What a year it has been.
From the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol to deadly tornadoes in the Midwest — not to mention the unending COVID-19 pandemic — it may be hard to remember good things that happened in 2021. Here are some happier memories to savor as we start a new year.
- For 365 days in a row, Lincoln Square resident Dan O’Conor made his way to the lakefront to take a plunge, no matter the weather conditions. What started as a jump in the lake to recover from a hangover and clear the mind turned into a daily celebration of music and perseverance. The Great Lake Diver officially ended his year of daily dives on June 12.
- Lost for four days, including during a snowstorm, Toby the dog was reunited with his owner, Albany Park resident Nelly Roa. Toby, a 2-year-old German shepherd, went missing in February after escaping from a veterinary clinic where he was being treated for an eye injury. Chicago Police Officer Rick Podgorny spotted the dog while driving home, and with the help of Officer Dan Kolodziejski, Toby was soon home.
- After four decades apart, Jeanne Gustavson and Stephan Watts are back together. The couple met as students at Loyola University Chicago. Gustavson fell hard for Watts, but her family didn’t approve because she’s white and he’s Black. They couldn’t make it work. Now, having come through marriages, divorces, retirement and serious health problems, the two have “everything both of us wanted,” Gustavson said.
- Unable to work during a long recovery from COVID-19, Karla Taylor-Bauman was faced with losing her home. Then a group of business leaders stepped in; they helped negotiate with her lender and secure a new mortgage with payments she and her husband could afford. Another miracle: The $240,000 in medical bills Taylor-Bauman wrongly received after 54 days of hospitalization were wiped away.
- After seeing a boy in subzero temperatures pumping gas for others to make a little money, Chicago Police Sgt. Rhianna Hubbard helped arrange an apartment and a job for the 11-year-old’s dad. Though this story doesn’t have a fairy tale ending — the pair was kicked out of the apartment for bringing too much stuff, including a cat — the love between father and son endures. “We’ve never been apart — ever, ever,” the man said of his son, whom he’s raised as a single father since the boy was 10 months old.
- In May, Englewood mom Alisa Perry Johnson graduated from Daley College with an associate’s degree in early childhood education. That same weekend, her 22-year-old son, Malik Johnson, graduated from Georgetown University with a bachelor’s degree in anthropology. A few weeks later, her 18-year-old daughter, Makaela Johnson, received her diploma from Lindblom High, and her youngest child, 14-year-old Mia Johnson, graduated from Jesse Sherwood Elementary School — where she was valedictorian, like her brother and sister before her.
- The Chicago Sky won its first WNBA championship in October, beating the Phoenix Mercury 80-74 in Game 4. Thousands of fans celebrated the city’s first professional basketball championship since 1998, marking a huge leap for the franchise and for women’s sports in Chicago. And just this past week: Forward Candace Parker was named Female Athlete of the Year by The Associated Press.
- Edith Renfrow Smith, the granddaughter of slaves, turned 107 in July. She was the first Black woman to graduate from Grinnell College; worked for the University of Chicago and as a secretary to Oscar DePriest; taught at Chicago Public Schools; married and had two daughters. In retirement, she kept busy volunteering at Goodwill and The Art Institute of Chicago until she was 98. She celebrated her 100th birthday by buying herself a fiery red Fiat 500.
- Lifelong White Sox fan Ron Holt became famous for pointing his wooden cane during Game 3 of the American League Division Series in October. It all started when the Sox were trailing the Houston Astros 3-1, and fans were getting worried their beloved team was on the brink of elimination after losing the first two games in the best-of-five series. Holt, 71, pointed his cane and told the player to hit the ball into left field. Miraculously, it worked; the Sox won 12-6, though they lost the series.
- Shahab Astabraghpour dreamed up a splashy proposal for Deva Suckerman, his girlfriend of seven years — but he needed his Logan Square neighbors’ help. They came through in full flash mob, helping the Abt Electronics salesman with his “Say Anything”-style marriage proposal on Christmas Eve on the 606 Trail.
No doubt, more good things happened in 2021. We’re hoping for many more in 2022.
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