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LETTER from THE ASSOCIATE PUBLISHER
STORIES ABOUND IN DOWNERS GROVE
eading into our seventh issue, many have who grew up in Downers Grove and now resides here with asked me if I ever had any hesitation on her family. As for “Home Grown,” Humble Organics launching a local magazine. Honestly, yes. continues its mission to spread homebased health and My main concern? What if we run out of happiness to customers far and wide. Finally, in “Spotlight” interesting stories to share? My fear has a local Downers Grove North student literally works with subsided for good reason. When our the spotlight in stage production. writing team met in December to discuss 2020 has been a tough one. Let’s be the upcoming editorial calendar for honest. But receiving feedback from 2021, we tossed around the idea of doing neighbors, friends and acquaintances a “Distinctly Downers Grove” themed that this magazine has been a bright spot, issue. Could we “find” enough people is an extremely rewarding experience for to profile? Thanks to you, we received our team. Our advertising partners, over fifty submissions for individuals, many which have been with us since businesses and organizations in the first issue, make this publication Downers Grove. We could only feature possible. So thank you to our readers six of your suggestions in this issue, for your consistent support and to our DISTINCTLY but the good news? So many potential advertising partners who have stuck by stories were shared with us that we DOWNERS GROVE us since our launch. have a strong pipeline of contenders Author Edith King Vosefski shares As for what’s next? Be ready to vote! the secret to her storied life to feature in future editions. Thanks Downers Grove Magazine will publish to you this woman’s fears have been our “Best of Reader Favorites” issue in alleviated. Downers Grove has plenty HOME GROWN: HOME & DESIGN: SPECIAL FEATURE: June. We are counting on you to help HUMBLE ORGANICS LUSTRON’S BRIEF DISTRICT 99 IS of stories to share … and this is just the ETERNITY RIGHT ON COURSE by voting for some of your favorite spots beginning. in Downers Grove and beyond. Be on Within these pages, the “Distinctively the look-out for voting information by Downers Grove” theme permeates. From a young podcaster visiting www.downersgrovemag.com or by following us on to a dedicated duo on the front lines, we shed light on what social media. the last year has meant to many of these individuals. Of Enjoy your spring and happy reading! We will catch up course, we had to lead with author Edith King Vosefski, with you again in June when the sun is out and shining. a ninety-year-old local woman who penned a memoir providing inspiration for all in this day and age. When I originally reached out to Edith to gauge her interest in participating in the magazine, I received her voicemail. I did not leave a message, but to my surprise she immediately called me back and inquired as to why I had called. After speaking with her about the magazine, her enthusiasm for Sincerely, participating was unmatched. She was flattered by the Anne Healy opportunity. The reality is that writer, Maureen Callahan, Associate Publisher and I are the grateful ones. Not only was Edith ready to firstname.lastname@example.org share her story, but she also agreed to grace the cover. $5 US VOLUME 3 ISSUE 1 MARCH 2021
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In this issue we continue to feature ongoing columns including “Home Grown” and “#WeAreDG.” In the latter, Valerie Hardy catches up with Heather Hathaway Miranda, 8
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14 InstaGROVE 18 PUBLISHER’S PROFILE
Bill Adam-Executive Director of the Downers Grove Park District
Beyond the Light
28 HOME GROWN
MORRISON CONTAINER HANDLING SOLUTIONS
34 COVER STORY
Distinctly Downers Grove
40 FEATURE STORY
District 99: Right on Course
47 GIVING BACK
48 ON THE MARKET
Heart of the Home
52 HOME & DESIGN
Lustron’s Brief Eternity
60 LIFE AND STYLE
Photographer Josh Merrill
Gestational Surrogate Denise Conner
ON THE COVER: Edith King Vosefski at home with her new memoir. Photograph by Carolina Menapace
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InstaGROVE The Belcastro Family “2020 meant soaking up every little moment. It was time to slow down and watch our kids grow together.”
The Garrity Family “We read more, enjoyed the outdoors, we used our imaginations, played games, watched movies, cooked new recipes and we learned to be creative. We’ll always look back on 2020 with unique fondness.”
The Ihde Family “Beyond brotherly antics during remote learning, Joseph (7th grade) and Zach (5th grade) learned how to build a gaming computer with help and guidance from Nolan Brezina, a senior at DGN and national honor society member.”
The Goray Family “My daughter graduated high school during a pandemic was a big one. Making the most of the situation to celebrate the seniors.”
Jasmine Glover “What 2020 meant to me.”
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Downers Grove Magazine asked you, our readers, to submit one photo and a caption that summarizes 2020 from your point of view. From peaceful photos on the water and exploring the great outdoors to new activities around the home, thank you to all that submitted photos that represent your year of 2020.
Camille Palasz “Love rescued me.”
The Pantaleo Family “2020 meant lots of family time.”
The Potter Family “The summer of 2020, our family spent time traveling to four National Parks enjoying the great outdoors.”
Amy Romano “I’ll rest while you keep watch.”
The Rossi Family “We spent plenty of time at Downers Grove Swim and Racquet Club which gave us a sense of “normal” during the summer. Plenty of sunshine and fun.”
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The Schad Family “We took our first Front Porch photo about two weeks into the pandemic as a way to remember that moment of time. Then it just became our thing. Easter, Mother’s Day, Last Day of Kindergarten, Independence Day, First Day of First Grade, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. All celebrated at home.”
The Sevcik Family “We spent a lot of time together as a family. The kids were already best buds but grew even closer during those long quarantine days. As they’re getting older we can do more things as a family. They enjoy more of the same movies, activities and books, and we had lots of summer movie and game nights on our porch.”
Greg Cutler of Sterling Studio Kitchen & Bath “Ugly Christmas sweater party to mark the end of an ugly year!”
Calling all aspiring young writers! We want to hear from you! This summer Downers Grove Magazine will ask local students to participate in a writing contest. The winner’s story will be published in our September 2021 issue. Follow us on social media for more details 16
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Downers Grove Magazine | Publisher's Profile
Executive Director of the Downers Grove Park District PHOTOGRAPHY BY CAROLINA MENAPACE
DOWNERS GROVE MAGAZINE
nne Healy, Associate Publisher, had the opportunity to speak with Bill McAdam, Executive Director of the Downers Grove Park District, as the organization heads into its 75th anniversary in the community this summer. Due to the impact of the pandemic, some capital projects have been temporarily on hold. What is in store for the Downers Grove Park District in 2021? The pandemic has significantly impacted the Downers Grove Park District’s ability to run recreation programs, which generate about 40% of the District’s revenues. As a result, staff have meticulously managed our resources to remain fiscally responsible and financially strong. While many capital projects for 2020 and 2021 have been put on hold due to the pandemic, there are a few projects that will be completed in 2021. Improvements at Prince Pond are nearly complete and includes dredging of the pond and a renovation of the shoreline and ADA-compliant walkways. The pond is maintained through joint partnership between the Village of Downers Grove and the Park District. The Village provides financial resources to maintain the integrity of this stormwater detention site and the Park District maintains the pond’s use as a recreational amenity. As part of routine pond maintenance, small bodies of water like Prince Pond must be dredged to remove sediment that accumulates on the pond bottom. The dredging project has restored the pond to its original depth and will improve its overall health. Fish cribs (wooden pallets) have been added to the bottom of the pond to create habitat structures that will provide shade for the new fish coming this spring. We hope to host a socially distanced grand reopening celebration this June, which will include free activities for the community to enjoy. Beginning in June, we will begin a year-long celebration to commemorate the Downers Grove DOWNERS GROVE MAGAZINE
Park District’s 75th anniversary. The anniversary theme “Inspiring Memorable Experiences since 1946” will provide the opportunity for the community to reflect on their personal connections to parks and recreation as we highlight our past achievements and focus on the future. A calendar of monthly activities and events to be hosted throughout the District will be launched in our Summer Recreation Guide, which will be delivered to residents in April. The Downers Grove Park District is responsible for numerous programs for our residents. What are some of the most popular? Any notable programs that are “overshadowed”? One unexpected impact of the pandemic has been the overwhelming demand for recreation-based experiences, especially outdoor activities. There has never been a time that parks and recreation has felt more essential. While a majority of indoor programs have been canceled or moved to virtual format over the last year, outdoor programs have exploded. We have seen recordsetting rounds of golf at the Downers Grove Golf Club since the start of the pandemic. Lyman Woods nature programs have been booming as families are looking to connect with nature and enjoy time together outdoors. The LINK Hybrid Learning Program has provided assistance to Downers Grove Grade School families during this challenging school year by offering a safe and supportive remote learning environment followed by fun afterschool activities. I cannot express how excited our team is to welcome back the community for expanded recreation programs as we begin to return to some normalcy in the months ahead. Our staff is gearing up for a summer full of memorable experiences including summer camps, museum programs, sports leagues, adult programs and more. We are also eager to welcome more members to 4500 Fitness and resume many of our group exercises classes. The Summer Concert Series may look a little different this summer and we hope to make an announcement soon.
As Executive Director for almost the last ten years, what has been your favorite moment professionally? Personally? As a Director of an organization whose mission is to provide people with fun opportunities to enjoy—from nature programs to sporting events— there have been so many memorable experiences during my time serving the Downers Grove Park District. This last year of navigating the pandemic has resulted in a timespan of multiple memorable moments both professionally and personally. March of 2020 was the moment that the Governor’s Executive Order essentially closed the Park District. I remember thinking, “never thought I would shut a Park District down; wonder how we will turn it back on in a few weeks?” Yes, I thought it would be just a few weeks! Here we are—nearly a year later—still navigating the challenges presented by the pandemic. Through it all, the District has remained laser focused on continuing to provide services for the community however we can. As we begin to see the few slivers of light break across the COVID horizon, I reflect on the obstacles we have faced. I know that through cooperation, commitment, and community, the District has been able to overcome these obstacles to serve our residents in a really strong way.
