donnell collins photography: Blog en-us (C) donnell collins photography (donnell collins photography) Thu, 03 Jun 2021 14:36:00 GMT Thu, 03 Jun 2021 14:36:00 GMT donnell collins photography: Blog 80 120 Gary Brown Art                                                           Gary Brown Art logo 2018Gary Brown Art logo 2018    

Today's "Driveby Photoshoot Stopby," features Gary Brown Art. Meet Gary and Susan Brown. If you want to meet them in person, stop by their downtown Aurora gallery during tomorrows "First Friday" celebration. (7 South Broadway, Aurora IL., 60505 / 630-768-4591 [email protected])

 Gary Brown is native to the Chicago area, he was raised in Elmhurst, Illinois and now lives in Naperville, Illinois. Since child- hood, Gary saw value and art in everyday objects that most people overlook or take for granted. Gary’s artistic creativity brings new life to discarded or found objects through 3-dimensional assem- blages, photographic images and drawings.




Upon viewing the portfolio on Gary’s website,, you will find a variety of colors, shapes, textures and objects that will stimulate the mind and bring a smile to your face. You may see something that will be that unique special gift, enhance your home and work environment or, reflect your passions.

Gary shared, "I get a lot of satisfaction when people look at my art creations and recognize items in them that bring back memories."

Gary has consistently showed his work in Chicago and Suburbs in various art galleries and businesses. Gary has received multiple awards including several judges Awards and Best of Show.


(donnell collins photography) And Brown Gary Susan Thu, 03 Jun 2021 14:16:30 GMT
Cheryl Holz Tree, Branch, Grass: A Monoprint Auction

Join me on Facebook Monday, April 26 at 10 am-  Tuesday, April 27 until 7:30 PM for an online auction of my new little print series that features some gorgeous scenes from local places like Phillips Park, Oakhurst Forest preserve, and the Morton Arboretum. These are one of a kind signed Monoprints. The backgrounds are a hand-pulled  prints that vary in color, from a subtle atmospheric feel to a saturated peach sunset.



 The papers are either acid free rice paper, Lokta paper, or pages from a Shakespeare 
play. Next I layer the photographic imagery over it, sign, and package them on acid free backing board with photo corners.  They are approximately 5 x 8“ so they could fit into a standard 5 x 7 Matt OR float them between glass to keep some of the interesting edges. If your mom is a tree hugger, this would be a lovely gift for Mother’s Day.

It’s super easy to participate. Just sign into Facebook and look up Holz Fine Art ( and the pieces will be posted after 10 am on April 26th. To bid on a particular piece, comment with your email and a bid. Shipping is included in the US!  Highest bid by 7:30 on Tuesday wins. You’ll get an invoice in your inbox, followed by a print in your mailbox! 

I am a professional artist and amateur naturalist.  As an art material junkie, I LIVE to find new materials and methods to interpret the natural forms I find and photograph on my regular excursions into the forest preserves of Illinois with my brilliant rescue pup Max at my side.   My nature inspired mixed media artwork is a homage to natures strength, beauty, and diversity.  I currently am obsessed with using nature’s laws of gravity to play with liquid and fluid forms of paints and inks, and manipulating the patterns they leave behind….A large part of my income is from commissions, so if you don’t find anything that resonates with you here,  contact me to interpret your project through an earthy well crafted design.My work has been shown in museums, galleries, corporation, hospitals and some really killer residences. I’ve been awarded grants for the Illinois arts council and over 8 artists residences, but my greatest reward by far is loading my pup into the truck and heading to the studio for an uninterrupted day of making! 


(donnell collins photography) Cheryl Holz Sun, 25 Apr 2021 17:23:09 GMT
Andre Collins "Hi, I'm Andre Collins, and my passion is creating art. I love the challenge of seeing a piece come to life from start to finish. It gives me a great deal of encouragement when others enjoy my work. Honestly, to create something and bring it to life, gives me the will to live...  When asked, what mediums do you like to work in? "I tried them all when I was in high school, Oil, watercolor, pastels, etc... But it is just something about creating things out of useless items that intrigues me. The idea of transforming trash into treasures and watching pieces come to life is remarkable."                                                                                                                                                                 

For most of us. Only so much can be done with your hands. We have limits. But in the hands of outsider artist, Andre Collins, prepare to be amazed. Cardboard, plastic bottles, paper towels, newspapers, styrofoam, tape and wood glue. One might find all or some of this in a piece by Collins. Walking into his home was like walking into menagerie of exotic animals. Lions and tigers, and bears and elephants oh my!




It is hard to describe Andre's art. It's a combination of papier-mache, sculpting and painting. It's just cool. "One man's trash is another man's treasure."


Photo and Story by Donnell Collins

(donnell collins photography) andre collins Sun, 04 Apr 2021 06:07:12 GMT
Perry Slade Gravity – A photographers Journey 

Hello! My name is Perry Slade. Perry is the only name I go by. No middle name just, Perry. 

Before I say anything else, I want to say thank you to Donnell for spotlighting me on his blog. He is a good guy and a great creative artist. 

I was born in Greensboro North Carolina but only spent six months there. I’m the middle child of 5 siblings. My parents decided to migrate north. They decided on one of two places, Newark, NJ or Pittsburgh, PA. My father worked in the steel industry, so he voted for Pittsburgh. My mother was a stay-at-home mom who had to deal with all that came with that. She also had three sisters that lived in Newark. Well, needless to say I was raised in Newark NJ. 

Why me? Well, I’m a photographer. I’m an imagemaker. Which is it? A photographer or imagemaker? I’m both as I see it. I’m an imagemaker who’s creative tool of choice is a device called a camera. 

I have always been drawn to images as far back as I can remember. Drawing as a child was big for me. At this point I want to tell you that I have the DNA of an introvert. But as strange as it may sound, I resist that inclination and I usually  beat it. Why am I telling you this? What does this have to do with photography? It’s what I think of as the gravity of my personality trait that nudged me into the direction photography as a communication method. [ A phycologist could have a field with this.}   

For me photography allows me to tell stories. I’m not a very good verbal storyteller. That is not my gift. However, I can tell stories through photography. I capture the stories I see and hopefully others see a story in my images as well. Sometimes I see the story clearly and ‘click’ the camera shutter. Sometimes I feel the story but do not clearly see it and again ‘click’ the camera shutter. My subject matter interest is fairly eclectic. It ranges from black & white, color, landscapes, cityscapes, creative staging, etc. My cameras are digital, and I primarily use Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop to process my photography. I use those two pieces of software the way I did when I processed my film chemically and printed chemically based. 

I accept the beauty of a thing without reservation when I see it. I take the photo and I trust my third eye without reservation. However, there are also times when the only path is to bring a concept to life via photography. To say something about a thing. Examples of this would be a piece called “Four / Fifths Human”, as statement on race or my series of pieces called “Artist Conversion of Found Communications Within the Environment” { Series on exhibit at the Richard & Gina Santori Library April 2, 2021} or Tailor’s Dream [which came to life for me as an image in search of a definition.} This way of working and creating is very satisfying to me.



Creative artist search for a voice in the work they create. This is true of painters, writers and also true for photographers. My way is not to spend time trying to find my photographic voice but to instead, follow my heart and let my photographic voice follow. 

I once heard someone say something like “Do what you can, While you can, With what you have” I’m all in with that! 

Perry Slade 




(donnell collins photography) Perry Slade Fri, 02 Apr 2021 17:48:25 GMT
Jon Stott No matter when you drive by the Sue Skelley Tennis Courts on Smith St in Aurora, IL. You are  likely catch coach Jon Stott doing what he loves most. The weather is nothing more than a minor distraction. Pushing water with a broom or moving snow with a shovel. The tennis must go on.

