Park Ridge chamber announces 2019 Community Stars

Daily Herald report
Updated 1/12/2020 4:33 PM

Park Ridge's eight 2019 Community Stars and its Life Time Achievement Award Recipient will be honored at the "Night of Stars" dinner dance on Saturday, Feb. 15, at Cafe la Cave in Des Plaines.

The Park Ridge Chamber of Commerce announced most winners, selected by a committee of past chamber presidents, last week. The winner of the Green Business Award will be revealed in the next week.


The Lifetime Achievement award was given to John Benka, who served 22 years as the assistant superintendent for Maine Township High School District 207. Among other things, he also was an alderman from 2000 to 2004, spent nearly a decade as a library board trustee, volunteered for more than two decades at Franklin School as a tutor for children with learning disabilities, coached football and basketball and was a founding board member of the Maine Township District 207 Health Center.

The Community Stars are:

• Tom Gawne. He makes multiple trips to Costco where he picks up excess food and distributes it to local soup kitchens, organizes annual coat drives in Park Ridge and Des Plaines, delivers the Holy Eucharist to homebound Catholics and helps plan the annual teen retreat, and organizes an annual pickleball tournament with all the proceeds going to NAMI.

• Charlotte Geier. The Maine South High School senior is the Southwords editor-in-chief, yearbook editor-in-chief, an officer for Hawk Pals, Special Olympics, Key Club president, Principal's Advisory Council Executive Board, Mock Trial, DECA girls tennis, and a part of the state-bound constitution team. She also is involved in many nonschool volunteer activities.

• The Rev. Matthew Hoffman. The pastor of St. Andrews Lutheran Church and a chaplain at the police department provided a liver transplant to Ellen Totten, who was suffering from a rare cancer. "You look at Christ's example," he said simply. "He gave himself so that we could live."

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• Len Johnson. The aviation and aerospace historian found a way to memorialize Maine East High School selling $550,000 of war bonds for a World War II Douglas C54 troop carrier and cargo plane. He located the Maine Flyer at an abandoned airfield on the Arizona Pima Indian Reservation and recovered key pieces that he donated it to the Park Ridge Historical Society.

• Dolly McCarthy. The editor and publisher of two social living magazines -- Park Ridge Living and Be Social -- provides resources to family-oriented events including Girl's Night Out, Comedy Night, an Annual Veterans Day breakfast and fashion show fundraisers benefiting causes such as WINGS, Life Span and FAME.

• Krishi Rana. The Maine East High School senior is a member of the Gifted Lyceum Program, president of National Honor Society, and secretary of Maine East Cares. He is the founding member for the Maine East Novus Club, dedicated to entrepreneurship and technology, and his startup business plan pitch at 1871, a famous Chicago incubator, won, taking home a check for $1,000. He also is involved in numerous other activities.

• Cindy and John Yesko. Five years ago, Ewa, an immigrant mother from Poland, reached out three weeks before she died from brain cancer to ask if the couple would take in her daughters, Sara and Olivia. They took them in and created what has become known as "Sara and Olivia's Fairy Godparent Club" to help with expenses, and eventually help Olivia fulfill her desire to take on the parental role in Sara's life working a full-time job, excelling academically and saving $10,000 for private health insurance. The Yesko's worked with the club to secure everything from housing to food.

For tickets to the dinner dance, which are $85 until Feb. 1, go to or call (847) 825-3121.

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