Thursday, March 27, 2008

One Hour With: Kelly Witt

Chronicle photo ERIC SUMBERG Kelly Witt, 22, is a waitress at the Junction Eating Place on West Lincoln Highway in DeKalb. A former Northern Illinois University student, Witt hopes to return to California by the end of 2008 to continue her career as a media makeup artist. “This is my life,” Witt said in between serving customers Tuesday afternoon. “I wish I was outside, but being outside doesn’t pay the bills.”

Table Talk

Editor's note: This is the fourth in an occasional series chronicling an hour in the life of DeKalb County residents. Kelly Witt, 22, is a waitress at the Junction Eating Place in DeKalb. Daily Chronicle photographer Eric Sumberg spent time with her from 2:30-3:30 p.m. Tuesday.

The life of a waitress on a quiet weekday at the Junction Eating Place on West Lincoln Highway in DeKalb largely centers around the providing and drinking of water.

Customers get water. Off-duty waitresses get water. Water spills from the appliances being fixed in the down hours.

Kelly Witt is the mover of water as well as the carrier of dishes and the dispenser of coffee. The 22-year-old Woodstock native left her hometown to work as a makeup artist in California after graduating from high school in 2003, doing makeup for people in the media and entertainment industries.

After a year there, she returned home, hoping to make it in the Chicago makeup world. After two years of freelance work and a full-time job at Aéropostale in the Prime Outlets in Huntley, she came to DeKalb in 2006 to study at Northern Illinois University. Within a short period, she found herself at the Junction Eating Place.

“I've always wanted to waitress, is that weird?” Witt asks.

An older gentleman sidles up to the counter and orders a special of ham and scalloped potatoes plus a cup of coffee. Witt smiles and fills his cup from a waiting pot. He doesn't ask her about her hair, but it is people like him who typically do, Witt says with a broad smile. Her “faux-hawk” is black and blond and careens around her head.

“The really old people say, ‘What do you use to put that up?'” she says, adding she uses a combination of gel and styling wax.

Witt hopes to move back to California in December to go back into the “makeup thing” again. They know her out there, she says, and it's her passion.

While she's here, however, she does her job with a smile on her face. She likes the freedom that working at a small establishment gives her.

“I like to walk up to my tables and say what I want,” Witt says in contrast to what she sees as the corporate culture of some restaurants in the area.

In between helping customers, Witt fetches a glass of water for an off-duty waitress who is lounging at the counter after checking her hours for the week.

“Oh, thank you,” Whitney Tamm, 22, says with a bit of surprise that her co-worker saw she perhaps needed a glass.

Witt's academic career is currently on hold, though she's not ready to say she has all that she needs.

“This is not what I want to be, but I made all the choices,” she says with a shrug.

“Some girls will come in here and be jaded in two months,” she says. “And there are others who will be completely content for the rest of their life.”

The day she gets jaded, Witt says, is the day she'll leave.

Two middle-aged men, regulars, come in and take a booth close to the door. Witt quietly snaps into action, fetching a cup of coffee and a glass of water for the table. She motions to a co-worker to ask if the customers take cream in their coffee. They do, and minutes later a few more customers come in as the late-afternoon lull is broken by the early-evening crowd.

Indoor Softball?

Chronicle photo ERIC SUMBERG For the first time in IHSA history, a girls softball game was played indoors as the DeKalb Barbs played the East Aurora Tomcats in the DeKalb Park District’s Sports and Recreation Center on Tuesday afternoon. Barb junior pitcher Katelyn Sullivan, above, combined with Lisa Oller and Carlie Varga to pitch a no-hitter in the Barbs' season opening 15-1 victory over the Tomcats.

Chronicle photo ERIC SUMBERG DeKalb High School senior second baseman Lexi Waite couldn't haul in this pop-up on the fly in the fourth inning, but she did recover to get the final out of the inning for the Barbs as they defeated the East Aurora Tomcats 14-1 on Tuesday afternoon.

Dimitri Liakos

Chronicle photo ERIC SUMBERG Dimitri Liakos stands among his more than 3,000 books at his home in DeKalb. He has been a professor of ancient art and archaeology at Northern Illinois University since 1967. An avid reader, traveler and educator, the Greek-born Liakos teaches about the classical civilizations of antiquity, often on location. "I love traveling, and seeing is believing,"

Two Car Accident

Chronicle photo ERIC SUMBERG Sycamore Fire Department personnel transport a woman into a waiting ambulance after her Jeep Grand Cherokee was hit by a Suzuki XL-7 about 10:45 a.m. Monday at the entrance to the parking lot of Blain’s Farm & Fleet on DeKalb Avenue in Sycamore.

To extricate the woman, the roof of her car was removed by Sycamore Fire Department personnel. She was then stabilized and transported about 100 yards via ambulance to a waiting helicopter that had landed in a cordoned-off area of the Blain's Farm & Fleet parking lot.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

One Hour With: DeKalb FD

Chronicle photo ERIC SUMBERG DeKalb firefighters Todd Stoffa (standing), Bill Lynch (left) and Travis Karr have a dinner of barbecue chicken, potatoes and string beans Monday evening at the DeKalb Fire Department’s Fire Station 2 on South Seventh Street. The three men were about halfway through their 24-hour shift, which began at 7 a.m. Monday. “It’s a long 24 hours if you’re not having fun,” Stoffa said.

