Metro Chicago Resort Says Goodbye
Phil and Pat DeGregorio bought the Windy City Campground and Beach Resort as an investment for their family 31 years ago.
Saturday, May 17, they started saying goodbye.
For the next two weekends, the longtime Tinley Park campground is hosting a going-out-of-business sale. The DeGregorios are handing over the property May 27 to make way for Panduit Corp.'s new corporate headquarters, according to the Southtown Star, Chicago.
"It has been a gradual weaning," Pat DeGregorio said on the sale's first day. "It's still hard. We have put a life's worth of blood and sweat into this place."
The entire operation needs to go, from lawn mowers, picnic tables and extension cords to life jackets, ceiling fans and dining chairs.
Frankfort's Linda Morrison paid a final visit before departing with a $3 swimming tube festooned with a cartoon Tasmanian devil.
"It is kind of sad. Campgrounds are going away," Morrison said. "This was the last one."
The final days of the business mean an end to an association for the DeGregorios that started when a friend approached Phil with the idea of buying a campground in 1977. At the time, he was in the early years of a Tinley Park dental practice.
"I thought it sounded like a good idea," he said. "We looked at it as an investment so we could build our homes."
They settled on the Windy City property on 80th Avenue just south of Interstate 80, on land once used for growing oak trees commercially. The site included a "lake" — a large swimming hole that formed after natural springs filled in a big pit left behind when dirt was needed to build I-80's ramps and overpasses.
The DeGregorios converted an old red barn into a banquet hall.
"We used to have beautiful weddings here," Pat recalled. "We had one wedding where the groom rode up on a horse. All of the flowers on the tables were in riding boots."
Over the years, subdivisions and business parks drew closer. Despite the encroaching development, the family said they never felt they were being forced out.
As owners of the closest campground to Chicago, the DeGregorios had travelers from as far away as Sweden, Korea and Germany pitching tents. The spot became a popular midway point for folks exploring America.
It also became a resting place for concertgoers at nearby First Midwest Bank Amphitheatre.
One particularly lucrative stretch came when the Grateful Dead performed in Tinley Park, delivering 400 barefooted Deadheads to roam the campground in a smoky, peaceful haze.
"I think I got high just bringing the money to the bank from that week," Pat said. "But I tell you what, they were wonderful. They just hung out, sat in lawn chairs and swam in the lake."
Today, dandelions and bouquets of stiff black wires, the remnants of the electrical boxes that supplied power to RVs, jut from the ground.
In a couple of weeks, even they will be gone.
"We are at the age where we want to travel and do things without being tied up," Phil said. "It's time."