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Capturing memories as daughter takes flight

  • Written by Claudia Parker

Claudia-NEW

A couple of years ago, former president George HW Bush celebrated his 90th birthday skydiving. I wondered if he was itching for his birthday to become his death-day with a daring move like that. He survived! And surprisingly, many people do.

Skydiving isn’t as risky as I thought. According to the United States Parachuting Association, there are 0.005 fatalities per 1,000 jumps, which is said to be lower than automobile fatalities.

“Really,” I pondered? My wheels started turning!

“Mommy’s going to take you skydiving to celebrate your ninth birthday,” I excitedly stated to my daughter, Donae. Not only did she go skydiving for her birthday, but I managed to convince other parents to allow their children to come. No worries. The kids didn’t jump from a plane. They did their skydiving indoors at iFLY in Rosemont!

“Indoor skydiving is the simulation of true freefall conditions in a vertical wind tunnel,” says the iFLY website.

Donae’s party was comprised of 12 eager fliers. We had to arrive an hour before our scheduled flights for training. Our certified flight instructor taught everyone the proper body position for flying and hand signals we needed to understand during the flight. The velocity of the wind makes it difficult to speak, let alone hear. Sign language is a must. “Relax,” was a frequent sign I recall seeing him using. Not on me, I didn’t fly. I was too busy snapping the action. “Put the camera down. You should be doing this with us,” Don stated.

“And miss capturing the memories. You sound absurd!” I told him, “When you feast your eyes on these shots you’ll be happy I didn’t fly.”

iFLY is aware of the necessity to capture the action. They take photos and video of each flight and make them available for purchase. Our party package included complimentary videos. So all I needed to do was fire away at their windblown faces. I found myself stopping every couple of minutes to laugh hysterically at a few of their “get-me-outta-here” expressions. The kids were fine, it was her godparents that had me busting a gut.    

Everyone looked adorable in their flight gear. They looked like little fighter pilots auditioning for the sequel to the movie “Top Gun.” They wore jumpsuits, helmets and goggles. The entire flight experience was about 30 minutes. Each of them received two one-minute flights with the instructor. Then, we were escorted into the party room. iFLY supplied the party decorations, tableware, balloons, pizza, and soft drinks. All I had to do was bring the cake and the kids!

“Mom, this was the best birthday party ever,” said the groggy voice of Donae as I tucked her into bed that night. Her friends must have felt the same. I received several emails from parents expressing their appreciation. One mom wrote, “…she hasn’t stopped talking about it…” and another parent said, “Thank you for giving her an awesome experience.”

Of course I started straightaway creating a photobook. Then I produced a cinematic movie trailer with the video footage.

Oh, what fun!

Life is a precious, fragile state that can change in an instant. It should be celebrated in grand style. My girls are growing up fast and I revel in every moment where they allow me to dote over them.

Donae is respectful, kind, intelligent and friendly. She shoulders a lot of responsibility looking after her sister, Rhonda-Rene, who has special needs. On numerous occasions Donae has been asked to concede her desires for the sake of her sister. The scales don’t always tip in her favor. Yet, she handles it with maturity and tries not to internalize the lack of attention as rejection. It’s an ongoing effort for me and Don to balance the needs of both children. It’s a common challenge for many parents of children with disabilities. Thank heavens for birthdays. At least there’s one day where they each get to be the star on their own stage.

Happy Birthday, Donae! Keeping soaring high, baby girl. Mommy will always be the wind beneath you.    

For more information about iFLY, visit https://www.iflyworld.com/chicago-rosemont/

‘Hey Jude’ encore, not once, but twice

  • Written by Joe Boyle

Labor Day has passed, which is the unofficial end of summer. When I was a kid and arrived in the classroom the day after Labor Day, that meant summer was over.

Of course, we know that is not the case. Autumn actually arrives on Thursday, Sept. 22. Summer will be hanging around for another week and some of those days will be warm. The main difference this time of year is that the nights are cooler and the days are not as long.

For instance, I just enjoyed a weekend of music and I was not cooped up in a theater. My wife and I enjoyed the outdoors beginning on Friday for the last free concert in Burr Ridge. This particular concert was held because of a rainout during the summer. This allowed the band Reckless an opportunity to perform and close out the outdoor concert season.

The concerts are fun and you can bring your own food and refreshments. Food can also be purchased from a local restaurant that has a stand near the stage. Since these concerts are held on Friday nights, they are well attended. Since I have gone there on a few occasions, you begin to see some of the same people anchoring down in a specific location.

Many of these people arrive in large groups with blankets, refreshments, fruit plates and deep dish pizza. By the end of the concert, these individuals are feeling pretty good. It may have something to do with those refreshments. Reckless did not disappoint, playing a variety of music ranging from Janis Joplin, Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, Pat Benator, Bruno Mars to Fall Out Boy.