All in a Day's Work

Editor's note: This is the third in an occasional series chronicling an hour in the life of DeKalb County residents. Todd Stoffa, 32, Bill Lynch, 33, and Travis Karr, 24, are firefighters in the DeKalb Fire Department. Daily Chronicle photographer Eric Sumberg spent time with them from 4-5 p.m. Monday.

It had been a busy morning and a slow afternoon. Todd Stoffa, Bill Lynch and Travis Karr, two veterans and a rookie, staffed the DeKalb Fire Department's Fire Station 2 on Monday. The station is a small, low-slung building at 1154 S. Seventh St.

At 4 p.m. Monday, it smelled of barbecue sauce, frying potatoes and garlic. Lots of garlic.

“Tabasco and garlic,” Lynch said when asked to name the seasonings of choice for DeKalb firefighters.

Monday evening was Lynch's turn to cook, though the St. Charles native likes to cook whenever he's on duty. Potatoes were on the menu Monday night, but Lynch loves to make fettuccine. He is convinced that he makes the best fettuccine in the entire department.

“There's only one guy who thinks he makes better fettuccine than me,” Lynch said. “That's Capt. (Eric) Hicks.”

However, Lynch added as a disclaimer that Capt. Hicks' favorite meal is pork roast with canned corn and mashed potatoes made with coffee creamer - not exactly gourmet fare.

The slow afternoon allowed the men to perform a thorough maintenance check on their fire engines. At about 4:45 p.m. a call went out for engines one and two to respond to a fire alarm at Castle Bank on Sycamore Road. When the three firefighters returned 20 minutes later, they stripped off their gear and headed straight back to preparing dinner, not missing a beat as they fired up the stove and set the table.

Karr has gained some fame because of an article that a well-known Web site on firefighting published regarding his role in responding to the Feb. 14 shootings on the DeKalb campus of Northern Illinois University. The soft-spoken Karr is hesitant to take credit.

“It got blown out of proportion,” he said quietly. “They called up and so forth and so on.”

Karr, a Lawrence, Kan., native, is one month away from being at the end of his probationary year in which he is tested every three months on various elements of firefighting. One component is a map test.

Firefighters must be able to name 25 of 30 streets among the 600 streets in the city of DeKalb. “The map test is tough,” Karr said.

Todd Stoffa is a 10-year veteran of the fire department and an Elburn native. Firefighting has been a tradition in his family.

“My grandpa and my dad both were (firefighters),” Stoffa said. “I basically grew up in a firehouse.”

While the members of this particular trio get along well, both Stoffa and Lynch rotate among DeKalb's three firehouses. There are a lot of different personality types, Stoffa said, and if you don't particularly like the guys you are with, it can be a long 24 hours. However, there isn't anywhere else these men would rather be.

“This is our life. Three hundred sixty-five days of the year,” Stoffa said. “It's just like anything else. You have good days and bad days.”

Dinner continued quietly as the three men devoured their chicken.

“Taters are good,” Lynch said, complimenting his own cooking.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

DeKalb High School Badminton

Read the Article and Watch the Badminton Slideshow

Chronicle photo ERIC SUMBERG DeKalb High School sophomore Phoebe Cochrane, 16, reaches for a shot during the Barb's badminton team match against the South Elgin High School Storm last Thursday in DeKalb.

Chronicle photo ERIC SUMBERG The Barbs gather for a pre-game cheer before taking on South Elgin High School last Thursday. For the past 35-plus years, badminton has been an Illinois High School Association sport, and during that time the Barbs have competed under just two coaches, Gert Brigham and Duane Cowley.

Chronicle photo ERIC SUMBERG DeKalb High School badminton team manager senior Zak Effler, 18, plays with a birdie between transitions during practice on Thursday afternoon. "I go to the games and I cheer, that's what I do," Effler said.

Chronicle photo ERIC SUMBERG DeKalb High School junior varsity coach Jen Hammarberg leans back to control the birdie during practice on Thursday afternoon. Hammarberg - a top four IHSA singles finisher as a senior at Downers Grove North - trained with the U.S. National Team while attending Northern Illinois University.

Chronicle photo ERIC SUMBERG DeKalb High School senior Courtney Jossendal wears tie-dye socks during her match against South Elgin High School.

Chronicle photo ERIC SUMBERG DeKalb High School junior Rebekah Guillotte, 17, laughs after being hit in the face by a birdie during badminton team practice on Thursday afternoon.

Chronicle photo ERIC SUMBERG DeKalb High School freshman Siti Asna, 14, left, jogs through the halls of the school for conditioning with her junior varsity teammates.

Chronicle photo ERIC SUMBERG The DeKalb High School badminton team practices in Chuck Dayton Gymnasium during their season which runs from mid-February through May.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Beauty in All Sizes

Chronicle photo ERIC SUMBERG Northern Illinois University senior Megan Baldauf, 23, poses for communication graduate student Kristen Lou Herout, 23, for a project in which Herout takes photographs of voluptuous women mimicking mainstream fashion and commercial images. “I just want people of all sizes to be represented,” Herout said. “Why can’t we make it popular to not be skin and bones?”

Chronicle photo ERIC SUMBERG Photographer Kristen Lou Herout bases her photos of voluptuous models on a sample of 30 fashion shots and advertisements she took from magazines such as Elle and Vogue. “Fashion is about being beautiful,” Herout said. “I think it’s fair to be beautiful on the inside as well as the outside.”

