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.”

Crowds gather to pitch TED talk ideas in New Eastside

By Taylor Hartz

Published February 6, 2018

When you’re in need of a pep talk, there are few things more inspiring than turning up the volume on a TED Talk.

Whether you’re looking for encouragement or simply want to get the wheels turning in your brain, the short, powerful talks from the TED nonprofit are devoted to spreading all kinds of ideas. But have you ever considered being the one up on stage delivering such a talk?

Judging by the attendance at a recent event at the AON building, many New Eastsiders have and are bursting with ideas they want to share with the world.  

On Jan. 31, the Mid America Club in the AON building hosted an event called “TED Talk: Idea Pitch” where more than 80 guests registered to pitch their ideas for their own talk, or just hear what others had to say.

Organized by Viewmasters Toastmasters, with TEDx Speakers on hand to offer suggestions and explain how TED Talks work, the event offered an opportunity for future speakers to take the first step toward public speaking.

“If you have an idea that’s burning to get out but you don’t know how to get it out there, we’re here to help you,” said Shanita Akintonde, who helped organize the event for Toastmasters Viewmasters.

Lauren Michael Harris talks about taking control of your life, his idea for a TED Talk, at a TEDx pitch event at the Mid America Club in the AON building at Jan. 31.

With no winners or competition, the goal of the event was to give speakers an opportunity to summarize their ideas and build confidence. Idea pitches were two minutes or less and participants received feedback from Tedx staff and others in attendance.

Glen Neilson, a financial coach in Vernon Hills, came to the event to share his idea “Take Action, Go After Your Dreams.”

This was the first time Neilson shared this idea in a public setting, though it’s something he’s wanted to do for years.

“When I was six years old I had the idea for bottled water,” said Neilson, “If I had taken action, I’d be a multi millionaire.”

Neilson’s goal is to make sure others feel brave enough to share their ideas, no matter how crazy they may seem, without the fear of failure.

“I want to tell people not to let anybody steal your dream, and to go after it,” said Neilson.

Another speaker, Lauren Michaels Harris, talked about overcoming addiction and taking “Total Control” of your life to find happiness.

Tackling smaller, but still fascinating topics, speakers like Linda Zabors pitched an idea for exploring all the individuals who are celebrated with honorary streets in Chicago – from the well known Chicagoans like Oprah Winfrey to Swami Vivekananda who was involved in the World’s Fair. 

Linda Zabors pitches her idea for a TED talk at an event at the Mid America Club on Jan. 31. Photo by Taylor Hartz

After ideas were pitched, guests participated in a Q&A session where they could ask questions about pitches, or make suggestions for how to expand ideas.

 

New neighborhood musician moves into The Shoreham

By B. David Zarley | Staff Writer

November 15, 2017

Detroit native Phillip-Michael Scales has earned the title of Lakeshore East’s Musician in Residence and is moving into the neighborhood. Scales intends to bring his own personal flavor to his performances, which he describes as “bluesy and soulful” to special Lakeshore East events hosted by Megallan.

Phillip-Michael Scales performs at Sonic Lunch in Ann Arbor, Michigan, summer 2017. Photo courtesy of Phillip-Michael Scalestured

Scales’ catchy interpretations of popular songs, paired with his bright smile, won the crowd this fall in the Lakeshore East Legend Contest at the 11th annual Magellan Rewards Festival, landing him the prize of living rent-free for one year in the Shoreham.

Scales said he looks forward to playing music for a living. “It’ll be great to have a place to call home full-time,” Scales explained. “[To] just be able to dedicate what I would put towards rent to more music and more creativity.”

In addition to performing in New Eastside, he hopes to offer instruction and encouragement to budding musicians in the neighborhood. According to an email from Magellan Community Relations Director Vanessa Casciano, “Phillip-Michael will be performing mostly at our Lakeshore East Magellan Property Managed buildings, but he will be a part of the Drunken Bean and all Lakeshore East Park events.”

Fellow musician Molly Coleman, who met Scales at the exhibit at the Superior Artist in residence contest last spring, believes Scales deserves his role because of his professionalism.

“He is humble and grounded,” Coleman wrote in an email. “He takes what he does seriously and he does it with style and poise. He’s got that charm going for him, for sure.”

New Nando’s makes dream come true for young South African artist

By Taylor Hartz | Staff Writer

October 9, 2017

Tulsha Booysen never thought she would leave Africa. A recent high school graduate from Cape Town, South Africa, the young artist had never traveled outside of her home country, and neither had anyone in her family. Then this summer, Booysen received a call that she would soon be boarding a plane bound for Chicago. 

