CFD Battalion Chief Linda Parsons retires

Before retiring from the Chicago Fire Department last month, Battalion Chief Linda Parsons supervised four fire stations, including Engine Co. 13 at 259 N. Columbus Dr.

In the course of her 30-year career, she had entered blazing tenements, crawled through smoky rooms, and fought hundreds of fires. But the most frightening experience she can recall took place in the safe and flameless confines of Engine Co. 1 on 419 S. Wells St.


Battalion Chief Parsons’ retirement party at Engine Co. 13. Photo: Daniel Patton.

“One of the scariest days of my life was walking into the fire station for the first day of work,” she remembers. “I thought, ‘they are not gonna be happy to see me because I’m a woman.’ I was scared.”

She had a point. Although she had performed “very well” during the entrance exam a year earlier, she had heard nothing since then, except for the voice in her head that kept reminding her, “they’re never gonna call.”

Over the next three decades, Ms. Parsons would achieve the highest rank in the CFD’s Fire Suppression and Rescue Division. Besides the station on Columbus Dr., she also supervised the one that had scared her on her first day of the job.

“It ended up being a wonderful career for me,” she says.

She applied to the CFD in 1986, after a relative suggested that she take the Fire Department’s entrance exam. At the time, she was studying at the Illinois Institute of Technology and lifeguarding at 63rd St Beach. She figured it would be an interesting experience, but probably not much more.

“I was in college,” she remembers, “but I did not have a vision for myself.”

During the exam, they treated her no differently than any other applicant. “Like a ‘next-in-line,’” she says. Afterwards, she continued on with her life. “Something in my head said, ‘okay, that’s done.’”

But Linda Parsons never forgot the way that her relative had described a career with the fire department — “it’s a great job, if you’re interested.” She believed that the words were true because the one who had encouraged her was her aunt, Lauren Howard, the first female fire fighter ever hired by the city of Chicago.


CFD Battalion Chief Linda Parsons. Photo: Daniel Patton.

When the department called and offered her the position a year later, she thought “Oh My God!” and said yes.

She dealt with the fear of her first day like a pro. “I pretended all is well and I reported for duty and I walked in and they were pretty darn decent to me,” she says. “Before long, I was one of the team.”

Although it turned out that her initial fears were genuine, they had nothing to do with her gender.

“Anybody who walks in, they’re skeptical of until you prove that you’re not lazy and you’re ready to do whatever is called upon you to do.” she says. “If you show up and work hard and you do your job and you’re friendly, it’s gonna go fine.”

She also learned that she was a good fit for the job. “I had been a lifeguard for five summers and I was always involved in sports, so it came naturally to be a fire fighter,” she explains. “Five of us get on the engine or the truck and we work together and it’s physically demanding.”

She went out on a lot of alarms at Engine Co. 1, which mostly serves downtown Chicago, but she saw very few fires. That changed when she moved to a different station further south. “I got a pretty darn good amount of fire experience,” she says.

Over the next several years, Ms. Parsons was promoted to Lieutenant and then Captain of a station on the north side. Along the way, she made one of the most important discoveries of her career: she really enjoys fighting fires.

“It’s exciting to crawl through a completely smoky house with your air tank on and find the fire,” she says. “You just follow the heat. You feel the heat, yeah, and go further, closer, to where you sense the heat. There’s a glow and you’re like ‘it’s over here!’”

As Battalion Chief, a rank she attained about four years ago, she missed the hands-on excitement of fire fighting, but still considered herself part of the team.

“Although I am in charge, I have always had respect for other opinions on things,” she explains. “They’ll be investigating inside and relay information to me.”


Battalion Chief Linda Parsons with her daughter Lillian and husband Dave. Photo: Daniel Patton.

Chief Parsons lives on the north side of Chicago with her husband, Dave, and her eleven year-old daughter, Lillian. Besides spending more time with them, she plans to volunteer at Animal Care & Control, an animal shelter on Western Ave.

She remains a big proponent of women in the fire department, especially those who are willing to “work hard, to sweat, and, you know, get dirty.” But she is also quick to point out that the world has changed since she joined the department.

