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The Lady in the Glen
Nancy Copeland Firfer (SESP67) oversaw the redevelopment of the former Glenview Naval Air Station into the Glen, a community of homes, shops and open space.
Nancy Copeland Firfer

Photo by Yujin Yi

When the Glenview Naval Air Station closed in the mid-1990s, the Chicago suburb acquired its 1,121 acres of prime real estate, located right in the middle of town. “As consternation set in about the closing, I chose to take the optimistic view and declared, ‘Now we can finally have our lake!’” says former village president Nancy Copeland Firfer (SESP67).

“They all looked at me like I was crazy,” Firfer recalls, but she had the last laugh. During her eight years as president of the northwest suburb, Firfer oversaw construction of a 45-acre lake and plans for much more on the property. The Glen, as it was named, has become Cook County’s largest redevelopment, a mixed-use project of residential, commercial and open areas.

The property’s history as an airstrip began in the 1920s, when it was the private Curtiss-Reynolds Airfield. The Navy bought the land in 1940 for training pilots in World War II. After the war it became the Air Naval Reserve Training Command Headquarters, training mostly reservists. The 18,000 pilots who trained there over 58 years included many Northwestern alumni.

In June 1993, just a few months into Firfer’s tenure as president of Glenview, the U.S. Department of Defense announced that the air base would be closed.

Firfer and the board sought local input into plans for a new community to rise from the ashes of runways, condemned buildings and concrete. A task force was formed to represent area residents, the school districts and other jurisdictions. These citizens wrote a mission statement and decided how the land would be used and developed. Even schoolchildren got involved; they designed a small park called “Little Bear Garden.”

When everything is finally finished, the Glen will have 567 single-family homes, 611 multifamily housing units, 705 senior housing units, an 18-hole golf course, a training facility for police and fire departments, a new middle school, a children’s museum and many retail stores and industrial offices. The entire redevelopment is about five years ahead of schedule.

“This has been the definition of a model base closure,” says Don Owen, Glenview’s economic redevelopment director. “Everything has gone as well as it could have.”

Construction is projected to be 95 percent complete by the end of 2004. In addition to the new houses and buildings, the Glen will have a naturalistic character as a result of its prairie vegetation.

Firfer, a former schoolteacher, retired as president and village board member in 2001. She is now a senior adviser for Chicago Metropolis 2020, a nonprofit organization created by the Commercial Club of Chicago in 1999. The organization is dedicated to improving education, economic development, taxation, governance, transportation, land use and housing issues in Cook and the Chicago collar counties.

Firfer and her husband, Richard (WCAS64, L71), reside not far from the Glen. Two of their children, Holly (C89) and Brandon (C96), work for CNN in Atlanta; another son, Brett, is an architect in New York.

Firfer says that it gives her great satisfaction to pass by the 45-acre lake that was her idea. Lake Glenview, a storm water retention lake that will provide a place for fishing and nonmotorized boating, is scheduled to be open for use next summer.

— Yujin Yi (WCAS04)





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