Downers Grove Grade School District 58 and the Downers Grove Library has been incredible. All of these agencies immediately came together to coordinate activities and share resources that put the community first! I look back on all these COVID moments and I am honored to have been a part of a team of some of the very best people. These experiences have created truly amazing memories that I will never forget. Recently, the survey results for the long-term master planning of Walnut Park were released. Any noteworthy findings? Yes, the Downers Grove Park District has begun work on a long-
and provide ways to educate visitors about this treasured natural area in our community. The Board of Commissioners will continue discussions to develop a vision for the Walnut Park property. Once a long-term master plan has been established for the site, it will be shared with residents for additional feedback. Residents can stay engaged with the master planning process by viewing updates posted on our website at dgparks.org. Based on other community feedback, what is on the “wish list” of the park district (facilities, etc.) in the future? The District is taking a very conservative approach with capital projects as we look ahead to the next few years as we recover from the impact of the pandemic. Although we do not have any timeline established, we hope to revisit the McCollum Park improvement project in the near future. Halted in 2020, the project was to include renovated tennis and pickleball courts, a widened pathway throughout the park, a new plaza near Miner Mike’s Adventure Golf and the addition of a sprayground to provide a large, aquatic-based amenity for families. We continue to explore partnerships and fiscally viable opportunities to expand recreation amenities that meet the needs and desires of the community.
“I cannot express how excited our team is to welcome back the community for expanded recreation programs as we begin to return to some normalcy in the months ahead.”
Words cannot fully describe how committed and creative the Park District staff has been in continuing to serve the public however possible. There hasn’t been a modification too outrageous for us to attempt. No one gave up or said they can’t do something. “Let’s figure out a way to make this happen” has been and will always be the guiding principle of the staff. I am truly grateful and amazed by this exceptional group of recreation professionals. At the same time, the cooperation and coordination between the Park District and community partners such as the Village of Downers Grove, Community School District 99,
— BILL MCADAM
term master plan for the existing Walnut Park property—a 19.6-acre parcel of land located on Walnut Avenue just south of Ogden Avenue in the northwest corner of Downers Grove. Community input is a vital component in developing new recreation amenities to meet the current and future needs and desires of residents living in Downers Grove. Therefore, the Park District conducted a community-wide survey last December to gather more input. Completed by 780 respondents, the survey has provided guidance to kick off the master planning process. The survey revealed that the top interests in the community are additional walking and biking paths, multipurpose space, sports training, indoor synthetic turf, tennis courts, a dog park and a playground. Additionally, there is interest in preserving the natural areas that surround the adjacent Belmont Prairie and buffer. This would provide an opportunity to improve the health and accessibility of the buffer and prairie, assist with raising awareness 20
DOWNERS GROVE MAGAZINE
The pandemic has created significant challenges over the last year and has required the District to make considerable modifications to our operations. The community has been incredibly supportive and patient as we have worked hard to quickly adapt and navigate the constantly evolving guidelines and the resulting impact on the District’s parks, facilities, programs and services. Overall, our biggest wishlist item in 2021 is to continue safely and responsibly navigating the pandemic as we return to normalcy and do what we do best— offer exceptional recreation, parks and facilities that inspire memorable experiences. ■
Downers Grove Magazine | #WeAreDG
Vivid Voice Heather Hathaway Miranda speaks out as an advocate within and beyond the local community BY VALERIE HARDY PHOTOGRAPHY BY CAROLINA MENAPACE
eather Ana Hathaway Miranda identifies as bicultural, and her last name honors both of her parents’ heritage. She is a second-generation Mexican American on her mother’s side (Miranda), and her father’s family (Hathaway) has “traced their lineage to just two generations from the pilgrims,” she said. Her parents’ relationship “was progressive in the 1960s – to love beyond their race and culture,” Hathaway Miranda said. However, Hathaway Miranda did not find the Downers Grove community to be similarly progressive. As a child, she was called derogatory names because of her Mexican roots.
also is a champion “for those Black boys in a segregated city.” Hathaway Miranda also is a Latino Studies Professor at Saint Xavier University. She recently started a virtual group called “Learn, Laugh, Lead & SelfLove” to support first-generation college degree women. She is also a Racial Healing Practitioner through Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation Greater Chicago. “It’s a dream…to help each other respect each other,” she said. When her son was a baby, Hathaway Miranda had her husband arrested for domestic violence and battery. She is committed to “demystifying domestic violence” and serves on the Speakers’ Bureau for Family Shelter Service-
“When I can and I’m given permission, I speak for marginalized people.” — HEATHER HATHAWAY MIRANDA
She believes her 8-year-old son’s experience coming of age in Downers Grove will be different. “Even though the demographics haven’t completely changed, the attitudes have,” she said.
Metropolitan Family Services, a nonprofit organization providing shelter and services to people affected by domestic abuse.
This shift is important to Hathaway Miranda, an advocate for equity and inclusion. “When I can and I’m given permission, I speak for marginalized people,” she said.
Lauren DeSimone, Director of Development for Metropolitan Family Services, said, “Other survivors grew more confident in reaching out for help because they could see that a safer tomorrow was possible for them...”
As a self-proclaimed “Jane of all trades,” Hathaway Miranda has many advocacy opportunities. She teaches Spanish at a Chicago high school but
Hathaway Miranda is living proof. She said of her partner and soon-to-be husband, Maj. Jose Evaristo Perez, “He offers safety I never knew I’d feel.” ■ 22
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Downers Grove Magazine | Spotlight
Beyond the Lights
DGN Senior Ryan Kasko reflects on his lighting design gig and plans for his future after graduation BY EMMA WOLF PHOTOS COURTESY OF KASKO FAMILY
RYAN KASKO IN JACKSONVILLE, FLORIDA IN 2019 AS A GUEST OF THE ROLLING STONES CREW CHIEF. 24
DOWNERS GROVE MAGAZINE
ights, camera, action! Well, not exactly. Downers Grove North High School Senior Ryan Kasko doesn’t work in the film industry, but with the way things are going for him…who knows what the future holds? After he started working with his parents’ band, the Lisa Rene Band, in 2010-2011, Kasko discovered his passion for designing and operating lighting design and sound for concerts and performances. “Working with my parents’ band showed me how cool it is to work with lights and helping design the lighting appearance for band performances,” Kasko said. “Growing up with it and getting to see it firsthand really taught me everything I know.” After discovering his passion for designing lighting for performance venues, Kasko started his own lighting and sound business, RK Lighting, with his father, Joseph “Dewey” Kasko, in 2015. The father/son duo rents, sells, and installs lighting and sound equipment for performance venues to enhance the background of the stage. At each venue, RK Lighting designs all the stage lighting and sound to add a little oomph to the performance experience. In their work, Kasko Jr. does the lighting work while Kasko Sr. does the sound work and manages the company’s logistics.
RYAN DESIGNED THE LIGHTING FOR DGN’S HOMECOMING 2020 VIDEO, WHICH WAS ALSO FILMED AT KASKO’S WAREHOUSE SPACE.
performance venues, including weddings and corporate events for businesses. “I like working in my hometown because I have so many connections here,” Kasko said. “I have created such an amazing network of
that business will pick back up when the weather warms up and more private events will happen. “We always do outdoor backyard parties or weddings during the summer,” Kasko said. “It’s nice to be able to work outside in the warm weather.”
“It’s fun to get to be able to work
with my dad on all our venues.” Doing lighting and sound is a mutual interest that has brought us closer.”
“It’s fun to get to be able to work with my dad on all our venues,” Kasko said. “Doing lighting and sound is a mutual interest that has brought us closer.” The RK Lighting studio started out in a storage truck and has now evolved into an office warehouse building, giving the team more space to store lighting and sound equipment. Based in Downers Grove, most of Kasko’s projects are done locally, but he and his dad also travel to the neighboring states of Indiana and Wisconsin, as well as all other parts of Illinois, for performances. The biggest performances Kasko has done work for in DG include the summertime favorite Rotary Grove Fest, the DGN homecoming dance, the DGN homecoming variety show, the DGN holiday Mosaic show, and several other local band performances. Kasko also does freelance work for private
— RYAN KASKO
people here that have helped me in so many ways.” Like so many other companies right now, RK Lighting is facing the challenge of how to cope with the current Covid-era. Being that there are so few in-person concerts and performance venues due to the restrictions, many events have pivoted to the livestream option.
After graduation this year, Kasko plans on studying Business and Entrepreneurship in college while continuing running lights when he comes home on the weekends.
