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Storytelling ... the sequel

It's been over two years since Therese Solgos center was adopted by Solgos family Aurorfrom BurkinFaso West Africa. Now Twelve

It's been over two years since Therese Solgos, center, was adopted by the Solgos family in Aurora from Burkina Faso, West Africa. Now Twelve years old, Threse and her sister Evelea, also 12, participate in a LAPS for Love event put on by Freeman Elementary school and hosted at its Partnership school at Aurora University on Thursday, February 14, 2013. The fundraiser is raising money to help donate school supplies to the school Therese attended in Burkina Faso. | Brian Powers~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: March 18, 2013 6:29AM



The heart and soul
of the Solgos family

As the Solgos family awaited the arrival of the child from a faraway land that Christmas 2010, their story couldn’t help but remind us of what the season was all about.

Casey and Erika Solgos brought their newly adopted daughter Therese home from an orphanage in Burkina Faso, West Africa. Then 10 years old, the little girl not only needed the loving arms of this very special family from Aurora, she required surgery to correct an enlarged heart she’d struggled with since birth.

Erika and husband Casey, an English teacher at Neuqua Valley High School in Naperville, were able to adopt Therese so quickly because they knew all about heart defects. Their youngest son Carter, born with Noonan Syndrome, had undergone many surgeries and had been wearing a pacemaker since he was 2 years old.

In addition to Carter, Therese was welcomed home that Christmas by the Solgoses’ oldest child, Evelea (now 12), and Sitota (now 8), who had been adopted five years earlier from Ethiopia.

Theirs was, indeed, a story of expectation ... of hope ... of giving ... certainly of love.

A few months later, right before Easter 2011, Therese underwent open-heart surgery at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge to correct that troublesome aortic artery that had all but closed up. Today, we’re happy to report she is a healthy, active basketball-loving sixth-grader at Washington Middle School.

And on Valentine’s Day, she was running laps at Aurora University, taking part in the third annual LAPS (Let’s All Provide Supplies) fundraiser, sponsored by Freeman Elementary School, to raise money for her old school in Yako, Burkina Faso.

The first two events raised more than $4,500, said Erika, which was enough to buy enough desks, books, uniforms and other supplies to open a new classroom, “making it possible for that many more children to attend school” in the impoverished village.

Valentine’s Day will always have lots of meaning for the Solgos family, says Erika. “Two of our children have heart defects, so we strive to share love and healing on this day of love.”

Carter, now a third-grader at Freeman, just recently underwent his seventh surgery in his young life, his mother said, and will have two more procedures — including one that will place a defibrillator in his heart — sometime this year.

Erika admits the road ahead for the child seems daunting, and certainly they are tired after so many trips to hospitals. “But we keep smiling,” she said, “because Carter keeps smiling.”

— Denise Crosby

Not solved,
not forgotten

One of Naperville’s most enduring mysteries continues to be the nearly 54-year-old case of Ronaldo Duncan Arantes. A member of the Brazilian rowing team competing in the Pan-American Games being held in Chicago, the 26-year-old Arantes either committed suicide or was slain on Sept. 7, 1959, when a bullet was fired point-blank into his chest on the lawn of North Central College’s Kaufman Hall.

Amateur historian, cancer survivor and retired Naperville police Capt. Jon “Rip” Ripsky remains convinced Arantes was murdered, even though an inquest panel at the time classified his manner of death as “undetermined.” And there were no breaks or new leads after The Sun revisited the case on its 50th anniversary in the late summer of 2009, with a story illustrated with an amazing assortment of shooting-related photographs and documents Ripsky had rescued from a Naperville Police Department dust bin.

An avid horseman and golfer, Ripsky says no one ever got in touch with him or his successors on the force in the wake of the story’s publication. A current police commander “took an interest in it” and has since arranged all of the surviving photos and records in a new police file, a gesture Ripsky says he found gratifying.

And if he never does crack the case, the tenacious Ripsky says he’s hopeful he’ll be able to do at least one last thing.

Somewhat incredibly, the .38-caliber, blue steel Smith & Wesson revolver investigators found beneath Arantes’ body was lost or misplaced in the ensuing decades. Ripsky says he just might have a line on what became of it.

“It could still be in Naperville. I’m working on it.”

— Bill Bird

‘Long goodbye’

Dread was listening in when I called to see how Anne and Betty are doing.

Mike Broggi’s mom, Anne Broggi, and his wife Pat’s mom, Betty Annen, were subjects of a story we told in 2011 about Alzheimer’s disease. My mom has it, too. Along with more than 18 million other families worldwide, Mike, Pat and I are in the midst of what has been termed “the long goodbye.”

Of course, my fear was that both of their moms, already pretty well into the journey when I spoke with Pat for my story, had died.

“They’re alive and kicking,” said Mike of his mother and mother-in-law, both residents of Alden Estates in Naperville.

At 96, Anne has lost interest in food and, like my mom, doesn’t talk anymore. For a second time, Anne is in hospice care.

Several years ago it looked like the end was near, but life rallied around her, and the hospice crew went home. It could happen again.

And like my mom, who turned 85 on Saturday, she’s still the pleasant lady she was before the cruelty of dementia began the excruciating farewell.

“I think she knows who we are, but it’s hard to say if she really does. She smiles — but then, she smiles at anything,” Mike said. “Sometimes she has this stare, like ‘Who are you?’ ”

Mom, too.