Stott is a 2000 graduate from Aurora Christian School and he was ranked 6th in the country in doubles and 66th in singles during his high school career. At Christian he was a one man tennis team and he won sectionals three years in a row and was ranked number one during his junior year at ACS. 

He received a tennis scholarship to New Mexico before transferring to Arizona State where he played tennis for the Sun Devils and graduated in 2004 with a degree in communications. 

Jon played his first professional tennis match during his freshman year in college. He went on to play professionally both during and after college before returning home and dedicating his life to mentoring and coaching young people. When asked why does he do what he does. “To develop leadership skills and self confidence through tennis….Secondly, to help students reach their potential in tennis where they can play not only for their high schools or colleges, but for a lifetime.” I want to honor past coaches that came before me, teach what they taught me and make something good even better. To try to expand on what they did.” 

Jon has his own business, JSTOTT LLC. He has been running the City of Lights Tennis Academy for the past 12 years. He started the Phillips Park summer tennis with his brother Matt back in 1998. They had about 30 kids and worked from 9-noon and 1-4pm. Each participant got a free lunch and played tennis 7 days per week fora fee of $10.00. 

He has groomed some wonderful success stories along the way. The Harlow sisters; Sajela, Jaiere and Kaija. All three were standout tennis players at Oswego East H.S. Sajela went on to play tennis and graduate from Howard University. She is currently a kindergarten teacher is the Washington D.C. area. Jaiere played at Tuskegee University and is currently in grad school there. Kaija is a freshman at Towson University. 

Mandela Shepherd played his high school tennis at Waubonsie Valley, then went on to play for Western Illinois University.

Jon is currently coaching Tony Martinez. Tony’s mother Jalitza “Jolly” Martinez was coached by Jon. Jalitza went to East Aurora H.S. before attending Aurora University where she was the number one singles player at both the high school and college level. She is currently a mom of two and principal at Allen Elementary School in D131 East Aurora.


“So I started the tennis camp as a child. My father always wanted me to play tennis and as a kid I thought it was so boring to watch. My mom enrolled (forced me lol) me in the tennis camp the summer before my freshman year in high school. At that point I had my mind set on volleyball, I was good at volleyball, I loved the sport and didn't think anything, especially tennis, could convince me otherwise. I was wrong, I ended up falling in love with tennis through that camp. And volleyball and tennis were in the same season, and it was a done deal, I was playing tennis for EA. I came back to the camp every summer until I aged out. When I aged out I began coaching the camp under Jon. It taught me discipline, strategy, hard work, and it gave me something to focus on. It was an absolute outlet for me. Tennis is very special to me and it was a place where i could tune out all the noise and for that hour or two i would be engaged, didn't worry about a thing, i just played. When I was a student in Jon's camp I would not only stay for the morning session, I would stay for the afternoon session as well. Tennis was my father's favorite sport and my father was incarcerated most of my life and I always longed for that relationship and I truly believe it was a way that I could connect with him despite the distance. Jon trained me before I went to college and again he was tough on me, but I learned discipline, I learned that the work needed to happen off the court as well. He conditioned me at Oakhurst and pushed me even when I wanted to give up, he was like "let's go!". His expectations are always high for his students and it's not just coaching it is mentoring. He truly and genuinely cares that he is not just producing amazing athletes, he wants to produce killer athletes that are good people with great character. Now being able to watch my son engage and take on the sport with the same coach I had as an adolescent and all through high school and college is pretty amazing. Whether he goes on to play at a collegiate level or whether he plays socially in the future, I know that he's gained critical thinking skills, communication skills, problem solving skills, a higher level of vocabulary, dedication, and a healthy competitive spirit. Since he was five when he started tennis, Jon never reduced his level of vocabulary with him. He always talked to him like he did his older players and that showed me that he believed in not only his athletic ability but his cognitive ability. The skills I learned help me in my current role as Principal. I am a team player, I am competitive, I am relentless about my belief in the potential of my students. I challenge them to be their best. I keep the expectations high and always remember we are building the whole child. “

“Artist is a descriptive term applied to a person who engages in an activity deemed to be an art. An artist also may be defined unofficially as "a person who expresses him- or herself through a medium". Jon Stott is an artist. His medium is tennis. The court is his canvass. If you have a child or you yourself are looking for a solid coach or trainer(630 608 9540) in the game of tennis. One who is more concerned with technique than talent. One who is more concerned with fundamentals over tournaments. But more importantly. One who cares about people.“Love the game and the game will love you back.



(donnell collins photography) jon stott Sun, 21 Mar 2021 04:55:43 GMT
Audra and Olivia Ten years ago, I put together a photo exhibit that featured African American natural hairstyles while posing questions of race, beauty, and culture. The exhibit was called “Skillets.” Folks like Rena Church at the David L. Pierce Art and History Center, Karen McConnaughay, Kane County Board; Amy Roth, Aurora Public Library; and Angie Richardson, Illinois Math and Science Academy, were all supportive in providing a platform and/or wall space for the exhibit. So, I thought it would be fun to track down some of the participants and see what they are up to now.

Audra, 13, is currently a seventh grader at Seven Lakes Junior High School in Katy, Texas.  A runner since age six, Audra ran cross-country for several years and now competes hurdles and long jump.  She was also a member of the 7th grade girls’ volleyball team.  Audra likes too read but loves to write – particularly poetry. She also plays the piano and, reportedly, a good game of Fortnite. Although she is not quite sure what she wants to be when she is an adult, she has recently developed an interest in forensics and thinks a career in the FBI would be interesting. 

Olivia, 14, is currently in ninth grade at Seven Lakes High School in Katy, Texas.  She is an avid reader, keen on science, is learning the art of calligraphy and a member of the junior varsity dance team.  Dance is her love language, having taken lessons since the age of two, she is trained in classical and contemporary ballet, tap, jazz and lyrical.  After high school, Olivia plans to attend college, majoring in Biology, and pursue a career in medicine specializing in radiology or genetics.  



(donnell collins photography) Sun, 28 Feb 2021 18:31:00 GMT
SKILLETS-Sajela Ten years ago, I put together a photo exhibit that featured African American natural hairstyles while posing questions of race, beauty, and culture. The exhibit was called “Skillets.” Folks like Rena Church at the David L. Pierce Art and History Center, Karen McConnaughay, Kane County Board; Amy Roth, Aurora Public Library; and Angie Richardson, Illinois Math and Science Academy, were all supportive in providing a platform and/or wall space for the exhibit. So, I thought it would be fun to track down some of the participants and see what they are up to now.
Sajela Harlow, a graduate of Oswego East High School where she starred both in the classroom and on the tennis courts for the Wolves. Sajela went on to graduate from Howard University in 2018 with a degree in Elementary Education. She is now a Kindergarten teacher at a bilingual public charter school in Washington, D.C., where she lives with her nineteen-month-old daughter, Miia.

(donnell collins photography) Sun, 28 Feb 2021 06:15:43 GMT
SKILLETS;Jaiere Ten years ago, I put together a photo exhibit that featured African American natural hairstyles while posing questions of race, beauty, and culture. The exhibit was called “Skillets.” Folks like Rena Church at the David L. Pierce Art and History Center, Karen McConnaughay, Kane County Board; Amy Roth, Aurora Public Library; and Angie Richardson, Illinois Math and Science Academy, were all supportive in providing a platform and/or wall space for the exhibit. So, I thought it would be fun to track down some of the participants and see what they are up to now.

