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posted: 12/30/2013 9:53 AM

From Antioch to South Elgin, we pick our favorite letters of 2013

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Right out of the gate we decided we weren't going to call this the "best letters" of the year. A few more titles -- "memorable" was a close second -- were suggested and discarded.

In the end, Jim Slusher, our assistant managing editor/Opinion, Colleen Thomas, assistant Opinion page editor, and I decided "favorite letters" would say it best, and in a way we hoped would be bias-free and non-insulting to the many letter writers whose submissions we did not choose as our favorites.

The letters appearing below this column are ones we simply liked, for a variety of reasons. We made a conscious effort to stay away from the many letters we received on Obamacare (or just Obama, come to think of it), gun control and other hot-button issues, lest anyone think our liking of a well-crafted letter on the Affordable Care Act (even the title's controversial) was an endorsement of the writer's position.

Another problem with more than a few letters we receive is that they're just so angry, mean-spirited and self-righteous. Within limits, we publish such letters, and there's certainly a place for them, but I can tell you the tone sometimes gets a little wearisome.

What you see, then, are letters about a wide variety of topics: marathon running, music, life-threatening illness, voting, the Cubs and credit card fraud. If there's a common theme, I'd say that most of the writers had something meaningful to say about the human condition. Or they made a key, possibly overlooked, point on a topic. Many of them, simply, were nice -- heart-wrenching in a few cases. OK, we let one snarky one in (Ty Warner, the Beanie Babies czar), but it was too clever to pass up.

Needless to say, in trying to put aside a year's worth of letters we liked, some good ones undoubtedly were overlooked. Also, we eliminated some strong candidates simply because there wasn't space and time to rerun every nominee.

If you disagree with our selections, we hope you'll at least be entertained. And, again, these are simply the letters three editors liked.

That's why we call it the Opinion page.

Our Favorite Letters of 2013

Letters often show the glass as half empty, but this writer explains why he optimistically chooses quality of life over quantity of years. His decision may not be for everyone, but his eloquence is engaging. -- Colleen Thomas

Living, dying with dignity is goal

With a great deal of empathy, I read Randy Gollay's Nov. 10 letter, "You cannot know when your time is up." He has gone through a lot, but he appears to be a real fighter and will, hopefully, be around for a long time.

It is true that we don't know exactly when our time is up, but in some instances, perhaps rarely, we can come reasonably close. While Mr. Gollay has dealt with three potentially fatal health issues, I am more fortunate because I am dealing with only one.

When I was told that I have a very serious heart condition and that open heart surgery was the only way the odds favored living longer than the next year or two, my first thought was, "What about my quality of life during that gift of extra years?" After all, having regular appointments with six different specialists is a testament to the health problems this 79-year-old+ body is enduring.

I realized that the journey of open heart surgery and a very prolonged rehab mainly served to make me available for all my other potentially serious health problems later on. I decided it's a road I don't want to travel. My quality of life would plummet, and that's not my idea of "living." I'd rather take my last breath with the dignity of living at home with my family and my dogs without tubes and machines keeping me alive.

Although I don't know exactly when my time will come, I do have a pretty good idea. Odds are I'll be around for my 80th birthday in April, but the odds aren't good for my 81st. To paraphrase Alfred Lord Tennyson, "God's finger will touch me and I will sleep." I'm OK with that.

Len Brauer

Palatine (Dec. 9)

It's especially nice to receive a thoughtful letter on a local issue. The writer makes an interesting point about music, challenges a decision of an elected body -- and does so in a restrained, logical and civil way. -- Jim Davis

Putting off student music shortsighted

Reading that Indian Prairie Unit District 204 is going to begin band and orchestra in sixth grade is astounding. My hope is that other districts do not see this as a means to save money.

Research shows that music is a language learned through experience and over time. The younger a child is when they learn any language is beneficial, and waiting until middle school to begin serious music study is foolhardy. Students become self-conscious around fifth and sixth grade and are less willing to take the risks necessary to become proficient musicians.

Why people think music is an "extra" is totally wrong. It is important enough to have state standards. Not every child has the desire to play sports and music offers them a different way to learn to work as a team. It also reinforces the idea of commitment, dedication and hard work.

Music should be a part of every student's schooling in elementary and middle school and orchestra and band should be offered to those interested not later than fourth grade and throughout their remaining school years. To deny this opportunity is to deny a well rounded education to all students, including those with the desire to pursue music and those who may not be able to afford private lessons.

