Surprise parade for La Salle graduate ready to serve Uncle Sam

‘The country is privileged to have her’

Gessica Sperling figured something was up.

A family friend uttered a cryptic message, “See you Saturday.” What was going on Saturday?

A big sendoff, that’s what.

“I’m very lucky. All my friends, family – everything.”

—  Gessica Sperling

Sperling, 20, of La Salle, is joining the Illinois National Guard and starts training later this month. The honors graduate from LaSalle-Peru Township High School and IVCC decided she wanted to serve her country and work toward a physical therapy degree. Her path? Becoming a weekend warrior and full-time student.

“I was going to do active duty, but after researching it, I realized I wanted to be in my community more and help out,” she said. “So the National Guard was my way to go.”

Her mom, Lysa Sperling, decided a farewell bash was warranted, but with COVID-19 still lurking, plans quickly morphed into a celebratory parade. At 3:30 p.m. Saturday, La Salle emergency vehicles drove past the Sperling home on Lafayette Street with horns and sirens blaring, trailed by the Planters NUTmobile and about 40 vehicles packed with well-wishers, many of them waving U.S. flags.

“I’m very lucky,” Gessica said, standing curbside with presents, balloons and greeting cards at her feet. “All my friends, family – everything.”

It wasn’t hard for Lysa to assemble a parade, because so many people know her daughter from church, school and athletics. Gessica is an active member of the La Salle Catholic parishes, where she teaches Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, and has helped serve Thanksgiving meals for the needy at First Congregational Church in Peru. She also has coached soccer at various levels.

Gessica also left a mark at IVCC, where she was a member of Phi Theta Kappa honors society and a member of the college’s Hispanic leadership team.

Family and friends assembled in their vehicles at Northwest School and, at the appointed time, headed south onto Lafayette, where Lysa and husband Scott coaxed Gessica out of the house to greet the well-wishers.

“They’re a wonderful family and close friends,” said Scott Pellican, a neighbor of the Sperling family. “Gessica is a great gal, and we’re just proud of her. The country is privileged to have her.”

Pellican cooked up a surprise of his own for Gessica: He sent for the Planters NUTmobile, which has been making the rounds in Starved Rock Country, before the promotional vehicle and its team were to hit the road again. Pellican knows driver Tyler Towne and asked if the NUTmobile could be included in the caravan.

“It was amazing,” Towne said. “I was stunned at the outpouring this girl had and how many community members cared for her. I felt honored to be there.”

Lysa filmed the parade – along with a chastising voiceover directed at whomever nearly spilled the beans.

“Someone ... said something,” Lysa spoke over the recording in a decidedly arch tone.

Translation: Someone’s in big trouble.

Tom Collins

Tom Collins covers criminal justice in La Salle County.