How one realtor helped build the neighborhood

(Published on May 30, 2019)

By Jesse Wright for Sheetal Balani

New Eastside residents know what a gem the neighborhood is. But years ago, before Magellan developed the area, Compass realtor Sheetal Balani was asking her prospective buyers to have faith in her and the future of the area.

Balani has been selling in New Eastside for 13 years, and she recalls bringing clients to the developer’s trailer on Upper Wacker  Dr. to look at scale models and floor plans.

“The sales staff would make their pitch and I’d hold buyers’ hands as they took a leap of faith,” she said. “For most folks there was definitely a lot of uncertainty over what it would ultimately become and what the community would look like.”

With the units stil two to three years away from completion, Balani saw the vision of what could be, and made the sales. Over time, she helped build the familial community.

“Those early buyers, a lot of them are still in the neighborhood and they attract other family members and friends,” she said.

Balani knows the story well. She sold a unit to her in-laws, who moved from the suburbs and she watched their stress melt away.

“They used to always enjoy going to the theatre but the distance between the city and the suburbs was too daunting,” Balani said. “Now they frequent shows two-to-three times a month.”

While Balani could understand the appeal of raising kids in the suburbs, the community of New Eastside allowed her to have a neighborhood and be in the heart of the city–it was the best of both worlds.

“Having lived in the city and moved to the suburbs, wanting to come downtown with two kids, it was clear to me that Lakeshore East was an oasis in the city,” she said. “It felt comfortable and welcoming to a young family.”

Balani knows firsthand the biggest selling points of Lakeshore East.

“My kids learned to ride their bikes around the perimeter of Lakeshore East Park,” she said. “We walk to Mariano’s several times a week and we can walk to work in just minutes.”

Whether you’re raising young kids and want a city meets neighborhood experience or your kids are off at college, Balani knows the ins and outs of New Eastside and can help make it your home.

Spertus to honor Justice Ginsburg in song

(Published May 6, 2019)

By Jesse Wright, Staff Writer

The Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership, will honor Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg with the musical “Notorious RBG in Song.”

The musical will be performed once, May 19 at 2 p.m.

Ginsburg has served on the high court for 25 years and in recent years Ginsburg has become a pop-culture icon known to fans as Notorious RBG, a wry nod to fellow Brooklynite, rapper Biggie Smalls, the Notorious B.I.G.

Ginsburg’s life and work are celebrated in this one-act dramatic concert featuring soprano/composer Patrice Michaels, who has been called “a formidable interpretative talent” by “The New Yorker” with her collaborative pianist Kuang-Hao Huang and their guests, soprano Michelle Areyzaga, tenor Matthew Dean, and baritone Evan Bravos.

Justice Ginsburg, this concert and the accompanying CD are personal. These songs about her life are presented (and in many cases, written) by her daughter-in-law, Michaels, and produced by her son, Cedille Records founder James Ginsburg.

James Ginsburg will sit for a post-show question and answer session and an accompanying CD will be for sale at the post-program reception.

Performance is 75 minutes long and there is no intermission. Tickets are $18, $10 for Spertus members and $8 for students and Spertus alumni. They’re available at spertus.edu.

SHE SAID YES!: The Maggie Daley marriage proposal heard ‘round the world

By Jesse Wright, Staff Writer

Bob Lempa wanted to do something big for Peggy Baker, his longtime girlfriend.

They’d been dating for years and he knew she was special and he wanted to spend the rest of his life with her. It was just a matter of finding the right time and place to ask her to marry him.

So, one snowy morning, armed with twine, some stakes and a snow shovel, he went to work in Maggie Daley Park, first marking out the letters and then shoveling.

Six hours later, the words “marry me” were written across the snowy canvass of Maggie Daley Park.

“I had no idea whether security would kick me out when I started doing this,” Baker said. “But they were supportive. I wasn’t writing something negative, it wasn’t something political and it wasn’t a commercial.”

It was painstaking, Baker said.

But it worked.

After he wrapped up, Lempa called Baker. It was a day after Valentine’s Day and he had told her she’d be getting a card.

“At four he called and said, ‘Did you get my card yet?’ and I said, ‘no’ and then he said ‘look out your window,’” said Baker. “I knew it was for me and I saw the message and my co-workers overheard and they started congratulating me and giving me hugs. They clapped and cheered. I met Bob at the park and the park district people were there and I got to say yes officially when I went down there.”

