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Time is right for opening door to new possibilities

  • Written by Claudia Parker

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Photo by Claudia Parker

Claudia Parker is retiring as a columnist so she can pursue other projects, like this recent assignment taking photos of a 2017 graduate.

 

“When one door closes, another one opens…”

--Alexander Graham Bell

Cheers to new beginnings!

Last Saturday, I shot senior portraits for a 2017 graduate who said, “Do whatever you want,” she shrugged. “You’re the photographer, I trust you.”

My mind looped with endless possibilities. “I’ve got this,” I told her. “Let’s try something fun!” I then proceeded to direct her to pose in four unique ways holding a picture frame. We were shooting in, The Park, in front of the barn in Evergreen Park at 91st and California.

She wasn’t sure why she was holding a blank frame or even why I kept yelling, “OK, now switch poses and move to your right,” after each shot. Gratification came once she saw the finished product. Using Photoshop I had taken four photos and merged them into one composite. The frame she had held with each pose was no longer blank, there was a different number on each that read 2-0-1-7, with her name horizontally spread across the entire photo, boasting of her class of 2017 accomplishment.

“This is so cool, I love it,” she gushed.

If there were four of me, I’d be able to continue this career as a correspondent, columnist, freelance photographer and director of communications/district photographer for Evergreen Park Elementary School District 124.

But, there’s only one me!

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I can no longer be all things to all people. Therefore, I’ve decided to remove a few items from the plate to make room for a fresh entrée. I’ve planted good seed, watched it grow and now it’s time to eat from the fruit of my labor.

Especially since I have a husband, two small children, and investment real estate properties to manage.

We can’t benefit from a garden we’ve planted if we never stop planting to pick the fruit. Being deliberate about when to plant and when to prune is what keeps a garden/life organized.

With that said, I’ve resigned from District 124 effective June 2 and I’ve also decided to turn my keys in on I, Claudia. This is my last submission.  

The Reporter opened its doors to me as a correspondent in August of 2013, becoming the automated opener to working in School District 124, two years later in August of 2015.

Both The Reporter and D124 have helped me grow tremendously as a journalist and photographer. Not to mention my savvy public relations abilities, which was acknowledged with an Award of Excellence presented by the Illinois Public Relations Association in 2016 with a Distinguish Service Award.

My first editor here at The Reporter, Jeff Vorva, graciously trained me up to where I needed to be. When he transitioned into sports editor a couple of years ago, I was full of anxiety. “Oh my God, what if the ‘new guy’ doesn’t appreciate my work like you?”

“You’re going to be fine,” said Vorva reassuringly. “Joe’s a great guy.”

Vorva was right. Joe Boyle has been a wonderful editor to work with. I’ve enjoyed him, his feedback is balanced and always constructive. Most of the time he’s complimentary, which always leaves my heart full with gratitude. I’ve doubted myself many times. “Is this mic on? Am I even making a dent of difference with this platform?”

That’s the tricky part in life. Sometimes our work can produce an immediate positive result, but that’s not typical. Most of the time we have to dig. At times it can feel as though we’ve been digging with no end in sight for the well we’re seeking to sustain us. It doesn’t mean it isn’t there, or that it isn’t close, it just might mean we need to reposition ourselves.

That’s what I’m doing, repositioning!

In the film, “The Social Network,” there’s a scene where Larry Summers, the Harvard president, agrees to hear the complaints of the Winklevoss twin brothers, who want Mark Zuckerberg, the creator of Facebook, punished by the university for allegedly stealing their idea for the social media network. Mr. Summers refuses to entertain their grievance. In fact, what he told them stained me like grape juice on a white shirt.

“Harvard undergraduates believe that inventing a job is better than finding a job,” rebuked Summers. “I suggest the two of you come up with a new project.”

That’s exactly what I intend to do.

It’s time I put that St. Xavier MBA degree to use and try my hand at entrepreneurship. You may not see me every second and fourth Thursday, or toting my camera bag about D124, but I’ll be around the community — lurking for a subject to shoot through the lens of my Nikon.

Thank you for being receptive to my work. If you weren’t I’m sure I would have received my walking papers by now. I’ve managed to keep a byline for four years and your loyalty means a lot to me. I value each one of you.