Chronicle photo ERIC SUMBERG Plus-size model Megan Baldauf poses for Northern Illinois University communication graduate student Kristen Lou Herout on Tuesday afternoon in Graham Hall on the DeKalb campus. “I always thought all sizes of women should be represented,” Baldauf said of why she volunteered to be photographed.

One Hour With: Tony Hoecherl

Chronicle photo ERIC SUMBERG Car sales consultant Tony Hoecherl speaks with a customer on the phone Tuesday afternoon in the showroom of Mike Mooney Chevrolet-Cadillac Inc. on North Fourth Street in DeKalb. “You meet a lot of good people,” Hoecherl said of his more than 20 years in the car sales business at various dealerships in DeKalb County.

Motor Man

Editor's note: This is the first in an occasional series chronicling an hour in the life of DeKalb County residents. Tony Hoecherl, 46, is a car sales consultant at Mike Mooney Chevrolet-Cadillac Inc. in DeKalb. Daily Chronicle photographer Eric Sumberg spent time with him from 3-4 p.m. Tuesday.

“I started selling in 1985 with Jim Kornak. I ended up selling a couple of cars before I was a salesman. I'd already established a relationship with all the service people. That's when Jim came in and said, ‘Why don't you just sell?'”

It's been more than 22 years, and Tony Hoecherl hasn't stopped selling since. The Sycamore native has been around cars since he was a kid - his first job was at State Street Motors in Sycamore working as a porter on Saturdays.

Since then he's worked for Jim Kornak Chevrolet in Sycamore, Brian Bemis Chevrolet in Sycamore and now Mike Mooney Chevrolet-Cadillac Inc. at 204 N. Fourth St. in DeKalb.

“My first car that I sold was a 1984 S-10 pickup for five or six grand. I sold 12 vehicles that first month; four (customers) are still buying cars from me,” Hoecherl said.

Each month has its ups and downs. Business is slow this week for Hoecherl, but last month he sold 20 cars.

“Everyone always thinks you're doing nothing all day, but I'm going to be here until eight at night,” he said.

A lifelong bachelor, Hoecherl marvels that his married co-workers can keep their relationships alive despite the hours.

“You spend more time with these guys than you do your spouse,” he said with a laugh.

His desk sits next to the glass door entrance to the showroom. On the desk are a coffee mug from “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno,” a closed Rolodex, a phone, a computer and a calculator.

“Not knowing what you're going to make each week makes me nuts. It's hard to budget anything,” he said. “I came in when things were starting to get tough. Years ago, if you wanted to get a car, you had to drive someplace. It's dog-eat-dog out there.”

Hoecherl is worried about the recently volatile economy, but not overly so.

“It takes us a long time to be affected by a recession. It slows down, but the car business has been off for years,” he said. “There's more and more companies. People can choose from so many vehicles out there.”

Hoecherl doesn't own a car - he drives vehicles from the lot.

“Repeat (sales) is what it's all about,” Hoecherl said of the importance of good service. “You might not like everyone you meet, but why would I sit here and do something to you when I'm going to go out the next night and see you?”

Even a person who spends all day selling must have some time off.

“If I go out on a date, I've got to go far,” he said of getting away from work. “I was in Cancun three years ago with six people and I'm standing in the pool. Some guy says, ‘I should know you, you from Chicago?' I said, no, about 60 miles west. ‘Oh, you work at Mike Mooney,' he said. My friends just fainted in the water.”

His job has changed significantly since he began selling in 1985. A lot of what he does now is certification testing by car companies that require salesmen to know about everything in a car from tires to wipers to GPS.

He regrets little about his job, but “If I had to do it all over again, I'd probably be in parts. The hours are better.”

A final thought.

“Buy American.”


Chronicle photo ERIC SUMBERG Cyclists Brian Van (front), Aaron Nevdal (center) and Mike Haji-Sheikh pedal up one of the few hills in DeKalb County on Sunday afternoon, on Pleasant Road east of Cortland. The trio is part of an informal group of cyclists who gather at North Central Cyclery to go for long rides in DeKalb County. “It’s a little better way to see the world, on two wheels,” Nevdal said.

The Wheels of DeKalb County

Story and Photograph by Eric Sumberg

It's most dangerous at the start.

Though they ride for hours at a time, covering dozens of miles on the roads of DeKalb County, the most perilous part of a 30-mile bike ride for Mike Haji-Sheikh, 48, Brian Van, 48, and Aaron Nevdal, 30, is when they congregate behind North Central Cyclery near East Lincoln Highway in DeKalb. A stop sign for traffic exiting the post office is largely ignored, and drivers whip through the corner there onto Girard Street.

“People look at you like you're in the way,” said Haji-Sheikh with a bemused smile.

To their credit, they are hard to miss, with their flashy Lycra, wraparound sunglasses and colorful helmets. Haji-Sheikh was joined by fellow cyclists Van and Nevdal for a pleasant ride to the north and east of DeKalb on Sunday afternoon to train for “the base.” Base refers to aerobic base, or the process of training at 60 to 75 percent of one's maximum heart rate to increase endurance. The three are part of an informal group which can number anywhere from two to 15 who ride for fun and sport in DeKalb County.

“The more the merrier,” Nevdal said of whether others can join their group.