Currently a first-year master’s student at her Alma Mater, Tuskegee University, Jaiere Harlow continues to grow, learn and venture out on her own. Although she hung the rackets up and wrapped up her tennis career post undergraduate, her time is still very much occupied with schoolwork and making memories with loved ones. As the world looks a little different now, she has realized how much more important it is to “give people their flowers while they’re still here.” So, she plans to continue amplifying, celebrating, cherishing, and handling her life and the lives of loved ones with care and compassion. She thinks the act of being is something many take for granted and life deserves its flowers.

(donnell collins photography) Sat, 27 Feb 2021 06:28:07 GMT
SKILLETS-Kaisje Ten years ago, I put together a photo exhibit that featured African American natural hairstyles while posing questions of race, beauty, and culture. The exhibit was called “Skillets.” Folks like Rena Church at the David L. Pierce Art and History Center, Karen McConnaughay, Kane County Board; Amy Roth, Aurora Public Library; and Angie Richardson, Illinois Math and Science Academy, were all supportive in providing a platform and/or wall space for the exhibit. So, I thought it would be fun to track down some of the participants and see what they are up to now.

Kaisje' Pryor is a 15 year old freshman student/athlete at Oswego High School. She completed her first semester of high school via remote learning. She has since transitioned to the hybrid learning model; where she hopes to continue/improve her 3.4 GPA. Aside from academics, she enjoys spending time with family and friends, collecting shoes, listening to music and playing basketball. Her love for basketball, began at the age  of 9. She has played in rec and travel leagues ever since. She recently accomplished a personal goal by making her high school Varsity team. Kaisje's collegiate plans are to continue playing basketball while attending an HBCU; studying in the area of Pre-Law as she aspires to become a Sports Lawyer. 

(donnell collins photography) Fri, 26 Feb 2021 06:54:46 GMT
"SKILLETS" Ten years ago, I put together a photo exhibit that featured African American natural hairstyles while posing questions of race, beauty, and culture. The exhibit was called “Skillets.” Folks like Rena Church at the David L. Pierce Art and History Center, Karen McConnaughay, Kane County Board; Amy Roth, Aurora Public Library; and Angie Richardson, Illinois Math and Science Academy, were all supportive in providing a platform and/or wall space for the exhibit. So, I thought it would be fun to track down some of the participants and see what they are up to now. I will make a post  from the exhibit for the next couple of days.

Kaija is currently 18 years old and a freshman at Towson University located near Baltimore, Maryland, however due to the pandemic she is learning online and at home. She is studying Biology with a concentration in ecology, evolution, and conservation with the hopes of going to graduate school for zoology. She discovered a deep passion for animals, and it is her goal to be able to conduct research that will help to reverse the effects of human impact that are leading to species extinction and endangerment. Kaija looks forward to what the future has to hold, and she cannot wait for the day that it is safe to attend classes in-person once again.






(donnell collins photography) Thu, 25 Feb 2021 15:03:51 GMT
Sam Cervantes

Sam Cervantes: From serving time to serving the community through art


Risin' up, back on the street
Did my time, took my chances
Went the distance, now I'm back on my feet
Just a man and his will to survive

--Eye of the Tiger by Jim Peterik


Sam Cervantes poses under the mural #HopeWingsAurora he painted on the side of LaFrance Bakery in downtown Aurora with the attitude of a tagger and the heart of an artist. 

Today, Cervantes is a local celebrity. But it wasn’t always so.

City of Aurora officials honored Cervantes with a ribbon cutting and dedication of the mural at 118 E. Galena Blvd. on Oct. 9, 2018. He also was honored during that evening’s city council meeting, where Mayor Richard Irvin presented him with a proclamation proclaiming February 13, Cervantes’ birthday, as Sam Cervantes Day in Aurora.

Earlier this month, Jim Peterik, formerly of the bands The Ides of March and Survivor, shot a music video in downtown Aurora for his band Pride of Lions, using the wings as a backdrop. Cervantes met the rock legend who penned the words to “Eye of the Tiger,” and posed with him for a photo under the wings.

“It won’t be the first time my work has been featured in videos and magazines,” Cervantes said. “But to have a mega star like this guy appreciating my work is flattering to say the least.

“‘Eye of the Tiger’ is a huge hit and as someone who has deejayed for a number of years, I play it often.’”

Back in the day, when Cervantes was a 21-year-old working at Hollywood Casino, he was arrested for tagging a semi-trailer under Farnsworth Avenue on Aurora’s East side. He was sent to jail, which surprised him, because it was his first offense. 

He was charged with criminal damage to property, a class 4 felony, for not only his own tagging but for the graffiti that already was there, on 15 semi-trailers. Cervantes served about two months in jail. “They kept me in a holding cell with murderers and rapists,” he remembers.

After three weeks, he was let out on furlough. He was to go out only to work, look for a job, or go to school. A jobless student, he took on a commission to paint a mural around a junkyard on Hill Avenue. Aurora Township’s Judy Maves, a community services specialist, told Cervantes and his friend to paint over their work.

“I said, ‘No, sorry,’” Cervantes remembers. “We called the owners and they told her they commissioned it, but she still called the Kane County Sherriff’s Office and I ended up back in jail. “She told the judge I was out doing graffiti, which violated the furlough.”

The father of four and grandfather of two now drives a paratransit bus for Aurora Township, ferrying people to and from doctor appointments and dialysis treatments.

But art is his first love. After the death of George Floyd ignited protests and looting in Aurora, Cervantes was asked to paint positive messages over two boarded-up businesses on Broadway. He painted the phrases “Aurora Stronger” and “Erase Racism” alongside other community artists and was then asked by Director of Public Art Jen Evans to adorn more boarded-up windows.

“When it was all done, I was driving down Broadway and saw all the art and positivity, and I was giddy,” he said.

The battle for positivity in the city has been ongoing ever since Cervantes was a little boy growing up on Aurora’s East side. 

In 1991, he painted the mural “Think About It” on the side of a building at Union and Claim streets. It was supposed to be a positive message in a neighborhood that was a hotspot for rival gangs, Cervantes said.

“It depicted a boy holding a gun butt out – handing it to you,” he explains. The grim reaper is in the background with outstretched arms, and the word THINK is front and center. “It was all about a call to gang members to ‘think about it’ before they take the gun.”

That mural has been gone for quite some time. It was misunderstood, Cervantes said. “People didn’t understand my art.”

Also gone is the likeness of Pancho Villa that Cervantes painted on Pancho’s Restaurant on New York Street near Union Street as a commission for the owner. After the city council passed an ordinance on mural size that deemed it too large, it was painted over.

And Cervantes still doesn’t know why portraits he painted of slain Aurora Central Catholic School athlete Moshe Rogers and ACC graduate Armando Mendez have been erased from the wall of the former ACC gymnasium. “They were never supposed to be touched,” he says. The young men died in 1995 and 1994, respectively, from gang gunfire. Rogers was shot when a passenger in his car was mistaken for a gang member and Mendez was killed by a gang member who mistook him for a rival gang member.

Even though much of Cervantes’ work has been misunderstood or erased from their urban canvases over time, he is not dismayed.

“I don’t let it bring me down,” he said.

In the future he would like to paint more “cultural murals,” like the one he had in mind for the side of LaFrance Bakery. “It was going to be a Mexican woman in full Indian headdress with an elaborate, indigenous costume,” he said. “I didn’t propose it because I thought I should come up with something more appealing to everybody. The city wanted to bring art and culture to the downtown. I knew there were wings like this all over the country, but I wanted to put my spin on it. I did my style with my colors. It’s a good tourist attraction.”






(donnell collins photography) cervantes sam story Wed, 22 Jul 2020 04:25:25 GMT
John Russell


Former Beacon-News City Editor John Russell recently earned the badge of “COVID-19 Survivor,” a title he would appreciate more if the virus hadn’t taken his wife, Kathy, on May 28.