Each time you’ve reached out through email or recognized me within the community, I’m always thrilled to learn how something I’ve written has touched you in a positive way. I pray that this last entry will evoke you to make a change in your own life. Does it really require a school roster for us to be reminded we’re meant to be progressive people?

Let’s not let the Class of 2017 leave without us. Opportunities are plentiful, so let’s venture out to find them with Godspeed.

Claudia Parker is an author, photographer and a reporter. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Death came knocking, but ‘Chit Chat’ girls refused to answer

  • Written by Claudia Parker

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Nancy Knapp Horn and Penny Graham Weaver, of Middletown, Ohio, describe themselves as two crazy girls with lots of good, clean, fun ideas. They’re not just girlfriends, they’re sisters.

“I married her brother, Jerry, when I was 17 years old,” explained Nancy. “Eleven days before my 18th birthday.”

This year they are celebrating 53 years of marriage!

Nancy’s the sister-in-law that Penny refers to as her “sister-in-love.” The bond they have exceeds family ties. They are co-owners of a stationery business called Chit Chat Cards. They cut, punch, glue, stamp, glitter, glam, fold, stick, stuff, laugh, cry, and chit chat! They chuckled while reminiscing about their first time creating cards.

“I was in a bad mood that day,” giggled Nancy. “I didn’t even want to touch the cards.”

Fans of their friend Brenda’s handmade Christmas cards, they invited her over to Penny’s for a tutorial. However, Nancy’s mood was soured by a stressful encounter previous to her arrival to Penny’s house. With a little persuasion, she released the negative disposition and reached for the crafts covering Penny’s kitchen table.

Like a therapeutic medicine, Nancy and Penny discovered creating cards helped them decompress. That was the inception of their pursuit to indulge in a hobby that eventually developed into a business. But first, they would have to evade a dance with death.

  It was 2012 when Penny’s persistent cough and Nancy’s stubborn acid reflux led them both to see their primary care doctors.

“My doctor stuck a tube down my throat to see what was going on,” said Nancy. “I had to return to his office for a routine colonoscopy a week later and that’s when I got the results from my throat exam.”

Ray Phillips is the senior pastor of Stratford Heights Church of God (COG) in Middletown.

“My church secretary called my cellphone saying, ‘Nancy’s been diagnosed with cancer of the esophagus. She’s with her family, they need to see you, where are you?’” Pastor Ray said as he was driving. He responded by saying, ‘I’ll go to them, where are they?’”

“I couldn’t bring myself to go home so we went to a nearby restaurant,” explained Nancy.

“Bob Evans, if I remember correctly,” stated Pastor Ray. “On my drive over to them, I prayed for God to give me His words to encourage them. I’ve been on staff at Stratford Heights COG 28 years, 10 as senior pastor. It’s not my desire to give false hope. I marry people and I also bury them. As Christians, our ultimate goal is to enter heaven’s gates to be with God. I don’t wish to pray people out of where they’re meant to be.”

Stratford Heights isn’t a modest congregation. They have 1,300 members on their roster. If you're impressed by Pastor Ray’s reaction to zip over to Bob Evans, what happened next might really get you pumped.

“After praying, God gave me a peace that surpasses all understanding. That peace, which isn’t felt in all situations, was my confirmation that Nancy was going to live and not die,” expressed Pastor Ray. “I told Nancy that I had heard from the Lord and from that day forward we stood on His promise for her healing.”

Nancy said Stratford Heights COG is connected to a prayer chain that reaches churches all over the United States.

“Everyone was praying for me,” said Nancy. Three weeks later she saw a specialist in Beavercreek, Ohio.

“I received healing without ever being medically treated, a CAT scan confirmed me cancer-free,” Nancy said.

That's a healing miracle worthy of great celebration!

Penny’s situation was much different. She had to endure three years before receiving her healing. That persistent cough yielded a gamut of trial and error treatments for a respiratory disease that Penny said is considered incurable.

“It’s an auto-immune disorder that causes chronic hives. My prednisone treatments caused blurred vision, and sleep deprivation. I was on several inhalers and allergy medicines that left me unable to be in the sun. I used an umbrella every time I went outdoors. When I’d have a breakout, itchy whelps covered me from my neck to my ankles. I was hospitalized for hives twice - 11 days each.”