The trip was sponsored by Nando’s, the South African Peri-Peri chicken restaurant with 12 popular locations in Chicago, and 1,200 more worldwide. When Nando’s decided to open a new Chicago flagship store on Michigan Avenue, they held their usual “Hot Young Designer Contest,” to find an aspiring artist who could design the new restaurant’s centerpiece. Booysen, 19, was the youngest contestant to ever win the Nando’s competition. Her “CanBeam Chandelier” design for a 21-foot chandelier made of over 7000 aluminum cans was unveiled Sept. 4 at the opening of Nando’s Michigan Ave. store.

Booysen entered the contest while she was still in high school, and said she was inspired to use a material that would otherwise go to waste. The installation she designed is a chandelier-style light fixture made up of more than 6,500 repurposed alumni cans, painted in bright, bold colors and strung together.

“There are so many of them, and I thought I could make them into something,” said Booysen, who collected cans from local vendors and shop owners around Cape Town when creating her prototype.

Tracy Lynch, one of the judges for the Hot Young Designer Contest, said the use of aluminum cans really stood out to the judges. Lynch said she admired Booysen’s “need to work with discarded cans that she saw being used creatively by other Southern Africans,” and “also appreciated that Tulsha saw the manufacturing process as an opportunity to create work for others in her community.”

Surrounded by the vibrant designs of South African artists in her own community, Booysen said she has dreamt of becoming a designer since she began taking art and design classes at her high school. Goals of becoming a professional designer felt far off for the student, who said she never thought she’d see one of her designs on display this early in her career.

“It’s been absolutely unbelievable,” said Booysen.

When Booysen was notified that she won the contest through a phone call with Nando’s, her eyes filled up with tears as she was told that she would visit Chicago Aug. 21 – 25.

“I held my brother and we cried,” said Booysen, who said the opportunity to visit the U.S. and explore Chicago has been “unreal.”

Melinda Nettelbeck
, Design Director 
for Nando’s, said they flew Booysen to Chicago for the unveiling because “it was important to us that she be able to experience it first hand, hopefully seeing it as an opportunity to truly dream big.” The young artist helped with the final installation, spent time in Chicago interning with the Aria Group and getting to know the engineering side of the studio, and was able to speak with locals about her design and its creation.

“Our hope is to encourage and nurture the young and talented designers based in Southern Africa,” said Nettelbeck. “We wanted to provide her with opportunity and exposure, both important parts in laying a foundation for a career in design.”

Booysen made a prototype of the chandelier that was recreated in a larger scale here in Chicago, with Oak Park architecture group Aria Group Architects overseeing the full-size creation.

In the U.S., Nando’s restaurants display more 

than 865 pieces of original South African Art; worldwide, the restaurant showcases over 21,000 unique pieces. 

 

Ice fishing in DuSable Harbor

The best wintertime fishing holes in Chicago are about eight inches wide. Cut by hand into the Lake Michigan ice, they offer robust leisure, healthy sport and tasty filets to a community of dedicated anglers who count DuSable Harbor among the best spots around.

“You can come down here and do something in the middle of Chicago that most people wouldn’t think of,” says Chris Ranney, a DuSable regular who grew up fishing near his childhood home in Pilsen. “We have access to some of the most beautiful stuff in the city down here.”

Fishermen John Lazarich and Chris Ranney at DuSable Harbor

Illinois Resident Fishing Licenses cost $15 per year. Winter access to the docks of five Chicago Harbors — Belmont, Burnham, Diversey, DuSable and Montrose — is available from Thanksgiving through March by way of a $6 Pier Pass.

Pier Passes are essentially the passcodes that open certain gates to the docks in the harbors. Henry’s Sports, Bait & Marine at 3130 S. Canal, (773) 835-1531, is Chicago’s exclusive distributor.

Ranney fishes from Chicago to Milwaukee year round. When he hits DuSable in the winter months, he arrives before sunrise with a sled full of angling gear in tow.

“I like to drill a lot of holes because I trout fish as well as perch fish out here.”

He uses a motorized 51 CC Eskimo Auger to get through the ice. It retails for about $400, cuts an eight-inch hole and looks like a knee-high red corkscrew topped with a two-handled pull start engine. For the thrifty sportster with time and muscle to spare, he recommends a hand auger “for about sixty bucks.”

Either way, he explains, the threshold should be at least eight inches wide because “you need an eight-inch hole to get some of these fish through.”

Most anglers agree that the ice should be at least three inches thick to provide safe fishing. According to Steve Palmisano, who co-owns Henry’s Sports with his brother, Tom, “We need three days of five degrees or colder to get the lake to freeze.”

Saturday morning at DuSable Harbor

The Palmisanos, who learned to fish near their family’s Bridgeport home, took over the 64-year-old business from their father. Like many enthusiasts, they combine information from others in the community with their own methods to determine the ice’s thickness.