“My goal is to continue growing the lighting production while also expanding the sound and video aspects of RK Lighting,” Kasko said. It looks like Kasko will be following in his parents’ footsteps and working in the music/ sound business like he has throughout his whole childhood. ■
“We’ve been down 90% in revenue ever since last March when the pandemic started,” Kasko said. “It’s especially hard now in the winter because there aren’t many events now anyway.” The timeline of the next large outdoor gatherings is still up in the air, but Kasko RYAN KASKO HARD AT WORK BEHIND THE SCENES continues to hold out hope AT DOWNERS GROVE NORTH. DOWNERS GROVE MAGAZINE
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Downers Grove Magazine | Home Grown
ANNEMARIE RUIZ AND HER DAUGHTER LILIANA
Humble Beginnings 28
DOWNERS GROVE MAGAZINE
ooking at the Ruiz family’s charming Dutch Colonial home in Downers Grove, you would never guess that their garage was filled with 75 50-pound bags of citric acid or that their basement is the creation lab and warehouse for handmade skincare products carried at over 150 boutiques and spas across the nation. However, as any delivery person or guest to the Ruiz home can attest, once the front door opens, your nose knows. “Everyone says our house smells amazing,” Annemarie Ruiz, Humble Organics and Humble Botanics founder, said. “We don’t light any candles in our house – our house already smells like something all the time.” Ruiz explained that her business was born out of both necessity and desire. From the time her daughter (and now business partner) – Liliana – was a baby, she had eczema. “A hippie at heart, I went to look for products that were more natural for her, but I was disheartened at what I found on the shelf,” Ruiz said. So, Ruiz started researching and experimenting, and she ultimately formulated a topical treatment that alleviated Liliana’s eczema. She also gifted some to friends and family, and they gave it rave reviews. Ruiz found that the topical blend she developed worked not just for eczema but for any skin type. She thought, “Wouldn’t it be great to start a business with this?” Ruiz was working as a full-time food photographer and director of food photography for an advertising agency while also caring for her three young
children at the time, though. Besides Liliana, her firstborn who is now 10 years old, Ruiz also has two sons: Luca and Nolan. Ruiz absolutely loved being a food photographer and mentor within the food photography industry, and she cherished many of her colleagues, but “the demand of that career was really impeding on [her] home life,” she said. In 2018, Ruiz left her photography position, took the concept that was “a twinkle in [her] eye years before,” and officially launched Humble Organics. Its sister line, Humble Botanics, was added later. Not only did her newly minted business allow her to “make a product that was good for people and good for the environment,” Ruiz said, but it also provided a platform through which to give back to the community. Liliana explained that they donate five percent of all of their profits to LYDIA Home, a non-profit organization that functions as a safe haven for children. Ruiz also benefits from being able to work from home and arrange her workdays around her children’s schedules. The business, which is mother-daughter run, also lends to Ruiz and Liliana spending much meaningful and productive time together. “Liliana has always been my helper. This is something we could do together...and it teaches her a lot about the business side of things,” Ruiz said. Liliana - who primarily helps with production of bath bombs, body butters, lip balms, and a 3-in-1 pouched gift set, along with fulfilling orders – said she has been working with her mom “since the beginning”
and loves it. Besides getting to spend quality time with her mom, one of Liliana’s favorite aspects of the business is “making boxes and creating packaging – it’s kind of like art.” While Ruiz and Liliana are most involved in the business, it is a full family effort. Ruiz’s husband, Jeremy, helped generate the brand’s name. When brainstorming adjectives to go before “Organics,” he said “Humble,” and Ruiz thought it was perfect. “That’s us…from humble beginnings. We aren’t coming into this business with millions of dollars… we just work hard as a family and put every ounce of everything into it,” Ruiz said. Jeremy designs the packaging for all of the products, and he was the one who proposed the idea of making bath bombs, now Humble Botanics’ bestselling product. The Ruiz’s’ sons help with various tasks like taking the stickers off the labels and fulfilling orders. The boys and Liliana also get frequent visits from “the lotion fairy,” as Ruiz jokingly refers to herself. She often lathers Liliana up with body butter or puts lip balm on the boys while they are sleeping. Though the Ruiz family truly enjoys running the business, it requires significant time and effort. Ruiz works 60-80 hours per week. At the beginning, in addition to hand-making the products, she would walk into various shops in order to get them on shelves. Ruiz is grateful to some of the earliest local vendors to carry Humble Organics and Continued on next page
How Annemarie Ruiz and her daughter built a business out of their Downers Grove home BY VALERIE HARDY PHOTOGRAPHY COURTESY OF HUMBLE ORGANICS DOWNERS GROVE MAGAZINE
Downers Grove Magazine | Home Grown Continued from the previous page Humble Botanics products, including Adorn 512 (Downers Grove), Vintage Charm (Clarendon Hills, Hinsdale, La Grange), and The Collective (Lisle). The business’s big break, however, came when Social Sparkling Wine – another woman-owned, Chicagobased company - asked to include the Humble brand’s bath bombs within its rose-inspired box sets. These sets are carried at select Meijer and Whole Foods locations. Ruiz learned how to scale up when the Social Sparkling Wine opportunity arose. She brought on help from additional family members, friends, and teens from the neighborhood to produce over 12,000 bath bombs in five and a half weeks. Now her focus is on “getting in these [big box] retailers with [just her own] brand – instead of within another brand’s box set.” For 2021, Ruiz has already taken a giant step toward achieving this goal. Humble products will begin being carried at numerous Whole Foods stores in the Midwest region later this year.
THE PRODUCT LINE OF HUMBLE ORGANICS CONTINUES TO EVOLVE.
A number of new products are also coming soon, including a Humble Botanics kids’ bath bomb line, “which is going to be a game-changer,” Ruiz said. “We’re also working on new body butter scents and a cinnamon-scented lip balm.” Ruiz already recently reached one of her other major goals: getting the Humble Organics brand USDA certified. Ruiz also secured Leaping Bunny certification for her products, all of which are cruelty-free. For more information, visit humble-organics.com. ■
BATH BOMBS ARE A TOP-SELLING ITEM FOR THE HUMBLE ORGANICS. 30
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Downers Grove Magazine | Cover Story
Distinctly Downers Grove
BY MAUREEN CALLAHAN
owners Grove Magazine asked our readers and social media followers to suggest community members for our first annual “Distinctly Downers Grove” themed issue. As always, you delivered -with over fifty submissions! These stories showcase the generosity,
enthusiasm, and passion of our community. After extensive review, the Downers Grove Magazine team decided to profile individuals from frontline workers to a police officer, to an author. A podcaster, social media leader, and business trailblazer rounded out our list of candidates, though each proposed story spoke to us in a meaningful way. We
are proud to share the accomplishments of those selected and highlight their unique experiences, particularly during the past year. These profiles are inklings of vast categories; bright lights shining on a dark period. They truly define our community. They are distinctly Downers Grove.
Edith King Vosefski
Curious how to make it happily to 90 years and counting? Look no further for advice on the matter than lifelong Downers Grove author-in-residence, Edith King Vosefski. Born and raised here, Edith leads a quiet life on the edge of downtown. Sit down with this strikingly proper lady and you will shortly learn she is the twenty-second great-granddaughter of St Margaret, Queen of Scotland and the twelfth great-granddaughter of William Brewster, spiritual leader to the pilgrims who arrived on the Mayflower.
you can- at any age!”
Author, Teacher, Life-advisor, Mother and Eternal Optimist Read on to ensure a life well-lived.
Spend a few minutes with her and you will gain a new perspective on just how much can be done with a lifetime. Her secret? Curiosity. She’s always wondering. And she eagerly lets it get the best of her, pursuing new interests and constantly reinventing herself throughout life. “Never believe that you can’t learn something new; if you have a mind for it,
EDITH KING VOSEFSKI AT HOME IN DOWNTOWN DOWNERS GROVE. PHOTOGRAPHY BY CAROLINA MENAPACE. 34
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Her most recent endeavor, The Nine Lives of Curious Edith, is a memoir spanning nine decades, typed by the author herself with one finger, while recovering from a stroke late last year. The book spans Edith’s life, opening with the Great Depression in full swing. When her father went off to work for the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), her family moved, for what became a lifelong stay, to “a charming small town with paved streets, mom and pop grocery stores and a dairy which delivered milk to your door,” Edith fondly recalls of her family’s move to Downers Grove when she was three years old. “If you needed ice for your indoor ice box, you would put a large card in your window, showing the amount you wanted. My first paid job was putting the sign in our window. My sister and I would take our money to the Tivoli Theater to watch Roy Rogers and the Lone Ranger take the west- in weekly installments.” This is a book worth reading for the fun DG trivia, alone. Funny tales of summer camp in the Rockies reached by riding the Zephyr to Steamboat Springs, through the tragic early death of her father, killed by a drunk driver,
progresses on to collegiate life at Northwestern in the 50’s, where she met the love of her life, Joe. The majority of the book is set against the backdrop of her lifeaffirming 64-year marriage, selfdescribed as “one of the great love stories of the twentieth century.” She captures the tender moments and finds magic in the ordinary days while raising her children. She is a mother who took charge -a pioneer at a time when parental involvement in academia was not well established- advocating for her family’s educational needs, and helping them search for the resources they required at different stages in life. She now revels alongside them in the successes of these hard-won accomplishments as adults. Read on to explore her experiences as a teacher by trade, her varied career beginning at Highland School, later moving on to instruct wayward students, “the kids society kind of forgets about,” in an alternative high school setting, to helping unemployed executive-level workers get back into the game while reeling from a sudden job loss. “A little encouragement can go a long way,” she opines of a teacher’s influence. “Teachers have the power to really make or break it for their students,” she believes. Not one to sit still after her two sons were raised, Edith earned her Masters of Communication Science degree, and later parlayed it into the founding of The Etiquette School of Illinois. And then there’s the travel. This book is peppered with anecdotes in the 27 countries she has visited.
good reading ahead in this funny, feel-good collection of memories of a life well-lived. But be beware- if you pick it up, you might not be able to put it down! What is the author’s secret to a long, happy life? “Be optimistic. Count your blessings and concentrate on all the good you can do for people. You’ll find you’ll worry less. And you’ll never be bored!” She’s a lady who has no grass growing under her feet. Meet Edith through her book, available at amazon.com or barnesandnoble.com. Anderson’s in town is also willing to order it for you, if you prefer to shop small. This is one read you are guaranteed to walk away from with a smile, while at the same time pondering, “what else might I do with my life?” The Nine Lives of Curious Edith is currently under review for consideration in Oprah’s Book Club.
Kristin McCann Catering Manager at MISSION BBQ and founder of “Downers Grove Area Take Out & Delivery Options During COVID-19” Facebook group.
A woman on a mission. A resident of Downers Grove since 2003, Kristin has been the Catering Manager at MISSION BBQ on Butterfield Road for the past two years. Foreseeing the challenges restaurants would face during the initial lockdown, she quickly moved into gear and created Facebook group “Downers Grove Area Take Out & Deliver Options During COVID-19.” By utilizing Facebook’s “groups,” a community-based feature which allows people with the same interests to gather and discuss topics online, Kristin raised awareness immediately and funneled energy to the would-be struggling restaurant community. The objective was to bring residents an awareness of restaurants that stayed open during the lockdown and offer restaurateurs and patrons alike a forum to post photos of cuisine, special offers and general support for our hospitality-related entrepreneurs around town. It’s a place to stand up -online- and be counted, as well as publicly thank these establishments who have been there for us all along. The days got tedious for some of us during the lockdown. What would we have done without these businesses that helped us break the monotony?
LOCAL RESIDENT KRISTIN MCCANN HAS HELPED THE RESTAURANT COMMUNITY AT LARGE THROUGH HER EFFORTS. PHOTOGRAPHY BY CAROLINA MENAPACE.