 Penny’s failing health left her unable to maintain responsibilities as president of the ladies group at Stratford Heights COG, and office manager of the medical office that employed her, a career she said she loved.

With mounting medical bills, she and husband of 36 years, Duane, decided to sell that little red Mercedes and their custom-built home with an in-ground pool they’d only lived in for three years. Penny said she was overwhelmed by her physical condition and uncontrollable life changes.

“I didn’t handle it well. I slipped into a deep depression and became suicidal,” she said calmly.

Her contemplations may have been many, but one night in particular, Nancy sensed real trouble and showed up on her doorstep.

“She crawled into bed with me and began to speak life over me,” explained Penny. “She spent the night that night.”

Nancy’s healing came through prayer, but Penny’s came through giving. From the depths of their anguish Penny and Nancy began to pour themselves out and into others with a little chit chat while creating cards.

“We’d make cards and give them away to people we knew and they started asking for more, in bulk,” exclaimed Nancy.

There’s even a high-end boutique called Kathryn’s Home Accents with locations in Cincinnati and Lebanon, Ohio that are beginning to carry Chit Chat Cards exclusively.

    

“When we sit down to create a card, it's all about envisioning someone with a beautiful, funny, sad, happy piece of our heart in a one of a kind card,” said Penny.

 

“We want our customers to know someone put their own love, laughter, and tears into making the card they’re sending,” elaborated Nancy. “Chit Chat Cards are crafted by two creative hearts.”

More information can be found at www.ChitChatCards.Net 

Sometimes God requires us to give what we need before it’s released into our own lives. Penny was depressed, yet she found joy by encouraging others. I hope this story will inspire you to explore ways to plant the harvest you wish to eat from.

Claudia Parker is an author, photographer and a reporter. Her columns appear every second and fourth Thursday of each month. She can be reached at  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Family crisis allows my daughter to preach kindness and love for her sister

  • Written by Claudia Parker

 

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Photo by Claudia Parker

Donae Parker poses for a recent photo to be used in a program booklet at an upcoming conference where she is speaking.

 

Through teary eyes, I witnessed my 9-year-old daughter, Donae, deliver a 12-minute sermon on faith during a youth service held this Sunday at Roberts Temple Church of God, 4021 S. State, Chicago. Her message was personal, at times lighthearted, while other times heartfelt. She ended with a petition for the audience to have faith by inviting her baby sister, Rhonda-Rene, before them so the duet could recite the closing words of “Have faith. Have faith!”

I was overcome with emotion watching both of my daughters excitingly sharing a message of faith with a room full of people who rejoiced in the Lord for having witnessed a third-grader this bold and confident for Christ.

“How did you train her to do that?” That is the question my husband, Don, and I are bombarded with everywhere she speaks. I’d love to take the credit for having raised a preschool pastor, but it actually came about as a result of a family crisis.    

Donae had longed for a sibling. When I brought Rhonda-Rene home from the hospital I couldn’t peel her away from the kid. Donae smothered her like gravy over a biscuit. It was only a short time before I detected Rhonda-Rene wasn’t developing in a typical fashion. My intuition led to a plethora of specialists’ revealing a diagnosis of a lifelong disability. A mutation in her FOXP1 gene was discovered and it comes with a variety of characteristics that mimic autism. While Don and I tried desperately to figure out how to handle our “new normal” conversing with doctors, therapists and social workers, Donae was often asked to take a seat and keep quiet. None of us could comprehend how this could be meant for our good.

For Donae, especially!

Not only was Donae unable to interact with Rhonda-Rene in the manner she had hoped, she had also lost the attention she was used to receiving from me and Don. That’s about the time we met her imaginary friend in the mirror. That was pretty harmless, but the heart palpitations and other health-related complaints that kept us running back and forth to the pediatrician weren’t. In each instance, a placebo prescription seemed to solve the problem, until the next one.

After praying about how to handle both of my children’s needs appropriately, God gave me a dream that manifested the idea for my children’s book titled, “Children’s Church with a Preschool Pastor.” Seeing as how Donae was 3 and a preschooler herself, I ran the concept by her. “What do you think of a children’s book that portrays kids handling all the affairs of a ministry while educating them on the days of the week and numbers 1-10,” I asked her?

I suppose you can say she was my consultant. She felt the idea was superb, ‘if’ she could be the pastor. I acquiesced and made the preschool pastor character in my book after her. But, I later learned she meant she wanted me to help her become a real pastor.