That’s a heartbreaking way to begin a story about a man whose life was dedicated to newspaper work. But John and Kathy were a team in life (married 45-1/2 years) as well as the newsroom.

Now, Russell is determined to see the Copley Newspapers’ “Ring of Truth” bell on display once more in downtown Aurora as a tribute to his wife and the many others who worked to fulfill the newspaper chain’s call for accuracy in reporting.

Russell began his career with The Beacon-News in 1974 as an intern reporter covering beats including the East and West Aurora school districts, Fox Valley Park District and Fox Metro Water Reclamation District. One of his main roles, he said, was filling in for “all the other reporters and editors on vacation,” which took him to county board and city council meetings.

He moved up to the news desk, then became a copy editor and wore many other hats and titles before becoming city editor in 1989.

Kathy joined The Beacon-News in the early 2000s as the newsroom administrative assistant. Both were laid off on March 13, 2013, in a Sun-Times Media Group shedding of staff. Kathy retired. John began job hunting. “I applied for a few newspaper jobs but didn’t get a lot of response,” he said.

“I got a call from (late Aurora mayor) Tom Weisner saying that the city was going to start a new grant writer position, so I should apply for it,” Russell said. 

“That bailed Kathy and me out.”

Russell enjoys the challenge of seeking out grants and doing the research and writing to garner funds for city projects. “My job as a grant writer is fulfilling,” he said. “But you don’t find out for six months how you did. At the paper, everybody was working together. As a grant writer, I am working by myself.

“Newspaper work gave automatic feedback,” Russell said. “You knew immediately if you did a good job or a crappy job. There was so much excitement in feeling that you are accomplishing something every day. Everyone was working together and there was daily feedback.

“I was born to be a city editor, I think. I really liked it.”

In his day-in, day-out dealings with staff, he said he “had to be honest with reporters and let them know what they are doing is to make sure we got the best possible story we could get. If they bought into that, you had a good staff. Most of the time we had a damn good staff.”

The staff’s hard work paid off in the form of awards.

“In 2009, under (managing editor) Rick Nagel, we won one-third of the Illinois Press Association’s Excellence in News awards. We had such a good year, and that was very cool. We always got all kinds of awards, national and statewide. We were the Suburban Newspaper of the Year one year.”

The paper also received numerous “Ring of Truth” awards, given out by Copley Newspapers. One year, Russell was supposed to go to San Diego (on the newspaper owner’s private jet) with colleagues Mike Chapin and Jeff Kuczora to collect awards.

“And then we invaded Iraq, and I got left behind,” Russell said. “They had a week in San Diego in some private resort. 

“But those guys were so good to work with.”

Wall Street Journal reporter Heather Gillers worked for Russell at the Beacon from 2005 to 2008. “John trained me to not be defensive about corrections. It was a lesson in the importance of not letting your ego interfere with your effort to give a truthful account of what happened. What a gift to 22-year-old me!” 

Lorena Anderson, Beacon reporter from 1997 to 1999, said, “JR is stealthy. You don’t appreciate how much he’s teaching you until that day when you’re working with a reporter and catch yourself sounding just like John Russell – and you smile, because that’s a good thing.” Anderson is a senior writer and public information representative at the University of California, Merced.

“He’s one of those ‘real newspapermen’ of legend, the kind we’re all better for having worked with and learned from,” Anderson said. “He’s also a just a great guy. Working with him was a real privilege.”

Asked how he went about mentoring reporters, Russell said, “I tried to teach them to put an emphasis on writing so the community could understand what was going on. I said this once in a meeting and (then-community news editor) Jolene (Kremer) afterward said, ‘That really was a great line.’ And it was true. We are in this because we want to change the world. It’s an important job. We have to tell people what’s going on and let them make their decisions. You have to hit the neutral line in explaining stuff.

“I also think I taught them to swear.” 

“Here's what I remember most from my time at the Beacon – with great nostalgia,” said photographer Heather Eidson: “John Russell before deadline: ‘Goddamnit, Heather!’ John Russell after deadline: ‘Heather, you're a wonderful person.’” Eidson now manages her own production company, Heather Eidson Photography and Media L.L.C. She worked for the paper from 2004 until 2009.

“I was kind of an asshole with photographers,” John admits. “I thought pictures should really tell the story, but they would try to be creative. Creativity sometimes can confuse the story.”

Russell said he would consult with the photo editor on which photos would run in the day’s paper. He remembers a photo that was submitted that “looked like (the photographer) took a picture of something behind a water fountain. 

“Some photographers drove me crazy. They could all hit the nail on the head, but sometimes they got too creative for me.”

Marianne Mather, deputy senior visual editor at The Chicago Tribune, said during her interview for the photo editor/photojournalist job at the Beacon (where she worked from 2005 to 2011), she “sat in a room with three people. The head boss – I think it was Rick Nagel at the time – asked me, ‘Do you think you can say no to this guy?’ and he pointed to John, who I had just met but had definitely heard about. In my youthful hubris I smiled and said yes, and so I was hired. And I was a thorn in John’s side ever since.”


On a more serious note, Mather said, “John Russell's hard work, keen news sense and dogged determination made the Beacon what it was: a robust newspaper dedicated to the people of Aurora and the surrounding area. 


“Working under John meant you had to work just as hard as he did — and since he never went home, that was a tall task. He barked a lot, but you knew it was because he wanted the best for the paper and for his staff. His caring and nurturing spirit were present in the way he helped so many young reporters grow at the Beacon.”


Michelle Krupa, senior news editor with CNN Digital, now uses techniques she learned from Russell as she mentors new reporters. A flub early in her career illustrates a lesson learned.

“I'd just come back from some crime scene, tried to turn my story fast and thought I'd done a fine job,” she recalls. “Until I heard Russell's voice boom across the newsroom, ‘KRUPA! Did the suspect have a FIRST NAME!???!’ Thoroughly embarrassed, I crept over and read it from my notebook. It's what I deserved just then and a fine lesson in triple-checking before filing. When a story with an omission like that lands in my lap, I tend to keep my voice down, but John Russell's sensibility echoes over Slack when I ping a fledgling reporter with a similar question. I try to deliver it with the same godparent-like feeling it landed with me.”

“I don’t remember John ever yelling at me,” said former Beacon reporter (1992 to 1999) Tom Parisi, who works in media relations at Northern Illinois University. “He is one of the best journalists I’ve ever worked with, and I hold him in the highest regard. 

“But after editing one of my stories, I do recall him asking, ‘What the hell were you thinking?’ When I think about that story, as I have from time to time, I now wonder, ‘What the hell was I thinking?’” 

When Russell recalls a “handful of stories that stand out,” one of Parisi’s comes to mind first.

“Back in the mid- to late-’90s, we had a house in Aurora explode because of aging gas lines in the neighborhood. Tom Parisi did an incredible series on that at a time when nobody was writing about it.

“Matt Hanley did some good work on employees at the old Nicor Gas building on River Street. They had bad water pipes and workers would fill mugs, canteens and coffee pots with contaminated water and a whole bunch of these guys got cancer. 

“Steve (Lord) and Donnell (Collins) went to Alabama with Fred Rodgers, then Aurora’s youth activities director, to meet with (former Alabama governor) George Wallace on his deathbed (1996).

(The purpose of the visit, according to a column written by Denise Crosby in 2015, was for Rodgers to “grant forgiveness to the repentant politician on behalf of himself and his family, who had experienced so much bigotry in the Deep South.”)

Russell mentions names like Moshe Rogers and Nico Contreras, two innocents who were killed by gang violence in 1995 and 1996, respectively, noting that good reporting work was done in both stories. Although he says he hates to brag about good work done because of Nico’s tragic death, he acknowledges the senseless death of Aurora Central Catholic’s Rogers was a wake-up call to the community. A back-to-school fair and the beginning of Aurora Community Study Circles were started after Rogers’ death. 

