Some members of the DeVos family can recall a different Oak Forest—one with dirt roads, where children trotted over to play on the Oak Forest Hospital grounds and kicked a can down the street to school and back.
The DeVos family is an Oak Forest original. All but one of the 16 children of Richard and Cleo were born in the family home at 161st. and Oak Avenue, and while more than half of the siblings have died and others have scattered across the country, those remaining try to find their way back to each other every few years for a reunion.
Nearly 100 family members gathered Saturday, Aug. 20 at Tom E. Hartung American Legion Post 1977 in New Lenox for some good old-fashioned family bonding—perhaps not quite as old-fashioned as a game of kick the can, but heartwarming as ever.
"It was wonderful," Doris Kennedy, one of the five remaining siblings, said of growing up in a home with 15 other children. "Everybody taught everybody else how to take care of themselves."
The five remaining children—Doris, Fred, Judy Webb, Tom and Don—have gone on to have families of their own. Don recently celebrated 60 years of marriage with his wife, Lois. (They met when he was a cook and she a nurse's aide at .) They've created success and spread their wings across country, trades and religions.
The DeVos name is listed in phonebooks in Nevada, Mississippi, Colorado, Texas, Louisiana, Georgia, and even nearby New Lenox. Family members have gone on to become professionals, tradesmen, military and more. They cover many faiths, including Reformed Christian, Lutheran, Jehovah's Witness and Catholic.
But whatever their profession, they'll say they're easily spotted by their noses—which each family member proclaims as long, with a bump near the bridge.
They're also fiercely loyal and hardworking, they'll tell you. And if there's safety in numbers, with 32 first cousins, 20 second cousins and a few third cousins, they're safe and sound.
Their memories of growing up in Oak Forest are strong and clear.
"It was a great place to grow up," said Linda, daughter of Don DeVos. "It was such a small community, the principals remembered our names."
The DeVos brood and their friends would sneak to their principal's office before the start of each school year, trying to pressure the administrator into revealing their teachers ahead of time. When dinner was served, there were no dishes or formal servings. Instead, there was an assembly-line type of buffet.
"We'd never set tables," Doris said, laughing. "'Get a plate, and get in line.'"
For years, many lived next door to each other on Oak Avenue; some built homes on the farm property and others moved around the area.
"They should have called Oak Avenue 'DeVos' Avenue," said Lori DeVos-Barelli. "When I was a kid, I always felt like there was too much family watching over us, but in hindsight, I realize I was also proud and I loved it."
Doris was "Miss Oak Forest" many years ago, Lori recalled. And then there was the time Don DeVos tied a brick to a cow’s tale to stop it from hitting him in the face when he milked it, but he just got hit with the brick instead.
Together, the family weathered economic turmoil and challenge—and found ways to help others, Lori said.
"During the Great Depression, Grandpa told Grandma, 'Guys might come off the train and stop to ask for food. Don’t let them in the house, but give them some of our food. They’re just looking for work,'" she said.
Her sister Linda has her own take on their childhood in Oak Forest.
"As much as I complained that Oak Forest had nothing in it, I'm glad I grew up there," Linda said.
Though often distant from each other nowadays, at the reunion the family members fall into step with ease. Afterward, they'll return to their corners of the world, but some have taken to re-connecting on Facebook.
No matter how they maintain it, the loyalty among family members is still burning as bright as in the old days.
"Anytime anybody needed anything, they were all there," said Davey DeVos, 47, son of Dave. "Every one of them."
Roxane DeVos Tyssen can rattle off her family's roots on the spot. The family is Dutch in origin, from Strijen, South Holland. They immigrated to Michigan, and moved from Michigan to Roseland, Ill. They were members of the first congregation of the First Reformed Church of Roseland. Of the family's second generation, most have obtained college educations.
Those Who Have Died:
- Edward DeVos (d. 1955)
- Robert DeVos (d. 1974)
- Richard DeVos (d. 1980)
- Alice DeVos-Krueger (d. 1984)
- William DeVos (d. 1991)
- Herbert DeVos (d. 1995)
- Priscilla DeVos-Hart (d. 2004)
- David DeVos (d. 2005)
- James DeVos (d. 2007)
- John DeVos (d. 2008)
- Georgetta DeVos-Vodnik (d. 2009)