Hmmm. That took a little more thought but after watching a few episodes of Joel Osteen, Bishop T.D. Jakes and Joyce Meyer deliver their sermons over the Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN), we were ready.

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At the age of 4, Donae was able to enthusiastically memorize several scriptures that were organized into a four-minute message. After gathering all of her baby dolls, Barbies and stuffed animals we had ourselves a congregation. Just in case someone wanted to give their life to Christ, Rhonda-Rene’s baby bathtub sufficed for a baptism. All of this was recorded and posted on YouTube. To date, Donae’s Children’s Church with a Preschool Pastor sermon has been viewed over 160,000 times. Here’s the link: https://youtu.be/s58tZgvM6I8

Since her first sermon five years ago, Donae has been invited to speak at various churches and organizations. Her mini-messages of faith have resonated with congregations so much that she’s often invited back several times to the same location.

However, Sunday was uniquely special because it’s the first time Donae has ever invited Rhonda-Rene to come up with her. It wasn’t even possible before now because Rhonda-Rene wasn’t able to speak at all. She would cause such a disruption babbling, we would usually schedule a respite worker to keep her during Donae’s speaking engagements.

Words cannot describe how far our family has come.

God found a way to give Donae the attention she was seeking in a way that glorifies Him and is encouraging to others. Because she’s such an articulate communicator, she's helped Rhonda-Rene to approximate words and produce language doctors were uncertain she’d ever be able to form. Bit by bit we have embraced the journey of having a special needs child, and we now see the gifts that we’ve all been given as a result.

All things are truly working together for our good. To view Donae’s most recent sermon on faith, visit https://youtu.be/9fQEcszZv7k

Claudia Parker is an author, photographer and a reporter. Her columns appear every second and fourth Thursday of each month. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

Memories of tornado are still clear 50 years later

  • Written by Joe Boyle

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I can’t recall specifically the events that led up to the devastating tornado that ripped through Oak Lawn and portions of Evergreen Park and Hometown on April 21, 1967.

It was raining hard late that afternoon. I can recall hail and the branches on large trees bending back and forth. I imagine there were some large branches that were on the street that neighbors pushed to the front lawns of homes in the Washington Heights neighborhood where I lived in Chicago.

But I remember other large storms in the 1960s where the tree branches bent back and forth, followed by hail and thunder.

I did not live in Oak Lawn, Evergreen Park or Hometown at the time. It was earlier that evening that I learned that a tornado hit these communities, with Oak Lawn suffering the most damage. My father was a Chicago firefighter and he often worked side jobs on his days off. He was working on the city’s Southeast Side. He recalled seeing in the distance a small funnel touching up and down in the distance while he was waiting at a stoplight. Some debris was flying in the air.

He recalled that it seemed to vanish. The accounts I heard about the tornado was that the winds began to die down as the twister approached the lake. My father was not far from Lake Michigan and essentially saw the final phase of the tornado.

But the survivors of that tornado that ravaged through the southwest suburbs 50 years ago on Friday have a different story. The most repeated comments I’ve heard was that it sounded like a roaring train that grew louder and louder. Many mentioned that the sky had a green-blue look to it, followed quickly by black clouds and hail.

Oak Lawn resident Mary Lou Harker, who has been active in several organizations in the community and has served as a historian, recalls that it was strangely silent. She mentioned that the birds quit singing and seemingly disappeared. Like many other witnesses, she recalls the dark clouds rolling in and the hail.

Harker and her family survived the F4 tornado with winds estimated at about 200 miles per hour. But other residents were not so fortunate. Eighteen people died at the corner of 95th Street and Southwest Highway adjacent to Oak Lawn Community High School. Some of the vehicles that were waiting at the stoplight were tossed in the air, some of which slammed into the pedestrian overpass.

The end result was that 33 people were killed in Oak Lawn alone. The tornado also touched down in Belvidere, a town 65 miles northwest of Chicago, and some northwest suburbs. Over 500 people were injured in Oak Lawn and over 1,000 overall. The tornado touched down in the village at 5:24 p.m.