Lempa caught more than Baker’s attention though. Since the public proposal caught the attention of downtown, Lempa said he’s seen his name pop up in stories around the world.

“I wasn’t doing it for the publicity, although I thought I might get some,” Lempa said. “But it is all across the States and it hit Mexico, Spain and New Delhi.”

Baker said she’s thrilled to be part of a good news story.

Prior to the engagement, Baker had been thinking about a fun vacation as a way to shake up her winter.

“I was thinking a week ago, I need to plan a vacation or something exciting,” she said. “Who knew how the week would go? So many people are reaching out and this got so much attention. It is amazing. I was on TV this week! So many people are talking about it.”

Lempa said he certainly doesn’t mind.

“I was looking to hit a homerun and I hit a grand slam,” he said.

The couple hasn’t set a date for the wedding yet, but Lempa said they’re thinking about sometime over the summer.

It’s easy to help others in the downtown area

By Elizabeth Czapski, Staff Writer

 

The holiday season often inspires a desire to do good and give back. Lucky for folks who live in the Loop, it’s easy to find charities that need help right next door. Of course, if time is limited, these organizations would love a Thanksgiving or Christmas donation, just in time for the holiday season and in time to get a tax break next year.

Northwestern Memorial Hospital

Northwestern Memorial Hospital, 251 E. Huron St., offers a wide range of volunteer opportunities. Whether you want to knit hats for newborns, deliver mail or interact with patients, there’s something for everyone to do. Volunteers receive free flu shots, invitations to hospital events and discounts at participating retailers. Volunteer must make a six month commitment of four hours per week, be 18 years of age and complete a background check. Visit nm.org/patients-and-visitors/volunteer or call 312-926-2070 for more information.

Ronald McDonald House near Lurie Children’s Hospital

Ronald McDonald House helps families with children who have medical needs by making sure family members can stay somewhere close when their child is in the hospital. Volunteer opportunities are numerous and varied. Visit rmhccni.org for more information. For information about volunteering with Lurie Children’s hospital, visit luriechildrens.org.

Skyline Village Chicago

Skyline Village is a membership organization for older adults. By volunteering, you can make a positive difference in an older person’s life. Volunteers can choose from a variety of jobs, including visiting members at home or in the hospital, accompanying them to doctor’s appointments, doing their grocery shopping or picking up prescriptions and providing technological help. Call 312-957-6060 or visit skylinevillagechicago.org for more information.

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Chicago

When you volunteer with Big Brothers Big Sisters, you will become a mentor and a friend to an at-risk child between the ages of 7 and 14-years-old. These relationships help children become better students and improve their relationships with their peers. Find out more at bbbschgo.org/volunteer.

Fourth Presbyterian Church

Fourth Presbyterian Church uses volunteers for its own church groups and activities, but also partners with other Chicago-based organizations such as the Greater Chicago Food Depository and Chicago Lights Urban Farm. In addition, the church organizes a group called Helping Hands, which helps with painting, cleaning, construction and gardening. Call 312-981-3382 or visit fourthchurch.org for more information.

In Her Shoes Foundation

In Her Shoes is a volunteer-run organization dedicated to empowering women and girls. Opportunities include mentoring, administrative roles, photography and videography. Find out more at inhershoesfoundation.org/volunteer.

Cruising from summer job to boat captain

By Elizabeth Czapski | Staff Writer

Published September 04, 2018

When Gabriel Argumedo was 15, he got a summer job with Chicago’s First Lady Cruises and Mercury Cruises as a deckhand, taking tickets, cleaning bathrooms and acting as a lookout for the captain.

“When I started down here, I didn’t even know that Chicago had a river,” said Argumedo, who is originally from Barrington, Illinois. “That’s how green I was.”

Now 30, he has risen to the rank of captain, piloting vessels on the Chicago River and Lake Michigan for tours and private events. He also works as director of vessel operations and runs the maintenance department during the winter off-season. Argumedo’s brother, David, works as a captain as well.

A typical day for Argumedo begins around 7:30 a.m., giving him and his crew time to prepare for the first river cruise at 9 a.m. They run safety drills first and then set up the boat and check that everything is working and ready to go. Then the tours begin—three to six each per day.

Argumedo offers several tours, including a Chicago Architecture Foundation river cruise and a river and lake tour, the latter being Argumedo’s favorite.