“There’s a more modern mindset where this younger generation is used to women in non-traditional jobs,” she says.

“Younger generation,” she repeats. “It’s weird for me to say that, weird for me just to think all of a sudden my whole career is winding down. But I don’t feel that old.”

Daniel Patton | Staff Writer

Fanatiks Crew thrills with talent, strength and humor

Shameer, Solo, and Aaron — the charismatic native Chicagoans of the Fanatiks Crew — dazzle crowds with high-flying acrobatics, colorful humor, and impeccable showmanship on Michigan Avenue nearly every day of the week.

Accompanied by a drum-n-bass track in front of the Wrigley Building, their performances generally begin with a standup routine that pokes fun at racial stereotypes while generating enthusiasm for the physical feats to come.

“When the beat drops, everybody must clap, rhythm or no rhythm,” Aaron informs the audience. “So white people, follow the black person next to you.”

As the crowds swell from dozens to hundreds, the Crew begins mixing aerial somersaults and acrobatic leaps with requests for donations.


Shameer, Solo, and Aaron. (Photo by Daniel Patton.)

The banter transforms into a call and response that keeps the audience laughing with contagious spontaneity. But, as Aaron explains, it’s all part of a well-rehearsed act.

“We have a script,” he says. “We use trigger words when we perform live.”

The humor is designed to underscore the Crew’s optimistic philosophy.

“We represent H.I.P.H.O.P.” he continues. “Healthy independent people helping other people.”

Aaron is a former Jesse White Tumbler who founded the Fanatics Crew a decade ago. He met Solo and Shameer through connections in the athletic, dance, and tumbling communities.

“I saw him street performing when he was sixteen,” says Solo, a former high school basketball and football player who wrestled for Iowa State. “It was the coolest thing ever.” Solo was the one who introduced Aaron to Shameer.

Shameer had been a dancer for 13 years when he learned the side freeze — “a plank where you hold yourself up with one hand” — and decided to add his groovy gymnastic finesse to the Crew.

“We were breakin’ and started doing shows and it just worked a lot better,” he says.

For the grand finale, Aaron leaps over six audience volunteers while completing a full sidways rotation in mid-air.

The feat not only lives up to the hype that precedes it, but also proves that the members of the Fanatiks Crew practice what they preach.

The entire performance is peppered with declarations about the trio’s commitment to hard work. Though they are taken seriously, the boasts never distract from the entertainment.

“We’re about fun and having a good time,” says Shameer.

Daniel Patton | Staff Writer

Artist Jani Bodell brings New Eastside to life on canvas

In 1996, Jani Bodell chose not to purchase a “really cool” poster because she and her husband were about to spend a lot of money remodeling their home in the Western Suburbs. The decision helped launch her artistic career.

“It was, like, a Toulouse Lautrec,” she remembers. “I thought, you know, it can’t be that difficult to reproduce.”

Today, she paints originals, re-creations and a variety of portraits — including dogs as well as people — from her New Eastside home. The work is sold online and in galleries throughout Greater Chicago.

Wielding a technique that she had developed with the help of her mother — an artist who taught semiprivate art classes in the family’s Chicago Heights home — Ms. Bodell not only made a striking re-creation of the Lautrec poster, but she also began selling similar works in a River North gallery.


“Hanging Out” by Jani Bodell

“A friend told me about this place called Penny & Gentle in the Merchandise Mart,” she explains. “They had artists who would reproduce Picassos, Rembrandts, whatever. The first one I sold was Lautrec’s Ambassador.”

It wasn’t long before she developed her own clientele.

“A friend of a friend approached me and said, ‘I’d really like you to do a Mary Cosset of two little blonde girls on a beach.’” Ms. Bodell explains. “She said, ‘Just make the girls dark-haired.’ It turned out great.”

Over the next several years, her commissions grew to include paintings of people’s homes and traditional landscapes of the French countryside. Many of them were completed for Pour La Maison, a gallery in Naperville.

