Hearts of Gold honors Arlington Heights' unsung heroes
Arlington Heights honors its volunteer spirit with annual Hearts of Gold awards
Arlington Heights dignitaries and neighbors alike joined together Saturday to continue a tradition that dates back 20 years in the community: honoring the village's unsung heroes.
The annual Hearts of Gold dinner, which took place at Rolling Green Country Club, featured one inspiring story after the next.
Members of the village's Special Events Commission said this year's dinner drew a record-breaking number of nominations.
"We had an overwhelming response, with more than twice as many nominations as last year and a lot of very strong candidates," said Laurie Mitchell, one of the co-chairs of the event.
Consider Joan Drolet of Arlington Heights. As a housewife and mother, she began teaching piano lessons to children in her home in 1959 while also playing the piano at her parish, Our Lady of the Wayside Church.
Nearly 60 years later, she continues to teach youngsters and play at Mass, but she also assists families with planning music for funerals and plays in the lobby of Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital in Barrington. Drolet received the Young at Heart award at the dinner.
"She's been a mainstay at our parish," said the Rev. Edward Fialkowski, pastor of Our Lady of the Wayside. "She's taught generations of children to play piano and accompanied families during some of their most difficult times."
Mayor Tom Hayes said the record number of nominations reflected the volunteer spirit in the village.
"It indicates just how many people want to give back to the community," Hayes said. "We truly are a village of good neighbors."
Another winner was Billy Anderson, who has been described by his colleagues as the "heart and soul" of Rolling Meadows High School. He graduated in 1999 and, almost 20 years later, he returns every day as a volunteer member of the custodial team -- and attends as many basketball, football and baseball games as he can. He won the Community Spirit award.
"It's so nice to have a place where he's welcomed and can contribute," said his father, Bill Anderson.
Among her many volunteer endeavors, Hersey High School student Elizabeth Ferrazza helped raise more than $7,000 for a dozen no-kill animal shelters. She was named Young Champion of the Year for her leadership and service.
Matthew Hahn, a deacon at St. James Parish and substitute teacher for Arlington Heights Elementary District 25, was named Mentor of the Year; Chris Guth, former Wheeling Township's assistant director of senior and disability services was named Best Neighbor.
Mary McArthur was honored as Volunteer of the Year for her role as a hospice caretaker who has helped those in Arlington Heights and their families navigate the end of life journey.
John Novak, assistant principal for student activities at Hersey High School, was named Educator of the Year; Robert Extrom was given the Heroism Award for his service as part of the 1st Marine Division to fight at the Battle of Chosin Reservoir during the Korean War.
Deb Whisler recently retired as director of communications and marketing at the Arlington Heights Memorial Library, but her many volunteer roles in the community have not gone overlooked. Whisler was awarded the Pam Stocking Heart of Gold, which goes to an individual whose passion and spirit has impacted the entire village.
Kathy Wolan has been a member of the Arlington Heights Garden Club since 2002, but she lends her green thumb to more gardens than just her own. Wolan nurtures gardens at both the Arlington Heights Historical Museum and Our Lady of the Wayside Church, for which she won the Kenneth M. Bonder beautification award.
Napleton's Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep and Ram was recognized for its business leadership in the community for its active participation in numerous charitable drives throughout the community.