On-Line Edition Thursday, December 14, 2017 Vol. 59 No. 50
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Toys on parade Saturday morning’s snow didn’t seem to bother a large crowd of well-wishers of all ages during the 17th annual Lombard Fire Department Toy Parade which made its way down Main Street from downtown Lombard’s Fire Station 45 to Glenbard East High School. Along the way, firefighters and an army of volunteers collected toys and baby care items from residents in exchange for a candy cane and a heartfelt “thank you.” The collected gifts will benefit the Teen Parent Connection, First Things First and the Lombard-Villa Park Food Pantry. Photos by Steve Spoden
***** Out & About by Jane Charmelo *****
One woman's philanthropic donations to benefit many
By all accounts, Donna Jelf led the life she wanted — longtime music teacher, nature lover, teller of jokes, reader and ballroom dancer — and after her passing, she made sure that others could have an opportunity to share some of those passions. Jelf, whom everyone knew as Ginger, passed away Nov. 5, 2016, and among the donations she left to various organizations was just over $225,000 to the Friends of the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County, which will be used for a new raptor dorm at Willowbrook Wildlife Center in Glen Ellyn. According to Jelf's niece Jackie Miller, Aunt Ginger, a Villa Park resident and native of Butler, Ind., was an elementary school music teacher for over 50 years, having worked in various school districts before retiring in her 70s. Jelf loved performing and theater, and Miller recalled how, when the two would go on a cruise together, her aunt would play the piano on talent night. She enjoyed ballroom dancing, and would come to gatherings prepared with new jokes to share. The retired teacher was especially a lover of nature, said Miller, who commented, "She really loved the wildlife," which is how the Willowbrook became a recipient of her donations. "When she was physically able, she always had a dog," she continued, adding that her aunt liked to visit shelters and always had a host of neighborhood critters that would come to visit her backyard. "She loved her animals above and beyond," Miller observed. A Forest Preserve District of DuPage County (FPDDC) release indicates that the donation will be used to create a new raptor "dorm" for Willowbrook's eight outreach program education raptors, each of which has a permanent disability. The raptor outreach program was developed 30 years ago by Nancy Pierson, in order to help the public understand these birds of prey and create bonds among interpreters, birds and the audience, according to the release, as well as promote the raptors' importance as part of the wildlife ecology. The district expects construction to begin in summer 2018. The facility will have 12 enclosures and a "weathering area" where the birds can enjoy "enriching and visually stimulating experiences beneficial to their mental and physical well-being," the release explains. Miller said the forest preserve district "called and we talked about what she [Jelf] might be interested in," and the idea of the raptor dorm seemed like a good fit to honor the retired teacher's love of both education and wildlife. Sandy Fejt, education site manager for Willowbrook, related that the center was already looking to create a new raptor dorm to improve upon the one that is at least 15 years old which, at the time it was built, "was appropriate for what we knew" about the needs of raptors. She said over time staff learned more about such concepts as natural light and offering inside/outside access as the birds' choice. The new dorms will also be designed around the animals' disabilities. The staff had identified the need for a new raptor dorm prior to even knowing about the donation, Fejt said, and mentioned that board president Joe Cantore, "wanted to see it a priority as well." Fundraising had begun, raising about $40,000, the site manager related, and it was anticipated that it would be a year or more before the project could be funded. Then the center learned of Jelf's donation, Fejt said, adding, "It was a blessing." She anticipates the new raptor dorm will undergo construction in summer 2018, and be completed in the fall. This is "another example of a person who has an opportunity to make a contribution," Fejt said, adding with gratitude that Jelf was obviously "a person who has been touched by a positive experience here." "These donations will help us build a better home for our majestic education raptors, who serve a vital role in connecting people to nature," said District 4 Commissioner Tim Whelan, in the release. Another beneficiary of Jelf's unselfish acts of philanthropy is the Villa Park Public Library. According to Director Sandra Hill, the $177,617.29 the library will receive was "an unexpected donation," but welcome nonetheless. She related how "staff remember her [Jelf]," calling the retired teacher "a go-getter." She added that Jelf would attend events at the library, such as Wii Bowling. Miller said her aunt was very fond of her local library, commenting, "The library was very important to her." Hill said there is no specific earmark at this time for the donation, adding that it is "still on the table." That is, she outlined, the library board wants to wait until after the renovation/expansion project is completed in 2019. They said, "Let's see as we progress with the renovation and expansion," the library director continued, adding that a memorial plaque in Jelf's honor will be appropriately placed when the time comes and the dust has settled. Among other recipients of Jelf's generosity are the Salvation Army, animal rescue organizations and tree planting in her honor, including along the Prairie Path, Miller highlighted, adding that Jelf "loved nature trails [and] was very in tune with nature." One might ask, "Just how did a retired teacher amass the resources to be such a generous benefactor?" "She lived very frugally," Miller emphasized. She said her aunt was what might be called a shrewd investor who played the stock market. "She would invest any spare dollars she had," Miller explained. While she enjoyed buying clothes and taking cruises, her niece described how her aunt would rescue something from the curbside trash if she thought it could be put to good use. "It speaks to her mind set of frugal living," Miller said with a chuckle. "She chose to live in a frugal manner." At the same time, Jelf was very independent and adamant about remaining at home to live out her life, said her niece. In fact, "She played the piano up until the last month of her life," she described. "She lived her life the way she wanted to live it," Miller continued, adding, "I'm proud of what she accomplished." "We're very grateful for these donations that make it possible for us to proceed with this project, Cantore said in the release. "It shows that one person can indeed make a difference." For more information about the Friends of the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County, call 630-933-7097 or email email@example.com.