'It's a Wonderful Life' comes to life in my living room

  • Written by Claudia Parker

Claudia Mug Shot-Color     


The movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” literally came to life in my living room last weekend.

      God worked a Christmas miracle through a cluster of my friends, who emptied their wallets to assist an Evergreen Park resident named, Angie Hernandez. 

     If you haven’t seen this 1946 classic, or you’re finding the details a little fuzzy, no worries.

      I’m fresh off a Redbox rental, I’m your guide for a preview in review.

       In the movie, the character, George Bailey is a man who’s given up his dreams in order to help others and whose imminent suicide on Christmas Eve brings about the intervention of his guardian angel, Clarence. The angel shows George all the lives he’s touched and how different life in his community of Bedford Falls would be had he never been born. In the end, the community of Bedford Falls rally to help him out of a major financial predicament. Money is flying everywhere to help the man.

       In this present day version, Hernandez is our Mr. Bailey, but don’t be alarmed, she wasn’t contemplating suicide.  However, like Mr. Bailey, she’s desperately discouraged and experiencing a financial hardship that warrants supernatural intervention.

                She said, “I’m depressed. I just can’t seem to win. I have faith in the Lord, but my human side takes over my faith sometimes, and I feel fear.”

                In the movie, Clarence’s involvement is precipitated by the prayers of people petitioning God on George’s behalf. Clarence, who hasn’t yet earned his wings, is chosen because of his simple faith. Likewise, a multitude of people have been praying for Hernandez, and apparently, God gave Clarence a respite and employed me. Look at my column photo. I don’t look like a pudgy old man like Clarence. But you know what they say about the Lord and mysterious ways…

              But, I wasn’t being a very good angel. I felt a nudging to help but honestly, the severity of her financial problems exceed the level of assistance I can offer. But, I remained hopeful that a little help would be better than none and settled on an idea to throw a party.

                Invitations went to married couples only and read, “How would you like to make a meal and a memory together? Don and Claudia will host their 1st Potluck Christmas. In lieu of a Christmas gift exchange we’re asking each household to donate $25 to this family.”

                There was a warm reception of those invited. One person commented, “What a great idea. Looking forward to your Christmas party.”

                Even people who couldn’t make it were excited. Another person said, “I’ll be in Tampa, but I’ll drop something in the mail for this family. Thanks for reminding us to celebrate in a way that highlights what this season is REALLY about.”

                Before the party even started we’d collected $385 in monetary donations, a $40 grocery store gift card and a turkey, all from people who couldn’t attend. 

                Their generosity began infecting my household like a virus.

                This was a good thing.

We came up with an idea to have a live auction during the party. My seven year old daughter , Donae  really wanted to help. She volunteered to auction several unopened gifts she received for her birthday this September.

                “Are you sure?” I said, concerned she might regret it afterwards.

                “Mom! Yes.” She replied, excitedly  

                Not wanting to be outshined by our daughter, Don threw in three pair of brand new shoes and a few miscellaneous things bringing our total items to be auctioned to 16. Bids for each item were set at $1. After all, guests had already agreed to donate $25 to a complete stranger, we figured offering them valuable items at rock-bottom prices would be our way of saying thanks.

                Things went far differently than expected.

It turned into a bidding frenzy. The first item up for bid was a travel sized tube of Colgate and miniature Barbie toothbrush. That thing sold for $10. From that point forward, my living room sounded like a trading floor on Wall Street. Don got wrapped up in it and jumped in a bid himself. I yelled at him saying, “Babe. Are you nuts? Stop the bid. It’s already ours.”

                Thank goodness he lost to another bidder. But, there was still a little marital discord. He got so wrapped up in the hoopla, he pulled our poster-sized family collage off the wall and proceeded to evoke a bidding war. “What are you doing!? Put that back!” I demanded

                “I’m not auctioning our picture. I’m auctioning the collage you made. You’re going to create one just like this for their family.” He replied.

                Okay, this is where my party pleasantries went by the wayside for a second. Because I said, “You can’t auction my labor? No no no no no!” But, it was too late. Bid closed at $16. I got pimped out. Who does that? But, I let him off the hook. We made a memorable fun night, with a great cause.

