An Extraordinary Life: So many extraordinary lives

A look back at some of the Joliet area people highlighted through the years

I can't remember the man's name, and I can't find his "An Extraordinary Life" story in my computer.

In fact, if I'd written it before 2007, the story was lost in a computer crash. But I'll never forget his story and I often retell it.

This man had lived his entire life in the Joliet house where he was born. He and his wife sacrificed to send their children to send them to Catholic school.

The family had one old car and the father often walked to work so his wife could have the car to transport the children.

But the father worked on Route 6. And he walked to work from the Ruby Street area. One day he walked to work in a blizzard because he was in charge of payroll; it was pay day; and he wanted to ensure the workers received their checks.

He was the only one who made it to work.

Nearly two decades of inspiration

Eighteen years.

That's how long I've been writing "An Extraordinary Life" features for The Herald-News.

What makes these stories especially unique is that all of the people featured are no longer living, and I never met most of them. Instead, I learn about their accomplishments, or influences, or ability to inspire, from the people who knew them best.

Most of the time, I do the initial reaching out. That's because many people don't realize how impactful their loved ones' lives can still be to readers.

A typical response to my query goes like this, "Well, yes, we always thought he/she was special, but..."

Sometimes the "extraordinary" parts are large accomplishments. But sometimes they are many smaller ones that, when added together, become an extraordinary life lived.

Here's a look back at some of those lives.

Rick Johnson

Mary Johnson was a corporate trainer at First Midwest Bank when she met her husband-to-be Rick Johnson of Joliet, a biker. At first glance, they were an unlikely couple, Mary said in a 2012 "An Extraordinary Life" story.

But Rick had a big heart. He helped host an annual fundraiser for Joliet Area Community Hospice and had a knack for bringing people together with the connection being fun.

"Rick would want to set the anguish aside and remember him for who he was: a guy who loved life and lived to connect family, friends and strangers together in a way that surpassed obstacles, like what neighborhood you were from or the school you went to or how much money you made,” Mary said in the story.

Madonna Kestel

Madonna Kestel of Manhattan, who was featured in a 2010 story, was a former nurse at Silver Cross Hospital. She also participated in fundraiser walks, volunteered at her church—St. Jude Catholic Church, New Lenox—and contributed toward many charitable works, including those that were health-related or involved food pantries.

Her daughter Melissa Kestel said of her, "She was known for telling others to take care of themselves first. The irony in this was that my mom made it her life’s mission to take care of everyone else.”

Chuck Dzarnowski

When post-polio syndrome forced Chuck Dzarnowski of Shorewood to retire, he continued his mother's genealogy research (she had traced their family back to the 14th century) as his new full-time "job."

In fact, Chuck created a website so extensive, people from all over the world contacted him to see if they might be related.

“Chuck was a big gruff man with a burly beard, but he was also a very courageous and sensitive person,” his wife Lorraine said in a 2012 story. “He was very self-disciplined. When he decided to do something, he was determined to do it.”

Tana Anderson

In a 2016 Herald-News story, Kara Anderson said her mother Tana Anderson of Crest Hill, a beautician, had to stop working in shops when she was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, more commonly known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease.

But Tana didn't stop working. She simply moved the business to her home and leaned on the cabinet behind the client’s chair for balance.

“Her arms worked just fine,” Tana said. “She was a fighter. She did not want to give up.”

Chuck Bernard

According to his obituary, Chuck Bernard of Joliet coached soccer for various youth teams in Joliet and was the head coach of the Joliet Catholic Academy soccer program from 2005 to 2009.

He also announced JCA football games from 2005 until 2013 and the St. Ray's Holiday Basketball Tournament from 1997 until 2011. Former neighbor Steve Jamnik said Chuck did more than teach Steve's kids soccer.

“He molded them into men," Steve said in a 2014 story.

Eugenia Bank

According to her friend Warren Carlin of Joliet, Eugenia Bank, a former teacher for Joliet Public Schools District 86 and art teacher at the Will County jail, was a prolific and talented artist; strong, intelligent and deeply spiritual woman; and a resilient “pillar of strength” for her family.

Each year on Holy Saturday, Eugenia hosted an Easter egg decorating event for her 10 children, 21 grandchildren and 18 great-grandchildren. Eugenia's daughter Bernie Sienko said Eugenia had a knack for making anyone feel comfortable.

“She was not Eleanor Roosevelt, Michelle Obama or Julia Child,” Warren said in a 2012 story. “But she was Eugenia Bank and she was a great lady.”

Rev. Mark Fracaro

The former pastor of St. Mary's Catholic Church in Minooka and a lover of theater, Mark tirelessly served in the Diocese of Joliet's Deaf Apostolate Ministry, starting in 1976.

He signed for events, special Masses, confessions, a children's camp and anytime he realized someone was hearing impaired, even if he was in the middle of saying Mass, Rev. Lee Bacchi, Mark's good friend, said in a 2017 Herald-News story.

“You could feel there was something more than a human touch there,” Lee said. “There was a grace working through him."

• To feature someone in "An Extraordinary Life," contact Denise M. Baran-Unland at 815-280-4122