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.
"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.