Her repertoire grew during the same time, and last year a portion of it literally went to the dogs. From the corner of an apartment overlooking the lake in the Harbor Point Tower, where she moved last April, Ms. Bodell has developed a canine oeuvre that has gained popularity throughout the neighborhood.

“I do dog portraits,” she explains. “I love watching them come to life.”

Consulting with owners and, if possible, meeting their four-legged loved ones before committing anything to canvas, she portrays man and woman’s best friends in works that range from realistic to “fun and funky.”

“I always recommend a little bit smaller for the more realistic dog because you can put it anywhere — a shelf, a wall, the kitchen,” she explains. “If it’s more contemporary, we can go larger.”

The inspiration came by way of her dog walker, AJ, who made a suggestion one day when he came to pick up her two-and-a-half-year-old Cockapoo, Ellie.

“He said, ‘you have to do dog portraits,’” Ms. Bodell explains. “There are so many people in our area who have dogs. They love their dogs as much as they love their kids.”

Ellie is much too mischievous to sit for a portrait — “she’s like a two-and-a-half-year-old puppy,” says Ms. Bodell — but she critiques her owner’s work in a way that only a dog lover can understand.

“I’m sitting on my sofa and she starts barking at my easel,” explains Ms. Bodell. “She walks over, looks at it, and walks away. That’s the best compliment I’ve ever received on my painting.”

Although Ms. Bodell’s husband passed away from Leukemia in 2009, her best friend lives right next door and she suspects that her children — a college-bound daughter and a college graduate son — will be happy to visit.

“My kids both walked into the apartment and they’re like, ‘oh yeah, we could live here.’”

GEMS World Academy Chicago’s new Head of School

When Kim Wargo decided to take a hiatus from her doctoral studies at Tulane University and teach a grade school writing course in the mid-90s, she quickly learned one of the most valuable lessons of her life. “I thought I was going to be a college professor,” she explains. “I took all my PhD exams and was ready to defend my dissertation, but I realized that I loved teaching and working with kids.”

So began a career path that would include leadership roles with some of the oldest and most respected college preparatory institutions in the nation. In 2016, it led to GEMS World Academy Chicago, where Ms. Wargo was named Head of School in April.

“It’s the work that I love, but a different context,” she says. “It is a new school.”

Likewise, she feels that the role has come a long way as well. “Head of School has changed a great deal over the past century,” she says.

Wargo_KimHeadshotGEMSaweb“You still have an affinity for the classroom — I certainly do — but there is also great responsibility for the day-to-day operations of a large organization, an independent school.”

Among the factors that prompted her to move was “the opportunity to be a part of building a school rather than leading a school that’s been around for generations.”

Before arriving at GEMS, Ms. Wargo headed three separate all-girls schools that were founded more than a century ago in the grandest neighborhoods of San Francisco, New Orleans and Dallas. All of them wield nearly perfect college acceptance rates and impeccable traditions.

Although GEMS’ commitment to learning is similarly high — “academic rigor is incredibly important,” Ms. Wargo notes — the culture that complements it is being shaped in real time. Since the school was designed to expand one grade per year beginning with the first class that enrolled, the oldest of its 220 students are now in seventh grade. According to Ms. Wargo, “they see themselves as pioneers.”

“Our kids show the excitement of building a school,” she explains. “They are contributing to something that will last after they are gone. It’s a really wise way to build a program.”

It also frees them up to embrace the multiculturalism and technology that are becoming essential components of modern life.

“Our job is a lot deeper than making sure kids are prepared academically,” says Ms. Wargo. “Schools have to be a lot better at identifying and determining what kids need to be successful, to see that part of their mission in life is to make a difference in the world around them.”

Besides equipping students with iPads and laptops “almost from the beginning,” GEMS maintains a commitment to international education and a campus where “kids are skype-ing and teleconferencing with people all over the world.”

A recent project challenged students to determine which books would appeal to children in Malawi. In May, a Harvard University researcher visited to explain the importance of multilingualism.

“The point of the project was to study the cognitive benefits of learning a second language,” she explains.

GEMS also takes advantage of New Eastside’s location to help students understand beyond “the four walls of the classroom.”

