Schaumburg woman to sit with first lady during State of the Union address

  • Schaumburg resident Gloria Balenski will sit in a private box with first lady Michelle Obama during President Barack Obama's State of the Union address Tuesday night.

    Schaumburg resident Gloria Balenski will sit in a private box with first lady Michelle Obama during President Barack Obama's State of the Union address Tuesday night. Associated Press

Updated 1/10/2016 9:09 PM

Upset at seeing reporters attack President Barack Obama on TV for his economic policies, Schaumburg resident Gloria Balenski decided to write the president a thank-you note.

In the letter, sent last March, Balenski thanked Obama for his decisions -- especially one to bail out her husband's employer, General Motors -- which helped her family survive a scary time during the recession. She got laid off from her job of 34 years, her husband had a heart attack that racked up $400,000 in medical bills, and her son's college money dissolved in the stock market.


"Everything turned out fine, but it could have turned out very differently. So I thought, there are a lot of people out there, like us, who should be thanking (Obama) and not yelling at him," she said. "You hear a lot from the extreme sides, but I bet he doesn't hear from the middle very often."

That thank-you note landed Balenski an invitation to sit with first lady Michelle Obama during the State of the Union address at 8 p.m. Tuesday.

Gloria will sit in the private box with the first lady, the vice president's wife Dr. Jill Biden, senior adviser Valerie Jarrett, and a few other people hand-picked by Obama's staff. One seat in the box will be left empty in memory of gun violence victims. Gloria's husband, Norb, also was invited and will get to watch from the White House.

"Just to be asked to go. Just to be invited out there, it's fantastic," said Norb, a union technician at Castle Chevrolet in Villa Park. Norb admits they were skeptical when someone called saying they were from the White House. But when they referenced Gloria's letter from nine months earlier, they knew it was real. Gloria was told they liked her letter because she has no political agenda and represents an average middle class family.

"The people selected represent the progress we have made since the President first delivered this speech seven years ago -- from the brink of a second Great Depression and two costly wars to an economy that is growing and renewed American leadership abroad," according to a news release from the White House. "Their stories -- of struggle and success -- highlight where we have been and where America is going in the future, building on the best of what our country has to offer."

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While the Balenskis vote in every election, they're not politically active or staunch Democrats. They describe themselves as just "a regular suburban family."

Gloria said she's humbled and flattered by the invitation but also very nervous.

"Wish me luck that I don't trip or fall down or something," she said, laughing.

Also in attendance Tuesday, according to the Chicago Tribune, will be Tim Ryan, a Naperville man who works for the Banyan Treatment Center in the wake of his 20-year-old son's death of a heroin overdose. Ryan will be in Washington as a guest of Democrat Rep. Bill Foster.

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