Left Justified: Reminisces of ‘Rockford’s Rads’

By Stanley Campbell

It’s been three years since Jon Lundin left this world, and I’d like to reflect upon his death. He was a friend to the community, an innovator and historian, and one who gave a lot of love to students at the Abilities Center. I appreciated his humor and support.

As I wrote shortly after his death, Jon was able to bring tons of resources to working poor neighborhoods full of refugees and boarded-up houses. Jon cared about the neighborhood children and their parents’ basics of food and shelter.

Lundin gave Rockford wonderful programs, buildings, ideas, inspiration and a sly smile that seemed to say “You’re gonna make it.” He did all that good stuff with other people’s money. I’m sure his lovely wife helped him tap the heart of the rich, because Gloria Lundin is a gracious angel to many struggling organizations through the Community Foundation.

God, Jon could tell a good story. And his double whammy of grinning intelligently and laughing infectiously would lift my heart.

I thought Mr. Lundin had to hide me from his Republican acquaintances, but now that I think about it, I’m not sure he was really concerned about losing their support, or whether he was pulling my leg ever so gently.

Jon Lundin towered over us in many ways. I’d crane my neck looking into his eyes, trying to get his opinion about why Rockford was so conservative. He’d assure me that many a fine socialist served on the city council, progressives inhabited Seventh Street, and pacifists marched against the war (even though they were rounded up and thrown in jail). All in 1920s Forest City.

He wrote great Rockford history. One article highlighted a mutual liberal interest: local tobacconist Fay Lewis, born before the turn of the last century and a local gadfly who supported “socialist” causes like prison reform and free parks. Jon thought he knew almost everything about Mr. Lewis, but I found a book written by Fay, The City Jail, A Symposium, published by the Calvert-Wilson Company Press of Rockford. The book was written to encourage the Rockford fathers to construct a new jail. That was in 1903. The building at First and Walnut was the result. It pleased me to no end that I could attract Jon Lundin’s attention with my find.

I’ll talk more about Jon and Fay and other Rockford Radicals at the local historical society’s annual dinner at Midway Village, Sunday, March 21.

I wish God had allowed Jon to stick around for a while longer. I’m sure Jon would have rehabbed more buildings, encouraged the state to landscape the mess they made on Kishwaukee Street, and found more environmental technologies to grow Rockford “lean and green.” Jon could do that on a fair day. On a good day, he could make the sun smile.

  Stanley Campbell is executive director of Rockford Urban Ministries and spokesman for Rockford Peace & Justice.

 From the Mar. 10-16, 2010 issue

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