Nevdal is a physical therapist at Northern Rehab in DeKalb and is a year-round cyclist. He caught the riding bug after renting a mountain bike on a trip to Wyoming after his high school graduation. He rode while at Northern Illinois University, where he graduated in 2001 with a bachelor's degree and in 2002 with a master's degree, and he's kept on riding.

When not on the pavement, he trains indoors. He tries to put in anywhere from 80 to 170 miles per week, depending on the weather, time and motivation. Riding allows him time to think to himself and offers the occasional “Zen moment,” he said.

DeKalb's riding scene is based around the North Central Cyclery, though the store does not sponsor an official racing team. Part of the reason, according to Van, is that in order to sponsor a team, the store would have to host an event, which would require a number of additional steps, including insurance and permits.

For now, riders meet informally and train for events such as the Hillsboro-Roubaix Road Race, a 22-mile loop over rural roads and brick streets that takes place March 31 in Hillsboro. Van intends to ride in that race for his squad, Team Mack Racing, though Haji-Sheikh thought that might be a bit early for him.

“I'm thinking about coming with the ambulance,” he said.

Sunday's ride was a more relaxed affair after last Thursday's 45-mile slow-time trial pace ride that left the group meandering into town at a piddling 14 miles per hour. It's not about the speed, though, for this group.

“It's the most fun you can have wearing Lycra,” Haji-Sheikh said.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

First Cuts

Chronicle photo ERIC SUMBERG Jai Sharma, 31, of DeKalb takes his first swings of the year Friday afternoon at the driving range at Joe Manczko’s Sycamore Family Sports Center. The range opened Thursday, and all of the facilities will be open by Saturday, despite the snow on the ground. “We’ve never had snow when we opened,” manager Joe Manczko Jr. said.

Spring Drive

Story and Photograph by Eric Sumberg

It has been 20 months since Jai Sharma last swung his clubs.

Two Army tours in Iraq, a prolonged Illinois winter and the start of classes at Northern Illinois University conspired to keep the 31-year-old off the links - and off the driving range, for that matter.

“I haven't gotten to play in a while,” Sharma said. “All last summer I was in the big sand trap.”

Spring apparently has sprung, despite the snow on the ground and at least two natural disasters, at Joe Manczko's Sycamore Family Sports Center, 725 E. State St. In August, the property, which sits on a floodplain, was submerged when the Kish-waukee River overflowed its banks. In early December, the driving range safety net became covered in ice from a storm, causing the 70-foot supporting posts to buckle under the weight.

“The flood was just a lot of cleanup and power washing,” manager Joe Manczko Jr. said of the water that closed down the facility for eight days.

The posts were a bit more complicated. Some of the wooden poles are now on the north side of the property, and there are 14 new metal posts on the property's south side, which borders State Street. The process of moving the old poles and installing the new ones at a depth of 15-18 feet took about two weeks to complete.

“I'm just happy they fell onto the field,” Joe Manczko Jr. said. “What are you going to do? It could have been a lot worse.”

Despite those setbacks, the driving range opened Thursday, and Manczko expects the go-cart course, soccer and batting cages, and miniature golf course to open Saturday. They typically open the first week in March, weather permitting.

“It's not a late start, but we're a little behind,” the younger Manczko said. “People don't know that we're open yet.”

With Friday's balmy weather, more than a few golfers took the opportunity to get out the kinks of winter. Justin Mehaffey, 24, of Sycamore described himself as “not a golfer” but perhaps a lover of driving ranges, where he said he worked when he was younger.

“First day this year, first swing,” Mehaffey said as he teed up a ball. “I come to the driving range for fun.”

Mehaffey's first ball went just 10 feet into the air, landing three feet in front of him.

The Family Line

Chronicle photo ERIC SUMBERG Northern Illinois University women’s sophomore golfer Kim Bailey, is known for her touch on the greens in addition to being a part of an NIU family tradition. Her sisters Jackie and Lisa played women’s golf at NIU and her mother, Teresa Bailey, was a teammate of current NIU head coach Pam Tyska when they attended Illinois State University in the early 1980s.

To Protect and Serve

Chronicle photo ERIC SUMBERG Haider Thahab, 35, emigrated from his native Iraq to America in September 2007 with his wife and four children after serving for four years as an interpreter for the U.S. Army. Thahab, who met Northern Illinois University Police Chief Donald Grady while both were working in Iraq, is now working in computer-based forensics for the NIU police department. “He is a special person,” Grady said.

Haider Thahab

Story and Photographs by Eric Sumberg

The events of Feb. 14 at Northern Illinois University were unexpected and horrific. They were perhaps unlike anything that most people in the NIU community had ever seen. But not Haider Thahab.

Thahab, 35, has spent his adult life protecting others. He has served in the Iraqi police force, worked as a translator with the U.S.-led coalition forces and survived an assassination attempt during his 18-year career in public service.

So when Thahab, who moved to America in September, heard over his police radio in the NIU Public Safety building that there was a gunman on campus, he reacted as he had been trained.

Thahab, who works in NIU's police department as a computer forensics employee, saw Police Chief Donald Grady and two lieutenants run toward the center of campus. He followed.

When they reached one of the bridges over the Kishwaukee River near Cole Hall, the site of the shooting, Grady stopped to analyze the situation. He turned and was stunned to see Thahab standing behind him. Grady said he told him to return immediately to the NIU Public Safety building.

“What are you doing here?” Grady recalled asking Thahab. “You have no gun!”