Betty, 88, is more mobile, but less spry than before. And she still speaks. Her caretakers and loved ones were concerned when her speech was a little garbled a while back, until the doctor discovered she’d swallowed a dental bridge.

“I have a feeling she’s stepped downward from that point. She has regressed a little bit from where she was then,” said her son, recalling another choking incident a couple of years earlier. “So we equate her to a cat. She’s already used some of her lives.”

The Broggis know Betty’s talking will end one day.

“She repeats herself a lot, which is normal,” Mike said. “And she kind of wanders in and out a little bit.”

It was a relief to hear they both still wander home.

Just like Mom.

— Susan Frick Carlman

Local food movement
spreading like weeds

The casual passer-by might assume that something illegal is going on in my basement. But the tiny seedlings under the grow lights and tin foil? Just zucchini.

Zucchini. And eggplants, peppers, onions and spinach.

Last summer, a Storyteller assignment that started out with an interest in urban homesteading — backyard chickens, front yard tomatoes — turned into an exploration of the leaders of the local food movement of the Fox Valley.

An Aurora artist with an edible front yard. A Sugar Grove businessman selling every tool necessary to grow the world’s hottest pepper indoors. Naperville shoppers making an extra grocery stop to buy beef directly from the farmer.

When I spoke to Donna Askins, president of the Elgin Community Garden Network, she recounted the story of how a garden for the hungry in front of one church quickly multiplied in just a few short years to more than two-dozen such gardens, bringing together faith-based groups, schools, corporate sponsor and people who like getting their hands dirty for the common good.

I knew this model for growing food and community had to come to Aurora.

So this growing season, thanks to a generous $10,000 grant from the Kane County Fit For Kids Consortium, plus hard work from the City of Aurora, Mission Possible and Family Focus, get ready for zucchini.

And eggplants, peppers, onions and spinach. Grown right here in Aurora, in two community garden plots on the near East Side that will fill vacant city lots with fresh produce and get kids and their families gardening.

The grant, awarded this year, provides for the new gardens, plus the resources to spread the Elgin Community Garden Network to Aurora — bringing together more organizations that want to get involved in building community and feeding those in need.

So get ready for zucchini, and planting parties, and workshops on how to tell a weed from a watercress. It’s going to be a good growing season — for vegetables and community.

— Jenette Sturges

Miracles continue
for Baby Matthew

Much of last month’s Storyteller about “Baby Matthew” Erickson, the Huntley 1-year-old born with a usually incurable form of brain cancer, centered on the family’s tense waiting for an MRI test last Halloween Day after Matthew had gone several months without chemotherapy.

That October test showed that the brain tumor had either stayed the same or retreated a bit, and the family’s cancer specialist said no more treatment was yet advised. For the first time in his life, the toddler was able to have his PIC line removed. He even was able to take real baths, which he discovered he liked very much.

Just last week, on Monday, “scanxiety” set in again for parents Ben and Sue Erickson as it came time to check out Matthew’s brain with another MRI at Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago. But again, the results were encouraging: No sign of advancing cancer.

The exam did find out, however, that a shunt to divert fluid from his brain to his stomach apparently had become blocked. So Matthew was checked into the hospital and he underwent surgery Tuesday afternoon.

“Dr. Alden said the surgery went great. (The tube) was clogged but easily fixed,” Sue wrote on the “Matthew Donald Erickson” Facebook followed by 3,000 “friends” around the world.

Sue said that Tuesday night, however, Matthew cried without being able to be consoled and seemed to be in worse pain than she had ever seen him. But Wednesday morning, after the removal of some IV lines, a change in medicine and an enema that may have eased abdominal cramps, Matthew was suddenly back to normal. The family was expecting him to be released from the hospital by the end of the week.

“I know that there have been thousands of prayers said for us these past few days, and it means the world to me,” she wrote in Facebook.

— Dave Gathman

Putting the ‘spirit’
in human spirit

There may have been more “spirit” than “human” in my 2009 Storyteller riding along with the Elgin Paranormal Investigators as they drove me past some of the most haunted places in the Fox Valley. But it reveals something about the human spirit — what we believe happens to us after we die, our fascination with the possibility our loved ones might never truly leave us, that death isn’t the end of the journey — doesn’t it?

That Storyteller wasn’t the first time I’d written about EPI. I’d profiled them before for one of my first assignments as a features reporter with this newspaper. And it wasn’t the last: After the locally filmed movie “Munger Road” was released in 2011, I enlisted their help again to investigate whether the urban legend that inspired the film — ghost children who now push cars off the railroad tracks over the road after their school bus was hit by a train there years ago — was true. If it is, we never had the opportunity to find out. The crossing was haunted by curious movie-goers, screeching as their tires bounced over the tracks.

In fact, team members have gotten so used to me tagging along on investigations, they’ve started referring to me as their honorary “paraspondent.” That’s a title I wear with certain pride.

Since I last wrote about EPI, the investigators have launched a contest looking for the most haunted locations in Illinois. You name the location, they’ll investigate it, and if they’re too scared to stay the night there, you win $500.

Of course, founder and lead investigator Greg Stout said the odds of that happening are “slim to none.”

“The more active it is, the more excited we get,” Stout said.

But if you’ve got the place, submit it online at elginparanormalinvestigators.com. Think about it: You could get cash, and I could get another great story.

— Emily McFarlan Miller



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