September 20, 2016 Speech to City Council on Neighborhood Heroes

September 24, 2016

Speech to Joliet City Council on September 20, 2016

Mark Twain once remarked, “It is better to deserve honors and not have them, than to have them and not deserve them.”

I’m John Zalanka of Project Acclaim – honoring civic pride, formerly Joliet Will County Project Pride. Our organization is built to honor people. Founders designed Project Acclaim to accentuate the positive which few did that in 1985. Please welcome honorees 2016 Neighborhood Heroes.

Heroes come in all types. This group picked up a shovel with a design in mind. Neighborhood Heroes must hold most of eighteen criteria for showing pride in their property, neighborhood, and community. My critical criteria is…in passing their property, did I do the double take. 

Twain would like these Heroes. 

These honorees received a Yard Sign proclaiming “Neighborhood Hero,” a framed certificate, and an opportunity to greet our city leaders tonight.

  1.  221 Sherman Street – Maria Costilla, her family converted a four flat home from a gutted mess back to a single family home seven years ago. People comment on the yard all the time. Glorious.
  2.  608 E. Jackson Street, Refugio and Evelia Alcantar (children Lizette and Judith) – This property is a “head turner” on Jackson Street. Folks send them compliments even by card on the haven they have created on an otherwise busy street. 
  3. 218 Henderson Avenue – Noel and Gloria Reyes, home owners for 12 years. They own their own landscaping company. This home reflects all those values associated with true horticulture…from the front to the back guaranteed what will please the eye.
  4. 222 Henderson Avenue – Cecilio and Maria Cisneros – have continued a hugely eye pleasing block of horticulture on Henderson Avenue where four nominations were inspected.
  5. 601 North Chicago Street – Val and Anna Vrinceanu have transposed a former bakery, vacant for twenty years into a Kraft Made Cabinet showroom and four thousand square foot home on the second floor. The building just south of the Ruby St. Bridge is transformed and exquisite. One judge blurted out, “Joliet needs fifty more people like Mr. Vrinceanu.”
  6. 601 N. Center Street – Kay and LeRoy Pemble have made their 1880’s home and yard into a rolling garden. Kay has made a concentrated effort and works her land each day. LeRoy I am told, is immensely proud of these achievements. The sidewalks are stone. That’s vintage.
  7.  9 North Broadway – Jesus Garcia has constructed a wonderland for his daughter Yazmin and his granddaughter. The high property at Marion and Broadway anchor the near west corner. Its beauty will etch your heart with joy. Yazmin by the way is an organizer for the Illinois Miss Latina program.
  8.  100 Park Dr. – Mark Donahue (wife Nancy) became a Master Gardener three years ago. His home for 17 years reflects his appreciation of life: the house is buffered by lush horticulture, by design, not accident. His corner carries Backyard Habitat designation, despite his natural enemies, bunnies, and the singular notice that his yard is also a Monarch Waystation.
  9.  5 S. Midland Avenue – Pete and Judy Valek now reside in Judy’s childhood home, a 1929 cottage that pins the needle on charm. The former doctor’s residence/office  proved one glance cannot do this lovely residence justice.
  10. 805 Campbell Avenue – Barb Brixey lived here since 1985. 3 years ago she started a vigorous design for her front yard which is now a treat for the eyes. She received permission to plant the parkway as well.
  11. 713 Oneida Street – Linda and Andy Madding have a created a deliciously appealing yard and home since 2003, She credits the actual dirt. “It will grow anything.” Her planting began the first year with “free” plants. Her work has “finally paid off.”
  12. 1520 Glen  wood Avenue – Agnes Limacher’s cottage dominates her section of Glenwood, especially approached from the north. The ivy and layered horticulture create an impression of green design and tradition.
  13. 2411 Black Road – Eileen and Michael O’Connor present to the public eye: a ninety-foot garden, braced by retaining walls. It is a five-year project for the O’Connor’s who have resided there forty years. The garden is an eye catcher, our primary criteria.
  14. 1209 May Street – Barbara and Nicholas Caire have both worked their property since they moved in. Part astounding rock garden, part glory. May Street is richer for it. Barbara told me “We like to make Joliet nicer again.” Their job is rehabbing homes. It figures.


Mr. Twain remarked that in his world “Virtue has never been as respectable as money.”

Neighborhood Hero program is not about money but rather respect and the energy to make your home and property beautiful. That like virtue is its own reward.  Neighborhood Heroes provide for our citizens observable good example. We encourage Jolietans and their neighbors to make that extra effort with their property.  It will be worth it.

We will be looking for it.