“Chicago is a destination city,” says Ms. Wargo. “People travel all over the world to visit places nearby. We can get there in a five-minute walk.”

Likewise, she and her family have settled in the neighborhood and seem ready to accept everything that the city has to offer. “We made a family visit in February during what I think was the coldest weekend of the year,” she says. “It’s such an amazing place.”

This fall, GEMS will add 120 new students to its population. In 2020, it will graduate its first high school class. Preparing them for college is a task for which Ms. Wargo is supremely equipped.

“Admissions weighs on the minds of parents and students as they enter junior and senior year,” she says.

“We will offer college counseling for families and make it as meaningful as possible for students so they don’t feel battered by the process.”

Among the thousands who she has guided through the transition is her daughter, whom “has been in school with her mom for her entire life” and will be matriculating at Bowdoin College in the fall.

— Daniel Patton, Staff Writer

Urban Realtor Vickie Liu calls New Eastside home for 40 years

In 1977, Vickie Liu immigrated from Keelung, Taiwan to Chicago’s New Eastside. On the drive from the O’Hare Airport into the city, she saw snow for the first time in her life.

It was, to her surprise, black from exhaust and pollution. When she arrived at Harbor Point Tower to join her husband, a student at UIC, she discovered a neighborhood that was little more than an empty plot of land. She stayed for 40 years.

“I love Chicago,” she says. “There was deserted train track, two buildings, nothing. So I live here forever and then we see the changes. It’s all very good.”

IMG_1922web2Ms. Liu has plenty of reasons to love the city. In the four decades since her arrival, she and her husband have raised two successful daughters — one who graduated with a law degree from Harvard, another with an MBA from Kellogg — and they have also helped each other through three fulfilling careers.

At the time she moved here, Ms. Liu was a senior manager in marketing analytics with China Airlines. After her husband completed his studies at UIC, he attended dental school at Howard University and then opened a practice in Bucktown. When the landlord who owned the building where he held his practice hinted that she might be selling the property, Ms. Liu took action. Unbeknownst to her, it would eventually mark the start of a stellar career in real estate.

“It was a rental,” she explains. “Not very stable. So we went to buy 2152 N. Damen Ave. It was a three flat down the street.”

Since she lacked the funds for the complete down payment, she formed a partnership with a friend who lived next door at 400 E. Randolph. “He is an attorney,” she says. “We each put in $10,000. We just worked out a successful investment.”

Ms. Liu retired from China Airlines in 2002, but continued to “do some investment with friends” for a few years.

“I find it interesting,” she explains. In 2005, she earned her real estate license and started selling full time with New Eastside’s Urban Reality, where she has been ever since.

Last month, Chicago Magazine named Ms. Liu to their list of five-star realtors for the fifth time in the past six years. The award is determined by customer votes, a fact that gives Ms. Liu “a good feeling.”

“They have a good appreciation, so they treat me well,” she says. “They refer friends. That’s how I expanded my business.”

In an average year, Ms. Liu completes hundreds of transactions. Many of them involve properties in New Eastside, an area that she finds easy to sell.

“I say this is a hidden gem,” she explains.” “I’ve lived here forty years and I will tell you why. And then I tell them the story… You know, the Magellan… this great investing, developing.”

Although she believes that the River Walk and the Wanda Vista Tower may make the “hidden gem” a little more obvious, Ms. Liu finds nothing wrong with the neighborhood’s increasing popularity. After all, she got into the business by buying in Bucktown long before what she calls “the Bucktown boom.”

“Long story short,” she says. “I got it for 120k. I sold it for, like, 400k.”

Contact Vickie Liu at or (312) 946-9999. Search for local homes or read more about Vickie at

—Daniel Patton, Staff Writer

Working in the sky over New Eastside

The architecture of the New Eastside may shape the neighborhood’s skyline, but window washers make it really shine. The squeegee-wielding glass-tenders who hang from the Aon tower, Aqua, Fairmont, Hyatt Hotel and several more local buildings are trained and employed by Corporate Cleaning Services, a company founded by a tireless entrepreneur.