                We raised $1,129. We delivered it to her Sunday, which unbeknownst to us, happened to be her birthday. She was shocked into complete silence upon opening the envelope of cash and checks. Her face streamed with tears.

                “Thank you. Thank you.” She whispered softly, followed by briefly leaving the room to collect herself. Angie is one that isn’t accustomed to asking for help but always willing to give it.

                At the end of, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” the miracle came after Mary, -- George Bailey’s wife -- went through town telling people he was in trouble. Their hearts began pouring out love to help him, just in time for Christmas. The angel named Clarence wrote George a small note in the conclusion that read, “Remember, no man is a failure who has friends.”

                The kicker at the end of the movie is when George’s daughter, Zuza, says “Every time a bell rings, and angel gets his wings.’’ I have a long way to go to earn mine.

                While my friends and I were able to provide some relief, I’m afraid it still isn’t enough. I encouraged her to set up a GoFundMe account, here’s the information if you’d like to get involved.

'My best Christmas ever'

  • Written by Don C. White






Photo by Jeff Vorva

Don C. White of Palos Hills shares a lemonade toast with his grandson, Samuel, in Joliet last week.   Don recovered from complications after an open-heart surgery and said he hopes to be around many years while Samuel grows up.




Editor’s note: The Reporter’s history columnist, Don C. White of Palos Hills, had open heart surgery in October and we were dismayed to find out during a phone call shortly after the surgery that there were some complications. After a longer-than-expected recovery, White, 76,   was back to his computer keyboard earlier this month and writing with a fresh outlook on life. The following column contains his thoughts after what he calls his “adventure”:

By Don C. White

This will be my best Christmas ever.

Two years ago, my grandson, Samuel, said “Grandpa, are you going to be around when I grow up?’’

He was about eight years old then and it was a pretty profound question, I told him “Samuel, I’m doing everything I can to be here for you.’’

I had open-heart surgery performed on Oct. 15 and it didn’t go quite as planned.  But when it was over, I thanked the surgeon and told that he just accomplished will help me be there for Sam.

 I was admitted to the hospital on Oct. 14 to prepare for the next day’s surgery. 

The surgeon stopped by and explained that the procedure would be two by-passes, not four as he had originally thought.  Another doctor stopped in to mark my legs for the location of where they would harvest the veins to be used. 

The surgeon explained to my wife, Helen, and son, David, that the double bypass surgery should take around three or four hours.  They spent the entire day and late into the night waiting and getting updates from the surgery team and the surgeon.

I was taken into the surgery prep area and work began to get me ready for my adventure.

One of the last things I remember was one of the nurses from the pacemaker clinic coming in to adjust my settings lower for surgery.  I was introduced to some of the surgical team and a general anesthetic was started to mellow me out. 

And it did. 

I do remember being wheeled toward the surgery center and then it was lights out for a while.

The procedure went smoothly, but when they were getting ready to close me up that’s when the problems began.  When they removed a clamp from my aorta a small tear developed and bleeding occurred.  Because the aorta wall was so thin, they were unable to suture the tear.  They had to put me back on the heart-lung bypass and cool me down to 28 degrees before they could make the repair. 


After the repair, I was rewarmed and taken off the bypass machine.  The surgery had taken between seven and eight hours.  Needless to say, my wife and son, as well as the surgery team, were stressed. 

Me? I just enjoyed a little longer nap and was oblivious to the entire procedure. 

After I was closed up -- wired and glued back together and stabilized in the operating room -- I was taken to ICU for recovery.   The next couple of days were not even a blur for me,

I don’t remember anything that happened to me.

I was told that at some point they attempted to put a feeding tube in through my nose and down my throat – but I tried to fight them off. 

I wasn’t trying to be a pain the butt, but I guess sometimes I was.  Again, I don’t have memory of much of this. 

 Samuel called me and said, “Grandpa I love you.”   But I didn’t know what Samuel said.

