lake. That was due to the foresight of earlier boards, I think it was Gerry Friedman. The fact that we have our own pumping station makes us unique.
The velodrome makes us unique. We know there is one in Wisconsin but I don’t think there is another one in Illinois. Another thing that makes us unique and I say this is the engine that drives Northbrook is the number of businesses we have in Northbrook. Our tax base has always been around 40-60 or 50-50 residential-commercial. We have around 2300-2400 businesses in Northbrook. We have a larger daytime than nighttime population so we are not your typical bedroom community. I think that all those things make us unique.
As a matter of fact, if you take away the not-for profits in Evanston, we have a larger daytime population and we have more businesses and more businesses than Glenview. That is one of the things we try to promote to get more businesses here and that makes the community stable.
JH: Historically that was due to good planning.
SF: Very good planning through comprehensive plans. That’s something else we managed to get done in the last three years. It had been started earlier but we managed to complete the revised comprehensive plan. Today, Northbrook has two large pieces of property available for development and that is it. We have areas for redevelopment but this is it. I have said that one of the things that is very lucky about Northbrook is our stable financial situation. I want these properties to be developed but I am in no hurry. I want the right development.
JH: You mentioned earlier about the tax base. At the time you moved here it was more affordable to live in Northbrook tax-wise. Is that still true?
SF: I believe so. I know that taxes have gone up here but I believe they have gone up everywhere. Some of it has been done through referenda – the population has agreed to increase taxes so that their schools or the park district are better. The village of Northbrook is only 6-7% of the property tax bill, a very small piece. We make a concerted effort to stay off the property tax as the village has other sources of income. Our largest source of income is not the property tax but sales taxes.
JH: Which is why it is so important to shop in Northbrook?
SF: That is correct. We have several large shopping centers that make a difference to us. But I think Northbrook is not as reasonable property tax wise as it was. It was cheaper tax-wise to move to Northbrook 35 years ago. But Northbrook is a victim of its own success. The reason people want to live in Northbrook is why it is expensive to live in Northbrook – we have good schools, an excellent park district, a stable village, a library, a historical society, great civic organizations. All these things make Northbrook special and unique but they also drive up the property values. It is a good thing and a bad thing.
JH: What are some of the challenges facing Northbrook today and in the future?
SF: Well, I think the typical challenge we will be facing is financial – to remain financially solvent without raising fees and taxes and still providing the services our community wants. That will always be a challenge. Some of that concerns the age of our community because as we age different services are needed and people who no longer have kids may not be willing to support the schools. That will have an effect on our schools and may affect our property values. There is so much of that which I can do nothing about but they are perennial questions. Should we consolidate our school districts is a challenge we will have to deal with. The challenge the economy presents that we have to deal with on a daily basis. I’m not talking about vacant spaces in our shopping centers as we do not have a lot of that. We do have people that are suffering. There are seniors and hoarders (I’m not lumping them together) but we do have both. How do we deal with the social issues? We don’t have a lot of experience with these issues.
JH: Sandy – it is almost 30 minutes that we have been talking. Is there anything you would like to say to wrap up your interview?
SF: The main thing I would like to say is that I have truly enjoyed being involved in my community for all these years. It is nice to think that maybe I made a difference. It is great to think that my community supports families and what I am doing. You don’t volunteer altruistically but because you get something back and I have gotten a tremendous amount back. I encourage whoever is listening in the future to volunteer and get involved to make things better.
JH: Thank you for participating in Northbrook Voices. Your memories of life in Northbrook will add a unique and personal perspective about the history of our community. Thank you.