Relaxing before their workouts at Deerfield Park District's new Sachs Recreation Center, Lori Lustbader Ashworth, Amy Charlson and Robyn Whiteman describe the suburb where they chose to raise children.
"Deerfield is the kind of place where you have no trouble getting other parents to help when you're a room mom," said Ashworth.
"It has a culture of volunteerism. Parents teach their kids compassion for others," said Charlson.
"Even people without kids show up for school board meetings," added Whiteman.
Named for early settler John Millen's hometown, after beating the name "Erin" in a 17-to-13 vote, Deerfield remained a small town until the post- World War II boom. (Whether Millen's Deerfield was in Connecticut or Massachusetts is a mystery, reports Donna Stupple of the Deerfield Area Historical Society.)
With a population around 18,000, Deerfield is a Pac-Man-shaped village, the Baxter International Inc. campus being the western morsel of land it failed to gobble up.
If you haven't seen downtown Deerfield for a while, you might not recognize it. Redeveloped in the late 1990s and early 2000s, it has an assortment of chain and mom-and-pop shops and restaurants. Noted Whiteman, "Deerfield is not a collection of strip malls."
The farther from Deerfield's downtown, the younger the houses, with its oldest homes circling its historic train depot.
"Used to be, you couldn't buy a house here for less than $400,000," reports real estate agent Jodi Taub from Coldwell Banker in Deerfield. But that was prerecession. "Now, you can buy in the $300,000s, but the average is much higher."
Education is why buyers come here, said Taub. "The high school is not only good, but it's smaller than many of the huge ones in the area," she said.
Indeed, education is Deerfield's chief enterprise, and high-achieving 18-year-olds its No. 1 export. "Most of the kids go to college," said Whiteman, a native. "The first year in college is review, which says a lot."
In addition to its public schools, Deerfield has several private elementary schools and the Chicagoland Jewish High School.
Deerfield has a school district/park district partnership that isn't found in most suburbs. "For most of our public schools, the parks own the land, and the schools own the buildings," said Mayor Harriet Rosenthal. The partnership puts the properties to use after school hours, minimizes staff/maintenance costs and limits public land on the tax rolls, she added.
The school/park sites are tucked into Deerfield's neighborhoods and busy year-round. In addition to Sachs, the park district's 280 acres include ball fields (baseball is king here, thanks to the Deerfield Youth Baseball and Softball Association), two swimming pools and a golf course.
On par with education on Deerfield's list of goals is safety. Traffic stops and falsely tripped burglar alarms keep its police officers busy more often than serious crimes do.
Although Deerfield's northeast quadrant is known as the priciest part of town, where its grandest older houses sit on wide lots with shade trees, housing in each quadrant is a jumble of older and newer houses, owned by natives and newcomers.
Mixed among the teardowns (about 500 in the last decade) are dozens of ranch, two-story and tri-level houses from the post-war developers. (Tri-levels won here, by far.) Although their original carports still dot the neighborhoods, most have yielded to garages or home additions.
The Deerfield house that wins the most unusual prize is the "pie house," so-named by residents because its shape resembles the sliver of pie you request while dieting.
More so than similar suburbs, Deerfield has multifamily housing that caters to empty-nesters. This includes the Coromandel development on the former Sara Lee Corp. property, designed by renowned architect David Hovey.
Few Deerfield residents are more than a mile from its nexus, which is an important asset to many residents.
"We used to live in Vernon Hills, but everything was so spread out there. Here, we can walk to Starbucks, Whole Foods, the parks, the pool," said Maureen Wener, who hired Empeco Custom Builders in Northbrook to build a 3,600-square-foot house in Deerfield on a teardown site. "Deerfield is 'North Shore,' but it isn't a keep-up-with-the-Joneses kind of place. It's not ostentatious."
At the same time, being close to major highways is important to Wener and her frequent-flier husband, Paul Rundell, who can reach O'Hare International Airport in 20 minutes.
Like Rundell, most Deerfield residents sleep but don't work here. Metra's North Line feeds thousands of workers to the Loop daily. Others jump on the nearby Interstate Highway 94 (Edens). In-town employers include the school district, Takeda Pharmaceuticals North America Inc. and Walgreen Co. Better known to sports fans, though, is the Deerfield employer that is nestled in a corner of town in a nondescript (but tall) building: the Chicago Bulls' practice facility.
Weekends, teens hang out at Deerfield Square, while their parents meet their friends at Trax Tavern & Grill's rooftop patio or share antipasto at Ristorante Abruzzo.
A second generation of students treks to music lessons at The Village Music Store, owned by Deerfield icon Bob Gand. Thespians of all ages partake in the annual production by the Deerfield Family Theater.
Deerfield's seasoned citizens flock to the activities and classes at the Patty Turner Center.
To learn about their roots, Deerfield's fourth-graders spend a day in the one-room schoolhouse in the Deerfield Historic Village.
Residents of all ages turn out for Deerfield's summer community events, which include a fine arts festival, farmers market and concerts. Deerfield Family Days on July 3 and 4 include a parade, fireworks and 10k run.
Village Manager Kent Street's job is to keep Deerfield the "safe, well-kept, family-oriented" place it is, he said. Government here is transparent, he said, with its board meetings telecast live and minutes available online. Residents are encouraged to participate and voice their suggestions at board meetings' "open mikes."
Heading back to her daily juggle as a working mom and community volunteer, Charlson sums up her view of Deerfield as "down to earth."
"We moved here from the city after we had our son, though we were apprehensive about leaving our city way of life," she said. "Now we have friends here who came here for the same reasons. This is home."Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times