Ordinary people doing extraordinary things we've seen a lot of them in the suburbs this year. Now we'd like your help choosing who should be No. 1. E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org to tell us your choice, and we'll announce the winner before the end of the year. Here are the nominees.
The phenomenon that is "American Idol" crowned a Mount Prospect man winner of season nine. Lee DeWyze, the one-time paint salesman, launched his new career with the big-label debut of his album "Live It Up" in November. While first-week sales may not have been the stuff of "American Idol" dreams, his whirlwind post-"Idol" life has turned him into a bona fide star and the pride of Mount Prospect. With appearances on "Late Night with David Letterman," "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" and the morning show circuit, DeWyze has managed to be both professional and humble throughout his time in the media spotlight. DeWyze has also stayed true to his roots and squeezed in some hometown visits and stops at his old haunts. DeWyze has proved that dreaming big can have a very big payoff.
Arguably the biggest story of the year in Batavia was the proposed $20 million recreation center. If it weren't for the eagle eye of resident Yvonne Dinwiddie, the measure may not have made it to referendum. Dinwiddie spotted a legal notice in the newspaper about the bonding ordinance the park district was planning on to pay for the rec center. The Batavia Park District's plan, proposed by a private developer, called for the teardown of a strip mall and moving a McDonald's, and creating a new recreation center, parking garage and shopping area. Dinwiddie got a petition together in a matter of weeks and organized the effort to put the plan on the ballot. And it worked. Voters rejected the plan at the polls in November. "It's pretty bad when citizens can finance a private development," Dinwiddie said at a Chamber of Commerce breakfast in October, referring to how taxpayers would have been on the hook to repay the $20 million plus interest.
Naperville native Evan Lysacek became the first U.S. man to win the gold in men's figure skating since Brian Boitano in 1988. Lysacek's artistry beat out the 2006 gold medalist and Russian Evegni Plushenko's quadruple jump in a close competition. Lysacek didn't let Plushenko's claims that he deserved to win the gold ruin his Olympic moment. After the Olympics, Lsyacek took a break from ice skating and hopped into a less familiar arena: the dance floor. Lysacek traded his figure skates for dancing shoes to compete on "Dancing with the Stars." The mirrorball trophy would ultimately elude him, and he would settle for second place. But 2010 was still very good to Evan Lysacek.
Activist and author Erin Merryn has taken a very personal battle and turned it into a public one. After being sexually abused twice in her life by two different offenders, 25-year-old Merryn quit her job and began working to change the laws on sex abuse education in schools. "Erin's Law" aims to create a program for schools to teach young students how to speak up and protect themselves from abuse. Merryn, of Schaumburg, told her story to lawmakers last month and both the state Senate and House approved the bill. The legislation now awaits Gov. Pat Quinn's signature. Merryn told lawmakers that knowledge plays a key role in preventing children from being victimized: "Because no one was giving me the messages on how to speak up about sexual abuse, on what safe touch is, on how to put a face and voice on this, I stayed silent and listened to my perpetrators." But Merryn's fight isn't over; she has set her sights on national legislation.
The war hero
Wheaton native and Army Staff Sgt. Robert Miller was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor, the military's highest honor, this year. Miller, who died while battling Taliban forces in Afghanistan in 2008, managed to aid his fellow soldiers by continuing to fight and by drawing fire away from them even after he had suffered two chest wounds. The 24-year-old's actions during the battle in which they were heavily outnumbered saved seven soldiers and the 15 Afghan troops with whom they were working. At a ceremony at the White House, President Barack Obama presented the award to Miller's parents, Phil and Maureen Miller, saying, "You gave your oldest son to America. And America is forever in your debt." Miller was the third soldier to receive the Medal of Honor in the war in Afghanistan.
The student activist
Seventeen-year-old Elgin High School student Hannah Perryman was stalked for years. Frustrated by years of harassment by a teen who assaulted Hannah in the fifth grade and unable to get an order of protection, Hannah and her parents launched a campaign to change the state's stalking legislation. Six years after her ordeal began, the changes Hannah fought for became law. The new law makes it easier for stalking victims to obtain orders of protection. Now, stalking victims who don't know their harassers well or don't have a relationship with them can get an order of protection. And the new law gives judges more leeway in granting orders of protection and increased penalties such as jail time and hefty fines for breaking them. "I just wanted to help someone else," Hannah told the Daily Herald. "If it helps one person, that's something."
Lombard resident Lt. Matt Spartz, a special guest columnist to the Daily Herald, provided a much-needed voice not often heard in the newspaper: that of the soldier along the front lines. Spartz, a graduate of the University of Illinois, has offered his view of the war since his deployment to Afghanistan in the spring. His voice wasn't often political; it usually was personal. Spartz serves to remind us that it's our brothers, sisters, friends, husbands and wives thousands of miles away who do the most extraordinary work every day. When news spread that Spartz had been injured and some of his fellow soldiers killed, it underscored again what we take for granted every day that we go to sleep at night safe in our own beds. For his service and his willingness to share his experience, Spartz's story made the war over there more real for those of us here.
Fremd 2006 graduate Scott Tolzien, from Rolling Meadows, is the senior QB who led Wisconsin to its first Rose Bowl appearance in 11 years, though he was not considered anywhere near a top recruit out of high school. He won the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award, given to the top senior quarterback in the country. He leads the nation in completion percentage (74.3) and QB rating (169.8). He is one of 30 finalists for the Lowes' Senior CLASS award for achievements in four areas: community, classroom, character and competition. He regularly visits schools in Madison, Wis., and Rolling Meadows and Palatine, and he has a special bond with a young cancer patient, Jaxson Hinkens, that has been profiled in numerous magazines, newspapers and television reports.
Fighting the battle of the bulge is familiar to a lot of people, but most people don't take their fight to national TV. Then there's Bartlett's Michael Ventrella. Ventrella faced his biggest challenge in front of millions of viewers when he competed on NBC's "The Biggest Loser." Ventrella started the show weighing in at 526 pounds the largest contestant in the history of the show. The 31-year-old lost 264 pounds and claimed the "Biggest Loser" prize and the $250,000 check. And his plans for the prize money? Paying off his debt and finally riding the roller coasters at an amusement park. Ventrella's weight-loss journey showed others battling obesity that it is possible to make the change to a healthier lifestyle.
The 8th District congressional race was decided by the slimmest margin less than 300 votes separated the Republican and Democratic candidates. In a contest that pitted a political neophyte against an odds-on favorite incumbent, the results were, to say the least, shocking. Joe Walsh became the poster boy for political upheaval and the tea party movement by ousting three-term incumbent Melissa Bean. Walsh went into the race underfunded and without any major backing from the Republican Party, but was swept to victory by a grass-roots effort from various political groups not affiliated with Walsh's campaign. Walsh, who had to wait nearly two weeks to be declared the official winner while absentee ballots were counted, was in Washington for Congress' version of freshman orientation when he learned the seat was his.