“I never get tired of that view of the city from the lake.” He said his favorite moments on the lake are at sunset or at night.

When he does private events like corporate parties or weddings, Argumedo said he sometimes works late into the night. Piloting for private charters takes more skill and is, “more involved with the customer one-on-one, and you’re doing more custom routes and making a lot more decisions,” Argumedo said.

Argumedo said he loves his job because it changes every day and he’s constantly
meeting new people.

“If you’re a social butterfly, this is definitely the job for you,” he said.

Argumedo said he just likes being out on the water. Some of his most exciting moments have involved rescuing other boats and meeting celebrities, he said.

But being a boat captain does come with challenges—namely, dealing with river traffic.

“While there is plenty of room for everybody to be on [the river], the most difficult part is just getting the education out there of how to maneuver on the river,” Argumedo said.

He said the boating industry is always looking for good people to hire.

“I think most people are unaware that this opportunity or this industry even exists,” he said.

He said it’s possible for a boat lover to make a career out of it—and a fun one, at that.

Argumedo said that because he enjoys what he does, “it really doesn’t feel like work most of the days.”

Meet the new head of GEMS school

By Tom Conroy | Staff Writer

Tom Cangiano began in July as the newest head of school for GEMS World Academy Chicago.

Cangiano is the fourth head since the school opened in September 2014, but said he will stay a while. “I don’t take a job if I’m not completely committed to it,” said Cangiano, who has over 25 years of combined experience as an educator and leader.

“It is crucial to have leadership stability at a newer school and the only way to get things done is to stay long-term.”

Prior to arriving at GEMS, Cangiano led the Shady Side Academy in Pittsburgh for eight years. That experience will serve him well as GEMS prepares to add more high school classes and new facilities in its Upper School building by the 2019–2020 academic year.

Cangiano said he and his wife were happy to move to Chicago. Cangiano, a native of Massachusetts, said he enjoys living in the city and the school’s proximity to everything in New Eastside. He has two children in high school and a third in college.

Cangiano has lived overseas, teaching in Budapest and serving as the president of the American College of Sofia in Bulgaria. He said his international experience fits with GEMS and its global network of schools as well as its International Baccalaureate curriculum.

“The school is both inward and outward looking, as we encourage students to understand what is going on not just around the world, but also here in Chicago.”
– Tom Cangiano

“GEMS’ genuine commitment to global citizenship attracted me,” he explained. “The school is both inward and outward looking, as we encourage students to un- derstand what is going on not just around the world, but also here in Chicago.” He added that the school teaches students to explore and research Chicago.”

“The history person in me comes out when I encourage the kids to be part of the community so they can understand the context of what they are learning,” said Cangiano, who has a background in the humanities. Cangiano added that he hopes to strengthen the school’s global network.

He recently attended strategic planning meetings in Dubai and hopes to increase the number of joint service programs and exchanges, allowing students to collaborate with their peers at other GEMS schools.

Domestically, he will work toward growing enrollment to 100 students per grade level for a total enrolment of 1,500 students.

GEMS World Academy Chicago
350 E. South Water St.
Chicago, IL 60601
(312) 809-8900
gemsworldacademy-chicago.com

Published August 1, 2018

Penny Pritzker speaks at 114th Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce meeting in New Eastside

By B. David Zarley | Staff Writer

Published July 5, 2018

Members of the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce held their 114th annual meeting on June 5 in the Grand Ballroom of the Hyatt Regency Chicago, 151 E. Upper Wacker Drive.

The crowd included business and political leaders who gathered to hear remarks from Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Jack Lavin, the Chamber’s new president and CEO. Penny Pritzker, former Secretary of Commerce, delivered the keynote address.

Mayor Emanuel emphasized in his speech the importance of area businesses working hand-in-hand with city colleges like Harold Washington College, in addition to prestigious private institutions.

“If we make everybody part of that winning circle, we make one city, one future working together,” Emanuel said. “That’s our challenge.”

Lavin presented the Chamber’s new Chamber Connect program. “The idea for this came from something that’s already happening,” Lavin said. “Chamber members meet one another, and they end up doing business together.”

The Chamber will create a formal, user-friendly process to help better connect members.

Penny Pritzker, who served as Secretary of Commerce from 2013 to 2017, was joined by outgoing chairman Steve Ferrera who took part in her keynote conversation. Pritzker touched on a wide range of topics and stressed American businesses’ potential as an envoy for the state.

