Safety Village marks four decades since founding

Series: Hinsdale 150 | Story 24

June in Hinsdale is a time to welcome in warmer weather, frolic in a multitude of outdoor activities and celebrate the reopening of Safety Village.

Every year at this time since 1983, the miniature municipality tucked next to Oak School sees its small-scale streets filled with rising kindergartners and first-graders learning them the rules of the road.

The tiny town featuring 16 diminutive buildings, including replica police and fire stations, a Memorial Building, school, church, burger stand, ice cream parlor, library and hospital, is hard to miss for motorists heading down 55th Street.

Children at the two-week Safety Village camp (which began Tuesday) do their own motoring, of sorts, as they navigate the roadways in toy cars, observing safety regulations for drivers, bicycles and pedestrians. The facility has a working railroad crossing and four working traffic lights and is equipped with familiar road signs - all built to the scale of a small child.

While the experience puts smiles on the faces of the young visitors, Safety Village originated as a result of tragedy. In May of 1982, Hinsdale's Katie Satkamp, 7, was on her way home from school when she was struck and killed by the bus she had just exited. Determined that her death not be in vain, parents Rhonda and Steve Satkamp founded Safety Village the very next year. An article from The Doings Centennial Edition in 1995 chronicled its evolution.

"Funded with donations and built with parent muscle, Safety Village was a mini version of Hinsdale," the article reads. "A year later, the Village of Hinsdale and District 181 pledged funds to make Safety Village a permanent fixture at Oak School, open to all district schools, public and private, and area preschools."

Now in its 40th year, the program touts 64 elements to its curriculum, with lessons on fire, stranger danger, railroad safety, and staying safe with toys and when on the playground or in the water, among many more. Teachers use songs, stories, robots, puppets, movies, crafts and characters to impart the life-protecting wisdom, with local police and fire personnel also helping out.

In 2010, Katie's sisters Amy Satkamp Avakian and Mandy Satkamp Wichman joined forces with friends in Western Springs to continue honoring their sibling by founding Safety Village of Western Springs.

Quoted by The Doings in a 1984 article, Steve Satkamp said this kind of instruction is vital for youth.

"Today's society has figured out so many ways to hurt you that safety education is just as important as other parts of the educational process," he said.

Author Bio

Ken Knutson is associate editor of The Hinsdalean