Duty, Honor, Country

Army Staff Sgt. Robert M. Banas has returned to the United States after being deployed overseas at a forward operating base to serve in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. Banas is an infantryman and squad leader assigned to the 4th Airborne Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, at Joint Base Elmendorf- Richardson, Alaska. He has served eight years in the military.

Banas is the son of Robert and Zorina Banas of Oak Lawn. He is a 2004 graduate of Marist High School in Chicago.


Army Pfc. Adam M. Habina of Worth has completed 14 weeks of Basic and Advanced Individual Training with the 198th Infantry Brigade at Ft. Benning, Ga., and graduated Nov. 16. He completed airborne school and earned his wings on Dec. 7 and reported to Fort Bragg, N.C. to continue his training in special operations.

Habina is a 2010 graduate of Shepard High School in Palos Heights.

Cancer survivor with roots here up for Man of the Year

(From March 22, 2012)

A Stagg High School graduate and former Palos Hills resident who has survived two bouts with cancer is hoping to be named the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society's Man of the Year.

Brian Sladek, 32, of Chicago, has been nominated for the award by the executive director of the society's Chicago chapter. Sladek was first diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma when he was 19. Ten years later he was diagnosed with the same disease in a different part of his body.

"I was diagnosed just after my first semester of my junior year [at the University of Central Florida]," Sladek recalled. "The last thing on your mind at that age is cancer. I had a lump under my collarbone, and when I went home for Thanksgiving, my dad mentioned that he could see it under my shirt. I went back to Florida and they took x-rays and told me to go to the emergency room right away."

After CT scans, blood tests and a biopsy, doctors confirmed Sladek had non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

"It floored me, the thought of cancer never crossed my mind," he said. "My parents flew down, and within a day or two I was meeting with the doctors at Rush [University Medical Center] in Chicago for my first chemo treatment."

Sladek said a lot of his friends from Florida visited him during his treatment, including Kate, a friend from high school who would eventually be his wife. He endured six rounds of chemotherapy, but the tumor that had started to shrink grew back to half its original size.

"It was just another bump in the road we didn't anticipate," he said. "It really knocked the wind out of my family. It broke their hearts."

Sladek underwent a successful stem cell transplant using his own stem cells in 2000. He spent three and a half weeks in the hospital after the transplant, but the lymphoma was declared in remission in September 2000. He has run three marathons since being diagnosed with cancer, including the 2009 Chicago marathon.

Kate Sladek, 32, said it was very difficult to watch Brian go through the ordeal.

"I was in college in Colorado when he called me and told me he had cancer, and he just kept saying, 'I'm going to be fine," Kate said. "He was the strongest out of everyone."

The two had always been close friends and began dating in 2004. They married in 2007.

"Timing is crazy," Kate said. "We moved back to Chicago in September 2009 because I had been offered a job at Brookfield Zoo, and we knew something was not right with his health."

Sladek's doctors again found non-Hodgkin's lymphoma - but this time near his groin.

"We originally thought he had hernias from working out," Kate said. "It was pretty shocking to watch him go through this again. I felt like we were in the clear, because it had been 10 years. I remember visiting him during his first diagnosis, and holding his hand, and praying to God that I would do anything if he made it through cancer - little did I know we would end up together."

The second diagnosis was much more difficult to handle emotionally than the first, Sladek said.

"I had just gotten married in 2007, and we planned on having a family very soon - all of that as put on hold," Brian said. "Mentally, it was a lot tougher the second time. You start planning for the future, and then you start thinking, 'should I not do this because I might not be here in another 10 years?'

Sladek received another stem cell transplant using his own healthy stem cells from 10 years earlier. His family joked that he was 21 years old again, and his mother even made him a t-shirt that said, "30 on the outside, 20 on the inside."

ary School in Hickory Hills.

"When I was 19, I didn't want to be defined by cancer," Sladek said in reference to being nominated for the Man of the Year award. "I never brought it up in conversation, and it was something I wanted to move past. When I got my second diagnosis, I thought there was some reason for me to have to go through this twice, and that it would be a waste not to share my story."

Pageant queen wants others to look beyond the wheels

Former Oak Lawn resident crowned Miss Wheelchair Illinois

(From April 4, 2012)

A former area woman who has refused to let partial paralysis keep her from realizing her dreams can add one more accomplishment to her list: pageant queen.