There are hours of
Of her goal, Kristin says, “we knew we would not be the only ones facing challenges. We wanted to be able to spread the word about what area restaurants -not just us- were doing to work around the issue of not having a dining room.” Now at over 4,700 members and still growing, the group continues its “mission” of “being kind, courteous and hungry.” Continued on next page
DOWNERS GROVE MAGAZINE
Downers Grove Magazine | Cover Story Continued from the previous page The generous and caring response from the community came as no surprise to Kristin. In fact, during the first round of shutdowns, participating restaurants gave her gift cards to raffle off through the group. By the second round, many residents volunteered to buy them from local eateries to give to other group members. “That was my favorite thing,” says Kristin. “So many members used their own vouchers money to buy for other people. It ultimately helped many restaurants.” Local places are still posting their specials within the group, generating enthusiastic responses from members. And the bright side to all of this beyond supporting the restaurant community? “Many people found new local favorite places that they might not have otherwise tried,” says Kristin, with many venturing across town to try new dishes. Join the group and fight the pandemic with your fork, 4,700 diners can’t be wrong! Visit Facebook and search for “Downers Grove Area Take Out & Delivery Options During COVID-19.”
Nancy Wilson & Chris Wilson CEO and Vice-President of Operations at Morrison Container Handling Solutions Providing the tools to fight a pandemic.
“Nimble” is the word to describe Morrison Container Handling Solutions this year. Just ask Nancy Wilson, CEO, who has been at the company’s helm for the last seven years. In response to the worldwide demand for COVID-19 tests, she and her team have a hand in producing over five million COVID-19 test kits daily, in partnership with Thermo Fisher Scientific. This past year, Nancy and her team quickly evolved their operation to help meet customers’ growing product demand in the packaging industry for items such as anti-bacterial wipes and hand sanitizer. “Manufacturers were called to rise to the challenge of our nation’s supply chain issues, but it’s not every day we have an opportunity to make an impact this large” says Nancy. Since last August, Morrison Container Handling Solutions has produced sixteen fully integrated packaging machines, in under six months, to help deliver the vital tests needed to keep communities safe. As of today, 30 machines have been produced and shipped to locations in the U.S., Scotland, U.K., and Germany. Before Morrison came on board, kits were produced through hand-fill production, a slow and tedious process. Today, Morrison’s packaging machines drastically improve production, producing 120 tubes in one minute.
Grove since 2014. The company is truly a family affair, with Nick’s son, Chris Wilson, as the VP of Operations. Chris and his wife, Kelly, and their four young children, live just a few doors down from Nick and Nancy. Chris has been “working” at Morrison since he was a toddler. At one point, the school bus would drop him off directly at the headquarters in Glenwood. Since college graduation, Chris has held several key positions within the firm on various fronts. When approached by Thermo Fisher Scientific with the opportunity to have an impact on a global scale, Chris said, “it was a no-brainer for us to quickly rearrange our entire operation to do what we do best.” For more information on Morrison Container Handling Solutions, please visit www.morrison-chs.com
Taylor Doherty Creator of Taylor’d to You Podcast Listen up for success.
Nick Wilson, who founded Morrison in 1971, and his wife, Nancy, have lived in Downers
TAYLOR DOHERTY IN DOWNTOWN DOWNERS GROVE. PHOTOGRAPHY BY CAROLINA MENAPACE. DUSTIN LEE, NICK WILSON, NANCY WILSON, CHRIS WILSON AND RYAN FINKE OF MORRISON CONTAINER HANDLING SOLUTIONS. PHOTO COURTESY OF MORRISON CONTAINER HANDLING SOLUTIONS. 36
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After Taylor Doherty graduated from Downers Grove North High
School in 2015, she continued her education at the University of Kentucky. Now back in the Chicagoland area, she is the host, producer, and editor of Taylor’d to You, a podcast which launched last October. On the show, Taylor has genuine conversations with unique individuals without everyday stories. She finds the extraordinary in the not-so-ordinary. Some of her favorite guests so far include Downers Grove native and LA. Rams offensive lineman, David Edwards. Collin Fernandez, a professional soccer player and Downers Grove North High School alum, was also featured. Taylor’s love of podcasts like Dax Shepherd’s Armchair Expert, coupled with her desire to be in the radio or TV landscape, fueled the passion of her pursuit. On New Year’s Day, 2020, she made the resolution to start her podcast and purchased all the necessary equipment. Taylor says, “I started reaching out to guests before I actually knew what I was doing. Although I wasn’t 100% ready, it was the best decision I ever made. I pushed myself to just go for it.”
by the successes and obstacles of her guests. Says this young entrepreneur of the support system who encouraged her to follow her dreams, “I am very fortunate to be surrounded by family and friends who push to be the best version of themselves. Ultimately, they force me to do the same.” Growing up, her parents, Margaret and Brian Doherty, reinforced that opportunities are limitless with drive and a solid work ethic. Gauging by the success of her venture, Taylor has clearly taken that advice to heart. Visit t2upodcast.com to listen to one of Taylor’s episodes and learn about the T2U team.
Kristian and Terry Cauling Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital Nurses Guarding the front lines.
Terry Cauling BSN, RN-BC have been on the frontlines at Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove since the beginning of the pandemic. Terry attends to COVID-19 patients, while her husband Kristian works in the Critical Care Unit, caring for patients in serious condition. Between them is a combined 37year history at Good Sam, serving community members from in and around Downers Grove. Despite a long year, both Kristian and Terry remain optimistic about the coming months. “As long as everyone continues to follow the CDC guidelines and we continue to vaccinate,” says Kristian, “we believe we will see an end to this pandemic.” Terry continues, “while some may have doubts about the vaccine, we’ve seen people change their minds after seeing others successfully vaccinated. This is promising. We believe the vaccine will bring us back to the “normal” we had before.” Professionally, both are looking forward to caring for patients without the constant, impending fear of getting sick and welcoming family members back into the hospital to visit them. “It’s hard to watch a sick patient go through tough times without loved ones at their bedside for support and a hand to hold. We’ve tried to be their support and advocates during this time,” says Terry.
For Taylor, learning something new has always been a motivator. And her time spent at DGN helped influence her goal to produce a podcast. “I took every radio and TV class at DGN. I felt the most comfortable and captivated in those classes. Mr. John Waite and Mr. Kyle Gulloto were the best teachers.” Her passion for broadcasting, coupled with her desire to “ask her own questions,” has served as the key to TERRY AND KRISTIAN CAULING success for the podcast. AT ADVOCATE GOOD SAMARITAN HOSPITAL. “Everybody has a story,” PHOTO COURTESY OF ADVOCATE GOOD she says. Taylor’s goal is SAMARITAN HOSPITAL. to have listeners learn something new and unfamiliar. Kristian Cauling, BSN, RN and She hopes they walk away inspired DOWNERS GROVE MAGAZINE
On a personal note, Kristian and Terry anticipate being reunited with family and friends and celebrating birthdays and holidays together. Seeing their kids get back into their school routines, sports and social lives is also something the family is looking forward to immensely. “We also can’t wait to travel again. Vacations Continued on next page
are how we normally relieve job stress,” says Kristian. How can the residents of Downers Grove continue to support the frontliners at Good Sam? “We encourage everyone to get vaccinated and to continue to follow the CDC guidelines by wearing masks and social distancing. It’s our only way out of this, and reducing the spread is the best thing the community can do to support health care workers,” says Terry. Visit Good Samaritan Hospital’s website for more vaccine information https://www.advocatehealth.com/ gsam/
Robert “RJ” Jacobs Downers Grove Police Officer Spreading hope while patrolling the community.
Robert Jacobs’ career as a police officer spans thirty years. A graduate of Downers Grove South High School, he started as a 911 dispatch operator before eventually moving into law enforcement. Officer Jacobs joined the Downers Grove Police Department in 1996. He was attracted to his hometown division because of its professionalism and approach to policing. According to Jacobs, Downers Grove has changed greatly throughout his career. Literally. The landscape has changed at both the north and south ends of town, since he began. Jacob says, “when I started, there were open fields which are now home to shopping, dining, and multi-story office buildings.” He adds, “Downtown Downers Grove has improved, making it one of the more welcoming downtowns in DuPage County.” The changes have helped to grow the community, but the police department has had to adapt and evolve to meet the challenges of this growth. Because of the high level of service to residents and businesses, DGPD prides itself on being a nationally recognized department for excellence by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA). When asked to describe one of the most rewarding experiences as a patrolman with the department, Jacobs relays “my work in the Community Policing Unit. During this time, I felt truly connected to the community on a personal level.” Officer Jacobs and his team biked over
OFFICER ROBERT JACOBS AT THE DOWNERS GROVE POLICE DEPARTMENT. PHOTOGRAPHY BY CAROLINA MENAPACE. 38
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fifteen miles a day throughout town, interacting and educating kids and parents alike. They established after-school resource centers in town and spent time doing homework with children, as well as involving them in programs to enhance their knowledge of DG and their health and well-being. He comments, “I know we had a positive influence. It’s gratifying when I meet kids today, from the program at that time, who now have careers in the fields of medicine, finance, and education.” It was time well spent. The one component of this job that will never get easier? Helping others deal with the unexpected loss of a loved one. “There is a host of emotions that the family feels and as a police officer, you work hard to have compassion and empathy during that time. I try to make the family as comfortable as possible and connect them with the resources they need,” Jacobs says. For more information on the Downers Grove Police Department, visit http:// www.downers.us/govt/departments/ police-department. ■
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DGS ENGLISH TEACHER RILEY LOVE AND DGN ENGLISH TEACHER BRITNI MITCHELL - CO-CREATORS OF DISTRICT 99’S NEWEST ENGLISH COURSE, BLACK AMERICAN LITERATURE - CELEBRATE BLACK HISTORY DURING FEBRUARY AND THROUGHOUT THE YEAR. PHOTOGRAPHY BY CAROLINA MENAPACE 40
DOWNERS GROVE MAGAZINE
DISTRICT 99: RIGHT ON COURSE
The newest curricular offerings at DGN and DGS provide students with rich learning to prepare them for college, career, and culture in our contemporary society BY VALERIE HARDY PHOTOGRAPHY BY CAROLINA MENAPACE AND COURTESY OF COMMUNITY HIGH SCHOOL DISTRICT 99 DOWNERS GROVE MAGAZINE
Downers Grove Magazine | Feature Story
odern schools are sometimes criticized for not having changed much over the past century, but take one look at Community High School District 99’s academic planning guide, and it will be apparent that today’s students’ educational experience has evolved significantly from that of their grandparents, parents, or even older siblings who graduated just a few years prior. Sure, reading, writing, and arithmetic are still alive and well within the District’s curriculum, but the learning opportunities for students at Downers Grove North and South extend far beyond these basics. In fact, many students contemplate foregoing their lunch period or choose to enroll in an “early bird” class in order to take advantage of as many of the District’s course offerings as possible… and the options just keep getting better. Below are some of the newest curricular additions available to District 99 students.
and the Board of Education received an email, signed by over 600 former DGN and DGS students, calling for District 99 “to actively consider including more Black history, more Black liberation, and more Black voices in the curriculum.” The Black American Literature course helps answer this call. It offers literature “not from the deficit model,” explained Love, but that “looks at the unique triumphs of Black American experiences.” One text students will read is Zora Neale Hurston’s Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo,” which Mitchell described as “the first book of its kind that presented the richness of black culture before enslavement.” Students will also study the evolution of hip-hop as advocacy, experience slam poetry, assess visual representations of the Black American experience, and more in order to “give them a window into other experiences,” Mitchell said. “I hope they develop empathy [and] question things they never questioned before.”
