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The coolest thing about being a freelance writer is meeting extraordinary people I wouldn't meet otherwise and seeing interesting places I might not otherwise visit. Each year that list of memorable people and places grows. There are people who, years after meeting or talking to them, I do not forget.

There was Jon Iglar, a librarian at the Hammond Library, who took me on a special tour and talked about being a double in "Road to Perdition." I was so saddened that he passed away before the movie was released. There was Louise Chickie-Wolfe, a compassionate Munster teacher who took her fifth-grade students to meet their senior pen pals at a senior living facility. There was Henry Kuric, a man in his 80s who was grabbing all kinds of awards at the Senior Olympics track and field competition and was more fit than I've ever been.

I remember talking to country singer Lee Greenwood by phone shortly after 9/11 about his song "God Bless the USA." Dr. David Min, of Munster, impressed me with his thoughts on how babies are affected by music. He had done studies which showed how classic musical calmed unborn babies and invented a device to be worn by the expectant mom to play classical music to the fetus. There was Mr. Scott, a Gary educator who had spent more than six decades in the classroom.

Carl Unger, a veteran a pilot, invented an open aircraft called the Breezy. I sat in it for a picture. I'm sure it would be thrilling to head up in the air on it, but I don't know if I'd be brave enough.

Several interviews stick with me from this year. One was by phone with Ted Karras Sr., of Gary, who happily recalled his days of playing for the Chicago Bears in the 1960s. Another was with Al Grossenbacher, a World War II vet who became an alcoholism therapist. There was Samuel Lozada, who performs for nursing home residents. I went to spend a couple minutes snapping pictures of him during a show and didn't want to leave. I finally headed out teary-eyed after his energetic harmonica playing had residents rising from wheelchairs to dance. There was also a call to interview an "American Idol" cast-off that turned into a hour long conversation with his mother, Sharon Leming, a sweet southern girl who had adopted six children in addition to her three and had been diagnosed with a rare form of cancer in her 30s.

The interview that sticks with me the most from this year is driving into a flood ravaged area of Munster to interview a retired teacher and gardener, Pat Olson. It was eerie driving down the street to see piles of soaked belongings in front of each home.

Let's hope 2009 is a better year for the region and the country.

The opinions are solely those of the writer.

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