Grady recalls that Thahab looked at him with an expression that said, ‘I can't go back.'

Born in Baghdad in 1972, Thahab joined the Iraqi police force in 1990. He graduated second in his class as a lieutenant in 1993 from police college, then enrolled in the University of Technology in the computer electronics department. Four years later he graduated with a bachelor's degree, and in 1999, he completed a master's degree in computer engineering.

During that time, he was an Iraqi police officer, eventually rising to the rank of major. During the first Gulf War, any person who was in the police didn't join the army. But in 2003, when the U.S. Army secured Baghdad, the coalition forces ordered all police officers to return to service.

In May 2003, Thahab was selected to be the coordinator between the Iraqi minister of the interior and the U.S. Army. Thahab worked in several capacities, including training Iraqi police, diplomatic protection, counterterrorism and intelligent database design.

It was in this job that Thahab met Grady early in the NIU police chief's tour in Iraq, which ran from September 2006 to September 2007.

Grady was working in Iraq in a nonoperational position as a senior adviser on civilian policing and institution building to the Iraqi minister of the interior in addition to advising the U.S. ambassador.

Grady is impressed with Thahab's character.

“They cannot make a good police organization without the people with the right moral fiber,” Grady said.

“Haider happened to be one of the people who was liaising. He was a police officer then - we called him Major Haider. It was really good to see someone of his intellect working with the coalition,” Grady said. “We had a pretty good rapport right from the start; he was just a genuinely good man.”

Chronicle photo ERIC SUMBERG Haider Thahab was among the first police officers on the scene of the Feb. 14 shootings on the campus of Northern Illinois University. Here, outside of Cole Hall, the site of the murders, Thahab works to keep the front of the building clear of civilians.


In January 2007, Thahab was driving in Baghdad when a vehicle pulled up next to him. Militia men opened fire on his car with AK-47s. He fell to the floor of his vehicle, feigning death, while his car rolled slowly down the road.

He was immediately afraid, both because of the attack and his affiliation with the coalition. The hospital he was treated at was run by the same militia that had made the attempt on his life. The man who tried to kill him followed him to the hospital.

Though Thahab survived the attack and was given an award by the U.S. Army for his bravery, he immediately moved his wife and four boys, ages 9, 7, 5 and 4, to the safety of northern Iraq. He never again left the Green Zone, the heavily fortified area where coalition forces are based in the center of Baghdad, without military protection.

In August, Thahab approached Grady. According to the Iraqi Afghani Special Immigrant Visa Translator Program enacted in 2006, Thahab and his family were eligible for naturalization in the United States with the sponsorship of one of Thahab's commanding officers, Col. Mark French.

“Haider said to me one day, ‘I'm coming to America and I want to come where you are,'” Grady said. “He took a bullet for this country. He went the extra mile. He didn't stop doing the job. He came to work every day. How would I say no to that?”

Grady said he promised Thahab and his family nothing more than to get them settled. He would have to compete for a job at the police department like anybody else.

In August, Thahab took a plane to Jordan where he arranged his visa at the embassy in Amman. He met his family there and they flew to O'Hare International Airport in Chicago and then came to DeKalb.

“I got very important things here. I got the future for my kids,” Thahab said. “I'm happy to be here. I'm going to start a new life here.”

Thahab said he's been surprised at how kind the people of DeKalb have been.

“It is easy to find a place, it is difficult to find good people,” he said.

Thahab rents a house in DeKalb with his family and was welcomed by NIU's police department with a dinner when he arrived. Thahab is pleased the school district has assigned his children an interpreter to help their transition from speaking and reading Arabic to English. Once all of his children start attending school, his wife will likely look for a job at NIU.

At the police department, Thahab develops databases and works with fingerprinting technology. He has used his educational background and real-world experience to help merge the operations of a number of departments into one.

“His computer skills are very advanced,” NIU Police Sgt. Larry Ellington said. “Haider is able to go in and dig a little deeper.”

Ellington hopes that Thahab will eventually apply to become an officer in the department.

“A lot of what we do here is to get him ready,” Ellington said. “He's being groomed.”

Thahab said helping the community is what he was born to do.

“It is very important to serve the people, it doesn't matter how,” he said.

Chronicle photo ERIC SUMBERG Haider Thahab scans the fingerprints of Northern Illinois University sophomore education major Michelle Welsh, 19, for identification purposes related to her teaching at the NIU police department on a recent weekday. "Even though he's a citizen employee, he's still very involved with campus investigations," said Sgt. Larry Ellington.

Thursday, March 13, 2008


Chronicle photo ERIC SUMBERG Kent Maercker, 13, of Sycamore braces for impact after riding over a ramp on a tricycle with a broken back wheel along Fair Street on Wednesday afternoon. Maercker was playing in the relative warmth with Ben Crobbe, 8, and Taylor Hamilton, 9, in the driveway of Keith Crobbe as the sun slowly set. Each hopped on and off their toys of choice, including bikes and scooters. Though it isn't July yet, Crobbe seemed to feel that time was close.

“The kids seem to gather here in the summertime,” Keith Crobbe said.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Staying Afloat

Chronicle photo ERIC SUMBERG DeKalb resident and TAILS Humane Society volunteer Lou Voegtle struggles to keep Chief (left) and Laila going in the right direction during their morning walk along Barber Greene Road in DeKalb on Thursday. Non-profit organizations such as TAILS depend on volunteers to help them remain viable in difficult economic times.