INCubator for Entrepreneurs
Black American Literature
Krick’s North High counterpart, Drew Himes, shared his excitement about teaching the INCubator course, especially after running the current single-semester Entrepreneurship course like a “miniINCubator course…students are applying what they learn to the real world.” INCubator students will work with real-world mentors, coaches, judges, and advocates from the community throughout their year in this capstone business class, explained the District’s two Career and Technical Education (CTE) Department Chairs, Melissa Damewood (North) and Patrick Fardy (South). One such community partner who has already served as a mentor is Beth Schuller, a marketing consultant by trade and one of the presidents of the DGN Parents’ Club. Schuller was impressed by the sophistication of the product designed by the group of students she mentored last spring within the Entrepreneurship class at North, and she is excited that District 99 is going to be offering a “more robust version” through the INCubator course.
Scheduled to run for the first time next school year is the Black American Literature course. In this semester-long class, students will participate in an in-depth exploration of texts written by and about Black Americans. The course was conceptualized and its curriculum authored by two English teachers within the DGN ENTREPRENEURSHIP STUDENTS LIAM District: Britni Mitchell (North) BOOR AND NATALIA GREANEY PARTICIPATE IN A “SMALLER SCALE” VERSION OF THE and Riley Love (South). Mitchell INCUBATOR COURSE THAT WILL RUN had wanted to design and teach STARTING NEXT YEAR IN THE COLLABORATIVE a course like Black American LEARNING SPACE FEATURED HERE. PHOTO COURTESY OF DREW HIMES Literature since she started teaching 12 years ago, and such a course “had always been a pipe dream of Another newly approved course that mine,” said Love. will commence during the 2021-22 “Fast forward to this past summer - two school year is a full-year entrepreneurship summers back to back that were volatile course: INCubator. Students will create and racially tense,” Mitchell said. “We their own product or service startup and need a safe space to process these events... attempt to procure investment funds for and the need for race-based courses or it. diverse and culturally relevant education is undeniable.” Many District 99 alumni echoed this need. In June, administrators, teachers,
“Think of this class as our version of the TV show ‘Shark Tank,’” said Paul Krick who will be teaching the INCubator class at South. 42
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DURING HIS INTERNSHIP AT WIGHT & COMPANY, NORTH HIGH JUNIOR JACK VOGEL TOOK WEEKLY 360 PHOTOS OF THE CONSTRUCTION SITES AT BOTH DGN AND DGS. THESE PHOTOS WOULD THEN BE TURNED INTO PROGRESS REPORTS FOR VARIOUS PEOPLE IN THE DISTRICT. VOGEL IS CONSIDERING A CAREER IN ELECTRICAL ENGINEERING, AND THE INTERNSHIP CLASS ALLOWED HIM TO SEE HOW ELECTRICAL ENGINEERING IS UTILIZED AT A CONSTRUCTION SITE. PHOTO COURTESY OF LARRY BACA
Another new kid on the block among the District’s CTE course offerings is the Internship class, currently in its inaugural year in District 99. Internship students meet as a class once per week, work on assignments for the course independently, and then intern for an average of four hours per week outside of the school day.
The course is centered “around the concept of ‘Ikigai,’ which means ‘reason for being’ [in Japanese],” explained Larry Baca, the Internship instructor and program coordinator at North High School. According to the Ikigai philosophy, “in order to be happy and fulfilled in one’s life, you must choose a career you are passionate about…” Baca added.
board of directors, and local companies to introduce them to the District 99 Internship program and to encourage them to consider taking on an intern. Cassa also hosted an intern from North at the DGEDC and said he would gladly do so again in the future.
Principles of Biomedical Science & Human Body Systems
Through the Internship course, South junior Ensara Sejko has gotten to test her passions not once but twice. Sejko served as an intern for the law firm Franczek in the fall, and by reenrolling in Internship for the spring semester, she is interning for the global non-profit organization Watts of Love. Having moved to the United States from Albania in 2018, Sejko said she not only appreciates the networking opportunities her internships have afforded her, but she also found the experiences helpful “to learn how things are in an American workplace.” Like Sejko, North High senior Markus Barcal opted to take two semesters of Internship in order to maximize his on-the-job learning. He wants to “be a developer of some kind” and interned first semester at Code Ninjas, a company that teaches children to program by writing code for video games. For his current internship, Barcal is with americaneagle.com, a web application development company. Barcal plans to attend Arizona State University to study computer science and said he will know more about the specific type of developer he wants to become once he gets his “feet wet, and taking internships is the best way to do that.” South High Internship instructor and program coordinator Ryan Altenburg said that Baca and he have been able to connect students with internships “across a variety of industries including finance, sales, marking, architecture, graphic design, culinary arts, law & litigation, and healthcare” thanks to strong community partnerships. Michael Cassa, President and CEO of the Downers Grove Economic Development Corporation (DGEDC), is a champion of the Internship program. Cassa reached out to DGEDC investors,
DGS JUNIOR SCARLETT O’HARA LEARNS TO DRAW BLOOD FROM A FAKE ARM DURING PRINCIPLES OF BIOMEDICAL SCIENCE CLASS. PHOTO COURTESY OF SCOTT PARKER
Two other newly added courses – Principles of Biomedical Science (PBS) and Human Body Systems (HBS) - are both part of Project Lead The Way’s (PLTW) Biomedical Science pathway and are currently running for the second and first year respectively. These elective science courses include hands-on and problem-based learning and introduce students to various careers within and related to the medical field. “We reach a super diverse group of students, and we explore topics that wouldn’t be normally covered in a biology or chemistry course,” said North PBS teacher Jeff Grant. Grant added that the course gives students “a basic understanding of how their own body functions so they can be conscientious of their choices in life to be healthier and happier.” The PBS course is broken down into four units: Medical Investigation, Clinical Care, Outbreaks and Emergencies, and Innovation. Scott Parker, who teaches the PBS course at South, said, “The year starts with a ‘death,’ and students get an early introduction to forensic science as they work to determine the cause of death.” DOWNERS GROVE MAGAZINE
South junior Scarlett O’Hara would like to be a surgeon, and explained that in just the past few weeks, she learned how to take someone’s blood pressure, draw blood, and test food for different kinds of molecules. Like PBS, the HBS course is also extremely hands-on. Ashley Remegi teaches the HBS class at North and said that the course teaches students to “utilize various resources to help them better understand how body systems work and how our body systems are connected.” Earlier this year in HBS, students played the role of a forensic anthropologist to determine to what type of person various bones might belong. They also tested their voluntary and involuntary reflexes and will soon be dissecting a cow eye and kidney. Students will also take on the role of an eye doctor and administer visual perception tests on their classmates. Megan Thompson, a junior at North, wants to go into physical therapy or sports medicine. Her favorite HBS lesson was “about the technology involved in polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and how it can be used to identify COVID19’s genetic material in cells.” Thompson added that the class had previously learned about PCRs during their lessons on DNA, “and being able to connect what we learned to the science surrounding the ongoing pandemic was fascinating.” Some students, like O’Hara and Thompson, already have a career within the science field in mind when they register for PBS or HBS. However, Parker said, “I’ve had a number of students just in two years tell me, because of this class, they’ve decided to go into [a particular scientific field].” In addition to PBS and HBS, a third course – Medical Interventions - in this PLTW sequence is in development stages at this point, said North’s Science Department Chair, Mike Heinz. Students who complete PLTW courses may also earn college credit, admission preference, and scholarships. For a full list of District 99’s course offerings, visit csd99.org/academics/curriculum.
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Downers Grove Magazine | Giving Back
Sharing Connections Furnishes Hope The local organization continues to positively impact those transitioning from a crisis
BY MICAH CHAMBERLAIN • PHOTOGRAPHY COURTESY OF SHARING CONNECTIONS
ver the last year, the family home has reached new significance. The pandemic underscored its importance as a safe haven for our loved ones. It’s our fort. Yet, the home became much more. It’s an office, a school, a theater, a gym, and a restaurant. It has also emerged as both a place of calm to care for our sick and one of energy to rescue each other from isolation. In this environment, the essential nature of Sharing Connections’ vision cannot be overstated: Tonight, everyone eats at a table and everyone sleeps in a bed. For those of our neighbors that are faced with the harsh reality of an empty home—without a table for family dinner, a bed to sleep, or a crib for the most vulnerable, Sharing Connections furnishes hope. The nonprofit, based in Downers Grove, was born in 1986 when founder and Lisle resident, Leeanne McGrath, provided a young, struggling mother a crib. From her home, Leanne began collecting essential items from the
community and sharing them with those in need. Today, her vision has grown into a local award-winning organization, powered by a small staff of six and more than 60 weekly volunteers operating out of more than 13,000 square feet of warehouse space.
essential items to make a house a home. Donations are accepted Monday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. and Saturday from 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. Free furniture pick-up service is available through www.sharingconnections.org or by calling 630-971-0565.
