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Joan Knows: Valentine’s Day a time to show appreciation for one another

Red construction paper,  white lace doilies, blunt safety scissors and a little glue, and we were ready to make valentines at Evan Shelby school.

No favorite sweethearts; everybody gets one, right?

Here’s a challenge for grownups. Other than close family, who would you select as that special person, famous or not, that you appreciate for various reasons such as achievements, character traits, helping others, making you laugh or cry, etc.?

Kathy Brens, a retired teacher who takes leadership with the St. Charles Historical Society (she has raffle tickets!), stretched the boundaries of the question by selecting both her spouse and a well-known and highly productive volunteer, her late husband, Jack.

 She cites his role in the family as father and grandfather, recalls that he never passed on a chance to help them or his neighbors and the town he loved; and how he used his self-directed humor to diffuse tension and make things, bearable.

 His community involvement included his UCC leadership, particularly as they built the church; service organizations; and the St. Charles Historical Society.

“I miss him every day.”

I recall my days on the University of Wisconsin-Madison faculty when I had a prime seat behind the bench of the basketball team at the old field house. It was great to inform those all around me that both Jack and Ken Gustafson were from St. Charles (put Fran Gustafson on my special valentine list).

Jan Schindlbeck of Batavia, a friend from days at Aurora University, did not hesitate to name Pope Francis.

 Along the same line, Albert Van Thournout, a class-of-’56 pal – now a history professor in Maryland – began his selection with St. Francis of Assisi and goes to the Grand Duchess Anastasia, who was brought to his attention by popular school librarian May Jordan.

Upon further reflection, he cites members of his family who were supportive as he grew up. Albert looks back from his, now, aging adult perspective and admires how they emerged from their difficulties to bring courage, strength, persistence and a view of life that is hopeful and positive.

 Here it goes; they are a large family: Uncle Joe, Tanta Clem, Tanta Marge, Uncle Chuck, Uncle Art, Aunt Julia, Aunt Martha, Uncle Maurice, Aunt Mary, Uncle Pete, Aunt Irene, Uncle John, Aunt Joyce, Aunt Honey, Uncle Ivan, Aunt Ann, Uncle Phil, Aunt Emma, Uncle Les and, of course, Mom and Dad.

He ends with a deserved valentine for Ms. Jordan, who was there to stimulate his interest in history and a lifetime career.

Betty Ericson, from senior services, selects her good friend, Patty. Described as totally her opposite, Patty is an inspiration as she balances full-time school and helping others.

They share good times and bad and laugh a lot. Patty is valued because she is always available for a grammar check.

Curious about my selection?  Get out the red construction paper for a long ago (50 plus years) mentor, Millie Walker, R.N. This diminutive, starched and spotless head nurse ruled her fourth-floor domain at Passavant Memorial Hospital/Northwestern. When unhappy or dissatisfied, she made her approach with a grim and menacing look on her face and a gnarly finger punch on the chest.

She taught us to care. In retrospect, her standards were complete competence with an openness to learning; eyes that see; and a heart that knows. 

Her approach was heralded by the brisk patter of her Cuban-heeled shoes. I still listen for that ominous sound.

Clearly, I still appreciate and apply her standards when encountering other health professionals.

Although admittedly quick to scorn, my lessons from Millie include experiencing the satisfaction of a job well done.

Do I expect a valentine from Mister Z? He never fails. It’s just that he waits until the next day when cards, flowers and candy go on sale.

 • Joan Arteberry is a longtime resident of St. Charles. Her columns are featured in the Kane County Chronicle’s Neighbors section every other Friday. Write to her at

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