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updated: 1/2/2012 2:13 PM

Here are four of many unsung heroes of 2011

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  • Connie Wilson

    Connie Wilson

  • Sylvia Walker

    Sylvia Walker

  • Lea Minalga

    Lea Minalga

  • Ally Bain

    Ally Bain


Had your fill yet of all those end-of-the-year wrapups, recaps, bests and worsts?

No? Glad to hear it. So here's just one more before we get about the business of the new year.

This past week and beyond, we've been recapping the stories of the year, notable deaths, best photos, favorite quotes. I'd like to share one more concept, and it's really the bread and butter of what this newspaper does. Here are just a few of the many unsung heroes of the suburbs we've written about this past year. They're your neighbors who fly under the radar quietly doing great or interesting things. Or, in some cases, they rose to the occasion when thrust into the limelight.

• Connie Wilson of Naperville didn't ask for the notoriety. She had put in her retirement notice as her church's music and liturgy director only a few days before a federal jury summons arrived. She ended up as forewoman of the jury that convicted Former Gov. Rod Blagojevich of 17 of 20 counts in his second trial.

Since then, she's made a commitment to sharing her heightened sense of civic responsibility with others. "I think I have found my voice as an advocate for taking responsibility as a citizen," Wilson told DH intern Katlyn Smith during an appearance a few weeks ago at Metea Valley High School in Aurora.

Ironically, that seemingly innocuous story about the former juror's talk to high school students set off a brief tempest. Shortly after Katlyn's story ran, the Blagojevich defense team marched into court, citing it and a reference to Wilson showing her juror questionnaire to students as a rules infraction that should merit he former governor a new trial. The judge scoffed and the notion, suggesting instead that Blagojevich's lawyers write Wilson a letter of apology.

• Sylvia Walker works as a "respite volunteer" for Arlington Heights-based Clearbrook. She cares for children with extreme special needs so their exhausted parents get a break.

Asked why she does it, she told staff writer Deborah Donovan: "I just feel like I want to do more rather than just sit in an office and push paper around. Here I am making a difference. This becomes an extension of your family."

• Lea Minalga of Geneva didn't wallow in self-pity over her son's problems with heroin. Instead the drug counselor started Hearts of Hope, a nonprofit that helps families dealing with drug addiction. One of her self-imposed duties is to attend funerals. In the past decade she's been to more than 100 -- all or young people who overdosed on drugs, usually heroin. "Sadly," she told staff writer Jamie Sotonoff, "I know most of them."

• Taunted as a high schooler for the weight fluctuation and other side effects of Crohn's, an inflammatory bowel disease, Ally Bain of Vernon Hills faced the ultimate humiliation when she was in a store without a public restroom and a clerk refused to let her use the employees' facility. Ally soiled herself. "I was crying while walking back to the car, and my mom said, 'Let's work to make sure that this never happens to you or anyone else again,'" Ally recalled to columnist Burt Constable. A year later, with Ally and Lisa Bain as the catalysts, Illinois became the first state in the nation to guarantee bathroom rights to people with medical needs. Today, Ally, 21 and a senior at Lake Forest College, continues the fight for such laws nationwide.

Of course, those stories are just a few examples of what we'll continue to look for in 2012: Great efforts by great people.

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