When recounting important stories, Russell does not mention the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attack on New York City. He admits that day is a blur. “We tried to localize everything,” he said. “Honestly, I don’t remember how we did it.”

As years passed and reporters began to look younger and younger, Russell remembers starting to view them in a new way. “You begin to feel responsible as the older one in the room and you wonder how your experiences can help them. My kids were the age of the reporters so I could relate quite easily.

“I wasn’t worried about their jobs,” he said. “I was worried about their private lives. Reporters having kids or having problems of one sort or another.

“When I was at Southern Illinois University, I worked on the student paper. During my senior year, I was also sort of a counselor for the younger reporters. I got started in that kind of role early and I really liked it.”

With the U.S. in the midst of a pandemic, political upheaval, economic instability and strained race relations, does Russell miss being a city editor?

“I miss it all,” he said. “Big things like this pandemic and minor details of things like ladies making lace in church basements.”

And how are newspapers doing today with the big and little things? Are reporters still in the business of fair, neutral journalism?

“I think so,” Russell said. “There’s all that fake media stuff and talk about how biased newspapers are. But papers put opinions on the editorial page. News stories, you don’t put an opinion in. You just explain to your readers what is happening.”

Russell is proud of the legacy of The Beacon-News in Aurora.

The paper is the oldest business in the city. “The Beacon first published as The Beacon in December 1846. In 1905, Col. Ira Copley bought the Aurora Daily News, and then the Aurora Beacon, and he put them together as the Aurora Beacon-News,” Russell said. Next year, the paper will celebrate its 175th anniversary in the City of Lights.

He hopes the legacy of the newspaper’s motto: “The Ring of Truth,” will live on indefinitely.

As a memorial to Kathy – as well as to everybody who ever worked for The Beacon and everyone who will ever work there – Russell said he is intent on making sure that a plaque, saved from the former Beacon-News building on River and Benton streets before it was torn down, can be mounted on the side of the David L. Pierce Art & History Center at 20 E. Downer Place.

The blue and white “Ring of Truth” sign features a clenched hand ringing a bell. It was the motto and the logo of Copley Newspapers.

“The legacy of The Beacon-News is tied to John Russell – as he put so much sweat and tears into the ring of truth,” Mather said.


“I can’t imagine ever doing anything else,” Russell said. “I am proud to have been a part of it.”


According to Aurora Historical Society Executive Director John Jaros,  $1,385 has been raised to do minor repairs on the sign and mount it on the building. The project is estimated to cost at least $3,000. Those interested in making a donation to the cause can do so electronically (write Ring of Truth Memorial Fund in the comment box):

Checks (include Ring of Truth on the memo line) can be made out to the Aurora Historical Society and mailed to Aurora Historical Society, PO Box 905, Aurora, IL, 60507.



















(donnell collins photography) john russell Wed, 15 Jul 2020 04:37:22 GMT
Rich Howard

A man who is “all in and fully committed” to God: Pastor Rich Howard

Pastor Rich Howard came to Aurora, Illinois in September of 1987 with an undergraduate degree in ornamental horticulture, a master’s degree in theology from Grand Rapids Baptist Seminary, a wife and three children, and a humble desire to serve God.


He came with the hope of a position as the unpaid assistant pastor of Village Baptist Church and the certainty that he could feed his family by doing roofing and carpentry.

“At that time, we were trying not to pay attention too much to money,” Rich said. “When you don’t have any, you don’t think about it too much.”

The members of Village Baptist Church on Aurora’s far east side voted to call Rich as assistant pastor, but he didn’t start receiving a percentage of the weekly offering until the church building was finished in November, 1989. Until then, his carpentry skills and God’s provision supplied what the family needed. 

In 1995, after Rich, wife Richelle, and children Philip, Leah and Daniel had settled into a home on Fourth Street on Aurora’s near east side, an opportunity arose for them to house a 16-year-old boy from war-torn Bosnia-Herzegovina. He stayed with the Howards until he graduated from East Aurora High School (as salutatorian) in 1997 and went on to North Central College in Naperville and the University of Illinois at Chicago, earning a Ph.D.

In 1997 Richelle and Leah went on a short-term mission trip to Ukraine to work with orphans in a summer camp. 

“When Richelle came back (Leah stayed in Ukraine for two extra weeks), she proposed the idea of adopting a couple of the boys they had met, and by the time we got home, I said, ‘there’s no good reason why we shouldn’t,’” Rich recalls. (The original intent was to adopt three boys, but in the end it worked out for them to adopt two: Andre, 14 and Alex, 13.)

The process took nine months, and in May 1998, the adoption was complete. Andre is now 37 and Alex is 35.

“Both the boys have done very well and prospered,” Rich said. “Our goal in adopting them was to let them achieve their fullest potential,” Richelle added. “And they’ve done that.

“We didn’t do this because of any need in ourselves. Like all the others they graduated from East High and went to college. If there’s one thing I’d look back on our life and say, it is that we tried to make decisions that were right on that day. Then our path just naturally unfolded, and we continued to try and make the right decisions. Sometimes you succeed, and some days you blow it.”

The Howards also saw no good reason not to take a baby into their home when a homeless family came to their doorstep and asked for help.

The Howards had become acquainted with a couple who had stopped by the church for assistance. The family of five was living in a car, and Rich, through the generosity of church members, gave them provisions in exchange for the father doing some work around the church.

Soon after their first meeting, the family stopped by the Howards’ home. “Here comes the mom,” Richelle said, “and she’s got the baby in one arm and a little suitcase in the other.”

The Howards agreed to keep the baby for the weekend but didn’t see the parents again for 10 days. The Howards ended up keeping the little one for the summer, until his mother called from a women’s shelter and said she wanted him back. 

And then there was Mary, an adult woman with childlike qualities.

“There was a lady named Mary who came to our house. When we first met her, she had a buddy named Augie,” Richelle said.

“She pushed an empty baby carriage around the neighborhood and picked up cans. She would come by and see the cans we had saved for her and say, ‘These for me?’ Yes they are. Next she would ask, ‘You got a chicken?’ Yes, Mary, we have a chicken for you.”

Mary and Augie came to the Howards for Thanksgiving, and Mary did an odd thing. She filled a plate, put it into a plastic bag to take home, and then filled another plate to eat. She wanted to get her leftovers first before the food ran out, she explained to Richelle. At Christmastime, the Howards would take Mary to Aldi to buy her some groceries and let her pick out a toy.

“When we adopted Alex and Andre I remember her sitting at the table and asking, ‘Why can’t you just adopt me?’” Richelle said.

Rich remembers his last encounter with Mary.

“I picked up her up once and I was going to take her home and she said, ‘Oh, I really need a chicken.’ She wanted to stop at Kentucky Fried Chicken. I said, ‘Mary I don’t have time. I have some other things to do.’

“She died that night,” Rich said with a sigh. “Out of the whole relationship, the last moment ended on regret.”

Rich and Randy Schoof from The Warehouse Church presided at her funeral.

The Howards began taking trips to Rwanda in the mid-2000s to fulfill God’s call for them to minister there. After the Village Baptist flock was safely placed with a new shepherd, Pastor Bob Stevenson, the Howards began their ministry to teach Rwandan pastors and their wives.

“We put together a curriculum and we had 1,300 graduates,” Rich said. 

The work continues, but the Howards have stepped into retirement and are now spending time with their children and grandchildren, most of whom live nearby.

Their lives so far have been a fulfillment of a promise Rich and Richelle made to each other as a newly married couple fresh out of college at Ohio State University.

