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Jeff Vorva's Im-PRESS-ions: The top 10 cool people I met in 2014

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

 

Jeffs Col Impressions

 

Some people in our business love year-end lists.

Some hate them.

Me? I’m in between.

They are a pain in the neck to compile but sometimes when you are compiling them, you forget about some interesting things that happened in a calendar year. It’s a nice look back.

This is the second time, I’ve compiled a top 10 list of people I met over the past year and seeing these names and remembering them once again is a unique experience.

 The criteria is simple. I had to meet them in 2014 and it had to be related to my job with the Reporter or any Southwest Regional Newspaper. Thus, if I was walking down the street and bumped into the President and we had a quick chat, he would not make the list.

But these 10 – in alphabetical order – did make it:

Kate Bradley

For months, I kept reading library press releases about this woman named Kate Bradley teaching cooking classes at virus libraries. She seemed to be everywhere.

In my mind, I pictured her to be like low-key kindly Kate Bradley on “Petticoat Junction,” an older heavy woman with three daughters who had the middle names of Jo who swam in the Hooterville public water supply.

Nope.

This Evergreen Park resident is a younger, energetic skinny woman who can not only captivate an audience of adults, she has a way of making students of various ages and backgrounds pay attention. 

Ella Chaffee

Oak Lawn’s wheelchair basketball pioneer was named to the National Wheelchair Basketball Hall of Fame in April. “Back in 1980, the WNBAS didn’t have a women’s team, so I started my own,” she said. “When we first started, we had six players, just enough to have a sub. Let me tell ya, I played a lot of minutes.’’

When she was six, she contracted polio but never let it get in the way of what she calls her “tomboy” activities. She has also been a top swimmer and marathoner.

 

Rona Cox

The 90-year-old former Evergreen Park resident was in the Air Force before it was called the Air Force, was a roller skater until she was 83 and volunteered for various veterans’ organizations for 63 years. 

When she was married, her dress was made out of parachute material.

She even has a wicked sense of humor about her own death, saying “It’s a far drive from Evergreen Park to my cemetery and I don’t want people hungry. So I told the funeral director to serve lunch first.”

Kendall Coyne

It’s not the fact that she is one of the best female hockey players in the world that impresses me.

It’s not the fact that she brought home a silver medal from the Olympics that impresses me.

What impressed me is that she made countless appearances when she got back from Russia and each time, she remained upbeat and gave feel-good speeches day after day and never seemed to get tired of making them.

Bonnie Cruickshank

OK, you know her as Bonnie Blair.

The Olympic hero was at Stagg High School in January and after the speed skater was done giving a speech, I had a chance to interview her and had a lot of fun talking not only about her past triumphs but her present adventures. She’s a hockey mom from Wisconsin who wears bells and blows horns at her son’s game.

“You have to come with your toys,” she said. 

Jack Dematteo

The 11-year-old Oak Lawn student who is battling Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy is beloved so much by his peers and members of the St. Catherine Alexandria School and Parish in Oak Lawn that an elevator at his school was built for him and other students with physical needs.

As a side note, since we went to a new website in spring, 2013, Jack’s tale ranks fifth on Reporter stories with the most hits.  

Sarah Dynia

Another young Oak Lawn treasure, this Mother McAuley student started the “Stuffed Love” organization which helps bring comfort to people of all ages.

She makes stuffed hearts plus animals, flowers, stars and even some stuffed monsters. “If it can be sewn and stuffed, I can make it!” she said.

Her efforts have not gone unnoticed. She has received letters from Governor Pat Quinn and President Barack Obama recognizing her efforts.

Theresa Rebersky

Even though she and I have had e-mail exchanges in 2013, I technically didn’t meet this Worth woman in person until spring at a – what else? – Worth event. She loves that town.

She and her husband, George, have had a lot of fun with our WHATIZIT? game over the years and this year she was asked to throw out the first pitch before a White Sox game in June to “some guy named Chris” which turned out to be ace pitcher Chris Sale.

She had her ups and downs this year, but every time I’ve seen her or corresponded with her, she was probably the most upbeat person I’ve met in a long time.

Linda Stearns

Like Chaffee, this woman proves that if you live in Oak Lawn and are in a wheelchair, you just don’t sit around and have people feel sorry for you.

Stearns has become a tireless volunteer whose door was falling off of her van and was awarded a new van after winning a national Local Heroes Award contest. 

My favorite part of the Linda Stearns biography is that she goes to funeral homes, snarfs up discarded flowers and gives them to people in hospitals. She told me people in the hospitals think she is full of money because she is always giving flowers away.

Viola Strupeck

 

 

The 92-year-old who is a regular at Curves Fitness in Hickory Hills puts most of us to shame with her work ethic in the gym.

OK, she’s not lifting 200 pounds over her head or running marathons, but she is energetic and inspires the other women at Curves.

Now, I’m not the type that ever asks permission to a story subject for a headline, but I wanted to make sure she wouldn’t balk at my idea of “At 92, she’s still using her Curves.’’ I didn’t want her to be embarrassed or to find it in bad taste.

She laughed and gave me her blessing.