By Harriet P. Gross
Imagine this: You are 80 years old, and you find out for the first time that you have a brother, 82, who lives just a stone’s throw from you.
It’s a true story about the aftermath of old-time, secretive adoptions. Imagine that you are almost 30 years old before you first learn that you were adopted as an infant — information you get from a friend of your (adoptive) father, not from your father himself, or from your mother. For almost a half-century, you play with the idea of finding out about your birth parents. You finally hire someone to do it for you, and he finds you a brother.
Friends in Park Forest, Ill., sent me this story, from a recent Chicago Tribune Sunday magazine, because they knew I’d remember the man who has experienced this reunion. Here’s my curious connection to him:
Lew Manilow’s (adoptive) father, Nathan, made millions as a housing developer after World War II. He partnered with Philip Klutznick, the well-known B’nai Brith stalwart and BBYO founder, in American Community Builders, which in the late 1940s carved out the town of Park Forest from the prairielands south of Chicago.
Unlike other early tract builders, ACB’s principals encouraged their first renters to incorporate and become self-governing. In his famous book, “The Organization Man,” William Whyte says that these developers handed their residents a club, and got hit over the head with it. Young people seized positions of community leadership they would have had to wait years to achieve in established towns, and began telling their landlords what they wanted. And getting it.
When Lew Manilow graduated from Harvard law, he joined his father in business. In 1963, I moved to Park Forest and began writing for its local paper. My office was in the town’s central business area, facing a circle turnaround for drop-off car traffic with a large grassy area at its center.
Another few years, and Nathan Manilow was gone. Lew, who later became a power in the Chicago arts scene, had the foresight to recognize a new trend: outdoor public sculpture. He installed “The Mohican,” a sizeable abstract piece by expressionist Mark di Suvero, on the grass in the middle of that turnaround. Adults shook their heads, wondering what it was. Kids climbed on it and swung from it. I got to watch this local circus every day.
Then the younger Manilow developed his own town south of Park Forest, unimaginatively called Park Forest South. And Illinois chose this place to site Governors State University, the newest branch of its higher education system.
I never really knew what caused the growing animosity between Lew Manilow and his neighbor to the immediate north. But someone said he’d threatened the government of Park Forest that his new town would bury the older one, a kind of stance I knew Nathan Manilow would never have taken. So one day, when I arrived at my office to find the grassy circle bare, I wrote a piece that wound up on the paper’s front page, calling the younger Manilow an “Indian giver” because he’d come like a thief in the night and reclaimed the Mohican. I also said, in print, “He’s not at all like his father. He must be adopted.” I had no idea at the time that this was indeed true!
Well, Park Forest South never engulfed Park Forest, which, sadly, was managing to run itself into the ground even before I left in 1980. But soon after, Lew’s town was renamed University Park, and Governors State became the site of a huge outdoor sculpture center full of abstract installations. Today, di Suvero’s Mohican is its centerpiece, a favorite of the many who come from all over to see this noted collection of public art.
Lew Manilow found his brother, Jack Shore, who didn’t know either that he had a brother, living in a nearby Chicago apartment. The Tribune called its story “Six Blocks of Separation.” The two old men are slowly getting acquainted with one another; their wives are realists, saying they’d better hurry up — how much time do they think they have?
Six blocks, six degrees. Or less. I was separated from, and connected to, Lew Manilow only by the Mohican. I’ve gone to see it since, looking good among its many impressive, abstract “friends.” Once I even flew over it in a glider. Upside down. It looked even better that way than it used to through the big plate glass window of my Park Forest office.
By Harriet P. Gross