At some point the feeding tube was taken out and I was able to start eating a regular healthy diet.  Well, one of the problems that sometimes occurs after surgery and sedation is that your taste buds go on vacation. Mine did and seven weeks later they pretty much still are.

This is one of the reasons that I wanted to get home as soon as possible so I could get some tasty food in my system.  So far that has not helped much, but is getting better each day.

I spent a total of nine days at the Hines V.A. Hospital.  I was discharged on Oct. 22.


I just want to say how much I appreciate the wonderful care that I received. 

Was it perfect? 

Well, no, but the T.L.C. (tender loving care) that I received made me want to do the best I could to help them help me.  I think it worked and I know that my hospital care helped me get better and on the road to recovery.

I am writing again. I am driving. I am back to work at my Ace Hardware job and Helen and I are looking forward to going back to our volunteer duties at Hines.  It has been an uphill battle and I could not have done it without Helen, David and the rest of my family’s love and support.   

 At this Christmas season, I want to give thanks to God for guiding the surgeons’ hands.  Also, thanks to all of you who prayed and sent your good wishes for my recovery.  I have been truly blessed to have Helen by my side throughout this adventure.  God bless you my wonderful wife.

Again, this will be my best Christmas ever. This surgery makes understand what’s important of what’s going on in my life and to be here for my family.



A winter tradition: TV news hot on hype but sub-zero on substance

  • Written by Bob Rakow

Bobs Column - The B SideGetting cold out there. Autumn’s over. Did you see the weather they got in Minnesota? Won’t be long before we see some of the “white stuff.”
Polar vortex is on its way.
I’d wager most folks couldn’t explain what a polar vortex is, but they like saying “polar vortex.”
Can we please stop? Seriously.
This is Chicago.
We experience four seasons. Winter is one of them. It’s mid-November and it’s getting cold. Shocking.
Of course, the local news broadcasts feed this silliness. Years ago, I don’t remember newscasts leading with weather stories unless we were in for a “grind the city to a halt” type storm.
But now, any threat of snow, any significant drop in temperature, and weather is the star of the TV news.
Last week, I caught the national news and weather was genuinely the story in places like Minnesota and some Great Plains’ states where the temperature dropped to below freezing in mere hours. Sheets of ice blanketed the roads in some places. Winter weather had arrived with little warning.
Real news, to be sure.
We escaped the deep freeze here in Chicago, but it was getting colder and that certainly deserved news coverage.
News anchors chatted with the weatherman, feigning disappointment about the end of warmer temps. Everyone was resigned to the fact that autumn was over.
But news coverage of the onset of winter is only the opening act. The real fun begins when we finally get the first big snowstorm.
Breaking news. It’s snowing in Chicago. Dispatch the reporters and the camera crews.
They follow the same template year after year after year.
Images of snowplows clearing the streets and maybe few words from the guy who drives the plow. Talk to the city dweller who spent hours shoveling snow in front of his house and used kitchen chairs to reserve the space. A long-held Chicago tradition, we’re reminded.
Real news would be footage of a driver getting out of his car, moving the chairs and parking in the “reserved” spot, leading to a fight with the guy who shoveled the snow.
“Snow fall leads to brawl. Tonight at 10.”
Instead, it’s more of the usual.
A reporter is stationed along the side of a highway or on one of the overpasses. Traffic is snarled as a result of the snow. Who knew? And by the way, if you don’t have to go outside….don’t.
Of course, what’s wall-to-wall weather coverage without getting a reporter to Home Depot or a similar store? The unprepared masses are buying shovels, snow blowers, salt, and the like. “What brings you out tonight?” the reporter asks a shopper. We eagerly await the response.
Sometimes, a reporter will check in on the grocery stores as well. Some people are stocking up on the staples before supplies run out. The dawn of the apocalypse is upon us. Ready yourselves.
And let’s not forget to talk to the tow truck drivers putting in double and triple shifts as well as the folks whose cars are stuck in the snow.
And no one can say the TV reporters aren’t prepared for the elements. Big, goofy hats with earflaps, ski gloves and boots suitable for someone taking a team of dogs into the artic are all part of the garb. And despite the garb, reporters still look cold and miserable.
It will happen this year just like every other year. We expect it, I suppose, and that’s why the TV news feeds it to us. Plus, in a town with several newscasts, one station can’t afford to downplay the first flake that falls from the sky.
So get ready. It’s getting cold out there. Winter’s upon us.
The TV news told me so.

