When returning to live in DeKalb County seven years ago, I was introduced to Shadow Gentry while having breakfast at the Lincoln Inn. He gave me a high-five welcome, and we became instant friends. Later I learned he has hundreds of instant friends and probably more people know him than either of the mayors in Sycamore or DeKalb.
While standing in the concession line at a recent Huskies football game, I got a bear hug from behind. It was Shadow, who wanted to share the news he had just been re-elected president of the Kiwanis Aktion Club at Opportunity House, a service group for developmentally disabled adults.
Talking with his mother, Marcia Gentry, I learned his middle name really is Shadow. She said she chose it because it had been his father’s nickname and she wanted something unique, not just another common name. He never uses his first name, so I won’t even include it here. She also confirmed the fact that Shadow has been this exuberant and friendly with everyone he meets since he was a small boy.
After graduating from the special education program at DeKalb High School, Shadow began work at Opportunity House in Sycamore, which provides employment for adults with “intellectual or developmental disabilities.” That was more than 20 years ago, and he has thrived there, spending five days a week at his job, except when he asks for time off to do community service.
Mike O’Brien, a supervisor at Opportunity House and adviser to the Aktion Club, says Shadow has been a great asset to the group.
“He has been the biggest help of all our members,” said O’Brien, and even went to the Kiwanis district conference this year and told others how this service group works, encouraging them to form Aktion clubs in their communities.
His pastor at First Baptist Church in Sycamore, the Rev. Steve Persson, also expressed admiration for Shadow and his outreach efforts, saying how personable he is with others. He has served as an assistant in the children’s department and given the announcements at their third service from time to time.
Shadow’s list of volunteer efforts runs the gamut through both DeKalb and Sycamore, including all three area Kiwanis clubs, working on floats and marching in the Sycamore Pumpkin Festival parade for several years, including last week when he was part of the Aventi Haunted House entry. Last year, he was with the First Baptist Church float and Persson, who has been in the community 38 years, said that more people knew Shadow along the parade route than knew him.
Shadow told me last week he was president of the Aktion Club the first time when it was formed back in 2003 and also mentioned he has been a consistent participant in the Special Olympics, taking part in basketball, softball and soccer. He has traveled with the teams to state competitions and has his share of medals.
Then he reminded me again he has read my book of columns “Hybrid Corn & Purebred People” and wanted to know when to expect another edition. He really knows how to make my day.
• Barry Schrader can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or at P.O. Box 851, DeKalb, IL. 60115. His column appears every other Tuesday on this page.