Jill Wagner, a member of the Celebrating Seniors Coalition and co-recipient of the Most Valuable Volunteer honor, shows her trophy to keynote speaker Sidney Green, Chicago Bulls' ambassador. Photo by Matt Baron

Courtesy Matt Baron

For most of his 10-year NBA career, Sidney Green specialized in coming off the bench and providing a spark to his team.

On Thursday, May 23, the Chicago Bulls’ ambassador reprised that role by filling in for scheduled speaker Bob Love at the closing luncheon for Celebrating Seniors Week at Concordia University’s Koehneke Community Center.

Instead of hearing from Love, a Bulls’ All-Star forward in the 1970s and the club’s longtime director of community affairs, some 75 people heard Green open his remarks with a question: “Why celebrate only one week out of the year?”

“Every day is seniors’ day for you all, and in my heart, every day is seniors’ day,” Green continued. “Stay strong, have fun, enjoy yourself.”

Green congratulated members of this year’s “60 Over 60” class who have made such a broad range of contributions to the community over the years. And he ticked off a list of extraordinary contributions, particularly in support of children and their education, made by another senior who has played a significant role in his life: Bulls’ owner Jerry Reinsdorf.

“I’m just a small imprint of all the lives he’s touched,” Green said. “Not just in Chicago, but the world. He is such a good man.”

At the end of his keynote speech, Green fielded a variety of questions with humor and diplomacy. Having played for the likes of coaching greats Rick Pitino, Chuck Daly and Doug Collins during his pro career—as well as for Jerry Tarkanian at University of Nevada, Las Vegas —Green said he learned something from every coach, dating back to his first one as a young boy in Brooklyn.

In 1983, after an outstanding career at UNLV where he was an All-American selection, Green was the Bulls’ first-round draft pick—and the fifth overall in the NBA.

In his self-effacing manner, Green noted that the team’s eventual success—six championships in the 1990s—could be traced to the fact that as a rookie he had not been able to lead the team out of its struggles. As a result, the Bulls were in position to secure Michael Jordan so early in the 1984 draft.

A variety of leaders from the three communities were in attendance, including Oak Park Village President Anan Abu-Taleb, River Forest Village President Cathy Adduci, Oak Park Township Supervisor David Boulanger and River Forest Township Supervisor Carla Sloan.

During her remarks, Adduci noted that her mother, Jackie, had joined her for the event. She also emphasized the vital role that seniors continue to play and urged them to stay involved.

“Give us your views, give us your ideas,” Adduci said. “Tell us what we don’t know, tell us what we need to know.”

Also on hand were representatives of Celebrating Seniors Week organizations that sprouted up this year in 25 other communities, mostly in the near western suburbs, are simultaneously launching their first Celebrating Seniors.

One grouping covers from Westchester, Broadview Riverside and North Riverside on the north to Burr Ridge, Willow Springs and Hickory Hills on the south—22 communities in all. In addition, three other communities further south, Joliet, Shorewood and Plainfield, also debuted their own Celebrating Seniors Week.

Since its creation, the Celebrating Seniors Coalition in Oak Park, River Forest and Forest Park has raised funds to aid seniors in crisis. Last year, for example, the non-profit organization purchased eyeglasses, hearing aids, mattresses, and even helped some seniors get their teeth fixed. The coalition also assisted several seniors in moving by providing a truck and volunteers.

Its other objectives have been to facilitate cooperation between the business community, government agencies and non-profit organizations for the benefit of the senior population; to promote senior groups and organizations that serve persons 60 and older; and to raise public awareness of issues affecting seniors.

From May 16 to 23, the coalition organized more than 50 events, nearly all of them free of charge and geared toward education and entertainment. One of the marquee events was Hot Rods and Revelry on Madison Street in Forest Park.

A variety of classic cars, vintage automobiles, hot rods raised more than $500 as people voted with dollars for their favorite vehicle: a 1956 Oldsmobile owned by Richard Rychlicki.

Jim Flanagan, founder and chairman of the Celebrating Seniors Coalition, served as the closing luncheon’s master of ceremonies.

“It’s wonderful to see this kind of groundswell of support for a movement that started right here,” Flanagan said. “What started as a simple idea to organize volunteers to protect older adults in our community has become a movement.”

As he thanked those who have supported Celebrating Seniors, Flanagan recognized three members of the coalition who “went above and beyond the call of duty” in their volunteer efforts: Pat Koko, Sandy Rowe and Jill Wagner.

Luncheon sponsors were Vitas, Vanguard and Bentron Financial Group.

Planning is already under way for Celebrating Seniors Week in 2014. For more information, visit www.celebratingseniors.net or www.facebook.com/CelebratingSeniors. Anyone with further questions can contact Flanagan at 708-386-3100.

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