It’s been almost 35 years in the making and Sharing Connections has since impacted the lives of more than 133,500 people in Northern Illinois transitioning out of a crisis. These include veterans, recently homeless , and victims of domestic violence. Individuals and families are referred through more than 600 counselors, case managers, and social workers at 200 partnering organizations to ensure that those most in need within the community receive assistance.
While donations are the fuel, volunteers are the engine. None of this is possible without volunteers dedicating their time picking up furniture items in the community and working in the warehouse to receive donations and prepare them for their new families. Volunteer opportunities for individuals or groups are always available.
Sharing Connections is fueled by donations of new and gently used furniture and household items from generous businesses and families in the community. The organization has been able to lift over 16,000 adults and children off the floor by providing a bed, securing over 4,800 cribs for infants, and providing sofas, dressers, dining tables, and other DOWNERS GROVE MAGAZINE
“Yes, we provide much-needed furniture and household items, but it’s much more than that,” said Ryan Varju, CEO. “Many of us here have dedicated our professional careers, or our free time through volunteering, have also overcome a similar crisis in our journey. It’s this experience that has allows us to share in the experience with our clients. We provide more than furniture, each day that we come to Sharing Connections, we furnish hope one person at a time.” ■
Downers Grove Magazine | On The Market
Heart of the Home The kitchen has always been the heart of the home, but even more so this past year. According to research from The Food Industry Association (FMI), in their “Home Cooking in America, 2020” report, there was a surge. Will the trend continue? If so, many homes “on the market” in the village of Downers Grove may accommodate those embracing their inner want-to-be chefs.
Driscoll Crisp Team, Platinum Partners Realtors 4912 Middaugh Avenue $775,000
Plenty of space and storage offered in this kitchen with thirty-three feet of countertops, twenty-six kitchen cabinets and a 10-foot island and pantry.
DOWNERS GROVE MAGAZINE
Michels Group, Baird & Warner 4610 Oakwood Avenue $1,425,000
Gracious kitchen offers true gourmet cooking for easy family entertaining coupled with a butler’s pantry to accommodate grander gatherings.
DOWNERS GROVE MAGAZINE
Downers Grove Magazine | On The Market
Natalie Weber, KW Experience Realty 4913 Oakwood Avenue $1,199,000
This home offers an ideal layout with double ovens, built-in microwave, & butler pantry beverage center with wet bar that’s a pass-through to the dining room. Easy & functional living at it’s finest. Currently Under Construction with an estimated June completion. Delivered by Highview Homes Inc. Photos courtesy of similar build.
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Downers Grove Magazine | Home & Design
Lustron’s Brief Eternity Seventy-plus years later, houses of steel remain
BY MAUREEN CALLAHAN PHOTOS COURTESY OF LUSTRON HOMES ARCHIVES
ever Before in America a House Like This,” read a 1949 advertisement in the Saturday Evening Post. That’s for sure, but sadly, never again. Downers Grove has only one surviving example of this slice of post-World War II Americana, the Lustron home. Located in the Randall Park neighborhood, this entirely steel house -inside and out- is one of only 2,498 homes built in thirtyeight states, in the Lustron company’s twoyear run. Instead of repainting or tuckpointing your home every few years, imagine giving it a quick rinse-off with a garden hose every once in awhile. Follow it up with a coat of car wax. Easy. Low-maintenance. A home like this would maximize an owner’s free time and minimize stress; perfect for the more leisure-seeking, late 1940s American family. Ads claimed the houses were fireproof, decay-proof, rustproof, termite-proof and vermin-proof. The exterior finish could not be stained or faded by sunlight or salt water. They could easily be cleaned with a damp cloth, inside and out. All of this and more was promised to buyers of this new-age home. The war, and 12-year depression that preceded it, created a severe housing shortage. Five buyers were competing for every new home. Three million new houses were needed between 1946-1947, according to federal government estimations of the day. And it had to be as affordable as it was fast. Enter Swedish-immigrant-comeChicago industrialist Carl Strandlund and his brainchild, the Lustron home. So named for the lustrous enamel finish
of the panels which held them together, (think porcelain-enameled smooth coating on traditional washing machines and stoves), his concept seemed simple: to build reasonably priced homes marketed particularly toward returning G.I’s. Designed by Skidmore, Owings and Merrill architects Roy Burton Blass and Morris H. Beckman and berated by colleagues for lack of aesthetics, the bungalow-esque selftouted “house America has been waiting for,” seemed to be just that.
Strandlund had originally applied for enough steel to construct millions of dollars of metal panels for gas stations such as Standard Oil. His initial request was denied, however, due to war-time steel scarcity. He petitioned a second time for the steel, declaring that the panels could also construct homes. Eager to solve the housing crisis, Truman agreed and helped Strandlund secure $15.5 million in government loans. He also commissioned a 1 million-square-foot former aircraft plant in Columbus, OH, outfitted with 8 miles of automated conveyors and the largest porcelain enameling set-up in the world. Prefabricated housing, i.e., Aladdin, Montgomery Ward and Sears, was wellestablished before Lustron came along. 52
DOWNERS GROVE MAGAZINE
Assembly-line efficiency and modular construction promised to set it apart from competitors. The Lustron design was created to adapt to mass production of the major components of this housing system- interior and exterior panels, roofs and gutters, and windows and framing parts. Eleven tons of steel were fashioned into a framework of vertical steel studs and roof-to-ceiling trusses. Interior and exterior two-foot-square panels were attached to the frame with concealed screws. A permanent plastic sealing strip compressed between the panels formed a gasket and assured an air-tight moisture resistant enclosure. Insulation was pressed between the panels to regulate home temperatures. The panels were manufactured in the buyer’s choice of four exterior colors: surf blue, dove gray, maize yellow and desert tan. Three home model options -the Westchester, the Newport and the Meadowbrook were marketed to consumers, although not a single Meadowbrook ever actually made it past a prototype. They ranged between one and three bedrooms, the two-bedroom being the most popular. Display models in several major metropolitan areas -the first in Hinsdale, IL - attracted would-be buyers by offering walk-throughs. A prototype in midtown Manhattan saw 60,000 visitors in two weeks. Manufacturing, transportation and assembly was a coordinated single process from start to finish. The Lustron company established builder-dealers, who sold and erected the house packages. Assembly-line manufactured home parts were loaded onto trailers which picked up the 3,300
Lustron by Numbers
12 – Number of tons of steel
needed to create each Lustron home.
1 – Number of tons of enamel needed for each home. ORIGINAL LUSTRON HOME LOCATED AT 5235 PARK AVENUE IN DOWNERS GROVE
individually numbered parts in the inverse order to be constructed. From there, they were delivered to previously purchased lots. Teams of contractors built the homes using companyissued manuals. Very few Lustrons had basements; those that did were dug post-assembly. Only socket wrenches, small hand tools, rubber mallets and approximately 300-400 man hours were needed to assemble the homes. Plumbing, electrical, sewer, water and landscaping were the responsibility of the owner, therefore raising the overall costs. The home interiors, all-steel as well, were designed with an eye toward the modern. Built-ins came standard in the living room, dining room and master bedroom. Floor to ceiling storage closets, with pocket doors throughout, made furniture requirements minimal. The goal was to utilize every square inch of space. The style-forward open floor plan left floor-covering as the only interior design decision left to the buyer. Add-ons such as venetian steel blinds, attic fans, picture hanging kits and a combination automatic clothing and dishwasher for under the kitchen sink, were available for additional fees. The utility room, adjacent to the kitchen, contained a plaque imprinted with the serial number of each home. It also held the ceilingmounted, oil-fired, hot air furnace. The theory was that the metal ceiling tiles would heat the entire house. The laws of physics triumphed, however, when homeowners reported hot ceilings and cold floors. Unforeseen problems brought the demise of Lustron. Over a three-year period, the corporation had received $37.5 million in government loans ($450 million by today’s equivalent). The homes were originally estimated to cost around $8,500, however, steel shortages and fluctuating
prices made it difficult to quote an exact price to perspective buyers. By 1949, the price to build a Lustron had risen to approximately $11,000, making the homes less affordable than comparable traditional builds of the day which already included utilities and landscape in their list prices. At that point, the corporation was bleeding around a half-million dollars a month. 27 houses were created daily, with 50 needed to break even. The number of hours required to assemble a home was almost double the original estimate. Many millions in debt, Lustron filed for bankruptcy in 1949. Unable to secure alternate financing, assembly lines screeched to a halt as the factory closed the following year with eight-thousand unfulfilled orders on the company’s books. It was hoped Lustrons would revolutionize the housing era. One owner who grew up in a Lustron compared it to “living in a metal lunchbox.” Another owner who bought one twenty years ago, simply because he couldn’t bear to let it be torn down, said that “when you’re in a Lustron home, you really feel the era and that decade’s progressive-new-solutionsapproach to the housing crisis.” Despite their durability and low maintenance, demolition continues to threaten the homes into obscurity. The clock is ticking, however, with rising property values and buyers looking for greater square footage. To save them from total oblivion, homes in 26 states are on the National Register of Historic Places. In just two years, Lustrons earned a permanent place in American housing history. They remind us of how we lived at a brief moment that deserves our respect. ■
DOWNERS GROVE MAGAZINE
1,100 – Average square
footage of a two-bedroom Westchester model.
3,300 – Number of individual pieces in each Lustron home. 20 – % of internal space dedicated to built-ins in each home. 1949 – Year Lustron Corporation folded.
$37 million – Debt owed the federal government when Lustron filed for bankruptcy. 8,000 – Number of orders on the company books when the factory closed. 100 – Proposed number of homes to be manufactured daily.
27 – Actual number of homes built daily at the company’s plateau. 1,448 – Number of Lustrons still standing, nationwide.