The band played nonstop for the scheduled hour and a half and went over the limit with the expected encore. They closed out with a pretty solid rendition of “Hey Jude” that had the crowd up swaying their hands back and forth.

The majority of adults and kids who attend these concerts are not even from Burr Ridge. They are mostly from Chicago, Oak Lawn, Orland Park and Tinley Park. But that figures. Residents from the city and the southwest suburbs like to have a good time.

And that leads us to the Fall on the Green festival in Oak Lawn, which was held this past weekend adjacent to the Oak Lawn Library and Oak Lawn Municipal Center. I took some photos for our paper there on Saturday afternoon. A large crowd was already beginning to gather at the Village Green and the nearby restaurants. A beer tent was also set up and included musical entertainment.

After getting a series of photos of kids playing on a variety of rides, I headed back home to prepare to come back that evening. My wife and I arrived later in the afternoon and had a meal from one of the large group of vendors under one of the tents.

After we ate, we began to look for a seat in front of the main stage in preparation to see American English, the popular Beatles tribute band that does the fest circuit during the summer. However, apparently we got there too late. The majority of the seats were already taken.

I reminded my wife that we have to leave a little earlier next year. In any event, we ventured off to the right of the stage. I have ended up in the same area near the beer tent in the past and can still hear the band well. We could see half the stage but that did not matter. I have seen American English several times.

As is always the case, we see people we know. It is good to see them because we don’t always come in contact as in the past. They are linked to another time when their kids went to school with our kids. Sometimes I run into parents whose sons played baseball with my son. That’s what is great about these local festivals. You bump into neighbors and people you have had contact with through the years.

If you have seen American English, the performance is broken up into three parts: the early Liverpool years and the songs they played when they appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show; the “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” phase where the band members are dressed in the costumes featured on the iconic album; and the end where their hair rests on their shoulders as they played songs from “Abbey Road” and “Let It Be.”

My wife and I marveled at the size of the crowd that filled the area near the stage at 95th and Cook Avenue and extended as far back as the Village Green. It is always interesting to see what songs American English will play from the vast Beatles catalogue.

Everyone was having a great time and I even managed to stroll up near the stage for the final numbers. And of course, they came back for an encore much to the delight of the crowd that ranged from the middle-aged to teens.

And what was the encore? Why “Hey Jude,” of course.

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. .

An athlete's protest stirs up mixed emotions

  • Written by Joe Boyle

I assume most of us have never met or know Colin Kaepernick, the controversial quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers.

Kaepernick has been kneeling or sitting during the playing of the national anthem before preseason games. He continues to do that as a protest of police brutality and the oppression of African Americans.

Protests at sporting events and other celebrity events is nothing new. But the cries of injustice have been more vocal than they have been in years. Teenagers, young adults and even the middle-aged have been protesting reports of aggressive police behavior directed towards minorities.

The shouts have been louder and the protests have become more frequent due to the shooting deaths of minority suspects by police. Locally, the Laquan McDonald shooting near 49th and Pulaski in Chicago has drawn national attention. The reason for the outcries is that these incidents have been recorded by police cameras and by witnesses.

Police administrators are attempting to deal with the onslaught of complaints and protests due to these recorded images that in several instances have not shown officers reacting to these incidents in the best of light.

This is an emotional issue that tugs at most of us. My father was a Chicago firefighter and I have relatives and friends who are police officers. No one has to tell me that first responders have a tough job. Police officers are often in the line of danger.

While I agree with the Blue Lives Matter movement and the neighborhood gatherings saluting the bravery and commitment of police officers, I think everyone needs to see the whole picture. For far too long, some incidents by some rogue cops have been swept under the rug. It took a security videotape several years ago to show an off-duty police officer beating a diminutive female bartender in a Chicago tavern. Without the tape, this officer would have never been prosecuted.

A police officer’s job is difficult and more dangerous than ever. For the majority of police officers who perform their jobs admirably, an overhaul in how administrators train new recruits and make more personnel more accountable to the public will eventually be best for everyone. And for critics and protestors of police, I want to remind them not to paint all of these officers with one brush. Split-second decisions have to be made during encounters with suspects. The end result is not always the best outcome. But is not always the fault of the police.

And then there is Kaepernick. He was born in 1987 in Milwaukee and was described as a biracial child. He became the adoptive son of white parents Rick and Teresa Kaepernick, also of Milwaukee. The family moved to California four years later where Kaepernick starred in baseball and football in high school.

