Retired Dist. 214 teacher still encouraging new writers through Arts Unlimited contest
A rare moment played out at last week's reception for the Arts Unlimited District 214/Daily Herald Community Arts and Writing Contest Arts Unlimited in Arlington Heights, when one of the judges came face-to-face with the first-place winner.
"We never know who we're reading," said Bill Leece, a retired English and journalism teacher from Rolling Meadows High School, who has judged prose entries for the last 15 years.
He was eager to meet Dennis Depcik of Buffalo Grove, whose short story, "In An Instant," won first place. It began with words so memorable, even Leece remembered them: "A thud."
Depcik worked as a social worker, both for the Department of Children and Family Services and later as associate director of OMNI Youth Services in Buffalo Grove. He turned to writing in his retirement and as a way to deal with the passing of his wife, Maggie.
"I started writing to help me grieve," Depcik said, "but after joining a writers group at Indian Trails Library, I thought that maybe I could write. Maybe I could touch people."
Depcik personifies the community aspect of the Arts Unlimited celebration that the Daily Herald has continued to co-sponsor, in which local residents are encouraged to express themselves creatively, through prose, poetry and art entries.
Depcik also personifies the sort of writer that Leece appreciates.
"I look for something that startles me, that's surprising and not a cliché," Leece says. "I want it to be fresh and something you want to go back and read again and again."
Leece used to give that same advice to writers and aspiring journalists back at Rolling Meadows High School, where he spent his entire career.
Though he retired in 2002, he continues to work to empower local writers. Most recently, he returned as a presenter during creative writing day as part of Northwest Suburban High School District 214's Arts Unlimited celebration.
Leece's topic: "Metaphor: Language of the Heart and Soul."
"In my retirement, I'm still encouraging writers," says Leece, of Schaumburg. "I'm busy and I love it."
Earlier this month, he was a presenter at the Northern Illinois Scholastic Press Association's spring conference for high school students, held at the College of DuPage. There, he offered a workshop on writing and photos.
Prior to that, Leece served as a judge at one of the National Scholastic Press Association's regional events, held at Argo Community High School in Summit.
The offers keep coming. But whether he's a presenter, judge or teacher, Leece loves to encourage people to write.
After meeting Depcik, Leece was surprised to learn that one of his former District 214 colleagues had won second place in prose. Again, he had no idea whose writing he was reading.
The second-place winner turned out to be Mike Hurley of Mount Prospect, a retired English teacher at Wheeling High School.
"I taught creative writing for years, but I never had time to write myself," Hurley said with a laugh. "I never knew if I was any good. This is great. I actually submitted something last year and didn't win anything, so I'm thrilled."
Hurley is so excited about being able to write more and have an outlet where he can contribute submissions, like the Daily Herald's community art and writing contest, that he is actively looking to start his own writing group.
Leece said he applauds those efforts, of adults channeling their inner selves through writing and collaborating with others.
"I'm always blown away by the entries," he said of this year's contest. "So many were outstanding."