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posted: 2/19/2010 12:01 AM

Doing what they love: midlife career changes

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  • Nina Heymann owns the Oscar Swan Inn in Geneva, where the Murder Shop stages some of its interactive events.

      Nina Heymann owns the Oscar Swan Inn in Geneva, where the Murder Shop stages some of its interactive events.
    Daily Herald file photo


Junior high math was never my favorite subject. I really didn't see how solving for "X" would be necessary in my life.

I was not alone in that thought, which must have been challenging for math teacher, Charles "Chuck" Siegler of Batavia.

Siegler worked as a math teacher for 12 years and then changed careers going into park management. Hopefully, my groans about beginning algebra had nothing to do with his leaving the classroom.

"No, I loved the classroom but during the summers, I worked for the St. Charles Recreation Center," said Siegler. "When I wanted to try something different, I decided to go into park management."

After a stint at the Carol Stream and Wheaton Park Districts, Siegler was offered a job with the Kane County Forest Preserve.

"At the time, the management was done by a committee; there was no office, no policies in place. It was similar to building a new organization and I liked that," said Siegler.

During his 20-year tenure as superintendent of the Kane County Forest Preserve District, the district acquired 80 miles of trails and 4,000 acres of park land, including the Big Rock Forest Preserve and the Great Western Trail.

"I remember asking Phil Elfstrom about naming the Great Western Trail," said Siegler. "Phil said, 'What are you calling it now?' I told him that we had been calling it the Great Western after the train line that the trail was on. He said. 'Sounds good to me.' And that was that."

After Siegler's county stint he returned to the classroom as a substitute math teacher at Rotolo Middle School.

"I always loved teaching," he said. "In fact life is a matter of teaching. I learned from them as well. On the days that I didn't, well I considered that a bad day."

Even though Siegler is in his senior years, he is still involved in the outdoors.

"Someone has to inspect the golf courses," he said, jokingly.

Her success is no mystery

Changing careers can be a daunting task.

Just ask former Batavia High School English teacher, Sandy Flannigan.

"I had been doing mystery parties for the last four years for private parties and organizations," said Flannigan. "I once did one for an organization of 340 people."

When Flannigan retired from teaching she was able to combine her love for writing and her love for history and create The Mystery Shop, Ltd.

She writes the mysteries and presents them at Oscar Swan Country Inn in Geneva. She has done dinner theaters, breakfast theaters and some with just appetizers and dessert. Her tag line is "Tasty Morsels of Mischief."

Starting a new business is never easy; but, Flannigan is up to meeting the challenge.

"We have had a lot of repeat business and I have even had some people ask for private parties with a specific theme," she said.

Since Flannigan writes the mysteries, the possibilities for personalized parties are endless. She employs different types of formats to do her mysteries. Some involve a theater troupe that stops and involves the audience in the play. Others are mixers where everyone in the room is a character in the play. Others are table mysteries which are similar to the game "Clue." Her themes have been taken from history and classic literature. She has done 50s themes and has plans for a barbecue with a wild west wagon train theme and a St. Patrick's Day party with a pub mystery.

On March 5-7, Flannigan will be hosting her first Murder Mystery Weekend which will include two mysteries, writing workshops and a mystery book discussion. Participants have the opportunity to spend two nights at the Oscar Swan Inn and enjoy Nina Heymann's fabulous food and hospitality.

"We have had senior ladies, couples and singles attend the past parties," said Flannigan. "My job is to make sure that everyone who attends has a good time and is comfortable."

For information, contact the Mystery Shop at (630) 232-8482.

His dream? Opening a restaurant

Dan Foelske's career path started out in banking and then took a turn into office management.

"I always wanted to open a restaurant," said Foelske. "I decided now was the time to do it."

Although Foelske is new to restaurant management, he isn't new to cooking for large groups of people. He and his wife, Pam have catered private parties and church dinners. They also entertain large groups in their home.

The Foelskes purchased the family home, the home of Pam's grandmother, Leona Berg, and cherish the family history.

"In the 1940s Leona cooked at the Colonial House restaurant which was located next to the Methodist Church," said Foelske. "We decided to open our restaurant in the coach house on the southwest corner of Wilson Street and Batavia Avenue. We plan to call it Ona's on the Avenue."

Since some of the grandchildren had trouble pronouncing Leona, the nickname, Ona, was given to Leona.

"We will be using some of her recipes at our restaurant," said Foelske.

Right now the Foelskes plan to open in the morning for coffee and pastries and at lunch for soups and sandwiches. All the offerings will be freshly made and Dan Foelske will have some packaged items such as his famous garlic dill pickles as well.

"We also have plans to open on Sundays for a family style dinner but that will be in the future," he added.

The tentative opening for the restaurant is March 1.

Making a career change is never easy, but at the end of the road can be rewards beyond the imagination.

Just ask Chuck Siegler who recently had a lake in the Big Rock Forest preserve named after him.

"I also had students name me the top substitute in a survey at the middle school," he added. "I'm honored by both."