“Ronald Reagan used to say we’re the ‘Shining City on the Hill,’” Pritzker said. “We can’t forget … how much of the world looks to the United States as an example of providing values and examples, whether it’s around lifelong learning, whether it’s around human rights and other things. Leadership like that requires generosity. It requires us, as a country, to think not just of our own needs, but also how you provide that role.”

Lastly, the Chamber, Mesirow Financial and CIBC presented the seventh annual James Tyree Emerging Business Leadership Award to Cornelius Griggs. Griggs built himself and his business, GMA Construction Group, from humble beginnings.

He grew up a ward of the state, living in the Cabrini-Green housing complex and other
public housing in Chicago. He went to college and earned two master’s degrees and served overseas in the Army Reserve before co-founding GMA Construction.

In addition to running his business, Griggs teaches at Kennedy-King College and volunteers with the Council for Opportunity in Education.

 

Photo courtesy of The Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce

Chicago Fire Department diver remembered as a hero

By Shamontiel Vaughn | Community Contributor

Department diver at Engine 13 quarters in New Eastside, died on Memorial Day while attempting to rescue a man who fell into the Chicago River.

Firefighters hung purple memorial flags in honor of Bucio and U.S. and Chicago flags were also lowered outside of Bucio’s firehouse, 259 N. Columbus Drive, after his death.

Bucio became separated from the rest of the dive team during a rescue mission at the Chicago River while looking for 28-year-old Alberto Lopez, Ed Cross, a spokesman for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, told the Chicago Tribune. He died at a hospital shortly after.

Lopez accidentally fell off the edge of a johnboat when a second boat sailed by and was still missing at the time this story went to press. While searching for Lopez, Bucio was separated from his dive partner. The 15-year-marine veteran was pronounced dead two hours after he was found in the Chicago River and taken to Stroger Hospital.

“We’re proud of Juan,” said CFD Lt. Chris Mezirie, a fellow emergency responder with the department, via ABC News. “He’s going to be remembered as a hero.”

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel visited the Engine Company 13 and Bucio’s family
to pay his respects.

“I think it’s important for his sons to know that their dad is a Chicago hero, who gave his all for the rest of us,” Emanuel said.

Bucio joined the dive team in 2007 after working for CPD from 2000 to 2003 and CFD since 2004. He is survived by his wife and two sons.

Published June 5, 2018

At 17, mastering the classics on violin

By B. David Zarley | Staff Writer

Whenever teenage violinist Rabia Mohammadi draws her bow, the melodies that emerge ardent and airy—pour out of her instrument with a sound older than the Buckingham building where she practices, than New Eastside or America itself. As she plays her Landolfi, a Milanese instrument crafted in the 1750s, Mohammadi becomes a bridge—as all classical musicians must—between past and present.

Mohammadi’s passion for music developed early in life as a result of frequent exposure to classical music.

“I always went to classical concerts,” Mohammadi said in her family’s apartment at the Buckingham, 360 E. Randolph St., where views of Lake Michigan unfurled before her. “I was always surrounded by music, especially in this city. There’s a lot of places for classical music, like [the Chicago Symphony Orchestra]. I thought that was something I really wanted to do.”

Rabia Mohammadi. Photo courtesy of Michelle
Mohammadi

She picked up the violin at age 3. Now at 17, Mohammadi practices up to seven
hours a day.

Mohammadi gravitated to the instrument for its lyrical qualities. “I think it’s closest to a human voice,” Mohammadi said. She has coaxed that voice to “sing” in an array of competitions and venues, from Chicago to Central Europe. In early May, she will play an invite-only evening with Chicago violinist Rachel Barton Pine at the Buckingham building and compete at the prestigious Fischoff chamber competition at The University of Notre Dame.

Mohammadi’s busy schedule dovetails with her other major interest—travel. She is learning German, and her previous trips to the country have brought her closer to her favorite composer, Johann Sebastian Bach.

“I think that it is essential for every musician to play Bach, because it really helps everything, especially intonation and it helps you become a more musical person,” Mohammadi said.

Playing the works of famous composers in their home nations strengthens Mohammadi’s connection to them. “Being in the country where Beethoven or Bach was born, it does change the way that I play their works.” Mohammadi said.

