Above / Chuck Papanos received an American Spirit Award from Marty Walker during “One Nation Under God” Breakfast hosted by the Exchange Club of Naperville on March 19 at Meson Sabika.

The Exchange Club of Naperville presented its annual “One Nation Under God” Breakfast Saturday at the Pavilion of Meson Sabika, organized by co-chairmen Dawn Portner and Carla Nolidis. Marty Walker served as emcee.

The traditional posting of the Colors was followed by Chad Pedigo’s singing “The Star Spangled Banner.”

Pedigo’s beautiful rendition ranks right up there with exceptional local talents such as Walter Johnson, Christine Haselhorst, Nicki Anderson and Katherine Caracciolo when they’ve also lent their voices to perform our National Anthem at community events. Truth is, chills went up my spine just as when I listen to such greats as Lady Gaga and Whitney Houston bring us together in spirit and heart for our nation.


Just prior to a recitation of “The Gettysburg Address” by Dan DeBoo, president of the Exchange Club of Naperville, the Abraham Lincoln Award was presented to me by Dawn Portner.

I was deeply touched by Dawn’s introduction and all she’d dug up about my adventures in Naperville and beyond. During the experience I again became mindful that my life behind the scenes is much more pleasurable than being in the spotlight. Unaccustomed to using microphones and addressing a large audience, stage fright always follows me out of my comfort zone.

Still, I tried to convey that it’s really something to be recognized with an award from my peers, folks who have provided many stories for my ink in the Daily Herald and Positively Naperville— many of whom gave me my first lessons in serving beer in the beer tent at Ribfest back in 1993.

This honor will be shared with all the Exchangites, veterans, volunteers, friends and family for making our world a better place.  All of their individual dedication here and in other community activities over a lifetime is immeasurable. We are truly blessed to make a difference together.

As I prepared to accept this year’s Abraham Lincoln Award, I reminisced about first impressions from my childhood in Muncie, Ind., that had left an indelible mark. During 4th-grade studies of Indiana history, we learned about Lincoln’s birthplace in Kentucky, then focused on his boyhood home in southwestern Indiana where the 16th President had lived during his formative years, ages 8 to 21. I always considered Lincoln to be a Hoosier.

Not until our family moved to Naperville in 1993 did it hit me that Illinois also was known as the “Land of Lincoln.”

Again, many thanks for this honor, to the Exchange Club and everyone’s dedication to service; for being there through thick and thin, helping so many through the trials and tribulations of life.

As we embrace our cherished freedoms and faith that are often challenged, God bless us every one.

And in the words of Lincoln,

“In the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.”

As the program moved along, simply listening while learning about the innovative initiatives undertaken by the dedicated individuals who were recognized by the Exchange Club Americanism Committee was enlightening, inspiring and indeed humbling.

American Spirit Award

Four American Spirit Awards were presented. Mary Nicholson was recognized by Sarah Maher for beginning the tradition of the Brooks Crossings 4th of July Parade.

Exchangite Emcee Marty Walker, a retired firefighter, chairman of the 2015 Healing Field of Honor, and a past chairman of Ribfest as well as the Americanism Committee, was surprised by Jim Hoch with tributes for his community service.

Naperville teen Trisha Prabhu was honored by Exchangite Carla Nolidis for her “Rethink” initiative and free app to help prevent offensive messages via social media and teen cyber bullying. (Please take a few minutes to watch the TED video when then-14-year-old Trisha tells her compelling story that’s already influencing the world beyond Naperville.)

Chuck Papanos, North Parks and Riverwalk Operations Manager for the Naperville Park District, was presented an award by Marty Walker for his commitment to initiatives such as the Healing Field of Honor and the replica of the Vietnam Veterans Wall at Rotary Hill for Veterans Day week 2015. (Click here to read Chuck’s story from an earlier post by the Naperville Park District.)

Proudly We Hail Award

Proudly We Hail Awards are presented annually to individuals, families and/or businesses that create significant displays for the American Flag.

For 2016, Exchangites Emy Trotz and Bob Black honored Judy Barrick; The Howenstine Family; John Irving, D.D.S.; Jim Rowen; and American Home at Cedar Lake.

Keynote Address: Veterans Matter

This year’s keynote speaker was comedian and veterans’ advocate Ken Leslie who hails from Toledo, Ohio. In a light-hearted, upbeat and engaging manner, Leslie recounted a time when he’d experienced homelessness. He then went on to introduce the audience to the nonprofit organization he founded in 2012 known as Veterans Matter.  Today, as CEO of Veterans Matter with “a local solution to a simple problem,” Leslie explained that his organization serves to fund deposits (approximately $600-700 is needed per apartment) on housing for homeless veterans and their families with a presence in 150 cities in nine states and plenty of room to grow throughout the U.S.

Working with the VA and HUD, Leslie noted an online cloud-based system allows his organization to house America’s heroes in minutes. The quick response time provided by Veterans Matter prevents forcing homeless veterans to sleep in their cars or on the streets for the 30 to 60 days it typically takes to secure deposits through traditional means.

As he wrapped up his talk, Leslie recognized Tom Karnes, Immediate Past President of the National Exchange Club, also located in Toledo, for recent efforts to create awareness nationwide on behalf of Veterans Matter.

At the end of Leslie’s presentation, DeBoo gave him a gift from the Exchange Club of Naperville to fund housing for a veteran.

DeBoo also recognized all committee members and gave special thanks to the Judd Kendall VFW Post 3873 and American Legion Post 43 for posting the colors as well as Chad Pedigo, Kevin Dolan, Michele Rocush, Colbert Custom Framing and Meson Sabika.

In the words of photographer Jim Hoch, “Another fabulous event!”

More Photos

Thanks to Jim Hoch for uploading  photos from the 2016 One Nation Under God Breakfast.  Photos can be viewed at ExchangeClub/Awards/One-Nation-Under-God. —James Hoch, JamesHochPhotography 

P.S. After today’s breakfast, I queried Dawn Portner about her fact-finding mission and she credited Candyce Krumwiede, Julie Lichter, Mary Ann Junkroski, Emy Trotz, Alison Segebarth, Nicki Anderson, Nancy Quigley and Ray Kinney with providing background for her introduction to my award. For all the kind thoughts, surprises and memories, I am grateful.    

—Stephanie Penick

Exchange Club of Naperville

For more information about the Exchange Club of Naperville, click here.

To keep tabs on 2016 Ribfest, slated for July 1-4, the family-festival that helps provide funding for local Exchange Club programs, click here.  Since the first Exchange Club of Naperville Ribfest in 1988, $14.5M has been donated from Ribfest proceeds to more than 50 local agencies that work for the elimination of Child Abuse and Domestic Violence.

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