Lester: Telling his story helps Our Lady of Angels fire survivor

For five decades after the deadly blaze that killed 92 of his classmates at Our Lady of the Angels School,

John Raymond rarely spoke about it.

But in his mind, he relived the classroom growing hotter and hotter with no escape, Sister Therese Champagne telling students to kneel and pray, the panic as he clawed his way to a window. He remembers the release of diving out, free falling and landing on his side in a street strewed with other children's broken bodies.

But recently, Raymond, of Mount Prospect, started talking to groups of students about the fire in Chicago 57 years ago on Tuesday.

Opening up

Speaking about his experiences and how the disaster changed fire codes across the nation has been healing, says Raymond, who recently visited Loyola Academy in Wilmette, St. Viator High School in Arlington Heights and Maine South High School in Park Ridge, among others.

“When you can talk to 300 kids and you can hear a pin drop, you're doing a pretty good job,” he says.

The Elk Grove Public Library will host history enthusiast Jim Gibbons in a program about the fire at 7 p.m. today. Raymond was invited but says he'll wait to see how his mood is before he decides whether to go.

Father blamed

Raymond says he's luckier than his father, Jim Raymond, the school's janitor who initially was blamed for “sloppy housekeeping” causing the blaze. Years later, a student confessed to setting the fire, and the cause was never officially determined. But Jim Raymond's reputation suffered.

“It really took a lot out of him,” John Raymond said.

Hitting home

Algonquin native

Syracuse University student Marissa Blanchard, of Algonquin, has had an active role in a national campaign to end campus sexual assault. Courtesy of Marissa Blanchard

Marissa Blanchard, a Syracuse University senior, has emerged as a leader in the movement to thwart sexual assault on college campuses.

The broadcast journalism major is vice president of The Girl Code Movement, which aims to unite college women to prevent rape by identifying at-risk women and taking action, and has a leading role in Syracuse's “It's on Us” campaign against sexual assault. Blanchard is candid about her own experiences as a victim of campus sexual assault. “When I walk by the fraternity where I was raped and see a poster that says, 'Yes Means Yes,' it appears like putting a Band-Aid on a wound that needs stitches and feels like salt in the wound,” she wrote recently in the school's student newspaper, the Daily Orange. Learn more about her work at

Speaking with one voice

Reviewing Illinois' grant application for federal money for research, marketing and startup costs for more charter schools across the state, I was amused to find two identically worded letters from Gov. Bruce Rauner and state Superintendent of Education Tony Smith. Wonder who was reading over whose shoulder?

Food bank data

What does it take for a single parent with one preschool child and one grade-school child to make ends meet?

An annual income of $84,734 in DuPage County, $84,527 in Lake County, $82,567 in Kane County and $78,147 in McHenry County, says the

  Volunteers help distribute food when the Northern Illinois Food Bank mobile food pantry visits village hall in Lake in the Hills. Brian Hill/, 2014

Northern Illinois Food Bank. That's about four times what a $10-an-hour wage earner working 40 hours every week would make.

The food bank aims to provide 75 million meals a year by 2020.

Delegate slating

Hillary Clinton campaign official Kevin Conlon has been hard at work assembling a slate of delegates for Illinois. It took nearly three months to come up with names that meet the Democratic Party's diversity requirements and form a group representative of what he says the Clinton campaign is about.

Suburban delegates include Clinton's childhood best friend, Voda “Betsy” Ebeling of Arlington Heights; state Reps. Linda Chapa LaVia of Aurora and Jack Franks of Marengo; and U.S. Rep. Bill Foster's wife, Aesook Byon of Naperville.

Conlon, of Wilmette, is president of Conlon & Dunn Public Strategies.


Candidates have all sorts of traditions as they file nominating petitions with the State Board of Elections in Springfield. State Senate hopeful Cristina Castro, of Elgin, tells me she carried a picture of her late parents in her pocket to the filing as a way to have them with her on a special day.


Here's Wheeling Township District 21 board member

Here's Wheeling Township District 21 board member Arlen Gould, right, and state Rep. Elaine Nekritz of Northbrook, who were lunching at the Continental Restaurant in Buffalo Grove when they ran into District 21 Board President Bill Harrison the other day. courtesy of Arlen Gould

Arlen Gould, right, and state Rep. Elaine Nekritz of Northbrook, who were lunching at the Continental Restaurant in Buffalo Grove when they ran into District 21 Board President Bill Harrison the other day.

Article Comments
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the "flag" link in the lower-right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.