61 – Number of Lustron homes on the National Register of Historic Places.
featuring MARY BRAATZ
Remax Enterprises 1219 Ogden Ave. Downers Grove, IL. 60515 (630) 258-7677 email@example.com www.MaryBraatz.com
DOWNERS GROVE MAGAZINE
REALTOR PROFILES S P E C I A L A D V E R T I S I N G F E AT U R E
Tracy Driscoll/Diane Crisp Platinum Partners Realtors 5200 Main Street Downers Grove, IL 60515 www.driscollcrisp.com firstname.lastname@example.org (630) 674-8320 email@example.com (630) 842-8258
Patti & Chase Michels 724 Ogden Ave. Downers Grove, IL 60515 (630) 638-8632 MichelsGroupDG@gmail.com www.michelsgroupdg.com
KW Experience Realty 5122 Main St A Downers Grove, IL 60515 (630) 915-1449 NatalieWeber.Realtor@gmail.com
S P E C I A L A D V E R T I S I N G F E AT U R E
DOWNERS GROVE MAGAZINE REALTOR PROFILE
Mary Braatz Broker Mary has been assisting buyers and homeowners in Downers Grove since 1987. She joined Remax Enterprises in 1992. Mary Braatz has been consistently one of the top agents in the area for many years. She provides Five Star personalized service to her clients. Mary prides herself on timely attention to every detail through closing time. Call Mary today for your individual consultation.
Remax Enterprises 1219 Ogden Ave. Downers Grove, IL. 60515 630 258-7677 firstname.lastname@example.org www.MaryBraatz.com
Mary’s Recent Downers Grove Market Activity
S P E C I A L A D V E R T I S I N G F E AT U R E
DOWNERS GROVE MAGAZINE REALTOR PROFILE
Driscoll Crisp Your Hometown Realtors Tracy Driscoll/Diane Crisp • Top 1% of Area Agents • Combined 35 Years Experience • Chicago Magazine 5 Star Award • PPR Owner Status since 2017 You’d be hard pressed to find two people who know more about Downers Grove than Platinum Partners Realtors Tracy Driscoll and Diane Crisp. Born and raised in DG, they’ve centered their professional lives around helping people find properties in the western suburbs and village they call home.
From Pre-School to Platinum
DRISCOLL CRISP Your Hometown Realtors Tracy Driscoll/Diane Crisp Platinum Partners Realtors 5200 Main Street Downers Grove, IL 60515 www.driscollcrisp.com email@example.com 630.674.8320 firstname.lastname@example.org 630.842.8258
Tracy and Diane met in pre-school...their kids’ preschool. They both were involved in the Downers Grove community, came from a sales-focused background and were working in real estate independently. It seemed a natural step to combine their talents - ultimately building one of the strongest real estate partnerships in the western suburbs.
Hyper-Local Client Service Deep local knowledge and attention to client service sets Tracy and Diane apart from other agents. They are both full-time, experienced, licensed brokers - offering one seamless connection to their clients. Because there’s two, Tracy and Diane are able to provide TRACY & DIANE ON DG their clients 24-hour direct access to the Favorite restaurant growing up? expertise they need when they need it - not Diane: Shaky’s Pizza Parlor on through assistants or newly licensed brokers. Ogden Avenue. Tracy: Barnaby’s Their 95% referral rate is a testament to their Pizza on Ogden Avenue outstanding service.
Continual Innovation With a constantly evolving real estate landscape, Tracy and Diane strive to offer their clients the latest in real estate products and technology. From Guaranteed Listing Agreements to virtual staging and social marketing, they offer unique, cutting edge products to ensure their clients receive the best real estate has to offer.
Western Suburbs 2020 No one knows better than Tracy and Diane that the western suburbs are a great place to be, combining value and livability - the ability to walk to retail, restaurants and entertainment - with a deep sense of community. From hometown kids to your hometown realtors - they couldn’t imagine a better place to live and work.
Fun Memory? Tracy: Bike and Pet Parade on the 4th of July in Deer Creek where I grew up. Diane: Getting the DG Reporter and reading the wedding and birth announcements. Favorite shop in DG in the 80’s? Tracy: Someplace Else for cute stickers and stationary What activities did you do in high school: Diane: Marching band and basketball cheerleader at DGS Best thing about being from DG? Tracy: The people and sense of community. It’s a true village. Diane: Warm and friendly people. I always feel like I see a friend wherever I go!
S P E C I A L A D V E R T I S I N G F E AT U R E
DOWNERS GROVE MAGAZINE REALTOR PROFILE
Michels Group Patti & Chase Michels Real estate agents, Patti Michels and Chase Michels, reflect on their success as a mother/son real estate team. Real estate was a natural career choice for Patti Michels. Growing up with parents in the home construction and remodeling business, she spent her childhood visiting open houses and construction sites. Through those experiences, she learned the importance of hard work and determination. After 10 years in sales with a large company, Patti wanted more control over her future. Real estate sales was a perfect fit, but it was tricky at first.
MICHELS GROUP Patti & Chase Michels 724 Ogden Ave. Downers Grove, IL 60515 (630) 638-8632 MichelsGroupDG@gmail.com www.michelsgroupdg.com
“It was really tough my first few years in the business. I quickly learned that there was going to be no substitute to the long hours necessary to learn this business. I continued to work hard and my business eventually began to expand,” Patti said. The most rewarding part of the business for Patti was when her son, Chase, decided to join her in 2015. He had previously worked in commercial real estate, where he learned the importance of client relationships and building trust throughout the sales process. The combination of knowledge and experience from Patti’s 23 years in the industry, partnered with Chase’s marketing and technological skills, have created a dynamic duo. Patti and Chase have grown their business every year since teaming up. Together, they have sold 250 homes in Downers Grove and have generated over $145 million in Downers Grove sales volume. They credit their success to focusing their efforts locally, as they do 90% of their business in Downers Grove and hold themselves to a high standard of excellence for their clients. “Chase and I never take clients for granted. We approach every sale as if we are doing it for a family member. This goes a long way with our clients,” Patti said. “They appreciate us being upfront with expectations and following through on what we say we will do. Our goal at the end of every sale is to have a satisfied client; if we do that, we increase our chances of future referrals and lifelong customers.” They consistently finish in the top 1 percent of all Baird & Warner agents. “Baird & Warner does a tremendous job supporting us. We’re very proud to be a part of an industry leader,” Chase said. “It excites us to see our personal growth coincide with our company’s growth.” Patti and Chase currently sponsor local sports teams, humane society events, Downers Grove Area Newcomers, and they are also a Nextdoor Neighborhood Sponsor. Patti enjoys going to the gym, spending time with her family and friends, and traveling with her husband. Chase lives in Chicago and spends his free time traveling, playing golf, and participating in sports leagues.
S P E C I A L A D V E R T I S I N G F E AT U R E
Natalie Weber Broker
DOWNERS GROVE MAGAZINE REALTOR PROFILE
• Top 1% Producer Entire MLS Chicagoland Area 2020 • #1 Individual Agent KW Experience Realty Downers Grove 2020 • Over $19 Million Closed in 2020 • 14 Year Licensed Realtor
A Local Trusted Expert
KW Experience Realty 5122 Main St A Downers Grove 60515 (630) 915-1449 NatalieWeber.Realtor@gmail.com
Living it and Loving it! Natalie has been surrounded by the Real Estate business her entire life. Raised in the western suburbs by her mother and grandparents, she grew up with two generations of home builders. Summers were spent on her grandfather’s construction sites. After graduation, Natalie worked for Lehman Brothers in the wholesale mortgage division as an Account Executive. Spending 7 years in account management provided Natalie with extensive finance experience in corporate business-to-business sales and lending. In 2007, Natalie earned her real estate license and a year later she and her husband started a custom home building business, which was their primary focus through 2017. With her extensive lending, investing, and building experience Natalie decided to make her role as a realtor her main focus. Local builders now search out Natalie to market and sell their new construction properties throughout the Western Suburbs. Having had personal experience as a successful real estate investor and builder has given Natalie a unique edge especially for clients that are looking to buy New Construction. When you hire Natalie, you hire a versatile professional that works at the highest level, is a true advocate for her clients, and is known for her sharp negotiation skills. Clients can expect to remain in touch with Natalie long after closing, turning to her as a trusted resource within the community for contractor recommendations or local connections. Your local resource for a lifetime.
Results Oriented, Client Focused
An incredible work ethic, expertise in construction, and local market knowledge are only a few of the reasons Natalie has quickly risen as one of the top selling Real Estate Brokers in not only Downers Grove, but the entire MLS Chicagoland area spanning over 8 Counties. Natalie’s primary goal is customer satisfaction, and 99% of her full time real estate clients are referral based. Her expert knowledge in pricing real estate, sharp eye for marketing, home staging, and her local social media presence has captured the market, resulting in her business doubling year after year. Natalie personally guides each client through one of the biggest financial decisions in their life, all the while ensuring that the clients have all the information to make the best decision for themselves and/or family. She is the main point of contact during the entire home selling/buying process for her clients. She laughs when recounting being described as a “bulldog” by her clients due to her tenacity and perseverance to get a deal to the finish line.
A Sense of Community
Natalie and her husband Luke have lived in Downers Grove for 17 years, during that time they have welcomed their 3 children. The family has had the pleasure of living in 5 different neighborhoods of Downers Grove over the course of two decades! The Weber family truly loves this town and can often be found enjoying the Farmers Market in the summer, painting windows for Halloween in downtown, visiting Santa during the Gingerbread Festival, and enjoying a summer concert or two at Fischel Park. They have experienced a genuine sense of community love that spans all neighborhoods in this town, making them proud to call Downers Grove home. Supporting the community & her clients is a cornerstone of Natalie’s business. From sponsoring youth sports programs to donating to local food pantries to participating in fundraisers, and assisting with community programs, giving back to the community is a priority all year long. Natalie is truly grateful for each client, treating each as though they are a long-time neighbor! A true testament to “Love Where You Live”.
Get peace of mind during these unprecedented times With many of our lives becoming increasingly unsettled during these unprecedented times, you can gain some peace of mind by developing and implementing a proper estate plan. Whether your first plan or an update of an existing plan, our team will guide you through the process in a straightforward and practical manner.