The young musician has even played pianos owned by some of the world’s finest pianists, including Chopin. “That one was out of tune,” her mother, Michelle Mohammadi joked.

Her instructor, Desirée Ruhstrat of Northwestern’s Bienen School of Music, said the young musician improves quickly. “Those life experiences play into her playing, she’s constantly on the quest for knowledge, and that’s what I love.”

Currently in her junior year of high school, Mohammadi hopes to continue her studies in Europe after graduation—she’s aiming for Kronberg Academy in Germany—and to spend her senior year beginning to master a new instrument, the viola.

“There’s a certain quality about viola, I just think it is very human,” Mohammadi said. “There’s something about, in particular the C string, that really draws me to the instrument, and to be able to express myself in more ways.”

Her desire to add another instrument to her repertoire comes as no surprise to those who know her. “She is just an amazingly well-rounded musician, which you usually don’t see at that age,” Ruhstrat said.

Mohammadi will perform this summer at the Make Music Chicago festival, at Carnegie Hall, in Milwaukee, at Ravinia, and in London and France. In the fall, she will perform with with the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra, playing the works of Finnish composer Jean Sibelius.

Published on May 2.

Four generations of the Viviano family call New Eastside home

By Gianna Annunzio | Staff Writer

Over the course of a decade, members of the Viviano family have moved across the country and settled in Chicago. Today, four generations of relatives, with ages ranging from 2 months to 88-years-old, call the New Eastside neighborhood home. With most members occupying an apartment in the Park Millennium building, 222 N. Columbus Dr., making a trip to visit family is as easy as pushing an elevator button.

Al and Joanna Viviano developed a love for Chicago while visiting their daughter, Davina Viviano (now Davina Simon) when she began college at DePaul University. After spending years living in Philadelphia and Louisville, the couple purchased an apartment in Park Millennium in 2010.

The area provided the Vivianos with the feeling of “a friendly neighborhood,” within the urban excitement of downtown Chicago—or in their words, “the best of both worlds.”

Al and Joanna now permanently live in the New Eastside’s Park Millennium along with Joanna’s mother, Rose Cirincioni. Davina Simon and her husband Chad also live in the building with their two-month-old twin boys, Luke and Jacob. The couple’s son, Dante Viviano, lives in the South Loop with his wife Francesca.

As a tight-knit family with Italian roots, having all members in one city completed their transition to Chicago living. “It’s been such a joy and a convenience for us,” said Joanna Viviano, who takes care of the twins three days a week. “Our children grew up in the suburbs, but I see times have changed. People don’t feel that need any more to move to the suburbs with children.”

Since their move, the Vivianos have experienced nothing but satisfaction while assimilating into to the New Eastside neighborhood. Joanna now works at the Mon Ami Jewelry store on Wabash, selling a variety of fine jewelry. Al, who used to make a career out of selling pasta to national restaurant chains, is now retired. In his spare time, he creates children’s
picture books.

With four generations to socialize with, and twin grandsons to entertain, Al and Joanna appreciate New Eastside’s central location to child-friendly urban activities.

“We’re going to be taking [the twins] to the park and Navy Pier,” Joanna said. “There’s also a Baskin Robbins, and the Aon Plaza where they can play around the fountain,”
she said.

“We have it all planned out.” “I’m already developing Pedway games,” Al added. “There are a lot of things you can do in the Pedway, so I hope other kids join us.” 

When the family first moved into Park Millennium, Joanna said there were very few families with children occupying units.

Today, the area has significantly developed into a family destination.
“The area has become so child-friendly with Maggie Daley Park, the Cultural Cen-
ter and the Pedway,” Joanna said. “I often tell my friends that this area, with the New
Eastside and the Loop, has become like a Disney World for children.”

As couples with families continue to move in, Davina Simon has also begun
joining in on the community culture.

“There are so many babies on [her] floor, and they have a group already formed,”
Joanna said. “They go down to where the swimming pool is in our building and they
congregate with their children, like a little mother’s club.”

As a couple, Al and Joanna enjoy going to the movies, grocery shopping together at Mariano’s, and taking advantage of the restaurants close by. “We always say going
to the grocery store is a ‘walk in the park,’” Joanna said. “[Al] and I have a secret bench
at Aqua Park, and we enjoy it so much. Whenever we go we sit on this particular bench—we claim it and we just love it. We’ve been married 40 years and it’s still romantic for us.”

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