CEO Neal Zucker was inspired to get into the window washing business by an epiphany that appeared before him in downtown Chicago in 1994. “I was walking around and I saw that there was a lot of glass around,” he says.


Corporate Cleaning Founder / CEO Neal Zucker

At the time, he was a trader pursuing a Kellogg MBA who wanted to avoid the road typically travelled by his peers. “I just knew, sitting in those classes, that I was not going to be an investment banker,” he remembers. “There’s so much more.”

So he “bought into” a housekeeping and window washing business. “I lived in a building and there was a need to hire housekeepers to clean the corporate apartments,” he explains. “It filled that need.” As the company grew, he increasingly focused on the window washing service.

Today, Corporate Cleaning Services is the largest window washing company in Chicago. “We have over a hundred window washers and a very diverse portfolio,” Zucker says. Roughly 1,200 properties rely on the company to wash their windows and perform interior cleaning operations.

Besides the top shelf properties in New Eastside, Corporate Cleaning handles the Hancock, the United Center, the Willis Tower and a list of condominiums, high-rises and universities that reads like a who’s who of architectural greatness.

Zucker’s enthusiasm for the company’s success is matched by a devotion to the “amazing staff of hardworking people” who make it happen. He is quick to point out that Corporate Cleaning is the largest employer of union washers in Chicago and one of the largest employers of Latinos in the city. Above all else, he seems proud to protect them.

“When we say safety’s our priority, we mean it,” he says. The company not only employs a safety manager — which is somewhat rare in the industry — but it also exceeds requirements prescribed by the government’s Occupational Safety Hazard Authority.

Executive Director of Operations Oralia Castañeda oversees this over compliance. She knows ropes and harnesses like a veteran, and hopes to hang from the side of a building for her first time this summer. She came to Chicago from Rockford for a career in law, but something about the company’s culture intrigued her.

Working in the window washing business.

“We thrive on each others’ success,” Castañeda explains. “That goes for the entire team. I know every single one of the window washers by name. I know the story behind them.”


Efrem Salas prepares to clean windows 225 N. Michigan Ave. Photo: Robert Stockwell.

Two in particular, Ernesto Rodriguez and Efrem Salas, were featured in a commercial for Blue Cross Blue Shield.

It shows them preparing and descending from the top of BCBS’ New Eastside high-rise on E. Randolph St. — another one of Corporate Cleaning’s customers — while a narrator explains why Anthem Health Insurance is so good for hardworking people.

According to Salas, he was “a little bit nervous” the first time he hung from the side of a building.

“But now I can do it,” he laughs. “It’s easy for me.”

Salas immigrated to Chicago from Zacatecas, Mexico, seven years ago and got the job at Corporate Cleaning with the help of his brother.

In conversation, he speaks with impeccable grace and kindness, a manner that filmmaker Nadav Kurtz found to be common among the company’s employees while making “Paraiso,” an award-winning 2012 documentary about window washers.

During production, Kurtz grew close to three of the men and their families. “I felt really welcome and comfortable,” he remembers. “They were always trying to buy me tacos and stuff.”

The footage of “Paraiso” is no doubt breathtaking, but the theme is even more powerful: “This is a film about guys who work really hard and take care of their families,” Kurtz explains.


Erenesto Rodriguez prepares to descend the Blue Cross Blue Shield building.

As it turns out, these guys work hard for other peoples’ families as well. Twice a year, Corporate Cleaning’s window washers entertain patients at Kolmer Hospital and Lurie Children’s Hospital by wearing superhero costumes while scaling the exterior.

Immediately after the inagural event, says Castañeda, they started figuring out how to have more interaction with the kids on the next trip down.

CEO Zucker, who spends much of his success serving on boards for charitable organizations, could not be more pleased with the way business is going.

— Daniel Patton, Staff Writer

Corporate Cleaning Services · (312) 573-3333 ·

Resident opens city’s largest floatation / deprivation studio

When Gloria Irwin rented a place at the Chandler three years ago, she thought it would make for great weekend getaways from her suburban Indiana home. The neighborhood — as well as her three children and her boyfriend — quickly agreed.