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Downers Grove Magazine | Life & Style
DG-based photographer Josh Merrill chases his passion from behind his camera’s lens. BY MAUREEN CALLAHAN PHOTOGRAPHY PROVIDED BY JOSH MERRILL
JOSH ABOVE LAKE AGNES AND LAKE LOUISE IN BANFF NATIONAL PARK-CANADA
became a full-time nature photographer. Taking chances always involves risk, but “to be successful, you might have to take that leap before you know if it’s going to work out,” he advises. “I had a strong familial support system behind me.”
These days, you can find him shooting the northern lights in Norway, hiking remote spots in the Canadian Rockies, and avoiding alligators from a kayak in southern bayou cypress swamps. He stretches his limits to get the shot.
About five years ago, Merrill added field workshops to his business, joining efforts with other photographers he serendipitously met in various locations. For example, a photographer from Elmhurst with whom he now runs several in-the-field classes a year. “We started talking one evening while shooting a sunset in the Smokies and figured out we had both graduated from Moody Bible Institute downtown. Today, we’re good friends and collaborate on photo expeditions,” Merrill relays. His photo tours are open to all skill levels, including beginners, and usually
osh Merrill is at home in the outdoors. He’s not only at home, he’s also at work. Fishing, hiking and catching bugs as a homeschooled child with time on his hands and a camera in tow, he learned to notice DuPage County’s natural subjects. He also developed a strong connection with nature, now the background of his life’s work. Merrill learned to capture landscapes on film as a child when he tagged along on his grandfather’s (a biology professor) class field trips.
At first, Merrill dabbled in other styles of photography when his schedule allowed. Deciding he did not want to look over his shoulder later in life, he took a chance and
In addition to selling his work online, he now shows his masterpieces at about 25 art events a year, including the DG Fine Arts Festival.
DOWNERS GROVE MAGAZINE
cap at about 8 people with at least two instructors. “We try to remove any skilllevel barriers as we don’t like to exclude anyone,” he says. To ensure clients receive the most fulfilling experience possible, Merrill and his cohorts scout every location before clients ever put boots on the ground, to be sure they have the lay of the land and can predict the best windows of shooting opportunity. The process usually involves researching the area logistically, but most importantly, looking for the ideal time and location “to capture the position of the milky way, or predict the lighting at sunset on the Aspen groves in Colorado, for example” he says. What does Merrill like best about these expeditions? “Seeing folks meet during the workshops and share experiences. Often, total strangers develop a great rapport and become friends. I’m happy to be even one small part of it,” he relates. Despite Merrill’s professional operation,
when you’re on the road as often as he is, (12-15 trips a year), some hijinks are bound to ensue. “Burying the rental truck up to its axles in clay mud, miles from civilization and having to literally dig it out by hand (no tools), wasn’t really that fun,” he remembers. “I also never knew how mechanical I had become until my rental car completely died somewhere on a washboard road in Utah. I was somehow able to restart said vehicle with a lone granola bar! The misadventures often make for some funny memories down the line, so it’s not all bad,” he laughs. It seems like Merill has managed to make a living most would envy. There are the usual downsides that are always present, however, regardless of one’s chosen path. “You always want to give something you love more energy. But it’s important to create healthy boundaries between work and life,” he reminds. “I sometimes find myself working well beyond what would be a normal day in an office.” There’s all the more reason to find balance now, with Henry, the family’s one-year-old-son, on the scene. Merrill’s wife, Andrea, also loves the outdoors, having accompanied Merrill in the past. “We’re still trying to figure out how travel might work with a little one in the mix,” he says. When he’s not on the road, Merrill is in his home studio. He particularly enjoys printing his own work, as it gives him full control over how the images are rendered, ensuring his own standard of quality from start to finish. He believes the printing of pictures to be a key piece missing from photography these days. “Printed photographs take on a new life that can’t be represented when images sit unrealized in their digital format on a hard drive,” Merrill states. In this age of technology, truer words were never spoken. “I don’t do much processing in my style on the back end,” he says. “There’s a connection between place and time when you shoot in nature. I don’t want to break that connection.”
COLORADO AND THE COSMOS
Asked what he believes to be the best part of this enterprise, Merrill replies, “it’s humbling to think my work is on thousands of walls. Not everyone has the opportunity to be a part of someone’s home or office décor. I’m honored,” he says, smiling. Visit joshmerrillphotography.com to check out his spectacular work, or snag the last spot on the upcoming Iceland Photo Adventure this September! ■
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enise Conner’s husband, Kevin, had just run home to check on their 3-yearold twin daughters when her obstetrician made the call for her to deliver via cesarean section. From there, things moved quickly. “Unfortunately, my husband didn’t make it back by the time I was in the operating room,” Conner said, so he missed the birth. However, Conner was far from alone during her delivery. After all, the baby’s parents were by her side. This may sound a bit like the opening of a brainteaser, but actually it was the culminating moment of Conner’s journey as a gestational surrogate, a journey that unknowingly began years prior when she and her husband faced fertility issues as they attempted to start their family. Conner shared that before “finally getting pregnant” with their now 11-yearold girls, they explored numerous options available through modern reproductive medicine, including reaching out to Family Source Consultants, an agency that specializes in alternative family creation through surrogacy and/or egg donation. Family Source Consultants “had provided us with such personal and empathetic responses and information during our journey to parenthood,” Conner said, and the agency stayed top of mind for her even after her daughters were born.
Giving the Gift of Parenthood Denise Conner’s experiences with the heartache of infertility led her to become a gestational surrogate BY VALERIE HARDY
DENISE PREGNANT AS GESTATIONAL SURROGATE MOTHER. 64
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Conner and her husband were beyond grateful to have fulfilled their desire to have children, and although Conner loved being pregnant and wanted to experience it again, they knew that “two were going to be enough” for them. This was largely based on their prior infertility challenges, their respective ages when their daughters were born (Conner was 37 years old and Kevin is 8 years her senior), and the blood-clotting disorder Conner had developed. Yet the compassion shown to them by the owners of Family Source Consultants echoed in Conner’s mind, and she kept in touch with them, ultimately filling out a gestational surrogate profile during a surrogate-recruiting event in the hopes of helping another couple experience parenthood. With her family’s blessing, Conner
to be the intended parents, and Conner agreed. The Conners never lost sight of the fact that “the baby did not belong to [them].” They had no genetic connection to the baby, and Conner jokingly referred to her surrogacy as simply a form of “extreme babysitting.” She added, “I was just the oven.”
DENISE AND KEVIN CONNER AT HOME WITH THEIR TWIN DAUGHTERS.
began the surrogacy process in earnest soon thereafter. She received three different “intended parent” profiles to choose from, and one really stood out to her. “I really, really love this couple,” Conner said of the intended parents with whom she was matched. Conner felt an “instant bond” with the couple and talked to the intended mother frequently throughout the pregnancy. Having gone through her own infertility struggles, Conner was familiar with the emotionality of the experience and sensitive to the intended mother’s potential difficulty witnessing her carrying the baby. Conner inquired into the mother’s comfort level and the extent to which she wanted to hear about the pregnancy, and she responded, “I want you to tell me everything!” While Family Source Consultants is an international surrogacy agency, the couple with whom Conner was matched lived close enough to her to be able to attend her OB-GYN appointments regularly. When Conner went into labor, the couple hopped in their car and met her at the hospital. The hospital typically only permitted one person to accompany a birthing mother into the operating room for C-sections, but the hospital’s director “gave the go ahead” for both the intended mother and father to be present for this delivery. Even if Kevin had been at the hospital when Conner’s C-section commenced, he had said that if only a limited number of people were allowed in the delivery room, he wanted the priority
While many might view carrying someone else’s baby for nine months a significant sacrifice, Conner considered it a deep privilege. She described getting to hear “the passing of the baby” following her C-section as “the most joy I could have besides having my own children.” Conner was especially touched when she got to the recovery room where her husband was waiting, and in the next bed were the new mother and father “doing skin-to-skin with the baby. It was really awesome,” Conner said. “I was like, ‘I did that!’” Conner held the baby for the first time the day after the delivery. She said, “I loved holding her, but I wanted to give her back right away. The intended mother had waited so long to have this baby and was so over the moon. I didn’t want to steal one single second of her thunder.” That’s not to say the process was easy. Conner had to take various medications to increase the likelihood of successful implantation and gestation. She also required additional blood-thinning medication due to the increased risk of pregnancy given her blood-clotting disorder. She also experienced a failed embryo transfer early in the process. Though they were all disappointed when the first embryo did not take, they “carried on,” Conner said, “and, thankfully, the next one stuck.” The Conners and intended parents keep in touch and have attended each other’s children’s birthday parties. Conner’s surrogacy experience was so positive she attempted surrogacy again, this time for “a fantastic couple in England.” However, their fertility doctor saw that Conner had a lot of adhesions and scar tissue from her C-sections, which - coupled with her age (42 at the time), blood-clotting disorder, and prior miscarriages - left the doctor with reservations. While the couple still wanted DOWNERS GROVE MAGAZINE
Six Surrogacy Facts (From Family Source Consultants)
1. To qualify to serve as a surrogate, a woman must have experienced a full-term pregnancy and delivery. 2. Surrogates must be mothers who have raised or are raising at least one child. 3. To become a surrogate, one must be between the ages of 21 and 43. 4. Surrogates must be in overall good health with a BMI lower than 33. 5. The average cost of the surrogacy process ranges from $110,000 $180,000+. 6. While altruism is often at the heart of surrogacy, compensation is provided in return for the sacrifices surrogates will make. The base compensation a surrogate could expect through FSC is $38,000 $45,000 and varies based on geographic location and other factors. to pursue the surrogacy, Conner began to get a bad feeling about the situation and encouraged the couple to seek an alternate surrogate. While Conner knows women who have been surrogates up to five times, she said, “There is nothing wrong with being one and done. I helped create a family. I’m at peace.” Adding to this sense of peace for Conner is the fact that she continues to give back to the surrogacy community through her job. Conner now works for Family Source Consultants, leading surrogate support groups, reaching out to every surrogate (currently 125) working within the agency’s program, and helping run their private online support page.
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