10 Years of Helping Feed DeKalb

Chronicle photo ERIC SUMBERG More than 200 bowls were made by students in the Northern Illinois University ceramics department for Wednesday’s 10th annual Empty Bowls event on campus to raise money for the Hope Haven homeless shelter in DeKalb.

Empty Bowls

Story and Photographs by Eric Sumberg

Joan Quinn has been collecting handmade ceramic bowls from the annual Empty Bowls event for so long, she had to build a new cupboard for them at home.

Wednesday gave Quinn, coordinator of the Food Systems Laboratory at Northern Illinois University, a chance to add again to her prodigious collection of colorful and quirky bowls. The 10th annual Empty Bowls event presented by the Student Dietetic Association and the NIU ceramics department raised more than $2,000 for Hope Haven homeless shelter in DeKalb. Bowls of chicken noodle, minestrone, broccoli cheddar and vegetarian gumbo soups were paired with fresh bread as more than 150 people came out to help a good cause while collecting a one-of-a-kind bowl.

Stu Brandon, 37, of Syca-more was at the 4:30 p.m. sitting with sons Elliott, 9, and Colin, 13. They attended the event last year for the first time and came back this year because they like giving back to the community, Brandon said.

They also came back because Brandon's wife liked the bowls so much, he said.

NIU seniors Amy O'Dea, 21, and Kenna Sorenson, 21, sat with December 2007 graduate Abby Westrom, 23, near the window of the Chandelier Room in Adams Hall enjoying their soup. Sorenson is studying psychology and contemplating a second major in art. She made 13 of the more than 200 bowls offered this year, she said. According to Sorenson, the bowls take about 15 minutes to shape, but the process of firing, glazing and firing again takes about a week.

Chronicle photo ERIC SUMBERG Northern Illinois University seniors Amy O'Dea, 21, and Kenna Sorenson, 21, chat over bowls of soup on Wednesday afternoon.


“I had to remake a lot of them because they were ruined over the break,” Sorenson said about the week the university closed due to the Feb. 14 shootings on campus.

Westrom, former president of the Student Nursing Associ-ation on campus, drove from Aurora to support Sorenson's art and give what she could to Hope Haven. The recent graduate used to volunteer at the shelter and knows what a difference events like this can make, she said.

“They really appreciate it because they get a lot of support from this campus,” Westrom said, adding that she thought it was nice to be at any event that gets people on campus together to do something positive.

About 30 members of the Student Dietetic Association helped prepare and serve the food Wednesday, association president Kyle King, 23, said. The association is typically made up of students majoring in nutrition and dietetics.

“We've done a few drives for (Hope Haven),” King said. “We like to help them out as much as we can. It's a good cause for us.”

Association member Kate Dienst, 22, was stationed at the door taking donations from the first wave of diners. Almost all of the 68 people who attended the first sitting selected a bowl that struck their fancy. Dienst noted that the shiny, ornamental and big bowls went first. While she planned on paying for a bowl later, she didn't have a particular one in mind.

“I didn't want to get attached to one and have someone take it,” she said.

Midsummer in Late Winter

Chronicle photo ERIC SUMBERG The fairies who inhabit a moonlit forest are among the characters in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” The Northern Illinois University School of Theatre and Dance’s production of the Shakespearean play will include performances at 7 p.m. March 18-20 and 27-29 at the Players Theatre in the Stevens Building.

Chronicle photo ERIC SUMBERG John McFarlane portrays Theseus, the duke of Athens, in the Northern Illinois University School of Theatre and Dance’s production of William Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

Thursday, March 06, 2008

At Last

Chronicle photo ERIC SUMBERG DeKalb High School music instructor Reuben Cooper Jr. smiles as he holds an apple in his hand to signify that his 18-member jazz ensemble, including George Reo (center left) and Luis Guerrero (center right), will be heading to New York City. The ensemble is one of 15 bands selected for the annual Essential Ellington High School Jazz Band Competition and Festival to be held May 15-17. Cooper surprised his class by announcing the honor in front of members of the media and DeKalb School District officials during the sixth-period class Tuesday.

DeKalb Jazz Hits a High Note

Story and Photograph by Eric Sumberg

Students in Reuben Cooper Jr.'s jazz ensemble class at DeKalb High School thought members of the media were in their sixth-period class Tuesday to do a story on the veteran music teacher.

But they were really there to capture students' reactions to Cooper's surprise announcement: After six years of trying, the DHS Jazz Ensemble has been accepted into the Essential Ellington High School Jazz Band Competition and Festival in New York City.

The annual competition, to be held May 15-17, is like the Super Bowl of high school jazz, according to Cooper. Only one other high school in Illinois, Champaign Central High School, will be attending.

“It's the highest,” Cooper said. “Every group that goes is going to sound good.”

Baritone saxophone player Amanda Harness, 16, was overwhelmed by the news.

“I don't even know what to do with myself right now. This is amazing. It's overwhelming,” she said.

Cooper, who has been teaching music at DeKalb High School for eight years, is a lifelong musician who has performed at such legendary New York City venues as the Apollo Theater and Studio 54, with groups including KC and the Sunshine Band.

His jazz ensemble, consisting of five saxophonists, four trombonists, five trumpeters and four rhythm performers, won a competition in San Antonio last year. And this year, their recordings and soloists have really taken off.