During the mid-January heat wave, Steve explained that, “I’m still getting a confirmation that we can step out on the ice.” The store also provides daily fishing forecasts for customers.

Back on the harbor, Ranney relies on a “little network of people that’ll let us know when to come down and chop a hole.” After getting the good word, he uses a “spud bar” to test the thickness beforehand.

A spud bar is a long rod of steel that measures about four feet in length with a hammer-type end. It is used to strike the ice and, ideally, create a certain sound that indicates proper thickness.

“When you’re testing ice thickness, you’re going to spud your way out, and as you go, you’re going to get used to what a ‘thunk’ is,” he explains. “If you don’t hear the right thunk, or your spud goes through that ice, it’s not safe.”

Other essential gear includes creepers, which are basically cleats or cleated shoes “so you don’t break your neck,” and, of course, rods.

Ice fishing rods are much shorter than their warm-weather counterparts. Averaging about two feet long, the size allows greater movement within fishing shacks, on bucket perches and over small openings in the ice. Ranney demonstrates the advantage by explaining, “you’re standing over a hole,” then backing a few feet away and saying, “you don’t want to be over here.”

One of Ranney’s perch from a Saturday outing at the harbor

For bait, Palmisano recommends waxworms, which are the larvae of wax moths. “The fish are more dormant,” he explains. “They’re not really eating as large quantity, so smaller-type bait would be suitable.” Fathead minnows are another good option, he says.

When the fish are caught, all of the anglers who spoke to New Eastside News say they prefer to eat them.

Ranney likes to  fry his catch in a pan with Creole batter. His fishing buddy, John Lazarich, likes to coat his with panko.

“Japanese breadcrumbs,” he says. “You know, season it up with a little salt and pepper. If you’re going to panfry it, you can use butter. Deep fry it in oil. Little Old Bay seasoning is always good.”

Palmisano enjoys “doing the Mexican way.”

“Fresh cilantro, tomato on a wheat tortilla, seasoned bread crumbs,” he says. “They’re very tasty.”

Honoring firefighter Walter Watroba

Although four decades have passed since firefighter Walter Watroba sacrificed his life while protecting the city from a fire on the West Side, his memory is honored every day by Engine Co. 13 at 259 N. Columbus Dr.

The fire station next to the Aqua Tower dedicated a bronze plaque to Watroba during a touching ceremony on Nov. 22. Among the 100+ attendees who paid their respects were CFD Captain John Jakubec, CFD Chief Jeffrey Lyle, Fire Fighters Union Local 2 President Thomas Ryan, 19th Ward Alderman Matt O’Shea, Engine Co. 13 gardener David Sudler and several members of Watroba’s family.

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The extended family of Walter Watroba

Engraved with a description of Watroba’s heroic struggle, the plaque complements a bronze sculpture created in his name and dedicated to all fallen firefighters in a memorial garden at the front of the station.

Retired Engine Co. 13 Captain George Rabilea was a driving force behind the memorial’s construction.

“We’ve seen people from all over the world coming to look at the memorial and to take pictures, and it’s time that we have something there to let them know what it’s there for,” he explained.

Before recounting Watroba’s struggle in his opening remarks, Alderman O’Shea compared the firefighter to another great American hero. “It is fitting that we should honor Walter on the same day that John F. Kennedy lost his life,” he said.

Watroba became trapped underneath a coal conveyor that had collapsed upon him as he fought a multiple-alarm fire inside the former Commonwealth Edison generating station at 1111 W. Cermak Rd. in 1976. He remained conscious for most of the time that paramedics attempted to free his right leg from the machinery, O’Shea explained.

After struggling for more than seven hours, they decided that amputation was his only hope for survival. The procedure took place in darkness while Watroba was still conscious.

During this time, the Alderman explained, Watroba’s greatest concern was for his fellow firefighters. “Is everyone alright?” he asked.

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Retired Engine Co. 13 Captain George Rabilea

Karen Wysocki, the eldest of Watroba’s three daughters, was among the family members in attendance. Wysocki remembers her father as a dedicated family man who “always had some exciting stories.”

On the morning that her father lost his life, she was a 15-year-old girl getting ready for high school. She learned of the tragedy when her grandmother called to say that Watroba’s name had been mentioned in a report about a large fire that she heard on the radio.

“It’s just a really touching tribute that they have that outside,” she continued, “and displayed so beautifully, too.”

The ceremony ended with a meal donated by a number of local restaurants and vendors, but not before all who were present honored the sacrifice of several other firefighters. Captain Jakubec and Chief Lyle announced the names of those who had made the ultimate sacrifice, and a bell was rung in memory of each one.

