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Olson: Education foundation on grant-award tour

DeKalb high school teacher Joe Neville celebrates after learning he had received a grant from the DeKalb Education Foundation for a new car lift for his large engines class.
DeKalb high school teacher Joe Neville celebrates after learning he had received a grant from the DeKalb Education Foundation for a new car lift for his large engines class.

DeKalb High School teacher Joe Neville thought he might be trouble when Assistant Principal Valerie Bilek told him they needed to talk during his first-hour planning period.

Instead, Neville walked into a surprise that made his day. Eight people from the DeKalb Education Foundation were waiting around the corner to tell Neville his request for a grant for a new car lift had been granted. They handed him a big novelty check for $5,584.

“I carried that check around with me all day long,” Neville, a second-year teacher at the school, said. “I didn’t have a class first hour, so I carried it around with me that entire day, I was just so dad-gum happy.”

The grant was one of 11 that the education foundation members doled out at eight District 428 schools Friday morning. Aboard a D-428 bus driven by Superintendent Jim Briscoe, seven education foundation members, including co-presidents Nancy Schelkopf and Carol Naylor, and members Gary Gresholdt, Tim Allen, Jennifer Groce, Lisa Royer, and Sharon Freagon made the grant presentations. In all, they awarded almost $26,000.

They also made a lot of teachers’ days.

At Huntley Middle School, the group presented sixth-grade math teacher Kari Colvin with a $5,600 grant to pay for 20 Chromebooks – Google-based, Internet-dependent laptops – to help the classroom join the district’s one-to-one technology initiative.

At Clinton Rosette Middle School, Band Director Brian Balika was surprised with a $5,720 grant to pay for several band instruments, including an alto saxophone, bass clarinet, tenor saxophone, a mellophone and a euphonium. (Those last two are both brass instruments, in case you weren’t in band in school.)

The DeKalb Education Foundation has been awarding grants since 1988, a year after it was founded. But this is the first time they’ve made such public grant presentations, co-president Schelkopf said. The group is hoping to draw more attention to their efforts to enrich the education of local children. 

They also enjoyed getting to surprise local teachers.

“It was extremely rewarding,” Schelkopf said. “These teachers, they work so hard on these grants, when you read through the [requests] you can see the amount of time and effort they have put forth … You can feel their dedication to the students.”

The foundation will make another round of grants in February and a third in May, Schelkopf said. In order to keep awarding such generous amounts, they depend on contributions from the community. The foundation mails out a fundraising letter in November, and in spring they have traditionally held a comedy night, although they’re likely to go in a different direction this year, Schelkopf said.

The details haven’t been finalized yet, but when they are, we’ll be promoting it here in the Daily Chronicle and online at

You can also reach out to help the foundation through their website,

The foundation members barnstorming tour took them to Founders, Malta and Tyler elementary schools, where they awarded two grants each. They also awarded one grant each at Lincoln and Littlejohn elementaries, Clinton Rosette and Huntley and DeKalb High.

Schelkopf said the morning was a great success.

“All of the foundation members, everyone worked very, very hard,” she said. “I feel fortunate to work with such a wonderful group of people.”

As for Neville, he said the students in his large engines class will be able to learn about the workings of a vehicle’s undercarriage more easily and safely when the new lift is installed. Instead of looking at a 1989 Ford Mustang that’s a foot off the ground on jack stands, they’ll be able to gather underneath it as the lift keeps it suspended 6½ feet in the air, Neville said.

Neville, a 48-year-old who was in sales for years before he went into teaching as a second career, was clearly thrilled even once the school day had ended.

“[DeKalb] is just an amazing school, it’s a great school district, and it has this tremendous sense of community that wants to make everything better, just to help kids grow and develop,” he said. “Getting this check, man, if that doesn’t prove that, I don’t know what does.”

Cat-tastrophe: Speaking of cars’ undercarriages, apparently it’s a trend in thievery to slide underneath a car, cut out the catalytic converter and sell it online or to a scrapper who wants the precious metal inside. Especially in older vehicles, whose catalytic converters contain more platinum, as well as polonium and rhodium, which are worth a lot of money.

In some cases, they’d probably be doing the owners a favor if they’d just steal the whole car. Often, it costs almost as much to replace the catalytic converter as some of the older vehicles are worth.

What happened to just stealing the change out of the ashtray?

This happened: At the Sycamore City Council meeting this week, the council changed its city zoning ordinance to accommodate both a “sober living house” and a microbrewery. All indications are that they won’t be in the same neighborhood, though.

Those beards: That the Boston Red Sox players are almost enough for me to root for the St. Louis Cardinals to win the World Series. It’s like the cast of Duck Dynasty started a baseball team in New England.

Baseball beards in general are out of control. Makes you appreciate the New York Yankees’ mandate that players be clean-shaven.

Mark of fatherhood: There’s a new fad going around among young girls and it’s affecting fathers everywhere. The toy is called the Rainbow Loom, and like all popular kids toys, it probably costs $3 to make and retails for about $25.

Anyway, little girls use this thing to make jewelry out of rubber bands, and after they’ve made about 12 trinkets for themselves and their friends, they think “Who could use a rubber-band bracelet? Oh, Daddy, of course.”

So when you see a 30- or 40-something man in business attire wearing an odd, multicolored rubber bracelet, that’s what’s going on there.

On behalf of dads in general, just thought you should know.

• Eric Olson is editor of the Daily Chronicle. Reach him at 815-756-4841 ext. 2257, email, or follow him on Twitter @DC_Editor.

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