“One day we were driving, and I pulled over our truck on the side of the road,” Rich said. “We decided our Christianity means everything, or it means nothing. We decided we were going to be all in and totally committed.”


“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?  When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”

--Matthew 25:34-40





(donnell collins photography) Wed, 08 Jul 2020 04:47:23 GMT
Dan Bellini Dan Bellini – Artist, Musician, Blues Historian


You may know Dan Bellini as a former member of Howard and the White Boys, the local Blues band that went on to tour with Buddy Guy and played with Chuck Barry, Bo Diddley, B.B. King and John Mayer. 


Or you may know him as a Blues historian, illustrator, voodoo doll maker, or the artist behind the likeness of Colin Kaepernick on a boarded-up storefront on Broadway Street in Aurora, Illinois. 


The guitar/harmonica player left Howard and the White Boys in 2004. “We started playing in college (Northern Illinois University), and for the next 16 years, that was our full-time job. None of us were music majors,” Bellini said. “The main key for making a living at music is not getting yourself into debt. It’s hard, but we did it well for 16 years.” 


Bellini’s love of the Blues combined with his bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts made him the perfect candidate to paint murals of Blues greats inside Buddy Guy’s Legends Blues Club in Chicago. He painted the logo behind the stage, he said, and when the club moved, “they cut my paintings out of the drywall and brought them over to the new club.


“There were other Blues clubs where I did a ton of murals of just about every Blues guy,” Bellini said. “And Buddy Guy’s Legends had a monthly newsletter – a 40-page newsprint thing – and I did a one-page strip about the history of the Blues for every issue. I wrote and illustrated it, hand-lettering it in almost like a comic book style. I started with the African roots of the music and when I got up to the 1960s, I stopped. That was when the Blues audience changed from Black to White.


“Black people were leaving the Blues behind and getting into social activist music like Soul, along with Civil Rights music, and the Blues was almost a reminder of the past.”


Bellini says he can’t think of any other genre that lost its audience and gained a new audience “almost seamlessly.”


Blues records started catching the attention of college students in Europe and the States, Bellini said. “Blues guys started doing rock concerts for White audiences. So, that’s where I stopped with the history.


“It just happened organically, so I respect it,” he said of the audience switch. “If it didn’t happen, there probably wouldn’t have been a Civil Rights Movement, so it was good for the long run. The White audience kept the music alive, so the Blues performers still had jobs.”


Bellini said he intends to publish the history that he wrote from 1993 until into the mid-2000s. “I want to get it compiled and put it into book form.


“I took on all the racial issues (in the history) because they play a big role in how the music developed. The first page distinguishes between the various tribes and areas that played different types of instruments. One area focused on drums; another had stringed instruments. When (people of Africa were taken as slaves), drums were banned because they thought slaves were communicating with each other. Over the whole course of the music, race played such a big part in how it developed. That’s what gave people the blues in the first place.”


Called the “Illustrated History of the Blues,” Bellini would label the compilation as Part I, he said. “I don’t know if I would do a Part II, but it would give the book a frame of reference.”


These days, Bellini does a lot of freelance art. “Right now, I am working on a commission to do a voodoo doll of Donald Trump. I’ve done two of them before. Almost two winters ago, I broke my leg and couldn’t get out and do anything, and during that time a friend was complaining about an ex and for the fun of it I made a voodoo doll for her.


“I posted it on Facebook and got a couple of people asking me to make one for them. Obviously, I got a couple of Donald Trump requests. It paid my bills while I was laid up.


“I did a lot of research because I wanted to make them look as authentic as possible. They are pretty high quality. But I was surprised how much flak I got for being a part of people putting curses on one another. I look at them as pieces of art.”


Bellini learned how to sew in a home economics class at Elk Grove High School. “When my nephew was born, I made three or four Muppet-style puppets you would think were bought in a store.”


Bellini, who lives in Oswego, said he didn’t hear about the Sunday, May 31, 2020 protests that led to vandalism in downtown Aurora on the news or on social media.


“I was driving by and I saw a group of artists (decorating boarded-up storefronts) and I pulled over and asked, ‘Who do I talk to and how can I be involved in this?’”


He was directed to Jen Evans, Aurora’s director of public art, who picked out a spot for him.


“I did Colin Kaepernick and one other that has been taken down now. The Kaepernick one might stay up there for now because it’s on the old pawn shop. I think it was boarded up before the protests.”


Bellini says he had the idea for Kaepernick as soon as he began talking to Evans. “I told her I wanted to do a kneeling Colin Kaepernick, and everyone was on board with the idea. I did it the next day.


“Kaepernick is an image I hadn’t seen in any of the other art statements. I was really paying attention big time when he was (taking a knee) and then got blackballed in the NFL. 

“Just like music, sports have a place in historical places and in society, too,” Bellini said.


“Because of Kaepernick, a lot of Black athletes for the first time had a platform they could use to speak out politically. And his protest was very peaceful. He just kneeled down, and everyone had a freaking fit over it.”


But, Bellini said, peaceful protests sometimes are ignored. “When protests get violent, people then say it should have been peaceful. But if people would have listened in the first place, maybe we wouldn’t have gotten to the point where buildings were burning.


“(Painting on the storefronts) was really an awesome thing to do after (the protests) happened: to make them beautiful instead of a bunch of boarded-up buildings. It was really inspirational.”


Bellini said each artist’s ideas were positive. “Someone did a great job on a George Floyd portrait. There were quotes, flowers, sunsets. On the whole, it turned out great. And it introduced me to the art community in Aurora and a met a ton of people.”



(donnell collins photography) folksong Wed, 01 Jul 2020 12:31:46 GMT
Huntley Brown From bar bands to the Crystal Cathedral, pianist found joy in the keys and the Creator

Pianist Huntley Brown first imitated his brothers to learn to play, but later began to imitate Christ and found new joy in his craft.

For the purpose of this interview, Brown took a seat at the grand piano in the sanctuary of First Presbyterian Church in Aurora, Illinois. 

He has played this piano before, he notes, and he likes it because it has a “different touch.”

“It’s a great piano to play ‘The Lord’s Prayer,’ he said. “In that song there is a rumble, and the piano can accomplish that. You need the rumble. You can’t get the same fullness or emotion out of a keyboard.”

Then he demonstrated, and there was no denying the majestic rumble that emanated from the piano and vibrated throughout the sanctuary.

Brown grew up in a Christian home on the island of Jamaica and accepted Christ at an early age. Without knowing how to read music, he learned to play the piano by imitating his brothers. 

After high school, Brown played keyboard in various hotel bands and piano bars. It was great money for a teenager, but the atmosphere of the clubs and his Christian ideals didn’t match up. He kept remembering his mother’s words: “Huntley, only what is done for Christ will last.” He rededicated his life to Christ and spent time daily in the Word and in prayer. 

His desire to live for Christ led him to the United States, where he enrolled at Judson University in Elgin, Illinois. After earning a bachelor’s degree in piano performance, he went on to Northern Illinois University, where he earned a master’s degree in piano performance and pedagogy. 

While at NIU, Brown met Annette Chestnut, a fellow Caribbean student from Barbados. Following graduation, he and Annette were married. Now Aurora residents, they have four daughters: Natalie, Natasha, Nicole and Nadia.

Brown’s music ministry has taken him all over the world, with TV, radio, and concert appearances in Austria, Bahamas, Barbados, Canada, China, England, Estonia, France, Germany, Grenada, Holland, Hong Kong, Hungary, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Indonesia, Japan, Jordan, Latvia, Lithuania, Palestine, South Korea, Romania, Russia, Singapore, South Africa, Spain, St. Maarten, St. Vincent, Slovakia, Switzerland, Taiwan, Ukraine and Wales.