“We love Lakeshore East because it gives such a neighborhood feel in the city,” she says.

Little did she know what dramatic and excellent changes life had in store for her.

At the time, she was an IT professional who had found an abundance of success analyzing large quantities of information for the likes of Harrah’s Entertainment and Trump Hotels and as the owner of her own business. She found that the New Eastside helped her reduce the stress by offering peaceful places to stroll, bike, and, most importantly, walk her five year-old Bichon Shih Tzu, Lola.

“If you’re stressed out and you go over to the dog park, you cannot help but feel happy,” she says. “It is my happy place.”


Float Sixty owner and founder Gloria Irwin

Then her boyfriend asked her to try “something new,” a from of therapeutic rejuvenation that involved floating in a giant tank full of saltwater and darkness. Alone.

She hesitated.

“We had been dating for four years at this time,” she explains. “He had been exposed to this. He kind of talked me into trying.”

The experience changed her life.

“I got the best sleep of my life that night,” she says. “So I did it again to make sure it was really that effective.”

That was April 2015. Within a year, Gloria would leave the IT industry and open Float Sixty, Chicago’s largest flotation and sensory deprivation studio.

Each of the facility’s five individual suites offer state of the art tanks filled with ten inches of warm water and 1,000 pounds of Epsom salt, which contains magnesium, a natural muscle relaxer.

“The environment is most akin to what you would experience floating in the Dead Sea,” she says.

Although her studio has proven its worthiness to people who push their bodies to the limit for a living — Jeremy Roenick, Matt Forte, and Jonathan Toews are all clients — the rejuvenating effects of an hour spent floating in one of the tanks is something that Ms. Irwin believes everyone can use.

“Afterwards, you feel energy and everything’s more hi-def and more clear,” she says. “You’re a lot more calm.”

The studio is so busy that Ms. Irwin and her staff must do their personal floating after hours, but Float Sixty still offers a neighborhood discount for all New Eastside first-timers.

Turns out that her boyfriend’s advice was worth taking. Perhaps that’s part of the reason she said yes when he asked her to marry him last November.

Float Sixty · 303 W. Erie St. · (844) 356-2860 ·

— Daniel Patton, Staff Writer

Chicago’s Air & Sea Rescue team

On a recent Monday morning, the Chicago Fire Department received an emergency call about a person in Lake Michigan near 95th Street. The dispatcher immediately notified Engine Company 13, at 259 N. Columbus Dr., where the Air and Sea Rescue Team is located.

The divers began pulling on thermal protection layers, Viking dry suits, boots, fins and helmets before the truck even rolled out of the station. They secured one another’s air tanks and emergency air tanks as it sped towards the scene. Mastering this procedure is the first of many required to be a CFD Public Safety Diver.

“They do a test when they’re going through the first week of training called rapid deployment dressing,” says Ron Dorneker, Deputy Chief of Marine and Dive Operations. “They have to go from being in their uniforms to being fully suited divers in less than four minutes.”


Charles Irey of the Air & Sea Rescue team

Every water-related emergency in Chicago — and, when requested, from the far northern suburbs to Indiana — is dispatched to Marine Headquarters at Chicago’s Engine Company 13. Besides housing a supervisor and three divers every day of the year, it also houses a vehicle loaded with two inflatable boats, four integrated scuba outfits and enough specialized equipment to complete rescues in virtually any water-related environment regardless of weather.

The entire Air and Sea Rescue Team consists of 140 to 160 divers, all of whom spent five years as sworn firefighters and demonstrated basic diving and swimming skills before applying. They respond to roughly 250 emergencies every year.

As the truck carried four of them to the incident at 95th, a Bell 412 helicopter powered up at the Chicago Fire Department’s Heliport near Calumet Park along the lakefront. Equipped with a high definition “FLIR” camera that can see over a mile in darkness, the chopper is capable of uploading footage of the situation to the Chicago 9-1-1 center, where call-takers, dispatchers and executives can review and respond accordingly.