-- Cosby's words of wisdom then sound empty now

  • Written by Bob Rakow

When the 50th anniversary of the Brown v. the Topeka Board of Education Supreme Court decision was commemorated, comedian Bill Cosby gave a speech at an NAACP awards ceremony.


Cosby’s words were rather controversial, as he called on blacks in America to take responsibility for their own lives.


The comedian talked about elevated school dropout rates for inner city black students and criticized low-income blacks for not using the opportunities the civil rights movement won for them.


He went on to say that many blacks fail themselves and their community as a result of unplanned pregnancies, poor parenting, a lack of education, non-standard English, counter-culture dress and involvement in crime.


Some folks (many whites, of course) agreed with Cosby’s words. Conversely, he angered much of the black community. Either way, his commentary stirred vigorous debate, which is usually good thing.


Agree or disagree, people paid attention because Cosby had gravitas. We loved him for his body of work that dates back more than 30 years to “Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids.” He’s an author, a popular standup comedian, the star of a hit television show and frequent guest speaker.


Today, however, Cosby career is in shambles and his powerful words of a decade ago seem empty.


It’s impossible to turn on the news or open a newspaper/newsmagazine without seeing the latest about Cosby’s alleged indiscretions.


Everything has unraveled for Dr. Huxtable in the past month or so, and as the accusations swirl, he isn’t vigorously denying much. That’s typically not a good sign.


There are too many accusations to list in this limited space, but one complaint was lodged by a 55-year-old woman sued Cosby claiming sexual battery and infliction of emotional distress for allegedly molesting her in a bedroom at the Playboy Mansion when she was 15 years old.

Cosby is counter-suing the woman, claiming she is attempting to extort money from him.

In recent weeks, 20 other women have come forward to accuse Cosby of sexual assault—charges that began to surface a decade ago when the former director of operations for Temple's women's basketball team sued him for drugging her and assaulting her in 2004.

The comedian has not been criminally charged, and many of the claims are so old, they are barred by statutes of limitations.

Cosby is big supporter of Temple, his alma mater. But on Dec.1, he resigned from the university’s board of trustees following pressure to do so.

How sad. Cosby was rich enough, successful enough to make a difference at his school. He often attended basketball games, wore school garb. He’s proud to be a Temple Owl. But ultimately he was forced to walk away under a shroud of controversy.

It’s interesting to read Cosby’s comments of a decade ago given the events of the past month.


“No longer is a person embarrassed because they're pregnant without a husband. No longer is a boy considered an embarrassment if he tries to run away from being the father of the unmarried child,” Cosby said in 2004.

He talked about the lack of parenting in the old neighborhoods and chided today’s parents for being unaware of their children’s whereabouts.

“I'm talking about these people who cry when their son is standing there in an orange suit. Where were you when he was two? Where were you when he was twelve? Where were you when he was eighteen, and how come you don't know he had a pistol? And where is his father, and why don't you know where he is? And why doesn't the father show up to talk to this boy?”

He was right, of course. And his words still ring true today. And at a time when racial unrest dominates the news following hostilities in Ferguson, Mo., Cosby might have had something to lend to the debate.

Not now, though, and that’s a shame.

Well-known attorney Martin D. Singer has dismissed the allegations, labeling them "unsubstantiated, fantastical stories.”

He added that “it makes no sense that not one of these new women who just came forward for the first time now ever asserted a legal claim back at the time they allege they had been sexually assaulted.”

It’s possible, I suppose, for all of the allegations to be false. But a Nov. 19 article in the The Atlantic magazine appropriately addressed that issue.


“It is not unheard of for celebrities to be targeted for false allegations. The Cosby case is different, though, in its sheer volume and lack of ulterior motive—no civil suit, no criminal charges,” the story said.