In the United States, he has performed from coast to coast, with ministry opportunities at churches of every size and denomination, from the Crystal Cathedral, to Living Word Christian Center, to Willow Creek Community Church, to Big Rock Baptist Church. Huntley was the artist in residence for the Total Living Network in Chicago with host Jerry & Shirley Rose for many years.

He also was the regular crusade pianist for the recently retired Dr. Ralph Bell, an associate evangelist with the Billy Graham Association. 

He earned the Top Caribbean Gospel Instrumentalist Award for 2005 and 2006. In 2009 he was appointed musical ambassador for television station CTS in Seoul, South Korea. In 2010 he was the youngest person ever to be inducted into the Fox Valley Arts Hall of Fame. 

In the past few years Brown has added a new facet to his ministry: teaching and offering seminars on music and worship. 

Brown became an ordained minister in 2007 and now serves on the board of the Evangelical Church Alliance International.

Brown’s music has been described as inspired, anointed, powerful, and explosive. 

When I sat down with Huntley Brown at First Presbyterian Church, I asked him to answer one-word prompts. We began with family.


“The most important thing in my life after God. It is God, first, family second, and career third.”


“Such an integral part of who I am. My purpose. I believe God created me for a purpose, and it is music.”


“Home country, Jamaica. And America for sure. And Ireland – I was part of a convention of peace there for 10 years and I saw a nation transform. “


“Most important person in my life. Creator. No words to describe Him. Number one. Everything else is after that.”


“My savior. Without Jesus I would be going to hell. I can never thank Him enough for the price He paid for me.”


“Very important, because no man is an island and success is never done in isolation. They share in joys and sorrows, ups and downs. My friends are a blessing from God.”


“My pride and joy. I am a blessed man. Years ago I wanted to have a son but after the joy my daughters have brought I said, Lord, you know what you are doing. All of them have different traits that reflect me:

“Natalie: Passionate, curious

“Natasha: Fighter, no nonsense, loves justice

“Nicole: Gifted musically

“Nadia: Natural ability to play piano like her dad.

“They are all followers of God and the Word. I always told them, ‘Don’t follow God because of me. Follow Him for yourselves.’”


“I’ve had pain from surgery; both knees were blown out. Pain when the therapist visited me. Pain when my daughter went to college; that was almost like a death in the family. And I have lost a few close friends. Both physical and emotional pain are bad; people can carry emotional scars that can’t be seen.

“But I say if the physical pain is going to produce something great, give it to me!”


“I’m Jamaican, so we are known as a joyful people. The Lord is our strength and a joyless life is very unhappy. I found things that bring me joy: Relationship with God, wife, kids. There is no greater joy for me than knowing my kids are walking with Jesus because I will see them in eternity.

“In Jamaica, someone once told me, the reason the people are so joyful is because there’s music on every corner. In the restaurants, the bars, in the streets, on the buses. As a student, my friends and I would ask the bus driver if he had any music and if he said no, we would wait for the next bus.

“Music infusion creates happiness.”


“My earthly hero. A man I looked up to that changed the world. I have patterned my life and ministry after his life. If each person in ministry followed the example he set, I think we would have less scandals. He had one message: the message of Jesus Chris and the transforming power available to all of us. 

“The day I got the opportunity to spend with him was one of the highlights of my life. He was asking so many questions about me. He was like that with everyone. He made you feel like you were the only person in the world. Truly a highlight. If the Bible were being written now, he would be included. I would say he is the greatest evangelist since the Apostle Paul.

“When Billy Graham got to heaven, I would say it was almost like when the Chicago Bulls won the championship. People were waiting, waiting, and then when they won, they shouted, ‘Here comes Michael Jordan and the team.’ The place went crazy.

“I feel like God would have said, ‘Billy, well done, good and faithful servant.’ He may have also said something like, ‘Billy, you read in the Bible that it says there is great joy in heaven when one soul repents. Do you know how many parties we have had up here because of you?’

“Billy Graham said the secret of his success lay in three things:

Prayer, Prayer, Prayer.”

As our interview ended, Huntley Brown reached for the piano keys one more time. This time there was no rumble and no vibration. This music seemed less like an anthem, and more like a prayer.


(donnell collins photography) Wed, 24 Jun 2020 03:02:00 GMT
Bob Kivisto "Folksongs" The ball doesn’t fall far from the basket: 

Kivisto followed his father as player, coach


Most kids sleep with a Teddy bear.

Bob Kivisto? He had a basketball in his crib.

In fact, Bob says he could dribble a basketball before he could walk. 

As a second-grader, he put on a dribbling demo at United Township High School in East Moline, Ill., where his dad was coach.

When your dad is Ernie Kivisto, you eat and sleep basketball. And just like everyone else, you call your dad “Coach.”

“All he did in his life was play basketball,” Bob Kivisto said of his father. “He trained all of his sons to be basketball players. He was a great college player and semi-pro.”

But the senior Kivisto’s love was coaching.

The son of Finnish immigrants, Ernie Kivisto (known as “the Flying Finn”), played for Marquette University and Notre Dame before serving as a Marine in World War II. 

Ernie started coaching high school boys in the late 1940s at Miami High School in Miami, Arizona. His team went 27-0 in 1951, winning the Arizona State Championship. The team set state and national records.

After that season, Ernie became head coach at United Township. His teams won 232 games at East Moline. 

Bob had completed his junior year at East Moline when his dad became the head basketball coach at East Aurora High School in 1967. In their first season, the Tomcats won the Upstate 8 Conference Championship. The 1969 and 1970 teams again won Conference titles, along with Regional, Sectional and Super-Sectional Championships.

Bob and his little brother Tom both were named High School All-American: Bob in 1968 and Tom in 1970. Both went on to start at the University of Kansas, where Bob led the 1971 Jayhawks to the Final Four, and Tom led the 1974 Kansas men to the Final Four.

Bob remembers losing to UCLA in the Astrodome in 1971. The other four starters in the game went on to play pro basketball. “They were all big. I was a small fry.”

After graduation, Bob went into college coaching and teaching for 18 years. He also traveled the country as a recruiter. But after he married and had a family, he decided to settle down at East Aurora High School as a coach and teacher. At 71  years old, he’s still teaching.

“Ever since I started kindergarten, I have been in school as a student or a teacher,” he said with a smile. “I haven’t had a break yet.”

Bob was teaching English at East High (just like his dad did) when an opportunity came up for him to teach special education 19 years ago. 

He coached basketball for only four years. “I had some great teams, and then I got fired (from coaching),” he said. “They said there were more important things than winning.

“I was very demanding,” he said. “So was my dad. When I played for my dad, we practiced two times a day.”

When asked if his dad’s formula for creating winning basketball teams would work today, Kivisto answered with an emphatic yes.

“My dad coached at four high schools, and all of them had the best teams ever. He had a system that would work anywhere.

“I’m proud of my dad. I still love listening to stories about him. I am real proud to be Ernie Kivisto’s son. I’m really lucky. And I’m really lucky I had the mom I had.

“My mom was smart. She had two master’s degrees. I always had a basketball in one hand, but my mom was putting books in my other hand. I could read before I started school.

“I played baseball during the summer and I played basketball every day all day long. As long as I practiced basketball and as long as I got all As, I didn’t have to get a job.”

When Bob Kivisto started coaching, he knew the drill. 

“I taught players dedication and hard work. I worked with them year-round.”

And, he could tell them stories about not only his dad’s success, but his own.

“I was a scoring machine in high school,” he said. “I scored 52 points as a freshman on the varsity basketball team at East Moline. To this day, I’m still one of the leading scorers in Illinois basketball with more than 2,400 baskets.”