— Daniel Patton

Marathon madness

New Eastside runners describe the inspiration to compete

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On Sunday, October 9, the streets of Chicago will once again be inundated with tens of thousands of eager marathon runners as the city celebrates another year hosting the popular 26.2-mile foot race. Though participants come from all over the world to experience the energy and excitement of the Chicago Marathon, our own New Eastside is home to some dedicated and inspiring marathon hopefuls. Each runner has a unique and purposeful story that ignited the courage to start this journey. These are just a few of the many stories that comprise the fabric of this year’s participants.

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Paula

Paula Almeida, a resident of the New Eastside’s Coast, began running a few years ago for exercise. She has run two half-marathons in Brazil, her native country.

marath01“I always thought marathons were for crazy people and could never picture myself doing that,” Almeida says. But her father, an avid runner and marathoner, convinced her to enter the lottery for this year’s Chicago Marathon, which would be her first. They both were selected for entry, which Almeida took as a sign that this was the year to run it.

“After a few weeks, I embraced the challenge as a personal accomplishment for overcoming my limits and set up my mind to do it.” Almeida began training with Chicago Endurance Sports (CES). “The encouragement of the group helps you believe in yourself and overcome your limits every week with a lot of support from the coaches, pacers and other runners,” says Almeida.

As she enters the final weeks of training, Almeida is focused on preparing her mind. “It is amazing the power that our mind has on our body, and how our body adjusts and develops when you believe it and follow the training.” Come race day, Almeida aims to keep her pace and finish strong. “I look forward to crossing that finish line and accomplishing something that ten months ago I was sure that I could never have done.”

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Walter

North Harbor Tower resident Walter Boza is a marathon veteran. With seven marathons under his belt, three of them in Chicago, he is no stranger to the challenge of running 26.2 miles.

marath03Boza runs with a group from CARA on Saturdays, which meets in Lakeshore East Park by Mariano’s. In September, CARA hosted a 20-mile training run, a “dress rehearsal” for race day. Boza says that though he struggled between miles 16-18, he was able to pick up the pace at the end, and he’s confident that he’ll finish with a smile.

Running five days a week, Boza follows his own unstructured program. “I’m strict about long runs,” says Boza of his training, but during the week he runs solo. “I have a time goal, “he says, “but I reassess every day.”

Boza hopes to run a 3:45 marathon on October 9, which stands as his Personal Record set at Chicago in 2009. “But my real goal is to finish with a smile.” Following Chicago, Boza is looking forward to running with his eight year old daughter, who recently joined “Girls on the Run.” They plan to do a 5K in November.

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Lisa

Lisa Aggarwal, who lives in the Parkshore, will celebrate her birthday on marathon Sunday by running through our beautiful city with thousands of spectators honoring her with cheers and encouragement. “I figured this would be a unique way to celebrate,” she says.

marath02Aggarwal has been a runner for a decade and has completed the Soldier Field Ten Miler three times and the Rock N Roll Half Marathon twice. As a proud native Chicagoan, she’s ready to tackle the Chicago marathon, which is the only marathon on her radar.

The road to the start line hasn’t been perfectly paved for Aggarwal. Three weeks into training she suffered a foot injury that sidelined her for seven weeks. She’s back in action though, and hasn’t let the injury stop her.

Aggarwal is training with CES, and she’s also raising money for the Children of the Crossroads Foundation. “I’ve watched many friends run the Chicago Marathon over the years, and I look forward to my turn running it this year! My husband and two daughters always cheer me on during races, so I most look forward to seeing them on marathon day.”

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Raman

Local resident Raman Kansal will be attempting to complete his fourth marathon in Chicago on October 9. “Being born and raised in Chicago, this marathon is extra special to me as it allows me to experience so many of our unique neighborhoods, including Lakeshore East,” he says.

marath04As a child, Kansal suffered from severe asthma and could barely run half a block without coughing and wheezing. Over the years, his asthma has gotten much better, and he credits running with this improvement.

“I joined a local running club (CES) to help with the training and seeing my fellow club members complete the marathon is my primary goal.” He’s also excited about seeing all the people coming out to cheer and support the runners; Chicago has the most fantastic spectators!

When he’s not running, Kansal enjoys spending time with his niece and nephew in Maggie Daley Park. “It is, by far, their favorite park in the city!”

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Good luck to all the runners on Marathon Sunday! And if you’re not personally logging the miles that morning, spectating is a great way to join in the fun. As residents of the New Eastside, we have easy access to nearby cheering zones. Get out there and clap your hands, ring a cowbell, offer a smile or simply stand on the sidelines and stare in awe as the runners make their pilgrimage to the finish line. Congrats, runners. Now go get those medals!

— Angela Gagnon

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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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

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