In 2016, Don Bell moved to the North side of Chicago, and through the Reduced Fee Membership program became the 400th member of the Village.
He was truly a man whose life was in transition. He had just lost his mother after 18 years of being her primary caregiver; he had moved away from two adult sons and six grandchildren. He had just turned 65 and as a gay man, was looking forward to being part of the first generation of out LGBT seniors. He says, “In the Village I found just what I needed. I found contemporaries working at living active and purposeful lives. I found powerful women in positions of leadership and men who were not the least bit diminished by it. I found new approaches to re-imagining my aging experience through Life 3.0, and I found commitment to diversity through the LGBT Task Force. It didn’t matter that I was African-American. It didn’t matter that I was from the South side. It didn’t matter that I had limited financial resources. I found welcome.”
Don says, “I am thoroughly committed to what we’re trying to do collectively as The Village Chicago. We are people building a caring and connected community across the barriers of race, class, gender, age, ability, and sexual orientation. And here I have found not only welcome, but fulfillment, friendship, and purpose.”
In his role as primary caregiver for wife Michele who has mild cognitive disorder, Village member Dan Miller attended the Village’s Support Group for Care Partners of People with Dementia. Through the sessions, Dan learned the forms of dementia, their potential severity, and the paths they take. He says, “This knowledge gives me credibility with the neurologists. It gives me confidence and courage.” But, he says, “The best part of these sessions is the shared experience. There is no stigma, we don’t have to go back to square one and explain everything—it’s understood. And there’s humor—it’s not a pity party. It has been instructive and invigorating. It helps to have companions along the way.”
Eva Maddox is a design superstar – consulting principal of Eva Maddox Design Strategies; retired design principal of Perkins & Will; and co-founder with Stanley Tigerman of Archeworks, a multidisciplinary design school that provides design solutions for social needs. She was inducted into the Interior Design Hall of Fame in 1992 and named “Chicagoan of the Year.”
Eva is a futurist with boundless curiosity about what will happen next. A significant part of her learning comes from teaching – at last count to well over 100 organizations. “I have always taught because of how much I learn from young people. It keeps me in reality.” Eva also says, “To me, acquiring knowledge is constant. She says, “We can’t know the future, but we can educate ourselves and share with students the kinds of tools they will need.” With Eva’s guidance and insight, these students will use design skillfully to shape the future, whatever it may bring.
Bob and Dorothy Hernquist were among the very first people to join the Village in 2009. They joined not only because they loved the idea of community but because they wanted the opportunity to volunteer – and they both do. Bob has logged countless miles as a volunteer driver. It was Bob who gave Dot and Jim Fitzgerald one of their first rides in Chicago. He drove them to their appointments but once he learned they had just moved here, he also took them on a tour of the city including the underpass art beneath Lake Shore Drive. In the beginning, Bob volunteered simply out of a desire to be of help. But as the years went by, Bob says, “I found that I was getting at least as much out of it as my passengers and won’t stop, because I so much enjoy meeting other members.”
Village member Armand Cerbone’s childhood was filled with fear of what would happen if people found out he was gay. Throughout graduate school at Notre Dame where he graduated with a Ph.D in psychology, and as he began his practice, he kept his homosexuality hidden. After graduation in 1973, seeking a job at the American Psychological Association (APA) convention, he witnessed the founding of the Association of Gay Psychologists after they had protested at a conversion therapy presentation – an event that he says, “turned the key to the lock on my closet.”
Armand is motivated by a desire to make life better for the next generation LGBT individuals, working against the stigma that permeates all aspects of their lives. Armand has served on the Village board and started the Village’s LGBTA (A for Ally) Committee. Armand’s work as a change agent, advocate and leader have resulted in policy changes within APA and in laws addressing discrimination. He continues to work addressing issues of discrimination and social justice for the LGBT community and people of color.
Village board member David Baker flunked retirement when he left Illinois Tech as the VP External Affairs and subsequently was named Executive Director of America’s Urban Campus, the city’s consortium of universities and colleges. He signed up for Ageless Innovators,* Chicago’s first multi-generational reciprocal mentoring program. David (Boomer) was paired with Kelly Page (Millennial) from whom he learned some new social media skills for his organization.” She mentored me in how to do it, organize it, and stick with it.” He in turn guided her through the decision-making process around a major career change. Kelly says, “When individuals have similar aspirations and outlooks, age is not a barrier to connection.”
* Ageless Innovators is a joint endeavor of The Village Chicago and Chicago Innovation.
In the middle of the brutal winter of 2014, Dot and Jim Fitzgerald’s four daughters (one of whom is Village member Diane Fitzgerald) each made a pitch for why Dot and Jim should move from their familiar surroundings on Long Island, to a city closer to one of the daughters. Chicago won. Once here, The Village Chicago was instrumental in helping the Fitzgerald’s build their community. They become friends with their volunteer driver and his wife, the volunteer computer guru who helps them with tech issues, and many others through attending Village events. Cheerful, outgoing Dot has brightened the day of many Village members through her special birthday calls. Finding a new community through the Village made leaving their old one a good, happy decision.
Technology, innovation and mentoring are all-important to Leslie McKinney who came to the Village through the Ageless Innovators* program. From childhood she liked math and science and began her career as an intern at Xerox. While there, she earned an M.S. in Engineering and Global Operations Management. She left Xerox in 2016 to become the Director for the Chicago Chapter of Black Women in Science and Engineering (BWISE), an organization focused on bridging the leadership gap for black women in STEM. She was part of Chicago Innovation’s Women’s Mentoring Co-op; a mentor for the Chicago Student Invention Convention; and for mHUB, Chicago’s first innovation center focused on physical product development and manufacturing. “We all need mentoring at every stage of life” Leslie says. “I like to be a resource to help people and to do that, you need to keep adding to your knowledge.”
