School History

School History

For most of its history, Oak Park and River Forest High School has used the crest (shown at the top left of this page) as its official symbol. The crest includes the word ta'garista, Greek for best, as in the school motto: "Those things that are best.” As a statement of aspirations and intentions, the motto seems eminently appropriate given the history of this high school community.

OPRF’s current vibrancy is deeply rooted in its long legacy of excellence. Generations of alumni have maintained strong ties to the school and continue to support special programs, activities, and scholarships that directly benefit new generations of students. Graduates have made their marks in all walks of life, exemplified by the annual Tradition of Excellence Awards, which acknowledge outstanding contributions by alumni. Among the honorees have been four Pulitzer Prize winners, including Ernest Hemingway (class of 1917); McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc (1920); Charles Carey, chairman of the Chicago Board of Trade (1971); Dan Castellaneta, the voice of Homer Simpson (1975); 1991 Miss America Marjorie Judith Vincent (1983); John Register, silver medalist/long-jump record holder in the Paralympic Games (1985); and Olympic gold medalist Danielle (Dani) Tyler, for women’s softball the first year it was included as an Olympic event (1992).

During the last half-century, the villages of Oak Park and River Forest grew racially, culturally and economically diverse. Along with these communities, the school has embraced diversity as a core value and has adopted programs to ensure that all students have the opportunity to achieve to their fullest potential. Because of this commitment, both villages continue to attract new arrivals seeking an excellent education for their children in a culturally and racially diverse environment.

In the beginning...
In 1873, high school students from Oak Park first attended classes in space provided in Central School, an elementary school that stood at Lake Street and Forest Avenue. Three graduates received diplomas at the first commencement, in 1877.  With a growing population, the first high school-only building was constructed in 1892 on the southwest corner of Lake Street and East Avenue. The new high school building included some of the first science labs in U.S. secondary schools.* Enrollment in the new school grew steadily, receiving a big boost in 1899, when the high school was separated from the Oak Park Elementary District. A consolidated high school district was formed with River Forest, establishing the Oak Park and River Forest Township High School.

In 1905, Mr. Hanna, the principal, began planning for a new and larger high school building. Land was purchased between East and Scoville avenues on Ontario Street. The new building, completed in 1907, accommodated 800 students. Innovations included a school library and chemistry labs. When the North Wing was completed in 1913, the building stretched from Ontario Street to Erie Street. Construction boomed in the 1920s with the completion of the west side of the building quadrangle. Additional construction included one of the first high school field houses in the nation (1928) and the most complete facilities for girls’ physical education (1928). Subsequent additions were built in 1953 and 1957. The field house floor was remolded from wood to concrete in 1979.

During the 1940s, World War II touched the school, as several thousand students left to join the armed forces during the four years of the war, and more than 100 died in combat. In 1946, the River Forest Community High School District 223 was created after residents in River Forest petitioned to establish a new high school in their village. From 1946-1949, River Forest students paid tuition if they wanted to attend the high school in Oak Park. Then on June 21, 1949, the County Superintendent of Cook County, Ill., ordered the creation of the Consolidated High School District 200, Cook County, Ill. The new district comprised the former Oak Park Township High School District 200 and the River Forest Community High School District 223. 

In 1958-1959 the north wing was rebuilt, to provide library, art, industrial arts, and cafeteria facilities. In 1960 and 1962 laboratories, classrooms, a language lab, counseling offices, and health, and attendance suites were constructed in what originally were interior light wells.

Connecting past and present
In the late 1960s the school undertook what remains today as its most ambitious construction program. The building was extended south across Ontario Street to connect the academic building with the physical education facilities. The new addition included a 1,700 seat auditorium, the smaller Little Theatre, two new cafeterias, 54 classrooms, large-group instruction rooms, and expanded music-rehearsal facilities.

At the same time, the civil rights movement of the 1960s profoundly affected the life of the high school in the decades to follow. The debates in the community about fair housing, equal rights, and diversity would have lasting impact upon the high school's demographics. In addition, with the passage of Title IX of the U.S. Education Amendments of 1972, expanding opportunities for women in athletic competition dominated the '70s. OPRF collected state championships in the newly organized state competitions in girls’ tennis, volleyball, and track.

In 1974, the Board of Education initiated plans to acquire the south field, the area immediately south of the field house and north of Lake Street. By spring 1976, the 1.2 acres had been purchased. The existing structures were demolished and the space developed for girls’ physical education and athletics. In addition major energy conservation initiatives were completed with the replacement of all the windows in the "old building" (the area north of Ontario Street) and an upgrading of the heating and air conditioning systems.

More recent history
The growth of special education programs was a major focus of the 1980s. Numerous programs were established to help students with special needs to succeed.  By the end of the decade every special population program would be a part of the high school community. This time also saw the continued expansion of opportunities for women in athletics. New activities such as the MORP, SADD Club, the Human Relations and the Tradition of Excellence Awards were begun at this time. The close of the decade would bring concerns about the financial future of the high school, as the community grew increasingly concerned about rising taxes.

The 1990s saw a lessening of the financial crisis that began in the late 1980s with the adoption of a long-term financial plan in 1995. However, a continuing issue for the school was the concern that African-American students were not achieving at rates comparable to the majority of the student body.  This would result in the adoption of the African American Achievement Initiative in 1998 by the Board of Education.

The last half of the decade also saw a major initiative to integrate new technologies into classroom instruction. In 1996 the entire building was wired for a computer network, and a computer was added to every employee’s workspace. The dawn of the new century saw the first expansion of the school’s grounds in 50 years.  The high school purchased the land bounded by Lake Street, East Avenue, Scoville Avenue, and the el tracks for new athletic fields.  At the same time a major renovation of the stadium was completed, including the installation of synthetic turf in the stadium and for the new Lake Street fields.  In addition, the high school’s Board of Education and Administration worked cooperatively with the Village of Oak Park to construct a community parking facility on Lake Street that would serve the needs of the high school staff during the day, and the needs of the community in the evening.  On the weekends, the parking facility would meet the needs of the school, community and the Farmer’s Market.

While things have changed since 1873 and the sights and sounds are different each year, the change at the high school is constant. The school’s primary goal remains the same, to enrich the life of our students so that they may fulfill the mission of the school, to provide "a dynamic, supportive learning environment that cultivates knowledge, skills, and character and strives for equity and excellence for all students."

*In 1917 the building was purchased by the Archdiocese of Chicago and operated by Dominican Sisters as a home for motherless boys. It was called Bishop Quarter in honor of the first Bishop of Chicago. In 1941 it became Bishop Quarter Military Academy and existed until 1968. The Village of Oak Park razed the building in 1969.