He starred as a quarterback for University of Nevada Reno and was drafted in the second round by the San Francisco 49ers. While star quarterback Alex Smith was recovering from a series of concussions, Kaepernick’s first start was a crushing defeat of the Bears. He started in the Super Bowl in 2013 but the 49ers lost to the Baltimore Ravens. He continued to put up good numbers in 2014 but struggled in 2015. Kaepernick had a reputation of an erratic arm that negated his great running ability. This season, he is the second-string quarterback.

I’m only providing his football background because I’m not sure what advantage his current opposition against the national anthem serves him. It will not get his starting job back. Many critics, as in the case of athletes who speak out on social issues, criticize Kaepernick. He is viewed as a self-absorbed athlete that should give up his lucrative salary if he is fed up with America.

For the record, it should be pointed out that the 49ers brass support Kaepernick’s right to protest. He has his backers, including former basketball great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who said his protest was “highly patriotic.”

It should also be pointed out that Kapernick’s protest is aimed at certain police officers and not the military, which he holds in high regard.

The bottom line here is that it is Kaepernick’s constitutional right to protest. Compare this to say Michael Jordan, who only recently spoke out about police shootings. During his basketball career, Jordan rarely spoke out about anything and seemed more concerned about protecting his many business interests.

That’s not a criticism of Jordan, it’s just a fact. Sports fans and other Americans get uneasy when athletes express their opinions. Whether you agree or disagree with Kaepernick’s stand, it has people talking about an uncomfortable subject. Seattle Seahawks cornerback Jeremy Lane also sat down before the national anthem during a preseason game. Eric Reid, a safety for the 49ers, also kneeled before the playing of the national anthem during a preseason game.

But Kaepernick is the one under the microscope. I believe there are other ways Kaepernick could have made his protest. But he chose this one and that takes some courage because the overall opinions are negative. The Santa Clara police, where the 49ers play, are so angry they have threatened to boycott working the games.

Perhaps in time the opinions of Kaepernick will change. But for right now, he has made his stand and it is not a popular one.

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. .

Never take for granted your wonderful neighbors

  • Written by Claudia Parker

Claudia-NEW

the jarretts photo 9-8

 

Neal and Jessica Jarrett

 

 

Keeping up with the Joneses is an expression of comparison to one's neighbor used to figuratively measure social class or the accrual of material goods.

In this case, the Joneses are the Jarretts, as in Neal and Jessica Jarrett of Evergreen Park. They’ve lived smackdab next door to my husband, Don, and me since we moved on this block back in 2005. A local builder demolished a modest house sitting on a large lot and built two, medium sized, newly constructed homes. The Jarretts snatched one and we swiped the other.

During the time our offers were accepted, both houses were in their infancy stages of being built. Therefore, we were able to customize certain aspects. Each of us found ourselves often visiting the construction sites. With each encounter, we’d discover more about one another.

I said to Don, “What’s the likelihood we have this much in common? Neal and Jessica’s birthdays are the same month as mine, our wedding anniversaries are one day apart, and they dated four years prior to marriage -- just like us!”

Similarities began to manifest in our home selections as well. Once we moved in – them in September of 2005 and us on December -- I noticed we even had parallels in décor. I honestly couldn’t distinguish if we were influencing each other’s purchases or if we were just that much alike?

After living next door a few years, our differences became quite obvious. For starters, no matter how hard we tried, our lawn wasn’t ever quite as nice as theirs. “Don, Honey, did you try that new fertilizer we discussed?” While gazing out an upstairs bedroom window I whined, “Neal and Jessica’s grass just looks so much greener.”

Have you heard the saying, ‘this house doesn’t look lived in?” as in, it’s so clean and beautifully arranged people couldn’t possibly dwell there? Yeah, that’s the Jarretts' house. And, when anything within their home needed to be repaired, you didn’t witness a handyman pulling into their driveway. Neal, a licensed tradesman, could fix anything. When things malfunctioned in our home my frequent statement was, “Babe, can you call Neal?”

Never mind keeping up with the Jarretts, sometime you have to recognize when a person’s skill set or abilities supersede yours. Instead of competing with them, employ them!

I can’t recall one instance Neal didn’t come when Don and I needed him, except last November. Don had had a medical procedure that required him to stay in the hospital a few days. I wanted to surprise him by taking a few ‘honey-do-list’ items off his plate. Having just returned home from visiting Don, I saw Jessica pulling into her driveway simultaneously. Because of our sisterly friendship I knew she didn't mind me asking Neal for favors. But out of respect I’d never asked him directly. I found it more appropriate to go through her. “Hey Jess, do you think Neal might be able to come by and do a few things for us," I asked? "Don’s in the hospital.”

   I didn’t expect her response.

   “Sorry to hear that, but Neal is in the hospital also,” she replied. As generous at heart as she is, she followed with, “What kind of work is it? Maybe you and I can do it?”