Students who were at Oak Lawn High School for after-school activities and sports programs came out after the tornado ripped through the area to assist the search for survivors and clean up debris. Buildings in that area that were either completely destroyed or sustained heavy damage were Oak Lawn Community High School’s south end, Shoot’s Lynwood Lounge, Fisher’s Motel, the Fairway Super Mart, Sherwood Forest Restaurant and two gas stations.

The one image that stands out in the minds of residents was the Suburban Transit Company at 95th and Menard. Buses were actually piled on other buses and vehicles.

The tornado damaged St. Gerald School and then raced to near 91st and Cicero and virtually destroyed the Airway Trailer Park and the Oak Lawn Roller Rink. I had heard about the roller rink because some kids I knew planned to go the popular location that day but didn’t.

The strange aspect of the tornado is that it snowed a couple of days later. Firefighters, public works employees and volunteers covered homes in which the roofs were torn off because of the tornado.

I recall going with my father several days later to view the carnage along 95th Street. Not being that familiar with the area at the time, I just looked at the piles of bricks and leveled buildings. Flattened vehicles were still a common sight several days later. The area near 95th Street and Southwest Highway resembled a war zone.

John Brodemus was 17 at the time and a senior at Oak Lawn High School. He was one of the survivors but was stunned looking at the destruction later. He saw the buses on top of other buses at the Suburban Transit Company, and that still stands out in his mind. A former science teacher at Oak Lawn High and Richards high schools, he is now retired and lives in Oswego.

But what happened on that day is still permanently etched in his memories.

“When you have days that can be sunny with high humidity, I become leery of days like that,” Brodemus said. “About 90 percent of tornadoes are preceded by hail. If you are hearing train-like sounds, you need to take immediate shelter.”

Joe Boyle is the editor of The Reporter. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Warm weather arrives, to be followed by unpredictable weather

  • Written by Janet Boudreau

By now we've had some great days of sun and warmish weather, but if you know Chicago, it's all a big tease. I can't tell you how many times I've looked out at bright blue skies and the tulips waving in the breeze, a sure sign I can toss on a light jacket and head on out.

But once you get going you find that gentle wind is actually a sharp bite in the face, and the warmth of the sunbeams, a big chill when the clouds pass overhead. Mother Nature can be very devious.

I've heard jokes, maybe you as well, that Chicagoans are known to don shorts on the first warm day in March and wash their cars in their driveways. Come the first cool day in September, out come the fashionable boots, sweaters and scarves. Are we rushing things? Are we tired and bored and always ready to hang up our hats on winter (or summer, etc)?

As a longtime lifestyle blogger I have friends, or blog followers, from all over the world. I've found that talking about the weather is universal, not just over the water cooler here in the U.S.

This has really helped me hone my skills in geography and climates. I might be chatting online with a blog friend in Australia, who is heading to the beach while I'm tossing another log on the fire. Another friend in Utah constantly throws me off when in March she tells me she planted flowers just a few days after a terrible freeze and 75 mph winds from across the canyons.

But I digress. There are unfortunate souls who live in areas where the weather is relatively the same throughout the year. A blogger I know who is a life-long Floridian is completely baffled that I have to pack and unpack clothes on a seasonal basis (no walk-in closet here).

Apparently, she simply tosses on her sweater when it's chilly. Another friend in southern California said to me that she had always thought Chicago was windy and cold year-round.

What? Have these people never been to our beautiful city and had the joy of spending the day at Oak StreetBeach? A bike ride along Lake Shore Drive? A picnic in Millennium Park? I guess they have just narrowed their image of Chicago down to those scenes on the nightly news of people swaying sideways in the wind with their umbrellas inside out.

But I have to be humble and admit that when my friend in Sydney is enjoying her summer and taking off for the beach in December, I wondered when the heck they celebrate Christmas.

So, to answer my question about the possibility that we might be bored with our seasons and want to rush into the next, I think it may run deeper than that. We are a hearty bunch.

Just as we have many perfect mellow days throughout the year that make us give thanks that we are alive, we also have the down and dirty, the days that test our abilities anywhere from hopping over mud puddles, to digging our car out of a snow pile. We roll with it.

And when we are dusting off those sandals at the first real sign of summer, or pulling out our Northface boots in the winter, we're looking forward. It's anticipation, not dread. Because we know this season will flow into the next and that's pretty much how life works.

Janet Boudreau is a writer, blogger and longtime resident of Evergreen Park. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .