[Life] The Hope of High School Achievement

National Merit Winner From Valparaiso Is More Than A Cipher On A Grade Point List

By Mike Siroky

There is more to Hopey Fink than her stellar grade point average.

As a student who, she says, naturally “got it” in the classroom, she has taken some teasing for being on top of the academic honor rolls for most of her classroom years.

Not that it really bothered her; it was just something that comes with such success. She likes to think of herself as a “well-rounded, normal” student who is ready to embrace what comes next.

Her accomplishments were underlined in a national way when Elizabeth Hope Fink – she identifies herself as “Hopey” — of Valparaiso High School earned a National Merit Scholarship.

She has waded through fast-track acceptance letters from the most-prestigious, top academic colleges in the land and settled upon Georgetown, with a proposed double-major in Linguistics and Anthropology.

She credits her mom and dad, Sarah and Joe, with her life successes so far, which naturally includes what she had accomplished grade-wise.

“My parents are very encouraging, not demanding,” she said.

“I have always been exposed to learning environments, they always wants us to do our best, to keep learning.

“They have never been really strict about exactly what grades I get, just so long as I do my best learning.”

So, with what she termed “acceptable” PSATs, she entered the National Merit competition.

High School juniors take the test, after meeting qualifying standards through their PSATs.

Registration for the test is by high school rather than individual student.

The National Merit Scholarship Program, located in Evanston, Ill., receives all PSAT/NMSQT scores and information students provide on their answer sheet.

A Score Report gives each student a Selection Index score (critical reading plus mathematics plus writing skills scores) and whether the student meets NMSC program entry requirements.

The Selection Index scores of students who meet entry requirements are used to designate high scorers to receive recognition. NMSC identifies its semifinalists and sends scholarship application materials to them through their high schools.

 In both the National Merit® Scholarship Program and the National Achievement® Scholarship Program, students who qualify as Semifinalists and then meet academic and other standards advance to the Finalist level to compete for scholarships. 

So Fink progressed after earning Semifinalist status – no mean feat in itself – and was onto the finals.

“I was surprised when I actually got my score. I didn’t understand how the whole process worked,” she said.

“I didn’t realize how selective it was until I looked it up on the Internet.”

There were 16,000 students nationwide named semifinlaists.

NMSC’s goals have remained constant since its inception in 1955:

• To identify and honor academically talented U.S. high school students;

• To stimulate increased support for their education; and

• To provide efficient and effective scholarship program management for organizations that wish to sponsor college undergraduate scholarships.

The NMSC has recognized 2.8 million students and provided more than 350,000 scholarships worth more than $1.4 billion. The honors awarded by NMSC to exceptionally able students are viewed as definitive marks of excellence.

And, as Fink learned, certain schools provide additional scholarships if you are a National Merit winner.

When she received notification she had actually won, she forgot to send in the paperwork for publicity so the award was sort of a secret for awhile.

But it is no secret she has chosen Geirgetown. She plans to work summers on anthropology digs or with her professors to get addtional hands-on skills.

“Georgetown itself, as a history buff, is exciting eniugh,” she said. 

“I can’t imagine walking in those footsteps. The Smithsonian.”

Her reading selections and watching documentary TV shows has led her to anthropology. “It is something I just kind of went to over time,” she said.

”But I have never taken an actual anthropology course of course. I think I can end up in graduate school, with lots of time academic research.”

So her she is, on the precipice of a brave new world, expanding from Valparaiso to everywhere, the future studies mixed with defining the past.

Because she applied to her colleges of choice early, she knew in December which schools were personal finalists, including local favorite Notre Dame.

She knows the move to D.C. will be tough, as she is so very close to her family.

“I am gonna miss a lot of things, but my family most of all,” she said.

As the oldest of four children, she is a personal role model for her younger siblings as well as for anyone dedicated to the sheer joy of learning, of expanding personal world views. “They are all very smart,” she said of her family members. “I am sure they will all do fine.”

She has been part of St. Teresa of Avila Catholic Student Missions (associated with Valparaiso University) and wil complete one last trip, to the Minneapolis area, this summer.

“I will miss that,” she said of the mission trips. “I definitely love traveling.”

“And we do have some relatives in the (Georgetown) area, so I will have family close by,” she said of the coming transiton phase.

“I have always sort of seen this as an exciting new experience. I will mis my parents, my family, my friends, of just being in Valpo.

“It is exciting as the end of the school year comes, bittersweet,” she said. “I stil have prom, graduation and all that, but it is sneaking up on me.”


[Life] Angels aloft, carrying a message

Angels aloft, carrying a message

By Mike Siroky

Eventually, hundreds of butteflies soared in the summer sky at Calumet Park Cemetery in Gary.

When first released, they huddled with their human benefactors, near the ground, doing their part in the program.

This event is free to all participants.

It is based on a Native American legend.

As butterflies do not communicate with humans – as far as we can tell – the Indians believe you might be able to make a wish come true by telling a butterfly.

The butterfly will not reveal the wish to anyone else and will soar to the Great Spirit, who hears and knows all.

As the human has released the butterfly, the Great spirit will consider the wish to be granted.

At this annual event, it is more than legend and wishes.

Hundreds of folks gathered, all generations, to remember their predecessors. Prayers were said, not a few tears shed and a short ceremony preceded the grand release of the traditional orange and black Monarchs, each coming from its own individual envelope.

Paul Vogel, III, part of the family owns and operates Calumet Park, read a scripture and a greeting to get things started.

“We are here to share, to keep memories alive,” he said. “We are here to help families grieve; we pray for the families in Norway who are experiencing recovery from the tragedy.

“ ‘Pain is God’s megaphone,’ said C.S. Lewis. It helps us share. It is permission for anger,” said Vogel. His son, Gavin, 11, played “Ode to Joy” and “Amazing Grace” on his recorder.

Dan Moran of Calumet Park had composed a poem, which he sang, accompanied by John Ochoa on the electric piano and Joe Klapak on the guitar.

“”Every night, when the sun goes down, I lie awake, alone and hurt,” sang Moran. He said the inspiration came from all those he helps in his job.

“Think off all the dreams we’ve known, all the hopes we once shared. Now my bed is my enemy, broken lives beyond repair. Screaming quiet crushing me. Oh my God, this is so unfair.

“God, I don’t understand, living now a broken man, doin’ ’bout the best I can; trusting is my only plan.

“Taste you in every breath I take, every time I close my eyes . . . see you in the works of God, hiding in a thin disguise. Roses with a scent so pure, wings of gentle butterflies . . . wonder why He took you home, leaving me these tears to cry.

“A mom, a dad, a baby boy . . . a little girl, now a broken toy. Since they’re gone, we miss the pain, living life with little joy. Here we are with our butterflies, whispering out wish to them, in hopes when we set them free, we’ll find a little peace within.

“God, we don’t understand. Bless us with Your healing hands. Send us grace to understand. This is not what we had planned.”

Part of the credit for the program goes to the late Jan Hahn. As a Calumet Park employee, she planned the butterfly garden as a place for folks to come and remember loved ones. A plaque commemorates her work.

Among her sayings: “You can’t have too much fun.”

Klapak, accompanied by Ochoa, then sag Kenny Chesney’s “Who’d you be today,” as the releases began.

As the releases continued, small group knelt by their butterflies, urging their liftoffs, still telling their secrets.

Among them were mom Mary Jane Shkroba and her Molly, two-and-a-half, who drove in from LaPorte.

Molly was a little listless in the heat, safe on mom’s lap with her Minnie Mouse sunglasses shading her eyes.

Lest anyone think the little angels don’t get these missions, Molly had a summary. Mary Jane had mentioned earlier that they would visit the grave of her father-in-law following the butterfly experience.

“I’m gonna see Grandpa Joe,” Molly announced. Then she smiled.



[Life] 107 Years of Celebration

Mardi Gras celebrates her 107 years

Bertina Carlson And Friends Have A Ball In Hobart

 by Mike Siroky

When Bertina Carlson was profiled a little more than a year ago in The Chronicle, readers and other residents of Brentwood Assisted Living in Hobart came to know and love her.

Well, another lap has been completed. This year, Brentwood decided her 107th birthday and the yearly Mardi Gras celebration was too coincidental to ignore, so the facility, friends and family and – of course – Bertina herself gathered for a Mardi Gras Party.

There was a deejay to spin the modern tunes of the 1940s, balloons, beads and feathery masks. There was food and drinks and Cajun-spiced popcorn.

A special friend made a special card. Relatives and friends of other residents filled the dining area to overflowing.

Two of Bertina’s daughters – Rachel and Mary – were there.

The family had the table right up front, near the special cake with the glittery frosting.

Ruth Wisor was a vision of glittery elegance with a feathery mask adding an aura of mystery.

She hand made the card, which everyone signed.

Ruth is from Brazil, or, as she insisted, “The Amazon.”

She and another friend, Rose Virgo, were among the first arrivals. They spend many hours sitting and reminiscing with Bertina. They were not the only celebrants to remark that someone else achieving 107 years makes them feel young.

Dorothy Perk took in the scene from near the popcorn machine. She said she appreciates that Brentwood throws these unplanned parties because it reinforces the family atmosphere.

Kenny Lomas and family came in from Valpo with one of Bertina’s many friends. Mary Emerson. Kenny said Bertina’s grandson is one of his best friends. They all remared how cheerful Bertina made them feel.

Rachel Feldman, also of Valparaiso, is one of Bertina’s daughters. “She is still doing great,” she said of her mom’s ability to get around and keep up with everything.

Kerry Kapica is the originator of Entertainment Express. He provided the music and karaoke. His company does a lot of events with Brentwood.

“This time, it was Big Band music,” he said as the festivities came to life around him

The challenge was the short time frame, as most receptions and other events have a four- to six-hour timespan. And he had another show at another location at 9 p.m.

But he is a 30-year veteran of the business, a full-time avocation, so nothing fazes the Portage native,

“It’s always been a good business to be in,” he said. The real reward, he said, is when folks come up to him and tell him how much they enjoy his offerings.

“I have a vision, for every event, of what I am going to do,” he said. “And we meet with everyone beforehand to get what they want.

As the show wound down, the staff and other friends of Brentwood did a karaoke rendition of “Proud Mary,” with all the moves included. “They were the stars of that moment,” said Kapica.

For more information on Entertainment Express, call Kapica at 219-763-3610 or visit his website, http://www.entertainmentexpressdjs.com.

Down the hall, in his room, Ralph Jensen and his kitty  discussed attending the party. Ralph, a veteran, had some medical tests this day and the result weighed on his mind as far as they were still unknown.

But he decided to amble on down to the festivities.

“I wasn’t going to go,” he said. “But everybody keeps asking for me.”

Indeed, as he entered the celebration area, some friends had kept a seat waiting for him, because, as one said, “He’s the life of the party.”

As the celebration continued, Ralph settled in with his friends and laughter and smiles were passed all around.

The deejays encouraged requests, a karaoke was well-used and, even if the dancers mostly remained seated, there was plenty of toe tapping, hand slapping and cheerful singing to the familiar favorites.

.In the end, despite the hoopla, despite the abundance of well-wishers and the good times in the celebration, Bertina closed with the same question of a year ago: “But why would anyone want to interview me,” she asked.

[Life] A special partner on patrol

A Special Partnership Kept the Streets of Portage Safe

Sgt. Mark Monks and Canine Cop Eros Were Inseperable

By Mike Siroky

Chances are, if you are a resident if Portage, you knew police partners Mark Monks and Eros.

Your chances of having met them are even higher if you have a child or are a child in the elementary school system. Sgt. Monks and Eros have made it a habit to visit schools and their children, for the ultimate meet-n-greet between law officers and the youngest citizens.

By now, you may have guessed, Eros is a partner who is also a dog, a full-blooded German Shepherd. He is more than a partner in that he is part of the Monks family, as familiar to the neighborhood as anyone else.

Sgt. Monks is closing in on two decades’ of work with the Portage Police Department. Eros has been an eight-year partner.

They work the night shift. “I love it,” said Sgt. Monks.

Where once there were lifestyle-destroying rotating shifts, the Portage police now stay on their same shift all the time.

“You can be more self-initiated at night, more reactive,” said Sgt. Monks.

“There is a variety of crimes, thieves, drunks, the usual people who stay out too late.”

Eros’ role is defined in three specialties: Protection, Narcotics and Tracking. He is commanded in German and will not start or finish until Sgt. Monks issues orders.

But his mere presence is his advantage.

“People tend not to argue with a dog,” said Sgt. Monks.

“For the job part, we’re always in the action if something happens. When people run, whether it’s because they crashed or because they were in a fight or they burglarized and took off, the dog goes there first.”

Sometimes, he said, a tracked suspect will deny he is involved at all, since he has gotten away from the scene.

“But I tell them, ‘Why would Eros point you out? Why has he said you’re the one?’ ” said Sgt. Monks.

 “You really cannot argue with a dog.”

At a bar fight, “As soon as we arrive, the crowd will settle down. It is easier to separate a crowd with a dog. You can see them thinking about running off from officers, but no one wants to be the one the dog will get.

“His mere presence will end it. I tell people, ‘You can bring as many cops as you want, but one dog barking will deescalate the situation.’

“They think they can intimidate an officer, but they see the dog and they’re done. His mere presence has probably done more than we will ever know.”

Eros and Sgt. Monks have responded to bordering towns and those towns will return the favor. All departments know the impact of a Canine Patrol.

“The most rewarding things happen because of Eros,” said Sgt. Monks.

“A lot of officers can dig through a car and find nothing. It is rewarding when we search a car or a hotel room and find it.

“Or, when somebody runs from you. A woman may have been assaulted and she says, ‘That guy took off that way,’ and we’re tracking the person did the crime. The dog led us right to them. You confront them and they said they never ran, but the dog led us right there.”

Sgt. Monks had been a patrolman for a little more than four years when Portage started its Canine Patrol. He volunteered for it, was interviewed and got his first dog.

That officer died on the job, from a cancerous tumor. So Sgt. Monks had to reapply for another dog and along came Eros.

“He lives with us,” said Sgt. Monks.

“We have small kids and he is great with them, a house pet.

“My children have gone training with me, so they know what he does. They love him to death.”

When the partners visit elementary schools, Sgt. Monks is well-aware those talks are helping children be familiar with officers and the job.

“They are all still wide-eyed and that’s just great,” said Sgt. Monks.

“I know my kids’ friends and the neighborhood kids like us. If you get the public on your side, when the public knows you are here to help, not out to write tickets, but here to help, that’s it.

“It is part of part of living where I want to live, to keep the place I love safe.”

An extended part of his career is as the shift leader, training up the young officers, corporals to become sergeants, patrolman to learn the ropes.

“We want to have officers who naturally move up,” said Sgt. Monks.

“I want to be a leader. I want to help them advance their careers. I want the young guys to know I like what I am doing and I want the young guys to like what they are doing.”

Now comes the sad part.

Eros is sick. Monks noticed his back legs seemed to be not as functional.

In December, tests revealed a degenerating spine, maybe some pinched nerves. Finally, he could not go anymore.

He had the surgery the first week of 2012.

“I said, ‘I’ll pay for the surgery myself,’ ” said Sgt. Monks. The alternatives were surgery or have Eros put down.

“The neurologist said he is getting some feeling back,” said Sgt. Monks. So now he is in search of rehab.

“I spent a whole day calling for rehab,” he said.

“I want to get him to walk again.”

Whatever the outcome, this is the last canine partner for Sgt. Monks. He wants to remember the job as he and Eros.

This is not a Portage Police Department function. It is all on Sgt. Monks and the community.

To raise donations to cover the cost of surgery and rehab, they have set out collections canisters are area doctors’ offices, restaurants and any place people gather.

Monks said the final tally will be around $3,000. Already, donors from here to California have come up with three-fourths of the cost, he said.

“He came home from an in-patient rehab center on Wednesday, Jan. 18, and seemed to be doing better than we could have expected,” Monks said.  “On Thursday the 19th, he had a setback, as he now has a bladder infection and possibly some tissue swelling and pain around the surgical area.  This has made him a bit more grumpy and less inclined to try to work at walking. 

 “He was given plenty of rest that weekend and we should be receiving his new medications.   Hopefully, we can begin an outpatient rehab treatment.  Right now he can crawl around a bit, but is not getting up on his own.  If we stand him up with the aid of a harness, he will stand for a few moments on his own, but will not try to walk. 

 “The doctors and I are still confident in his recovery and the outlook for a good quality of life as our family pet.  We just need to get his strength back up and get him past these infections. 

 “As for the bills, Chief Williams has let me know that the city will pay for the bills through his surgery. 

“I will pay for the rehab and any other after care, as he is now officially retired form active duty.  The response from the public has been great.  My wife and I are eternally grateful.

“I never got into police work to make a lot of money, but I need it now,” said Sgt. Monks.


The Followup

Unfortunately, though donations came in, Eros soon died.

“Eros was taken back to the rehab facility after a consultation with his surgeon,” said Sgt. Monks. “He was not able to stand on his own or even walk with assistance. After three days in rehab, we were told that he was not progressing, and in fact seemed to be regressing a bit more every day.  We were told that there was nothing more that could be done for him. We brought him home Wednesday and he seemed to just get worse with each passing day, and he seemed more and more to be in pain. 

 “My wife and I had to watch this and make the difficult decision to have him put down. After speaking with the three veterinarians who had been caring for him over the past month, my wife and I are confident and secure with the knowledge that we did everything we could for him.  Eros received the best treatments possible, befitting a loyal and beloved member of the Portage PD and of my family. 

 “We are thankful to all of the members of the community who helped us during this time.  Enough donations were received to pay for his medical bills and anything above and beyond will be put into a fund for the future of our K-9 program. We are also eternally grateful for the support of Chief Williams, the officers of the Portage PD, and the K-9 handlers from the neighboring departments. 

 “Thank you for the kind words that you wrote about Eros and the help you gave with raising donations for the bills.”

[Life] Hometown train depot delivers living history


History rededicated in Hobart

Train depot has served city for a century

 by Mike Siroky

 A living treasure was on hand to rededicate a hometown treasure when Hobart celebrated 100 years of the Pennsy Depot.

It was once the main travel depot, woven into the history of the city as emphatically as any other building. This was the place where everyone arrived and also where they launched adventures in the world. All the servicemen of all the wars since 1812 departed through the double doors that lead to the loading platform. Not as many servicemen returned, but the ones that did had a lifetime of memories to share.

As America broadened its borders westward, Chicago became the hub of industry. Four railroads began to snake along the southern edge of Lake Michigan to Chicago. Valparaiso was reached, but the builders of the railroad line were out of funds.

Hobart, meanwhile, had already established itself as a brickyard (an idea kept alive by the high school mascot name, Brickies). Legend has it even before that, the timbers of Hobart supplied the wood for Chicago’s first cedar block road and its first Lake Street plank road.

The deposits of clay in Hobart helped launch four brickyards and a pottery. City founder George Earle donated the right-of-way, the depot site and built the depot for the railroads, provided they extended the rails to the city. The combination of brickyard business and a free depot got the connection completed.

The biggest brick employers came to be National Fireproofing Co. and the Kulage Brick Co. National covered 35 acres and employed 125 when at full capacity, capable of producing 70 tons of product each day. They produced terra cotta and fireproof building tile. Kulage employed another 100. Its bricks were used to build the new depot.

Other railroads and other stations came and went. Freight and passenger lines were both popular, with three freight lines intersecting in downtown Hobart.

Depletion of the clay deposits meant the shutdown of the brick industry. Other modes of transportation and the interstate highway system cut into use of the railroad.

By 1968, the Pennsy Depot was no longer active.

By 1982, the old building was abandoned and alone. Like so many abandoned buildings, it had been trashed by uninvited overnight guests.

Then Virginia Curtis and a band of dedicated Hobart heroes stepped up to save and renovate it, using a familiar theme for salvation, SOS (Save Our Station).

“There were bicycle tire tracks on the walls,” Curtis remembers of midnight riders.

“The wood was all bad. The floor was the worst.

“We had a lot of work to do. The building was in bad shape,” Curtis said.

But 1001 Lillian St. was once again humming with workers. Curtis said they had volunteers who salvaged wood from other renovations and handmade all the doors in the station, to the style of the original doors. The freight office was turned into a kitchen/banquet area.

They restored the original colors on the walls and hung pictures representing the decades of activity in the building.

Slowly, they found ways to raise funds for repairs. They only could move ahead as money was available. For instance, when the wood flooring was found at a bargain price, the restoration group had no funds for installation.

But they bought the wood anyway and Hobart Lumber, always a good corporate citizen, agreed to store it until it could be installed.

Virginia and her group finished the renovation. It has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1984. The building is now the headquarters of the Chamber of Commerce.

When Hobart was just getting started, a traditional land exchange involved both parties snapping a twig from a tree on the property.

Mayor Brian Snedecor and Curtis ceremonially snapped a twig in remembrance of the first land transfer. They also cut a ribbon, symbolizing the rededication. Former Mayor Linda Buzenic praised the work of Curtis and her group.

Curtis, a well-published reporter and unofficial historian, is unimpressed by the accolades accorded to her but is still very much in love with her city, even if it meant she had to delay a trip to Las Vegas to be at the rededication.

Mike Adams, the chamber’s director, hosted the event, “We’ll start the next 100 years here,” he said.

Curtis pointed out her committee did not give the depot to the city, but sold it to the city for $1.


[Sports/Feature] A lifetime of hoops: Ruth Riley

By Mike Siroky

From the start, she was always someone who stood out. Raised in tiny Macey, Indiana (pop 248), the daughter of a single mom, her height attracted the first attention. At 6-5, Ruth Riley was noticed. She had more fun running high school track – always someone who would do whatever it took for her school – so she was certainly noticed on relays.

Many tall females simply never learn to run.

Ruth moved into the fast lane early and stayed there.

She attended the University of Notre Dame and progressed physically every season. By her senior year, she was the best player in the NCAA, the MVP of the Final Four and had led N.D. to its only women’s basketball title, sinking the final two free throws with 5.8 second left to clinch it over in-state rival Purdue, ironically the only other Division 1 school to ever show an interest in her.

As she went to the line for the most-important free throws of her life, she says all she could think of was not a superstar, but the small-town character “Ollie” in Hoosiers. Cast in a similar game-saving situation, the coach had told the team what they would do after Ollie hit the go-ahead free-throw. Like Ollie, Ruth nailed it.

She had a 46-point, 20-rebound performance in the Final Four. She ended her Irish career with 28 points, 13 rebounds and seven blocks in the title game.

Asked about the decisive final play on which Ruth was fouled, Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said, “It’s the same play we’ve been running all season. It’s called: ‘Get the ball to Ruth’.” It was 2001 and a fledgling WNBA’s fifth draft renewed the spotlight. The WNBA would hear that game-plan mantra again and again.

But, back to the start.

Always tall — more than two feet (25 inches) at birth, six feet by the time she was 12 and teased for her height, awkwardness and shyness — Ruth picked up basketball in fourth grade. It was not an overnight success story, as Ruth is quick to tell you. She spent most of her junior high years on the bench. It took time before coordination finally caught up with genetics.

By high school, Ruth began weightlifting. Because Macy is such a small community, it was only natural for the tallest girl to become a starter.

A former N.D. teammate, who came in as a New Mexico state track distance runner, recalled an end-of-workouts run, once around the outdoor track at Notre Dame, where she had assured herself she could be in cruise control. She said she heard footsteps down the stretch and had to really turn it on to win. She was surprised the closest pursuer was Ruth.

The anecdote underscores the other major element responsible for Ruth’s transition from gawky adolescent to national champion — Ruth’s unrelenting work ethic, a trait that has characterized her entire career and accounts for much of her success. Ruth says that work ethic is grounded in a strong Christian faith in which she talks with God every day and asks for guidance.

Her favorite Bible verse is Colossians 3:23: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men.”

She returns to Notre Dame’s South Bend campus at least once every year, to drop into a basketball workout and “to see a football game,” because she remembers the value of staying true to her roots.

Much was expected by Ruth’s followers as she moved into the WNBA and beyond. She has not disappointed.

But though Ruth commands attention every time she steps onto the basketball court, much of the celebrity surrounding her has long since subsided. Inside, on the court, her talent is well-recognized by her peers and students of the sport. She has completed 11 WNBA seasons, an elite group of participants.

And, outside the boundaries that define the basketball court has come a career built on a solid foundation of quiet contribution.

Some of the air went out of the balloon on Draft Day, when Ruth, the only unanimous first-team All-American in the Class of 2001, went in the first round, but at just No. 5, to the soon-to-be-defunct Miami Sol. Generally, with a résumé like Ruth’s, the No. 1 overall pick seems more likely. But that distinction went to another tall, slender post — a 6-6, 19-year-old upstart from Australia by the name of Lauren Jackson — the top pick of the Seattle Storm, where she continues to play between stints with the Australian National Team.

The 2001 U.S. draft class is the deepest class to ever enter the pro leagues. The Charlotte Sting, another team long gone from the league, opted for a point guard in Kelly Miller. Next to go was Tamika Catchings, the 2000 Naismith Trophy winner and player of the year and a four-time Kodak All-American, who had her senior season shortened — and Tennessee’s hopes to repeat as national championships dimmed — by a torn ACL. Catchings went at No. 3 to Indiana, though she had to sit out the 2001 season to recuperate. She also remained active in 2012.

Longtime fans of the game may also recall sharpshooter Jackie Stiles of tiny Lebanon Valley College where she averaged 46.4 points, plus 8.1 rebounds and 6.3 assists per game. Stiles, who still holds the NCAA record for career points (3,393), went at No. 4 to the Portland Fire, another team that is now a memory, where she proved her worth, earning 2001 WNBA Rookie-of-the-Year honors against some amazingly stiff competition before a succession of injuries quickly took her out of the game.

The volume surrounding Ruth had already begun to dial down as she headed from South Bend to South Beach for her rookie season with Miami. There, for the first time in since junior high, she was suddenly no longer a starter. Ruth threw herself into the latest challenge, learning much from Coach Ron Rothstein about post play at the pro level that she had won the starter’s spot in the rotation.

Miami made it to the first round of the playoffs, losing to New York in the Eastern Conference semifinals with Ruth playing nearly the entire game (36.7 mpg).

A new challenge was at hand.

Ruth remained in Miami to train with the Sol coaches over the off-season – she still considers her home there her primary residence — and had high hopes for a breakthrough in her second year in the league. The day before the season opened, she broke her pinkie finger in five places and missed four weeks, her first-ever injury time out. She may have rushed her recovery. Returning to play with a splint on her hand, both her scoring and rebounding suffered, and she lost her spot in the starting lineup. Then the franchise folded shortly after the end of the season.

Still, in keeping with her character, Ruth found the bright spots in her situation. She was beginning to develop an identity on the defensive end of the court, ranking fourth in the league in blocks with nearly 1.6 per game. She enjoyed her time on the beach while her finger healed and still counts “laying out in the sun” as a favored relaxation.


Rebuilding her confidence was tougher than rebuilding her finger, says Ruth.

She moved on to play pro ball in Valencia, Spain, in the off-season, where she began the process. She has returned to play in either Europe or Asia during every year of her professional career, and in many respects, her game has been reformatted overseas.

In 2010, for example, while Ruth struggled for points off the bench in San Antonio, she was leading her Greek team Sony Athinaikos to the FIBA Eurocup Championship, bringing Greece its first-ever European women’s basketball title. Individually, she was averaging double-digit scoring and twice earned FIBA Player of the Week honors. The following season, she earned Eurobasket.com Center of the Year honors and a panoply of Greek league awards.

Ruth still cherishes her years of international play. Beyond the team and individual on-court accomplishments, there’s the food, for one thing.

“I like Greek food, so over there that is nice for me,” she says of Greece, where she’s been spending her winters of late. “But, if I get hungry for some fast food, I can usually figure out how to make it myself.”

The other benefit of her international experience is the joy of meeting the other old faces in new places.

“I am kinda familiar with them all,” she says of the international professional sorority. “You are always competing on a high level so just to be there means you can play. The style may vary from country to country, but the top players are the top players.”

It was while she was in Spain that Ruth got the news of the Sol’s demise, as well as word that this time she had been picked first, by the Detroit Shock, in the dispersal draft.

The move would re-elevate Ruth’s career. She spent four seasons in the Motor City, starting in every game and winning WNBA championships in her first and last seasons there. In 2003, the first of those championship campaigns, which saw the Shock vault from the league basement to the WNBA title in an historic turnaround, the “young blood” schooled the Los Angeles Sparks’ Lisa Leslie with a 27-point explosion in the decisive third game of the series, earning Finals MVP honors in the process.

She now had a rare triple crown – MVP of the NCAA for her senior season, MVP of the Final Four for a championship NCAA season and MVP of a WNBA championship team. There was still more to come.

Her offensive production nearly doubled during Ruth’s first two years in Detroit, and by 2005 Ruth was a WNBA All-Star, voted by fans as the starting center for the East. Meanwhile, in the offseason, Ruth continued to head overseas when she wasn’t playing in the states with the now-defunct National Women’s Basketball League (NWBL). Ruth actually received her first All-Star honors in 2004 with the NWBL, as she helped lead the team to that league’s finals; she was honored as an All Star again with the Chill in 2005, and in 2006 helped lead the Chill to the championship, taking Finals MVP honors in her second professional league, yet another milestone among all women players.

Then there were the Games of 2004. As a backup on the U.S. Olympic team, she played her best in the run-up to the finals, backing international veterans Leslie and Yolanda Griffith. Still, nothing could compare with the feeling as the Gold medal was hung from her neck on her 25th birthday. Ironically, the U.S. won the Gold in Athens, Greece, where Ruth now plays her off-season pro ball. So there was still more an elite honor; no one has ever matched the MVPS, the National Player of the Year and the Olympic Gold. But there was one more milestone to come.

Despite helping the Shock to their second league title in 2006, Ruth was valuable trade bait, to San Antonio for Katie Feenstra before the 2007 season began. The years and wear began to show. Though a starting center still, with the Silver Stars, she playing through a partial tear in her Achilles, Ruth had 59 blocks that season, including what remains a career-high six against Houston on June 26, and helped San Antonio reach the second round of the WNBA playoffs.

By 2011, she got her wish to play closest to her Indiana home, to Chicago, a franchise seemingly in an endless rebuilding phase.

Ruth takes the changes in stride. She knew, from the start, that the pro life would mean lots of restarts.

“I’d have had to be pretty naïve, even as a rookie, to think the team that drafted you is the team you’re gonna play for the rest of your life,” she says. “I honestly gave it a year.” (Miami lasted two after drafting her.)

“But as time goes on you get to know your role on any team. As players, we are

Besides, she likes Chicago. The way it works in the WNBA, she explains, is the players let their agents know where they’d like to go and the teams put out feelers for players they’d like to get. Both sides meet in joyous harmony — in this case, Chicago and Ruth.

“I’d say I am a Chicago-type of person,” she says, “and the player I am will have fun here.”

These days, Ruth is far from a rookie. League-wide, there are only eight players, seven from the United States, with more WNBA service. 

Indeed, her longevity in the league has cost her at least one of her many awards. Ruth, who made the dean’s list every semester of her college career and was recently inducted into the Academic All-America Hall of Fame — yet another bump into a chosen few — once held a guaranteed NCAA post-graduate scholarship as a result of winning the MVP and National Player-of-the-Year honors her senior season.

“I think that expired,” she says with a laugh at one of the few things she has not been able to take advantage of. “Someone told me it was only good for five years.”

Besides, who knew she’d still be playing?

“I had no idea I could be paid to play this long,” she says.

Ruth has played constantly, as so many women players do, treating the WNBA as the delicious center of a candy land existence. She spends most of the year in Europe, having played in Spain, Poland and, most-recently, Greece, as well as in Korea.

She has taken care of her body, with no major injuries, but the year-round grind inevitably takes its toll.

“At least a couple of times a year, it hits me,” says Ruth. “And, last season, I felt a little beat up.”

But still she plays on and expects to keep doing so for at least another three seasons.

“Well, I signed a three-year contract (with the Chicago Sky) and, at the end of that, we’ll reassess,” she said.

Until then, Chicago is as happy to have Ruth as she is to be there. Whether starting or coming off the bench, whether starring or sacrificing her individual statistics for the benefit of the team, Ruth seems to find a way to make each team she plays on better than it would be without her. She has become the consummate role player, and not all of her contributions are reflected in the box score.

For one thing, Ruth brings a champion’s experience and a veteran’s leadership, including a commitment to mentoring her younger teammates. She makes herself available to any newbies who may be too shy, as she once was, to ask basic questions. Travel, a place to live, what to eat, where to do your laundry — anything can come up and she will answer.

Ruth frees up her teammates to excel, making those around her better than they would be without her presence. That’s one of the reasons why, when Ruth was announced as coming to Chicago, Sky star Sylvia Fowles, one of the hottest young centers in the game, described how excited she was to have Ruth joining her in the frontcourt. While Fowles is too modest to say it herself, she consumes the lion’s share of an opponent’s attention on both ends of the floor, more often than not in the past finding herself double and even triple-teamed.

But with the 6-5 Ruth playing alongside her, Fowles explained, opponents were to be hard-pressed to continue resorting to that strategy.

“They’ll have to pick their poison,” said Fowles. “If they collapse on me, Ruth knows how to put the ball in the hole.”

More often than not Ruth is content to hand off to Fowles or kick out to Epiphanny Prince, rather than running up her personal stat line.

Ruth has played in 371 WNBA games and has scored 2,416 points in 8,452 minutes with 16,591 rebounds and 501 blocks.

“In professional sports there is always a battle between team and self,” Ruth once wrote in her blog. “There is an innate desire to perform to the best of your individual ability and then there is also a desire to perform in a way that your team will be the most successful. Sometimes these two go hand in hand, but often times a sacrifice will be made in one direction or another. … At the end of the day, I will always sacrifice my personal goals for the good of the team, but finding a balance as close to accomplishing both has been an interesting journey.”

For her part, Ruth is a fan of her new teammates, especially fellow center Fowles, forward Swin Cash and tough-as-nails point guard Tina Pencheiro, a 14-year veteran of the league who has now retired. Cash is from UConn, Notre Dame’s traditional rival when both were in the Big East, and they still can give each other grief about the relative state of their alma maters.

No one realizes how much Ruth has also found ways to contribute off the court, in real life.

Her dedication to community service brought her the Henry P. Iba Citizen Athlete Award in 2010 and, in 2011, she shared the WNBA’s Kim Perrot Sportsmanship Award with Seattle’s Sue Bird.

Indeed, one gets the impression that when the time comes to hang up the high-tops, Ruth will not mind the freedom to focus on her other humanitarian endeavors, many of which revolve around clinics teaching younger girls to value themselves and to always strive for the best. Ruth returns to her Indiana and family connections at least once every summer, to put on clinics for girls.

“I am very passionate about that,” she says.

Her official website, Ruth Ruth.com, also promotes personal crusades, such as the “No Kid Hungry” Campaign which raises funds and awareness of starving children worldwide. “Nothing But Nets” is a United-Nations-backed program with similar aims of helping eradicate malaria worldwide. She has been a spokesperson for the NBA/WNBA-sponsored program since its launch in 2006 and makes trips to Africa is support of both causes.

“Triad Trust” is another program she works with. It is directed at using sports and other self-empowerment programs to help eradicate AIDS and HIV in remote and impoverished areas of the world.

In the meantime, however, it is back to the red-eye plane flights or the overnight, 18-hour bus rides between cities, as Ruth continues her WNBA career in Chicago.

At 6-4-1/2, legroom is “not ideal,” she says. But she has few complaints.

Ruth says this is the career and the team she would have chosen if given an option.

As she carefully maps her future, Ruth knows several things about women’s basketball.

“I think I am grateful for this unique chance,” she says. “If I am inspiring others, the truth is you just have to realize you get to make your own life decisions.

“It’s not that I think about it a lot. But I am not successful by genetics — not by any means do I have the most talent. I recognize if you want to be an elite player, if you want to perform, you watch what you eat, you stay in shape, you adapt to wherever you are.

“At the end, all I have to do is remember I am getting paid — I have a life — from playing basketball. Who wouldn’t love that?”


[Life] Good to Go by Lucrezia pours out support/ Pink pour spouts benefit Komen Foundation

 by Mike Siroky

You can open your delicatessen and have success or you can open your heart and have success beyond business.

Good to Go by Lucrezia has done both.

Good to Go by Lucrezia is a Chesterton deli, specialty market, a tasting emporium specializing in Extra Virgin Olive Oils and Balsamic Vinegars, a wine and craft beer shop and has a selection of eats from neighboring Lucrezia Café to go.

To assist the Susan G. Komen Foundation in its fight against breast cancer, Good to Go by Lucrezia is selling pink pour spouts for the olive oil and vinegar. They cost $5 each.

“One hundred percent of the profits go to Komen,” said store manager Joyce Stauffer.

They had an initial order of 100 spouts, but expect to reorder and send more than $500 to Komen.

It’s just another example of good corporate citizenship for Good to Go by Lucrezia.

“This is the first year it was available and we intended to do it every year,” Stauffer said.

“We welcome the opportunity. We’ve always had pour spouts in gold and silver. They said we could donate a portion of the profits and we went with the 100 percent donation.

“It has had a good response, with a number of people coming in just to buy them after hearing about it.”

As with many good deeds, the unexpected benefits have been rewarding.

“On the first day we got them in, as I was putting them out, one of our neighbors, a good customer came in. I noticed she had the signs of chemo – losing her hair – and, until that moment, I did not even know she was fighting breast cancer.

“I looked at Nada (Karras, with whom she operates the deli) with a questioning look in my eye and she nodded yes.”

She has since noted all the people who fight the good fight against the insidious disease.

“On the CBS Morning Show, I saw a guy telling how he had fought to become a chef,” Stauffer said. “I know it is hard in this business to outwork anyone else, but that is what he did. He started in the kitchen as a dishwasher and worked up to being a chef.

“He now had a four-star restaurant in Chicago. He had struggled to become a chef. Then he found out he had tongue cancer. He fought that as well. He said if anyone hears he’s gonna die, you just fight it. He applied the same set of principles to fighting cancer that he had to becoming a chef and he beat it. It is a sense of wonder to see all those people who fight this. If we can be a small part of it . . .”

Chicago chef Grant Achatz runs his restaurant, Alinea. The orginal diagnosis endangered his sense of taste and his ability to speak and swallow. Most experts said the only solution was to remove 75 percent of his tongue and his taste buds.

But University of Chicago Medicine oncologist Everett Vokes prescribed a new combination approach of chemotherapy and radiation to treat the cancer. If the first-line therapy worked, Achatz would not require surgery — saving his tongue and taste buds.

That’s the kind of research Stauffer hopes to support.

 The deli is the brainchild of Mike and Nada Karras, who own and operate the successful Lucretia Restaurant on the shared site in Chesterton.

“This is an Italian deli,” Stauffer said. “We have a wine shop. We have an oil and vinegar shop, with 50 varieties. They are made by a small producer and are the real thing. The wines are really great wines we can get through the restaurant, wine you cannot buy in a liquor store.”

The deli meats and cheeses are also a real exception. They stock on the Boar’s Head brand, 

“It is very well-known,” Stauffer said. “No fillers, no artificial flavors, no trans fats, no byproducts.

“It’s the healthiest you can eat. It has been a leader in quality since the early 1900s. When we were interviewing vendors, they kept saying, ‘Well, we’re like Boar’s Head.’ So we decided why not just get Boar’s Head when we opened in July 2010.”

They also offer a fresh-made Sandwich of the Day and some carryout menu items, always changing, from the restaurant.

“I make the sandwich myself, so I know it’s delicious,” Stauffer said. “I’m a cheese monger myself, so to have cheeses from around the world is great.”