Bob is quick to point out that his high school basketball career did not include three-point field goals. They were established in high school basketball in the 1987-1988 season.

He is also proud to have coached players who went on to play in the NBA.

One was Harvey Grant, who played for the Washington Bullets, Portland Trailblazers and the Philadelphia 76ers, and another was Armen Gilliam, who played in the NBA for 13 years.

Who was the best player Bob Kivisto ever played against?

“My brother Tom,” was his first answer, but then after a bit of thought, he said, “Austin Carr. He was incredible. Carr played for the Cleveland Cavaliers, Dallas Mavericks, and Washington Bullets.

He also played against Curtis Rowe and Sidney Wicks at UCLA.  Each man played in the NBA for about a decade.



(donnell collins photography) kivisto Wed, 17 Jun 2020 05:20:35 GMT
Hometown Healthcare Heroes Hometown healthcare heroes (left to right) DeBorah Miller, RN; Emma B. Olivera, MD; and Adrianna Perkins found themselves on the frontlines of a worldwide pandemic in early 2020, and each has endeavored to find the best way to help her patients.


Dr. Emma B. Olivera is an Oswego High School graduate. She chose a career in medicine early on and received both her bachelor’s degree and graduate medical degree from the University of Illinois at Chicago. 


Of Bolivian and Cuban descent, she was taught early on about the importance of diversity in the healthcare field and has endeavored to end disparities in education and healthcare access through leadership roles in various regional and national organizations.


As a board-certified pediatrician, Dr. Olivera’s philosophy is to provide comprehensive and culturally competent care for infants, children, and adolescents.


“Since the onset of the pandemic, a significant drop in well-child visits has resulted in delays in vaccinations, delays in appropriate screenings, and delays in anticipatory guidance to assure optimal health,” she says.


Pediatricians rapidly adapted to using telehealth when clinically warranted, she adds. The majority of doctor’s offices remain open to assist in the care and guidance of families regarding medical treatment on various ailments of patients.


“Reports have shown the majority of pediatric cases of COVID-19 have been mild,” Dr. Olivera says. “However, there has been an unusual rise in the diagnosis of Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children (MIS-C). This a condition where different body parts can become inflamed, including the heart, lungs, kidneys, brain, skin, eyes, or gastrointestinal organs.


It is unclear at this time as to what causes MIS-C. However, the CDC notes children with MIS-C often had the virus that causes COVID-19 or had been around someone with COVID-19. MIS-C can be serious, even deadly, but most children who were diagnosed with this condition have gotten better with medical care. This is why seeking guidance from a pediatrician remains fundamentally important.”


The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) strongly recommends that parents continue to visit their primary care physician for immunizations, developmental evaluations, acute concerns and infections, she said. Doctors, allied health professionals, and all members of healthcare teams will continue to work together in order to achieve positive healthcare outcomes.


“Together as a healthcare community, we recognize the socioeconomic challenges the public continues to face and we will continue to strive to diagnose, treat and counsel in the safest way possible,” she said.


“All physicians take pride in the trust afforded to the medical profession and are thankful to work every day in a vocation of such determination and heart.”


DeBorah Miller is a proud graduate of East Aurora High School, the nursing school of Waubonsee Community College and will graduate in two weeks from Chamberlain University. This is her 29th year as a registered nurse with clinical and leadership experience in primary care and medical/surgical specialties, in both acute and ambulatory care settings. 


“My current position as a Quality Improvement Nurse Specialist with Advocate Aurora Health allows me to lead across our health care ministry in the areas of patient safety, patient relations and in our delivery of quality care,” she says. “My goal is to do my part to ensure that our care environment is a place in which our patients can heal, our staff can serve, and our providers can practice.


“I have seen a lot throughout the duration of my career and the COVID-19 pandemic that has invaded this year has shown to be the most challenging. But nurses are built for ‘such a time as this.’ We are always ‘Game On,’ but it is in times of crisis that we elevate our game to a higher level of care, knowledge, expertise and skill sets.


“Despite challenges, we continuously strive to create the optimal patient and family experience. We have many frontline heroes to recognize and thank for their countless dedication to health care, especially over the past few months. I am deeply honored to represent nurses and to work within a nursing industry that is the most trusted profession.”


Adrianna Perkins graduated from Oswego High School and received a master’s degree in Health Administration from Capella University.


“I worked for Rush-Copley Medical Center for 19 years prior to my current position with Fresenius Kidney Care as an insurance coordinator,” she says.


“As an insurance coordinator, my responsibility is to assist dialysis patients in retaining their medical coverage. If patients feel the financial strain of possibly not being able to afford their health coverage, my job is to offer them assistance by helping them apply to the American Kidney Fund to ease the stress of worrying if they can afford to keep their coverage.


“During COVID-19, some of my dialysis patients have been furloughed or laid off, so their insurance coverage has been affected, which means a loss of coverage. My responsibility is to advise and assist them with other insurance options. Being able to ease the insurance concerns that may be adding stress to my patients is what I enjoy about my job. When my patients tell me I made their day or express their gratitude for listening to them and just being there for them, it is truly rewarding and what motivates me to continue to advocate and make sure they never have to worry about the financial aspect of receiving their dialysis treatments.”

(donnell collins photography) folk songs Wed, 10 Jun 2020 02:56:13 GMT



I was in second grade when my teacher took me aside and told me she wanted to let me know about something that would change my writing forever – quotation marks!


Not everyone in the class was ready for quotation marks, but I was.


And I have been using them abundantly ever since.


I wanted to become a writer early, and in fact, I was a writer before I even realized it. I loved to tell stories to my classmates and write plays and song lyrics; all while still in elementary school.


I majored in journalism at NIU and got my first newspaper job post-college at the Herald-Coaster in Rosenberg, Texas. After moving back up north, I wrote for the Downers Grove Reporter, The Daily Herald, The Voice and the Chicago Tribune as a freelancer.


But the majority of my career was spent at The Beacon News, which is where I met Donnell Collins. I was always happy when we were assigned the same story because I knew Donnell would get a photo that matched the vibe of my story.


After a few stints in local government, at the Fox Valley Park District, City of Aurora and Aurora Public Library, I returned to freelance writing.


So here I am, doing that thing with the quotation marks again.


It’s cool.

Donnell Collins Bio

Photojournalism was the best thing to ever happen to me in regards to a career. I wanted to be a musician, writer, teacher, artist. I loved all phases of life and loved to watch and listen to those who were making it happen. Photojournalism allowed me the freedom to briefly touch each labor of love before moving on to the next one. I was able to photograph, and in many cases, meet the leaders of a world that involved great athletes, musicians, writers, painters, photographers, etc, etc... Now, since I no longer work for a newspaper and have a great deal of time on my hands, I think I would like to do what I love most: tell stories about interesting people doing interesting things both locally and abroad. (Besides hanging out with my grandchildren and playing a little golf.) I'm going to call this little endeavor "Folksongs." There is nothing I like more than telling a good story, since I can't paint a picture, play an instrument, or sing or write a song. I'll let my camera do the talking and my friend, Amy Roth, do the writing. Together, we will make Folksongs. Hope you enjoy our little walk together.

The black and white photo used in this self portrait is Gordon Roger Alexander Buchanan Alexander Parks. An American photographer. I took this picture with my Canon AE-1 in New Orleans when I was just 19 years old on leave from the Army. From that chase meeting, I decided to become a story teller. I have tried really hard to be just a photographer but it has never really worked for me. I have always wanted to say what I want with the camera and not what someone else wanted me to say. To tell stories.


(donnell collins photography) Folk Songs Tue, 02 Jun 2020 03:02:29 GMT