There was no chance of that, I know my gifts and carpentry isn’t one of them.

Jessica and I spent the next several minutes going on about our husband’s ailments, finding yet another commonalty in life’s journey. Neal’s recovery didn’t go as expected. He's spent the last several months being checked in and out of hospitals -- fighting valiantly for his life. Tragically, on Tuesday, Aug. 30 at 2:30 p.m., he surrendered this life and transitioned to the next.

Neal was 49 years old and leaves to cherish his wife Jessica of 16 years; four children, Brandon, 25; Myrisha, 25; Shannon, 21; and Jasmine, 15. He also has a 4-year-old grandbaby named Mariah, who called him, ‘Papa’.

Over the previous 11 years I’ve watched the Jarretts work hard for what they have, give generously to those in need and go out of their way to help others. I’ve admired their playful love for one another and the dedication they’ve put into parenting their children and even children they didn’t birth. I’ve been there during birthdays, proms and graduation celebrations. And I’ve been there when they’ve mourned loved ones who’ve gone before them. First we were neighbors, then we became friends, now we’re family.

Please keep the entire Jarrett family in your prayers during this difficult time. And, allow me to encourage you to do something kind for your neighbor today. It could be the last time you see them.    

Labor Day images change like the weather

  • Written by Joe Boyle

Some random thoughts went through my mind as we quickly approach Labor Day. The first obvious thought was that I would have the day off. Of course, there could be a breaking news story somewhere or some photos may need to be taken. You are never really off in this business.

I can’t say that I have any special feeling when Labor Day approaches. When I was young, I knew it was my last day of summer vacation. I shared those depressing thoughts in last week’s column. By Labor Day, I grew to accept the fact that school was on the horizon. The next day was kind of exciting in that you were eager to see who was in your class.

You have an opportunity to meet up with some friends that you have not seen in a while. On the other hand, you might be in a class with your close friends. That meant you had someone to goof off with for the next coming year. That made school more palatable for me.

Besides school, no specific memories come to mind about Labor Day. As we get older we realize the importance of Labor Day as we recognize and salute the American worker. I think I’m more aware today how important that is as opposed to when I was young.

Parades may be occurring in certain suburbs and communities in Chicago as residents are reminded that we should honor the American workforce. Labor Day also represents the unofficial end of summer. When I entered my classroom for the first day of school, in my mind summer was over. Actually, summer continues until the middle of September. The first day of fall this year is Thursday, Sept. 22.

So, we actually have many summer days ahead. But on Labor Day, we feel the tug of autumn. That’s why some of us have friends or relatives come over for the last summer bash. That is why we set up the grill one more time. Brats, hamburgers and chicken sounds good on Labor Day.

Speaking about football doesn’t seem early anymore. The high school football season already began this past weekend. Reports on the Chicago Bulls and Chicago Blackhawks will soon be appearing on TV. And if you step into some stores now, you will begin to see some shelves stocked with more candy. Halloween is no longer a day, it is a season. TV and print ads will have specials on candy and costumes, if they haven’t already.

With the arrival of September and Labor Day, the major league baseball season is coming to a close. In Chicago, September usually meant the season was over because both the Cubs and White Sox were well out of contention.

Not this year. Even after losing a weekend series to the Dodgers, the Cubs were 82-48 on Tuesday with a 13-game lead over their closest rivals in the National League Central, the St. Louis Cardinals. Even though some cracks have appeared in the Cub armor, they will win the division title and should be a force in the NL playoffs.

The White Sox, at any rate, guaranteed or not, are mediocre. They are not terrible, but they are also not that good. They took three out of four from Seattle this past weekend but lost a 4-3 heartbreaker to Detroit on Monday. They were 63-67 as of Tuesday and in fourth place in the American League Central. Injuries and a lack of a consistent offensive derailed the Sox.

One more thing used to remind me of Labor Day. For many years, the Jerry Lewis Telethon would be televised beginning on Sunday and through most of Labor Day. It was covered by stations throughout the country and was shown locally on WGN-TV (Channel 9). It was for a great cause, raising money for research to find cures for adults and children who have muscular dystrophy.

I would watch portions of the show from the 1970s through the early 2000s. Where else can you see Norm Crosby, Ann Miller, Joey Heatherton, Lola Falana and even once Dean Martin? Heck, even John Lennon and Yoko Ono appeared and sang on the telethon.

But times change. The organizers managed to steer Lewis away from the telethon a few years ago. And due to social media, websites, fundraisers and other events, the telethon is a thing of the past. They can raise more money by not filling up air time and save on costs.

Labor Day has changed in that regard. I say enjoy your day off and get the grill ready.

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. .