It isn't about curriculum. Once again, it is the bottom line. I would challenge any board member who voted in favor of this change to pick up an instrument and play it well enough to perform in an ensemble. It takes years and practice. I hope other school districts continue to support music education and recognize its long term value.

Roberta Wheatley

Glen Ellyn (Dec. 15)

The gun control topic often is driven by emotion. Whatever your position on the issue, this writer approached the topic with a clear emphasis on reason. -- Jim Slusher

Focus on mental health, not guns

It is ironic that one of the headlines Jan. 10 stressed that "VP Biden vows urgent action" in the wake of the terrible shootings in Newtown, Conn., while on Page 5 of the same paper there was an article about a man in Bartlett who was accused of stockpiling machine guns without a firearm owners ID card. It further states that police found "several large containers of bomb-making chemicals."

We are asked to trust the current administration to provide answers and new safeguards against further atrocities while they couldn't even account for weapons under their control during the fiasco called "Fast and Furious."

The Obama/Biden approach seems to be concentrated on outlawing assault rifles and high-capacity magazines while creating a national database of gun owners. These may be laudable initiatives but fail to address the larger problem of why people, some appearing perfectly normal, feel compelled to kill innocent civilians including children. This is a disaster waiting to happen.

Why wasn't the Bartlett man given a psychiatric evaluation? Why was he stockpiling weapons and bomb-making chemicals? With credit for good time served he can be released in four months.

The focus is on eliminating guns and not on the root cause, which is obviously mental health. We need a better means of identifying troubled people and helping them before they go over the edge.

Raymond Allison

Libertyville (Jan. 17)

Let's be honest: Too many Americans spend considerable time and effort regarding Muslims with suspicion. Here's a letter reminding us that many, many American Muslims are loyal to their faith and this country. And that reminder can transfer to prejudice of all types. -- Jim Davis

On being American ... and a Muslim

One would think that being American and being a Muslim would have two diverging paths that would never cross. The reality is that my faith and my loyalty to my country repeatedly converge paths. I find the basis of this claim in the words of Prophet Muhammad who stated that, "Love of one's homeland is a part of faith." Thus, it is my duty as both an American and Muslim to honor those veterans who served our country.

Furthermore, my Muslim youth group, MKA, the leading Muslim American Youth Association, and its members vow to always sacrifice our "lives, wealth, time, and honor for the sake of our faith, country, and nation." As a Muslim American, I simply wish to thank and commemorate the brave veterans who sacrificed their lives to obtain justice and freedom for all. All in all, Veterans Day is a reminder of both my loyalty to my country and adherence to my faith.

Zakaria Malik

Lombard (Nov. 19)

We all feel a little sorry for ourselves at times, and there's nothing like a swift kick in the pants to make us realize how good we have it. This letter is one of those kicks. -- Colleen Thomas

Disabled marathoner an inspiration to all On Oct. 13, I completed my fifth consecutive Chicago Marathon. My times were 4:05, 4:09, 3:54, 3:43 and 4:21. Not bad, but nothing to really brag about either. I was really bummed out about how my 2013 marathon went. Then I saw on NBC the story of Maickel Melamed's 2013 Chicago Marathon. He's the 38-year-old man from Caracas, Venezuela, who has muscular dystrophy. Maickel finished his marathon in 16:46, at approximately 1:30 a.m. on the next day. Can you imagine the effort it took him to do this? It brought tears to me and made me feel ashamed about how bad I felt physically and mentally about my worst marathon finish. When Maickel Melamed finished his marathon he was quoted as saying. "How I feel, a little bit tired after 16 hours of a really great effort." He then said: "If you dream it, make it happen, because your life is the most beautiful thing that could happen to you! So make the best of it and share it. The best of it, because we come here to share." I think these are words to live by. Ron Seeberger Palatine (Oct. 27)

Clever. Funny. Cutting. On the money, as it were. -- Jim Davis

Not a single grain of caviar lost

Regarding: H. Ty Warner. I can see it now -- a little plush piggy in an orange jumpsuit. The heart-shaped tag in his ear reads:

"I'm Greedy, the jailhouse pig.

My profits were bigger than big,

But from paying my taxes I fled.

Oh well, life's not so bad in Club Fed."

How sad that a man who brought so much fun to so many, and got so rich doing it, had to turn criminal out of sheer greed. The $5 million in taxes that Mr. Warner evaded paying seems like an enormous fortune to ordinary people. But to a multibillionaire, paying his taxes, as most of us do, would not have taken a single grain of caviar from his plate.