*Chicago’s first multi-generational co-mentoring program, a joint venture of The Village Chicago and Chicago Innovation.
The Eley family are multi-generational Village members. Salli Eley was one of the first members of the Village and in fact, was the first person to call the office with a service request when the Village opened in June, 2009. Her son Tom is also a Village member and is currently serving on the Village board of directors. Salli has availed herself of Village services over the years – and now Tom is involved in her care and well-being. Tom says, “Knowing that there are vetted resources and people paying attention is important and valuable to our whole family.”
He didn’t know that chicken soup and ice cream were part of the Village’s ally program. But after Bernie Holicky’s cochlear implant surgery, Village ally volunteer and retired nurse Chris Hackney appeared in the hospital recovery room to go over his post-op instructions and take him home. No, not to Bernie’s home, but to Chris’s for soup and ice cream. Then, after depositing him at his own front door, she followed up with a next-day check. There’s more: they brunched together in the neighborhood after a couple of day’s recovery, “just to make sure” and because they were now friends.
Photo by Megan Byrd
Winnie Godfrey is a longtime member of the Village who says, “I joined for community and to be with people who share my passion for art … and maybe, someday, who knows? … I might need some help.” Well, someday came when Winnie broke her knee and tibia. “I was at a total loss about what to do and how to move forward. After a few days I called the Village to ask questions about caregivers, transportation, and mobility.” The Village supplied her with vetted resources for medical supplies, home health, physical therapy, and more. She could not walk for 8 to 12 weeks and the loan of a collapsible transfer wheelchair from a fellow member, plus a referral to a special taxi service made getting to doctors and other appointments easy and comfortable. She found a trusted caregiver previously employed and recommended by other Village members. “All along, the Village has help me with connections to people who are knowledgeable and capable like the thorough, patient volunteer who helped me do a PowerPoint presentation for an exhibit of my art. And then, in the sudden crisis of a broken leg, the advice and information allowed me to stay independent and thrive in my own home and environment.”
Photo by Diana S. Phillips
One of Beth Hickey’s favorite Village activities is Knitting with Friends–a group that has become a community within the larger Village community. They gather once a week for two hours to knit, help each other and chat, and over the years have gotten to know each other well. Beth says, “We talk about ourselves, about our families, current events, movies, plays, you get the idea.”
One of the group members, Susan, loves to cook and every week brings something homemade as a treat for everyone. Susan also is a docent for the Architecture Foundation of Chicago. She was hoping to become certified for a tour and wanted an audience, so several of the Knitting Group attended the hour and a half tour. Yes, she was certified and they all learned a lot.
Beth relates that, “Even though we have not met the family members we hear about, over time we feel we know them. When a family member becomes ill as was the case with one of our husbands, we wanted to be of help to him and his wife. Susan took food to their home, Laurie, a nurse, gave comfort and knowledgeable help and for several years the rest of us listened and offered encouragement. When he succumbed to his illness, it was only natural that those of us who could, attend his memorial service together.”
One day, one of us said, “I look forward to Wednesdays because I love the knitting group.” Beth says, “Me too, Ada, me too.”
Photo by Diana S. Philips
After living for years in Florida, Dorothy French moved to Chicago to be near her daughter’s family. She loves to play bridge, but there aren’t enough bridge players in the supportive living facility where she lives. “She needed to get to know more people and find more ways to socialize,” says her daughter, Gertrude Lyons. Then Village member Karen Terry told Gertrude about The Village Chicago.
“The key thing was that they had a bridge group.” Gertrude urged her mother to join the Village and she did. Now Dorothy plays cards with the Village’s bridge group every Monday. Bridge keeps her mind active and provides a regular opportunity to socialize with new friends. Because the bridge group meets in the comfort of various members’ homes, it also adds beauty and variety to Dorothy’s daily experience – a gift for both mother and daughter.
When Peggy Walker’s son decided to transition eight years ago, Peggy’s first and greatest fear was for his safety. But for a number of years Eli had pursued an academic as well as a personal interest in transgender issues. He was sensitive to what the experience would be like for his mother and they were able to successfully navigate the change together.
Through friendships and the profound experience with her son, Peggy has a heightened awareness of the environment surrounding LGBTQA adults, and so when the Village needed someone to head up an LGBTQA Task Force, she readily accepted. The Task Force is exploring ways in which the Village can support the unique needs of aging LGBTQA adults. They are currently developing joint programs with Howard Brown Health and the Gerber Hart Library
Peggy says, “Inclusiveness and recognition of communities with special needs are part of the Village’s DNA.”
When Bob Spoerri joined The Village Chicago, he had just taken on a challenging new position, managing a start-up company. Bob had been involved in entrepreneurial ventures all of his working life, and, like his new business, the Village was a pioneering venture that he wanted to help build. He served as the Village’s Treasurer for its first six years, and saw it become one of the most successful Villages in the nation. Bob is still working, having famously flunked retirement three times while his wife Emily is an active Village member, both a volunteer driver and a participant in the weekly bridge group. Bob says, “My commitment to helping establish the Village was a way to invest in the community so that it can be there for others now and will be there for me when I finally do retire.”