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Thursday, Oct. 29, 2009 01:40 am

Best of Springfield 2009 continued

PHOTO BY COURTNEY ENLOW

OUTSTANDING SCHOOLTEACHER

Phil Seck

Sacred Heart-Griffin High School

Voted the Best of Springfield is Sacred Heart-Griffin’s freshman English teacher Phil Seck. He is somewhat of a legend for being a bit on the strict side. Is it earned? “If by strict you mean firm, fair, with high expectations, then great. You earn that.” His Best Of voting students agree. “Mr. Seck can be very strict and expects a lot out of you, but if you just shut up and listen you will figure out that he is like that because he cares about his students and wants them to do well.” He got into teaching because he had teachers just like him. “I had a speech teacher in high school who said there were two options for me: comedy or teaching. Without that nudge, I may never have gone into this.” His favorite part of teaching: “When the students’ light bulb goes off and all of a sudden, they get it. It’s theirs.”

HONORABLE MENTION

Meri Havernar

McClernand Elementary

Teaching special needs kids has long been important to Meri Havernar. “In college, I started in speech pathology, and seeing the kids with developmental disabilities, I just wanted to get more involved.” Involved is exactly what she’s been as the K-2 special education teacher at McClernand. In her current class, she teaches 11 kids, with disabilities ranging from learning disorders to cognitive and developmental delays. It certainly takes a strong person to handle the emotional side of this kind of teaching. “The work is so motivating, but can be very emotional because you work so hard for their success and for their families.” To Meri, it’s worth it. “Watching them progress, and eventually move into general education, those little steps to success, it’s exciting.”

HONORABLE MENTION

Jennifer Allender

Owen Marsh Elementary

It is common for people to underestimate special needs children, especially for those who have never spent much time around them. Jennifer Allender is trying to change that. Teaching K-2 special education, Allender teaches a cross-categorical group of kids, a “variety of diverse learners,” and she knows that just because they learn differently or are disabled, it doesn’t make then un-able. “They’re very capable, but in different ways. If you tell me they can’t, I’m going to show you they can.” Luckily, she’s not alone in this. Working with four one-on-one classroom aides, she’s been able to help her students grow through education. “Even when I don’t win, if I can make a difference for one day, make them love learning, it’s worth it.”

HONORABLE MENTION

Josh Lee

Riverton Middle School

In his positions as Riverton Middle School’s P.E. teacher, health teacher, and the head coach of the Riverton High School football team, Josh Lee estimates that he spends around 60 hours a week with his students. “I care about the kids, in and out of school. I spend a lot of time with them and get to know them pretty well.” As well he should. His first eighth-graders are now juniors in high school, and he’s one of the few teachers to get to work with some of them all the way through. “Having kids in two classes and coaching, I see them in the classroom setting and in sports. I see all sides of them, and they see all sides of me. Not many get that chance.”

MOST EFFECTIVE GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEE

Sen. Larry Bomke, R-Springfield

Since he first held elected office at age 21 as a precinct committeeman, Sen. Larry Bomke, R-Springfield, says his job has been to serve the public. Bomke has earned the title of “most effective local government employee” at least twice before, but voters can’t seem to get enough of him. (He beat runner-up Lisa Madigan by almost 90 votes.) Bomke says that he doesn’t have any hobbies because he’s too busy with work, but the job is more than just voting on bills. “A lot of people think all we do is pass legislation,” Bomke says. “But legislation is only about 10 to 15 percent of what we do. The other 80 to 85 percent is public services.” One satisfied constituent says Bomke resolved her problem within one day, adding, “He is a great man, and would help anyone to the best of his ability.”

Runner-up: Sangamon County Sheriff Neil Williamson

OUTSTANDING VOLUNTEER ORGANIZATION

Habitat for Humanity of Sangamon County

habitatsangamon.com, 523-2710

Very few activities have as much positive influence on a community as volunteering, and with Habitat for Humanity of Sangamon County on the scene, the community is in good hands. The group uses volunteer labor to build affordable housing for those in need, typically building about five houses per year. They also have a resale shop specializing in building materials and a program that teaches vocational skills to prison inmates. Executive director Dana Plummer says it feels good to help others. “It’s such a good feeling to do what you love to do and know you’ve touched so many peoples’ lives,” Plummer said. “It really changes their entire lives. It’s an amazing thing.”

Runner-up: Animal Protective League

OUTSTANDING VOLUNTEER

Wes Barr

Hundreds of kids around the city will have Christmas this year because of one man…but it isn’t Santa Claus. For the past five years, Springfield native Wes Barr has coordinated the local Toys for Tots program, for which IT readers voted him “outstanding volunteer” of 2009. Barr says he first got involved because he was impressed with the local Red Cross chapter, and he wanted to do something to help others. The cop and former Marine says the charity distributed more than 15,000 toys last year to kids in low-income homes around the city. But the humble servant refuses to take all the credit. “We have a database of about 200 volunteers,” Barr says. “The number of volunteers that show up every week is impressive. They’re really dedicated to bringing Christmas to kids that otherwise might not have it.”

Runner-up: Butch Elzea

BEST RADIO PERSONALITY

Jim Leach, WMAY

A lot’s changed since readers last bestowed this honor upon WMAY’s morning host. “I have more experience and a few more gray hairs,” says Leach. Well, that, and the whole political changing of the guard, which has been a point of contention within the country, but a godsend for talk radio hosts. “When I started, I was this liberal voice in Bush’s America. Now it’s Barack Obama’s America, and it’s really ramped up the intensity.” No stranger to political shouting matches, Leach has shown his bravery by taking to the Facebook and Twitter, both veritable basements for political fight club-ing. But he has no fear. “Cat fights may break out on the Internet, but we’ve been doing that on the air for years. We broke that ground.” Leach does have one source of lament in these changing times: “We don’t have Blagojevich to kick around anymore.”

Runner-up: Alice FM’s Molson and Josie

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