Kim Brown, who grew up in Oak Lawn and graduated from Mother McAuley High School, was crowned Miss Wheelchair Illinois at the 2nd annual pageant held last month. Brown will represent the Prairie State in the Miss Wheelchair America competition to be held in August in Rhode Island, where 30 women will compete for the national title.

Brown, 38, of Chicago's Mount Greenwood community, competed against three other finalists at an all-day event at the Windgate by Wyndham Hotel in Tinley Park. The competition included an interview and question-and-answer session. In addition to her state crown, Brown was chosen "Miss Congeniality" by her fellow contestants.

Brown was born with spina bifida, a disease that affects the spinal and in the worst cases can cause paralysis, below the area where the spinal cord is wedged between vertebrae.

"It was an honor to win the contest," Brown said. "I felt like it was another accomplishment in my life, another success. To come from when I was born, with the doctors telling my parents there wasn't anything they could do for me, to where I am today. I will get to be the voice for physically challenged people in the state of Illinois, so they and their families have a brighter future."

Brown is a wheelchair athlete who plays tennis, and a kindergarten teacher at Schmid Elementary in Chicago. She earned a bachelor's degree in elementary education from St. Xavier University and holds two master's degrees, one in reading education from Saint Xavier University and the other in school administration from Concordia University.

Brown said she first heard about the Miss Wheelchair contest through her physical therapist at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago. She competed on the platform of architectural and attitudinal barriers - helping people see that those who are in wheelchairs can lead the same lives as everyone else.

"When I was growing up, I did the same things as other kids, I just did them in a different way," she said. "I was raised as if nothing was wrong with me.

"If my sister was rollerblading, she would put roller blades on me and pull me around our basement. If she went skateboarding, I skateboarded on my stomach. When kids had a bike, I had a hand bike. For tennis, the rules are two bounces instead of one. The court is the same size, it's the same everything."

Brown explained she has faced challenges in her life - from a teacher who made a point to mention that a college course had to be moved from one building to another to accommodate her, to the school not having handicapped-accessible bathrooms.

"I want people to look beyond the wheels," Brown said. "People need to see that people in wheelchairs have gifts and talents to offer, just like everyone else."

Miss Wheelchair Illinois is a one-year commitment, during which Brown will attend events to advocate for persons with disabilities. Her first event was an Easter egg hunt for blind and disabled children held last Saturday at the Children's Museum in Oak Lawn.

Brown's dream is to found a nonprofit organization called Beyond the Wheels that would focus on resources and a school.

"I want to have education classes for kids, support groups for children and families, and my dream goal would be to build a school for any student with challenges - physical, emotional, or learning," she said. "I would love for their disability not to be the focus, for them to have a place, a special place for wheels. I want there to be no barriers."

Aggie Daniels, newspaper publisher and community activist, loved Worth

(From April 19, 2012)

Agnes Daniels, a former Worth resident who founded a newspaper devoted to the Friendly Village, is being remembered by friends and family as an inspiring woman who gave much back to the community in which she lived for more than 50 years.

Mrs. Daniels died April 9 at her home in South Milwaukee, Wis. She was 92.

Mrs. Daniels and her husband, John, founded and published the Worth Record in 1954 because a local Boy Scout troop and youth baseball teams were having trouble publicizing information about their events. Aggie, as she was known, also published the Hickory Hills Record, wrote a column called "The Cracker Barrel" for the Worth Citizen, and was a community activist.

Worth resident Colleen McElroy, a friend of Aggie's, said Mrs. Daniels was influential in the town. McElroy met Mrs. Daniels last year when she began working on a book about the village's photographic history last year.

"She was a bulldog," McElroy said. "She was a fighter in this town. When she knew that something was right, she stood up for it and wouldn't let go."

McElroy, a village trustee and curator of the Worth Park District's Historical Museum, said Mrs. Daniels worked on establishing the Worth Pool in the 1980s, was the founding secretary of the Worth Chamber of Commerce, and served as the first secretary of the Community Credit Union. She was also a member of the Marrs-Meyer American Legion Post 991 Auxiliary, the Worth Sewer Advisory Committee, the Illinois Press Association and the Women's Press Association. She was also influential in persuading the Worth School District 127 board of education to purchase the property on which Worth Junior High was built, McElroy said.