“All of the group are outstanding,” Cooper said. “It's a huge accomplishment.”

The excitement over news of the selection was palpable. Astonished students hugged and high-fived each other as the reality of the news sank in.

“There's a lot of really good bands out there,” trumpeter Lisa Oller, 16, said. “I'm really excited but I'm scared because I think we're going to be flying.”

Oller was right - they will be flying. To defray costs, the ensemble will embark on a fundraising drive and will play a number of gigs around town. DeKalb High School Principal Lindsey Hall described the school's music boosters program as supportive and active. The costs, whatever they may be, seem to be worth bearing.

“Our whole fine-arts program is exceptional, and that is due to the work of Reuben Cooper and our teachers,” Hall said. “I think (the selection) reinforces that hard work pays off.”

Matt Nagy, a 17-year-old tenor saxophone player, agreed.

“We've been working toward this a long time. It's amazing that we actually did it,” he said.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008


Chronicle photo ERIC SUMBERG With warmer weather approaching, skateboarders like 2-year-old Elijah DeMaio — seen being held up to the countertop by his father, Chuck DeMaio — have to practice wherever they can. Smltwn Sk8board Shop, a 10-month-old store on East Lincoln Highway in DeKalb, is preparing for what owners Ariel Ries and Jason McLemore hope will be a strong market for skateboard gear this spring. “We’re trying to target a market larger than skateboarders,” Ries said.

Boards in Bloom

Story and Photograph by Eric Sumberg

Elijah DeMaio is a 2-year-old with skateboards on the brain.

Scampering around Smltwn Sk8board Shop at 229 E. Lincoln Highway in DeKalb, the toddler whined to his father, 29-year-old Chuck DeMaio, when he couldn't find his favorite toy board Monday afternoon.

He calls his favorite board “Dada.” He calls his father “Chuck.”

Devotion to skateboarding is not a new phenomenon, but catering to devotees is relatively new in the DeKalb County retail scene. Smltwn, pronounced “small town,” has been operating out of a storefront between Web Girl Web Designs and the Simply Posh antique store in downtown DeKalb since May 2007. The store's owners, 23-year-old Ariel Ries and 32-year-old Jason McLemore, are preparing for their first full spring of sales.

“Since January, we've seen a steady increase,” McLemore said. “This is usually the month where we'll see the biggest sales increase, between now and May.”

The pair of entrepreneurs almost didn't make it this far. An October fire in the store damaged goods, destroyed paperwork and mangled their computer system. Ries puts a positive spin on the event by saying that they needed more inventory anyway.

The store is trying to reach a demographic beyond young skaters.

“If you wear shoes, you can shop here. If you wear shirts, you can shop here,” McLemore said.

Boards at the store cost anywhere from $60-170 for a “complete,” which includes the deck, trucks and wheels. Smltwn's owners have even created their own branded decks, shirts, hats and hoodies complete with the quintessential symbol of DeKalb - a flying ear of corn.

As skateboarder culture becomes increasingly popular in the DeKalb area, McLemore and Ries are looking forward to another year of promoting the lifestyle. Fears that skateboarders will overrun the downtown area are unfounded, McLemore said. The shop organizes group trips to local skateboarding sites, like Katz Park on Dresser Road and an outdoor asphalt hockey court on the Northern Illinois University campus.

One teen who may take advantage of those trips is Keerti Ballantine, 14, of DeKalb. Ballantine has been skateboarding for two years and was scanning the shop's wall of shoes Monday afternoon. He said he bought a board and a DVD from the store in the past, but on Monday he was looking for new clothes to wear when he hits the concrete in a few weeks.

“I can't wait until the snow melts,” he said.

Smltwn is the only store in DeKalb County dedicated solely to skating gear and accessories, according to McLemore.

“The response from everyone that's stopped in is really positive,” he said. “The majority are new customers, and they're shocked. It's different from everyone else here.”

The $12 Million Dollar Man

Chronicle photo ERIC SUMBERG Edward K. Jones (right), 55, holds a ceremonial check for $12.25 million from the Illinois Lottery with two of his children, Morgan Haywood, 27, and Edward Jones Jr., 37, at the Schnucks supermarket on Annie Glidden Road in DeKalb on Thursday afternoon. Jones, a machinist for Caterpillar for the last 35 years, has already purchased two motorcycles, two cars and two homes since winning the Lotto jackpot Feb. 9.

Sharing the Wealth

Story and Photograph by Eric Sumberg

Now that he's won the lottery, Edward K. Jones has made a promise.

“I made a promise to God I'd quit (gambling),” Jones, 55, said with a smile at a news conference held Thursday afternoon at the Schnucks supermarket on Annie Glidden Road in DeKalb to announce his $12.25 million Lotto jackpot win.

God is apparently a large presence in the Chillicothe resident's life. He said he was planning on giving “quite a bit” of his take-home amount of $7,561,729 - taking a lump sum now means he'll pay less in taxes - to his church, Faith Christian Centre in Washington, Ill.

As for deciding what to do with the rest of his earnings, Jones appears to have been on a small, for a multimillionaire, spending spree since he discovered that he won the Lotto drawing Feb. 9.

He's added two Harley-Davidson motorcycles to the one that he already owns and also purchased two Dodge Magnum cars. On top of that, Jones is now the owner of two homes, one in Nevada, where he has family, and one in Florida, because it's a nice place, he said.