“It’s a great helicopter that’s built for search and rescue,” says Dorneker.

It also transported two additional divers to the emergency. Like their counterparts traveling from Engine Company 13, these rescuers stuck with the Air & Sea training program even after enduring the first week, which according to Dorneker, “really weeds people out.”


A map of the team’s rescue efforts

“It’s a little over a 40-hour week in a swimming pool and out in the lake and the river,” he explains. “From that point, it takes about three years to get to where they’re a true public safety diver trained for water rescue for the city of Chicago.” Upon achieving that honor, the fully-fledged divers can look forward to more training exercises every day.

“It never ends,” says Dorneker. “Last year we logged over three thousand hours.”

During the winter, he and the team use a special chain saw to cut holes in the Lake Michigan ice so that they can explore the waters underneath and “learn our true ability.” Besides navigating currents that Dorneker describes as “unforgiving,” the divers also perfect their means of communication, both hard-wired and wireless.


Gratitude for the team

“The ice presents an overhead environment, which is dangerous to us,” he explains. “If something goes kaput and your breathing system fails, you need to go back to the hole that you went in to get out. We have contingency plans that we use — whether it’s the redundant air supply or the Rapid Intervention Team — to rescue the diver in distress.”

While the truck and the chopper approached the emergency at 95th over land and in the air, the department’s 92-foot fireboat, Engine 2, raced towards it from a dock near Navy Pier. Upon arriving, they joined the fire fighters from Engine Company 74, the Firehouse nearest to the incident, who also had been activated as part of the protocol for water-related emergencies.

“It’s a standardized response from the Fire Department that gets 41 fire fighters and paramedics on the scene of these incidents,” explains Dorneker. “Engines, Trucks, battalion chiefs, special operations chiefs, helicopters, boats… It’s a big group.”


Members of the Air & Sea Rescue team

Fortunately, very few of the life-saving resources were necessary on the morning of March 18. Engine Company 74 was able to pull the victim out of the lake before anyone else arrived. Since every member of the Department is trained as a first responder to water incidents, they were equipped with floatation devices, ring buoys, throw bags, and the knowledge to use them.

“People do not join the Fire Department to go on their water rescue team,” Dorneker says. “People join the fire department to become firefighters. But if somebody’s in distress in the water, they can make a quick attempt for a surface rescue before the dive team even gets on the scene.”

Chicago firefighters can train in several categories including auto extraction, hazardous material fires, airport fires and high-rise fire fighting, which is Engine Company 13’s specialty.

Many of the men and women who join Air & Sea Rescue come from obvious places like the Navy, but Dorneker enthusiastically explains that there are also plenty “who showed the willingness to train and learn.”


Deputy Ron Dorneker

Dorneker himself seems to have followed the path of a natural born water rescuer. His career in public safety diving began when he was a 15-year-old camp counselor at Owasippe Scout Reservation in Twin Lake, Michigan. “They used to pay extra money to bring my scuba gear to camp with me,” he remembers. He worked as a lifeguard for the Chicago Park District, the Sheriff of Galveston, Texas, and the Chicago Police Force before joining the Chicago Fire Department in 1988.

“I’m very passionate about the water,” he says. “I love the water and I like going out there, too. I’m just smart enough to know to stay far enough away so I don’t get myself caught up in the waves or out on the ice.”

— Dan Patton | Staff Writer

Interview with Jackie Guthrie, Maggie Daley Park Supervisor

Jackie Guthrie might be the first friendly face you see behind the desk upon entering the Maggie Daley Park field house. “A day in the life of the Maggie Daley Park Supervisor…is an honor,” says Guthrie.

“I am able to work with a team of talented and dedicated staff, supportive community, and each day brings new opportunities. I would argue that I have the best job in the Chicago Park District.”

During her lunch hour, she often strolls through the lakefront greenery to admire how visitors are enjoying the space.


Jackie Guthrie (photo: Angela Gagnon

“Some areas of the park are very active, while others are quiet and serene,” says Guthrie, who has been Park Supervisor for over six years.

As Park Supervisor, Guthrie focuses on balancing the needs of the community while also catering to the demands of tourism.