Aggie in 1973 helped found Care of the Earth, a nonprofit group that worked to thwart a plan to make the Lucas Berg gravel pit a landfill, McElroy said. She was also the chairperson of the Worth Planning and Zoning commission for four years, chairman of Worth's Diamond Jubilee festival, and a founding member of the Worth Park District Historical Museum.

State Rep. Maggie Crotty (D-35) in 1997 named Sunday, June 22 as Agnes Daniels Day in recognition of the woman's contributions to the community.

Mrs. Daniels moved to South Milwaukee in 2001 to be closer to two of her daughters. Another of her children, Worth resident Barb Fredrichs, said her mother was very caring.

"She was a fantastic mother who was always there for us," Fredrichs said. "She always gave us her undivided support."

Fredrichs said it was interesting to have a mother who was so involved in the community.

"My sister learned to type on mom's linotype, and I got to run and fold the mimeograph machine, which was good office experience for me," Fredrichs said. "The main lesson she taught us was to always be truthful and honest."

Mrs. Daniels inspired Barb to join the Worth Fire Department's auxiliary, a position she held for 10 years. Fredrichs said there is not anywhere in town that does not remind her of her mother.

"Let me tell you, she always had her fingers on her typewriter," Fredrichs said. "She wrote letters to people, not emails. She was old fashioned. She always kept her fingers going. We even just bought her a new IBM typewriter a few months ago."

When she wasn't writing, Mrs. Daniels other favorite pastime was canning - making her own homemade jellies and canned fruits, Fredrichs said.

"A couple of my cousins wouldn't go to school unless they had 'Auntie A's' grape jelly on their peanut butter sandwiches," she recalled.

McElroy said Aggie was an inspiration to the people of Worth.

"She was such a giving, selfless person," McElroy said. "She was very committed to her family and to the town. Aggie is an icon."

Mrs. Daniels is among the persons featured in the "Women of Worth" exhibit at the Worth Historical Museum. In one section, Aggie shares her personal life philosophy in a newspaper article that reads, "I'd like to leave the world a better place. And if not the whole world, at least the spot I'm in."

Visitation for Mrs. Daniels was held Thursday, April 12 at Chapel Hill Gardens South in Oak Lawn. A funeral Mass was held Friday, April 13 at Sacred Heart Church in Palos Hills. Interment was at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Worth.

Mrs. Daniels is survived by her daughters, Teri Daniels, Barbara Fredrichs, Mary Klamrowski and Linda Benson; her sister, Sister Marian Coughlin; five grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren; and her friends, Brian and Karen Andrist.

'Today, your sons and daughters are the faces of heroin'

Recovering addict tells parents it is their job to take action

(From May, 10, 2012)

Recovering heroin addict David Lee grew up in Indiana, in a town he described as being much like Orland Park.

A self-described "insecure geeky kid," he started drinking alcohol and smoking marijuana when he was 15 years old. Lee's indulgence in illicit substances brought him out of his shell and made him popular with is classmates, he told an audience of more than 100 people last week at Sandburg High School in Orland Park.

"I graduated from high school in a town that looks like this one in northwest Indiana," Lee said. "A year before my graduation, I stood in a gym just like this one and became student council president. A year after that, I was the first kid in that small town - the first person, ever-to be arrested on a heroin charge."

Lee, now 41 and the CEO of Sober Solutions, which works to help drug addicts kick their habits, spoke May 2 at a symposium - organized by Orland Township and the Orland Park Police Department - intended to educate parents and high school students about the dangers of heroin and drug abuse. Speakers including Lee talked about the signs of abuse, and provided parents resources that can offer help for their children.

Lee spoke about himself and his brother, Kevin, who is a year younger and did not devolve into a drug addict. David and Kevin hung out the same group of friends in high school, and often attended the same parties, he said. Kevin was able to have an occasional drink, but alcohol and marijuana - and eventually heroin - became the focus of David's life.

"At age 15, I picked up my first drink, and I became popular," Lee said. "I was no longer the insecure, geeky kid. Now, I'm awesome. I loved it."

Lee abused drugs for 15 years, until he entered a rehabilitation program when he was 29 years old.

"I became a full blown drug addict, and I ended up homeless," Lee recalled. "I was a train wreck. I just went to a conference in San Diego with my new fianc