Norma Hass

Sleepy Hollow (Oct. 5)

This one just rings so true. And I'll add one phrase that's become prevalent -- and grating -- "No problem." -- Jim Davis

There you go; have a good one

Another summer, another bumper crop of students working the cash registers. They are ambitious, no doubt, but for the last few years virtually all of them have come to use a new lingo when handing over the receipt or change. It is, "Have a good one" or "There you go."

Maybe "Have a nice day" once in a while. There are many, too, who say nothing at all. These bright young kids have probably reasoned that, having no proprietary interest in the business, they get nothing more than their regular pay check for saying, "Thank you" on behalf of the business owner. Perhaps a thank you would contribute to the goodwill of a business and a greater volume of customers. What is the reasoning that "Have a good one" is considered a good substitute for a sincere "Thank you?"

In recent years, newspapers published articles about strategies businesses were employing to enhance customer services and other perks to attract a greater market share, all the while their front line workers were dropping "Thank you" from their vocabularies. As a youth in the same position, I was taught to say "Thank you" to every customer I served, working a soda fountain after school at the corner drugstore. Soda fountains have gone the way of four track tapes, and today, the corner drugstore might refer to a slow moving car in the school parking lot.

My experience indelibly etched "Thank you" in my speech so much so that I continue thanking cashiers for the receipt and change instead of the other way around. I wonder if these same kids acknowledge a birthday or graduation check by telling their grandparents or others to "Have A good one." On the other hand, maybe they're just following instructions.

Gerald T. Padar

Elgin (June 12)

My personal favorite, with an interesting back story: When the letter didn't immediately run, Annette Huber wrote a follow-up note, offering to pay for its publication. We don't accept payment for letters, of course, but that's how important it was to her to thank her good Samaritans. -- Jim Davis

The kindness of strangers

Sometimes we get overwhelmed with the negativity of the news.

We need to hear about the good things that happen too. We want to thank the lovely people that helped when my husband passed out behind the wheel at a stop sign in Crystal Lake on May 14th. To the gentleman that helped move him from behind the wheel to the passenger side of the car, we don't know your name. To the lovely lady that called 911 and stayed with us until the police and paramedics arrived; it was a stressful time and I can't recall your name but will never forget your kindnesses. And to Rich in the orange car who took his time to lead me to the correct hospital because I'm unfamiliar with the area. You are our heroes and we are thankful for every one of you. And lastly to the two Crystal Lake police officers and the paramedics. Our thanks. It was reassuring to have you there. Gratefully,

Joe and Annette Huber

South Elgin (May 26)

Ah, the perennial complaints about the Cubs. Admittedly they can get old and cliché, but this writer adds an amusing perspective to his. -- Colleen Thomas

Some things just don't change

In the July 16 Daily Herald Sports section, Page 2, was the headline, "Cubs: Still some rebuilding to be done." When I was a young boy learning to read, my dad and I would practice my skills by reading the newspaper sports section together. I believe I read aloud a headline similar to that -- and I will celebrate my 77th birthday in a few weeks!

Richard J. Piagari Des Plaines (July 24)

Another unique perspective comes from an election judge, who decries the low voter turnout in his precinct. He makes a strong point at the end. -- Colleen Thomas

Didn't vote? Don't complain

I am an election judge. During the 13 hours the polls were open last Tuesday, 40 of the 686 registered voters in my precinct walked through the doors and voted. Adding the 17 early voters we had, my precinct had an 8.3 percent turnout.

The next time one of my neighbors -- or one of my family members or friends for that matter -- wants to complain about the library, the school district, the park district, the sanitation district, the highway department, the village or the township, I'm going to ask them if they voted. If they say they didn't, I'm going to ask them to talk about something else.

John Gillies Schaumburg (April 19)

In the theme of "it takes a village," I like it when people notice a problem and help their neighbors better understand it or how to avoid it. -- Jim Slusher

Be aware of credit card fraud

People, please be aware. I recently received a call about my insurance being overdue and faced cancellation if not paid immediately.

I know when my premiums are due. The call stated my company and said they would hold while I got my credit card number. I don't think so.

I called my agent and was told no such call was made from them.

I gave them no information. But how many people do? They get one credit card number and more than likely get more. Never, ever, give anyone who calls you any information about account numbers.

They are good, very convincing and I'm sure take away everything you've worked for and have been able to save.

Such calls should be ignored. If in doubt call your company to verify. It could be a scam that can ruin your life.

Save the number calling and report it to the police.

Karen Abruscato

Antioch (March 28)

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