During the park’s transformation over two years in 2013 and 2014, Guthrie was involved in planning and designing the field house. “The Chicago Park District team and the architects were committed to designing the best use of our space,” she explains. “Our team understood the importance of our programs and special event space for the community.”

The facility was designed to accommodate the people who participate in the park district programs as well as the skaters and climbers who use the park’s amenities.

“The use of the space has changed,” says Guthrie. “What once was a big kitchen and shower rooms is now a well thought out space that is program focused.” In addition to offering activities for children, teens, and seniors, the field house has a multipurpose room for meetings and special events. This month, an Easter Egg Hunt is scheduled on March 24 from 10am – 12pm, and Guthrie played a big role in organizing the event. There will be children’s activities in the field house, including holiday crafts and a bounce house, with the egg hunt taking place outside.

The park is also part of a migratory bird path. “In the spring, there are plans for some organized bird walks to take advantage of the nature,” says Guthrie.

Recently, the park even boasted its own unofficial mascot. A calico cat named “Maggie” took up residence in the area until a resident rescued her.

According to Guthrie, the options for outdoor activity in Maggie Daley Park are endless. The new tennis courts at the east end, which will offer reservations and charge fees for usage, are scheduled to open in spring. Plans are in the works to host musical performances and movies in the summer.

“Maggie Daley Park is still developing its personality because it’s so new,” says Guthrie.

— Angela Gagnon, Staff Writer

Raising funds for the American Writers Museum

AWM Executive Director Nike Whitcomb
describes the process of paying for the Michigan Avenue Institution

Nike Whitcomb, Executive Director of the American Writers Museum, has created a thrilling level of anticipation for the country’s first and only national monument to the written word, which is scheduled to open next year in Chicago. Now, all she has to do is find the money to build it.

“We raised about $2.4 million last year,” she says. “We need $10 million altogether.”

When completed, the museum will occupy the entire second floor of 180 N. Michigan Ave., joining Millennium Park and the Cultural Center along the city’s prestigious Cultural Mile. It’s 8,500-square-foot space will include a Readers Hall, a Writers Hall, dedicated exhibits for local as well as national authors, and a room-sized digital “Word Waterfall” where, according to the downloadable interior plans, “Magic Happens” as “Words float down and assemble in interesting ways.”


Nike Whitcomb

It will also benefit from massive pedestrian traffic along Michigan Ave. “We are looking at 45,000 hotel rooms within about a half mile,” says Whitcomb. “150,000 people walk by that site every day.”

Whitcomb is uniquely qualified to get the job done. Before accepting the position last January, she had operated her own fundraising company, Nike B. Whitcomb & Associates, for 36 years. During that time, she generated hundreds of millions of dollars for the likes of the Evanston Art Center, the National Multiple Sclerosis Society and the National Public Housing Museum. In one decade alone, she raised more than $125 million for Millikin University, her alma mater.

Since embracing her new role, she has successfully shaken some of the tallest philanthropic trees in the country. To date, she has procured an antique writer’s desk from an individual donor and funding for the Readers Hall, which will accommodate 75 people, from a family foundation.

Whitcomb’s fundraising technique combines thorough research with flexible presentation. After learning as much as possible about potential donors through online search, news sources and personal networks, she attends meetings with full confidence but also understands that none of her preparations might matter.

“It is like improv,” she says. “You cannot predict what’s going to happen.”

During one recent meeting, a gentleman asked if she had talked to a certain “so and so.” Upon learning that she had not, he launched a conversation that yielded 15 more potential donors in 15 minutes.

“You don’t want to pitch and not listen,” she explains.

She is also reviewing artifacts, developing the first 100 authors to be honored by the museum, and keeping a lookout for literary fans of all ages.

“I was at a party and a little boy was making paper airplanes with his brother. I asked him, ‘what do you like to do when you’re not making paper airplanes?’ He said, ‘I like to read.’ So I asked, ‘who’s your favorite author?’ He said, ‘Oh man, I have more than one.’”

— Daniel Patton | Staff Writer

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