The afternoon of Feb. 9 began for Jones as some have previously, as he helped a cousin to deliver fliers to Schnucks in DeKalb. He purchased his Lotto ticket and some fruit.

“I'm going to buy me two Quick Picks because there's always winners around Chicago,” Jones recalls thinking.

That evening, the winning numbers were announced, and Jones' first reaction was disbelief.

“I didn't believe it. (The amount) had too many zeroes on it,” he said.

Jodie Winnett, Illinois Lottery's acting superintendent, was on hand Thursday to help present Jones his check. Also at the conference were DeKalb Mayor Frank Van Buer and Schnucks store officials.

“The winners take all sorts of avenues with this,” Winnett said in response to a question concerning whether the Illinois Lottery advises winners on whom to consult regarding managing their money. “It's difficult for us to suggest anybody.”

Schnucks, which opened its doors in early December, has seen an uptick in customers buying lottery tickets since the announcement of its sale of the winning ticket, service center manager Becky Kapfer said.

Jones said he's quitting his job.

“March 1, I'm done,” the Peoria native said.

Jones decided to take the lump sum payment. With wife Julie, six children, six grandchildren, five brothers and sisters and a “million” cousins, Jones said he is keeping his financial advising within the family.

“It's going to change his life more than mine,” daughter Morgan Haywood said.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Cole Hall to be Demolished

Chronicle photo ERIC SUMBERG A crowd of hundreds came to a news conference Wednesday to listen to plans announced by Northern Illinois University President John Peters and Gov. Rod Blagojevich to demolish Cole Hall, at rear, the site of the Feb. 14 shooting that left five NIU students and the gunman dead and 16 other people wounded. Blagojevich plans to ask the state Legislature for $40 million to build a new academic building, to be named Memorial Hall, in its place.

Chronicle photo ERIC SUMBERG Members of the Northern Illinois University community listen to a Wednesday press conference by NIU president John Peters and Gov. Rod Blagojevich to demolish Cole Hall.

Chronicle photo ERIC SUMBERG Northern Illinois University president John Peters answers questions from NIU students and members of the media following a press conference on Wednesday in which he and Gov. Rod Blagojevich announced a plan to demolish Cole Hall, the site of a multiple-homicide on Feb. 14. Peters expressed confidence that the funding for the building would make it through the Illinois legislature. “It will pass,” Peters said after the news conference.

NIU Internship Fair

Chronicle photo ERIC SUMBERG Northern Illinois University statistics graduate students Jin Lei (left), 27, and Ken Choi, 23, chat during NIU’s Spring Internship Fair on Wednesday as they walk among representatives of companies looking for interns. More than 90 employers set up shop on campus to attract NIU students to careers in such fields as engineering, food service, the armed services and entertainment.

Time to Look

Story and Photographs by Eric Sumberg

Two clean-cut young people participating in Northern Illinois University's Spring Internship Fair stood Monday at the booth for Phillips, the multinational corporation that makes everything from consumer electronics to high-tech medical machines.

The pair - 24-year-olds Ameya Shrotriya and Divya Vangari - had moved just a few feet from where they were last year at NIU's Convocation Center in DeKalb. Instead of being applicants for jobs, the NIU electrical engineering graduate student alumni were the interviewers.

“We don't understand why we were so nervous last year,” Shrotriya said.

“On the other side, we're much more relaxed,” Vangari chimed in.

The annual internship fair for NIU students was held Wednesday afternoon on the Convocation Center's track level. More than 90 employers from Walgreen Inc. to Six Flags Theme Parks Inc. set up booths replete with flashy displays, free pens, canvas bags and the potential for a summer internship.

Robert Sanko, 23, had his résumé in hand while he stood in line for an interview with a representative of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago. Sanko was joined by his fraternity brothers Jared Tryon, 22, and Rod Russell, 21. Sanko already has an undergraduate degree in business administration but is working toward a second degree in finance with a minor in economics. After a five-minute speech from the bank representative, Sanko went to visit other businesses' booths.

“It was interesting,” Sanko said. “It's such a powerful organization, they're like the rule-makers. I'd definitely like to do an internship there.”

The head of the show, NIU Career Services Executive Director Cindy Henderson, was happy with the turnout and the feel of Wednesday's event.

“We have all of our favorites here,” she said.

The companies that come to NIU are looking for students who know how to handle themselves in the workplace, she said.

“They (employers) say that NIU students are well-prepared academically, socially ... they're serious,” Henderson said. “They have a sense of purpose.”

NIU alumni are everywhere at fairs like this, said Christine Stakal, the academic program adviser and marketing internship coordinator for the department of marketing within the College of Business. She counted five former NIU students within a 10-foot radius of where she was standing in the Convocation Center.

One student who may soon be one of those alumni is Ken Choi, 23, a statistics graduate student from Rolling Meadows set to graduate in May 2009.

The recruiter from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. seemed nice, Choi said.

However, as a veteran of job fairs, Choi has learned recruiters' jargon.

“A lot of times if they're not looking for specific opportunities, they say, ‘Go online,'” Choi said.

Chronicle photo ERIC SUMBERG Northern Illinois University students Jared Tryon (left), 22, and Robert Sanko, 23, have their resumes in hand as they wait to speak with a representative of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago at the Spring Internship Fair at NIU’s Convocation Center on Wednesday afternoon.