“A defense of Cosby requires that one believe that several women have decided to publicly accuse one of the most powerful men in recent Hollywood history of a crime they have no hope of seeing prosecuted, and for which they are seeking no damages. The alternative is to see one of the most celebrated public fathers of our time, and one of the great public scourges of black morality, revealed as a serial rapist.”


That’s the tough part for those who admire Cosby, who viewed as a thoughtful man, a thinking man—not just an entertainer.


So often, we shrug our shoulders and offer a collective, “What did you expect” when a millionaire athlete, rapper, rock star, Hollywood starlet, destroys their career as a result of drugs, criminal acts, domestic issues and so on.


But this is Cosby. America’s dad. Jell-O Pudding. It’s a sad state of affairs.




Remembering Jane Byrne - This fighting mayor sure packed a punch

  • Written by Ray Hanania

Hanania-GrapevineI was fortunate my first assignment to cover Chicago City Hall in 1978 occurred at the same time that Jane M. Byrne, the former Chicago commissioner of Consumer Services announced her candidacy for mayor against Mayor Mike Bilandic and the Chicago machine.
Byrne, who died Friday, looked to be a longshot. I have written much about her career online ( But Jane Byrne was a dynamo earning the nickname “Fighting Jane.”
Byrne was motivated to run for mayor because of revenge against the “Cabal of Evil Men” whom she identified as Ald. Ed Vrdolyak (a convicted felon), the surviving and brilliant Ed Burke, and the late representative of the Chicago mob, Ald. Fred Roti.
Vrdolyak, Burke and Roti, Byrne alleged, had corrupted Bilandic, who became mayor after the death of Richard J. Daley.
No one believed Byrne could win. Burke blew her off saying she was like is aunt. Vrdolyak scoffed. Roti just took orders. And Bilandic fumbled through one of the worst-run campaigns for election I have ever seen in 40 years of covering Chicago politics.
Bilandic’s stumbles were driven by his failure to deal with a record snowfall that hammered Chicagoland at the end of 1978 and early 1979. Instead of removing snow, Bilandic gave a sweetheart deal contract to his former deputy mayor, Ken Sain, who produced a 90-page report ($1,000 a page) that basically said when it snows, shovel it.
Bilandic continued his tumble, ordering the CTA trains to skip past black inner city stops to get white voters back to their homes. Most were suburbanites. Black commuters simmered as they watched train after trains speed past while they froze in the bitter January arctic chill.
Then, Bilandic promised to remove snow from the white neighborhoods, announcing a plan to shovel neighborhood streets urging homeowners to park their cars in local parking lots so the plows could race through. But the snowplows dumped the snow in the same parking lots, burying the parked cars.
Next, as the snow crippled O’Hare Airport and brought it to an unprecedented standstill, Bilandic and his socialite wife, Heather Morgan, stood at O’Hare Airport and accepted an award claiming that O’Hare was one of the best run airports in the country. Behind the Bilandics, as they posed for pictures, were mounds of luggage and stranded commuters who were stuck at the airport for days.
Byrne got the support of Mike Royko, whose columns gave her the 30,000 votes that helped put her over the top in the election.
After winning, the humiliated aldermen bowed, fearing the new mayor would strip them of privilege, clout and perquisites.
Byrne tapped Aldermen Bill Lipinski, Marty Oberman and John Aiello to run her administration. But the trio stumbled so badly, Byrne cut a deal with Vrdolyak to take their place.
All the reforms Byrne promised went out the window. Byrne allied herself with the same cabal that ran Bilandic’s failed administration, including the controversial housing kingpin, Charlie Swibel.
Byrne took her rage against the media focusing on me because I was from the Southwest side, “Daley Territory,” believing I was his ally. Her attacks against me were unprecedented and relentless.
The pinnacle was when her husband, Jay McMullen, threatened to punch me in the nose, pushing my career into the media stratosphere, which I loved.
Yet, I have to say with sincerity, we miss you Jane Byrne. You deserved far more respect than you received.

Ray Hanania is an award winning former Chicago City Hall reporter. Reach him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .