By Steve Robinson | March 31, 2011 - 10:05 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite

Steve RobinsonI have to begin this column with an apology and an explanation of sorts. That is hardly the best way to begin a column I know, but I think, if you’ll bear with me, it will be understandable to all why I am starting this way.

Since beginning this column last fall, I have short-changed my alma mater, University High, one of Illinois State University’s two lab schools. I’ve short-changed U-High in terms of the press it should have been getting. I have bounced between Unit 5’s junior highs and high schools and had not been able to get back to U-High in this column but once – way back in October! – and I hope folks who support and attend U-High will excuse my not getting around to them sooner.

But let me tell you: There is plenty to celebrate in Pioneer-land these days. For one thing, Ruth Stroud Auditorium, closed since the end of the 2008-2009 school year for renovation is reopening this weekend with the school’s spring play. And the production U-High Theatre Teacher Sue Thetard had in mind is, to my thinking, adventurous. But as she sees it, it came at the right time and she, her students, and the renovated auditorium are ready for it.

April 8, 9, and 10, U-High will present Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Phantom Of The Opera.”

When I first got wind of what U-High was debuting the Stroud revamp with Webber’s “Phantom Of The Opera,” — a tale about a disfigured musical genius who terrorizes an opera house for the benefit of an unsuspecting protégé whom he loves and is training – I was left wondering about the choice. But Thetard reassured me there was good timing and good instincts involved in the selection of the drama.

As for the grand re-opening for the auditorium, Thetard said there was still some tweaking needed before she can say the renovation is finished. They will open on April 8 with an opening “gala,” for all those who have contributed, as Thetard explains, “either financially, or structurally through the University. They are invited, as our guests to the gala opening, which is also the opening of the auditorium.”

Thetard said that, together with her technical director Terry Dawson; and vocal and orchestra directors, Jason Landes and Christine Corpus, respectfully, they decided for something different to present to the public for Stroud’s coming-out celebration.

“The four of us looked at light comedy and so forth,” Thetard said. “But, as we sat discussing it, we said we wanted to do something that no one else in the area had done. We were asking ourselves, ‘what could we do?’”

Thetard further explained: “Lo and behold, the next day, Rogers and Hammerstein Theatricals, who own the rights to the musicals” came out saying they were offering “Phantom Of The Opera” to junior colleges and high schools.

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s corporation was licensing the release of the play through Rogers and Hammerstein, Thetard explained.

Up to this point, Rogers and Hammerstein music had only been available to national touring companies, not high school or junior college productions, Thetard said. That offer to high schools intrigued Thetard and company.

“As for the show itself, there’s very little tweaked in it,” Thetard said. “Musically, it is pretty much still the same. There are some things in terms of staging that we have simplified.”

When Thetard pitched the idea of doing “Phantom” to her students, she discovered that she and some of them had discovered the production’s availability simultaneously, and were asking about doing it in emails to her.

That was all it took — She said her charges were excited to do the production. In fact, “Phantom” is playing currently in New York City. A number of U-High Chorus students were in New York on a school-sponsored trip recently and were able to see it performed live there.

Dr. Jeffrey Hill, U-High’s Principal, said he trusted Thetard’s instincts and judgment regarding her selection of spring production.

“She knows her kids well and yes, it’s one of those situations that is ambitious,” Hill said. “But I think we have ambitious kids and because it is the reopening of Stroud, I think there’s a desire to kick it off with a bang.”

When folks settle in for an ambitious production, they will also be taking in a renovated auditorium.

The old Stroud Auditorium had a maximum of 750 seats and some cushioned folding chairs that could be added if more seats were needed. It was, with stairs separating every aisle, hardly considered handicapped accessible. Thetard said the new configuration is totally accessible and in the process of making it so, the auditorium only lost about 25 seats that it had before. There is handicapped access for performers, as well, Thetard said.

In an email to me, Dr. Robert Dean, Superintendent of ISU’s Lab Schools, said ISU’s Board of Trustees budgeted $2.7 million to renovate Stroud during its two-year closing. Dean said “the total cost will be very near that number.”

Dean added, “I’m very thankful that Illinois State University included Stroud on its capital projects list as this renovation was sorely needed. The new Stroud is visually and artistically appealing and will once again be an outstanding performance venue for our students.”

I have no doubt that the new Stroud will be a far cry from its predecessor, but, if you’re reading about the renovation and are concerned about comfort in the new seats, Hill assures me the new seats are bigger and a little roomier than the old seats were. Normally, such productions can rehearse in the space where it will be seen. But with Stroud receiving finishing touches, Thetard said the production has had to rehearse in one of the larger third floor classrooms or the school lounge while waiting for opening night.

“We’ve been kind of nomadic,” Thetard said of her cast of wandering thespians. “We go wherever there’s space.

The cast and crew did finally, recently, get some rehearsal time in Stroud. According to Thetard, “The minute the kids got on the stage for the first time during rehearsals, they just suddenly and finally, had a sense of being ‘home.’”

It’s a good bet anyone who had been in the old Stroud Auditorium before who is going to any of the “Phantom” performances this weekend will have the same feeling: That they have arrived at a remodeled theatre home U-High has been looking forward to for two long years.

As they say in the theatre to wish performers luck…”break a leg,” Pioneers!! My best to all in the cast and in the audience this weekend.

By Steve Robinson | March 27, 2011 - 10:30 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite

Steve RobinsonThere is a new fundraising event coming to the Twin Cities this weekend, and it was planned by and will have teens from local high schools involved in it. It is a high school Relay For Life event, which will be held on the track around Bloomington High School’s football field from 6p.m. Friday, April 1 through to 6a.m. Saturday, April 2.

This new event came about because organizers for the Relay For Life of McLean County event, held on the last Friday and Saturday of June, noticed not many students were active in that event, explained Myra Hornibrook, Income Development Representative for the American Cancer Society (ACS) in Peoria.

“The managers of the American Cancer Society, together with the organizers of the county event saw the potential for students for this event when they saw high schoolers weren’t really getting involved with the community-wide event,” Hornibrook said. “We saw that a separate event for teens had potential for getting them to this kind of rally for this cause.

“It was thought they would show a little more interest in an event that was more directed toward them,” Hornibrook said.

“There was no objection to the regular June event from the kids,” Hornibrook said. “The high school students just wanted something a little more geared toward them. It would have a different kind of feel from the regular event, and it would be geared a little more toward them. The American Cancer Society thought we could get a little more interest that way.”

Hornibrook said ACS began the process for this event by talking to administrators from all the Twin City high schools in October and November, getting them on board first. “All the schools seemed to be willing to get their students involved in the event,” Hornibrook said. “After winter break, it was then that we started getting involved with the students.”

The teen event has five co-chairs, representing three of the five local high schools, who are planning this year’s event. The Co-Chairs (and their schools) are: Laura Verplaetse (BHS); Kyle O’Daniel (BHS); Anna Fritz (University High); and Erin Coppersmith and Adam Woodside (NCHS). Hornibrook said she hopes Normal Community West High and Bloomington Central Catholic will have a representative on the organizing committee for 2012’s Teen Relay.

Hornibrook said ACS is looking for between 20-25 teams, of between 8-12 students each, for this inaugural event. There are between 12-15 people on a team at the regular Relay event in June. And at the teen event, as with the one in June, each team member raises a minimum of $100 (they can and are encouraged to raise more beyond the minimum, of course). Hornibrook explained team member numbers will be more manageable with a smaller number of people on each team. Each team must have at least one person walking the track at all times during the 12-hour event. In the case of a teen Relay, Hornibrook explained, it is operated like an old-fashioned “lock-in” event – the kind that were around when I was in school – starting at 11p.m. Friday, Relay participants will not be allowed to leave until its conclusion.

Hornibrook said the reasons for students becoming involved with the teen event are much the same reasons the adults have for joining the county event: Either a relative or friend has had Cancer, or they knew someone who is surviving it, or knew someone who passed away from it.

She also explained that some students join because “a couple of these students have parents who are involved in the McLean County event. But for the most part, a lot of students do know somebody who has Cancer, or has had Cancer and the whole team is kind of rallying around that person. And there will be students there who have had Cancer who are joining, too.”

There will be all the regular trimmings associated with the regular McLean County Relay, including a Luminaria ceremony. A Luminaria is a bag with a lit candle inside to remember a Cancer survivor or a person who has succumbed to it. During the ceremony, while Relay team members walk the track, those who had Luminaria bags purchased in their honor will have their names read aloud over the school stadium’s public address system.

In full disclosure here, I know a little something about the McLean County event because I have been involved with it since 2001 after a very dear friend of mine, Darci, survived Cancer. After that first event, I volunteered to be on the Publicity Committee to help get the word out through the local media. It seemed the most logical fit. I have been with it ever since, so this new event seems exciting to me.

“Mostly, what we’re trying to focus most of our energy on is to create a really fun event,” Hornibrook said. “We’re definitely focusing on fundraising and encouraging everyone to fund raise, and that’s the biggest part of the event, obviously with the American Cancer Society. But the second part to this would definitely be trying to make this a fun event.

“The Chicago suburbs have had high school events for quite some time,” Hornibrook said. “So we’re definitely using their expertise and structure to build this event.”

“We want them to be sure to enjoy it, because most of them have never been to a Relay before,” Hornibrook said. She said she hopes this event will peak the interest of the students to have the desire to become involved in helping to either get more teams together or decide to join the organizing committee for the 2012 Teen Relay.

I will check the event out, and find out how it turns out. In the meantime, my column next week will deal with the two-year renovation, and re-opening of Ruth Stroud Auditorium at University High next weekend, as the theatre department presents “Phantom Of The Opera” on April 8 and 9.

Town of NormalNORMAL – Concern over the prospect of a large-scale event where students would be consuming alcohol prompted Normal Town Council members to amend the Town Liquor Code at the group’s regular meeting Monday night at City Hall.

In light of an unofficial party, being promoted by students on the social networking site Facebook called “Fool’s Fest,” and scheduled for the weekend of April 1, Council members passed an ordinance which tacked on an amendment to the Town Liquor Code. The ordinance would allow the Town Liquor Commissioner – the Town’s Mayor – to issue temporary emergency orders regulating, restricting or prohibiting the sale of alcoholic liquor. The ordinance would allow the Liquor Commissioner to restrict alcoholic liquor wherever an emergency exists or is reasonably anticipated.

Under the amendment to the liquor code, the Liquor Commissioner, prior to issuing such orders must first specify the nature and extent of the emergency. The emergency orders would be in effect for a period no longer than 48 hours. An additional emergency order could be issued which would tack another 48 hours onto the ban from there.

The ordinance becomes effective 10 days after its publication. Koos can, at anytime of the day or night, put it into effect.

“This ordinance is in response to an event that is centered around alcohol consumption,” Mayor Chris Koos said, explaining the Town has consulted with the City of Champaign, which passed a similar ordinance.

Council member Sonja Reece asked if, in this time of instant communication, what method would be used to notify liquor stores and other establishments if and when the new ordinance were to be put into effect. City Manager Mark Peterson said notices would be sent via U. S. Mail to establishments where there was time before an event, as well as using email and even having Normal Police officers hand-deliver notices.

Depending on the circumstances, not all license-holders could receive notices, Peterson said, adding that, depending on the circumstance, notices could be sent to license holders just within a certain geographic part of the Town, or perhaps to a specific class of license holder.

If there were violations during an emergency period, liquor license holders would be brought before the Normal Liquor Commission, explained Wayne Karplus, Town Deputy Corporation Counsel.

Illinois State University President Al Bowman sent a letter to students notifying them about an upgrade in enforcing underage drinking laws.

“This is serious business,” Peterson said. “This isn’t fun and games. When you talk about gathering thousands of young people together for the sole purpose of drinking and acting like fools, the promoters of Fools’ Fest are acting irresponsibly.”

Peterson said there are a number of people involved in making sure there will be a safe environment for people if this event does occur. “There is a lot community disruption that could be created by such an event, and we take this very seriously.”

Four Properties Rezoned: Council unanimously approved rezoning of four properties along a small stretch of College Ave. The four properties are: 1112, 1114, 1116, and 1118 W. College Ave. Town staff discovered the four properties were all considered single family residential until 1978.

But in February, Council members initiated a Zoning Map Amendment to change the zoning on the four properties to Single Family Residential. The Town received a letter from local developer Ed Brady asking that one of the residences, 1114 W. College Ave., be rezoned because four unrelated people live there. The code change Brady wants would bring his property in line with the remaining three.

Liquor Commission Renews Licenses, Issues Fine: Council members, acting as the Normal Liquor Commission, voted to renew all licenses and entertainment permits which had been applied for. The Town renewed 52 businesses seeking renewal of liquor licenses; 7 applicants seeking renewal of catering licenses; 7 businesses seeking renewal of licenses for outdoor gardens or sidewalk cafes; 10 businesses seeking renewal of wine tasting licenses; 1 business seeking renewal of a pari-mutuel betting parlor license; and 6 businesses seeking renewal of entertainment permits.

The Town has 58 businesses licensed to sell liquor in town, including two hotels, one brewpub, and one stadium.

Liquor Commissioners also imposed a $250 fine on Pizza Hut of America, 1501 N. Main St. for a first offense, as a result of a Town Liquor Audit held Feb. 10.

Omnibus Agenda Items Approved: Omnibus agenda items approved by the Council included:

• Approval of minutes of the Regular Meeting of March 7, 2011.

• Approval of Town of Normal expenditures for payment as of March 7, 2011.

• A motion to waive the formal bidding process and accept a quote from Chenoa-based Union Roofing Co. for replacement of the roof on the Town Water Department garage in the amount of $25,520.

• A motion to accept bids and approve a contract with Bloomington-based Mid-Illinois Mechanical, Inc. in the amount of $83,799 for the 2011 Sump Pump Drainage Project.

• A motion to accept a bid from Peoria Heights-based Wyman Roofing in the amount of $65,000 for replacement of the Police Department roof.

• A motion to reject a bid for a roof replacement at the Town Facility Management Building, located at 207 S. Linden.

• A motion to accept bids and authorize the purchase of a fork lift truck for the Town Public Works Waste Removal Division from Mackinaw-based Fitzgerald Equipment Co., Inc. in the amount of $22,951.

• A motion to approve a semi-annual salary schedule adjustment for classified employees.

• A motion initiating zoning map amendments in the Town of Normal – 900 S. Linden (Underwood House) and property north of Enterprise and west of Wylie Dr. (Bloomington-Normal Public Transit System, Lot 8).

• A resolution authorizing an agreement for construction materials testing services for the 2011 construction season with Bloomington-based Testing Service Corporation (TSC).

• A resolution authorizing execution of closing agreement on final determination – Lincoln University Education Facilities Revenue Bonds.

• A resolution conditionally approving a final plat for the Weber Farm by Expedited Process (Verizon cell tower, Fort Jesse Rd.).

• A conditional resolution partially approving a final plat for the BroMenn Healthcare Subdivision 2nd Addition (Prospect Houses).

• An ordinance authorizing the publication of a zoning map.

• An ordinance amending Division 16, Chapter 25 of the Town Municipal Code – Parks and Recreation Fees.

By Steve Robinson | - 10:50 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite

Steve RobinsonNormal Community High’s run to become the best in the State on the hardwood fell short in Peoria’s Carver Arena on March 19. Head Coach Dave Witzig’s troops may have come in fourth in the state, but on Sunday, March 20, the Ironmen were treated as hometown stars at a post-season celebration reception in the school cafeteria.

Players, parents, and some fans gathered to hear from Athletic Director Andy Turner, Witzig, and any of the players who wanted to say a few words.

What I could not recall before the ceremony started was how long it had been since the Ironmen’s last appearance in an attempt to get to State. Alan Chapman, former NCHS Principal reminded me.

In 1976, “We got to the Super-Sectional,” Chapman said. At that time, Chapman was NCHS’ Dean of Students. I would have been a sophomore at University High.

“I was just thrilled for all the kids,” Chapman said. “They’ve worked hard all year. They’ve played hard. The coaching staff did a great job, preparing them to do their best job. It’s great for the school, great for the community to have that kind of success.”

Comparing today’s team with the kids back then, Chapman said, “The kids back then were strong and fast, but these kids today were stronger and faster.”

Dr. Jeanette Nuckolls, NCHS Principal, mentioned how proud she was of the team, but she went further. She said she sat with members of the Illinois High School Association Board of Directors at the game. “I just heard numerous compliments, not only about the members of our school who were on the basketball court, but also the members of our student body and our community.”

She said she was complimented on what a “class act” the student body was during their time in Peoria. “This might be the first time (for getting to the State Finals),” she said, turning to the team, “But it certainly won’t be the last.”

“It’s been a great run for our boys’ basketball team this year,” Turner said. “We’ve enjoyed a great run with these young gentlemen…The friendships, the loyalty, and the cooperation that each of them have devoted to each other for the last five months has evolved into the most successful season in Normal Community Boys’ basketball.”

Turner added the characteristics shown to pull the team through to their State appearance would remain with them for the rest of their lives. That is a nice thought, and I hope these young men prove Turner right.

Witzig joked with the roughly 200 people gathered for the celebration he was likely to spend a little time sitting in a lawn chair, watching his young kids play now that the season is over. For him, that seems like proper recovery for a man who did numerous interviews while the team was in Peoria during State Finals.

“The thing people asked me over and over again was ‘did you expect to be here?,’” Witzig explained. He said after NCHS’ Class of 2010’s seniors exited, the coaching staff wondered what kind of players they would have this season.

Witzig told the crowd that someone recently asked him,”who’s going to replace these guys?” He said this season was a complete team effort because the sophomores and juniors also stepped up for the cause to make the season a success.

“In a school of 2,000 students, the basketball team is the 12 or 13 best players at our school,” Witzig told the gathering. “This year, it happened to be five seniors, five juniors, and three sophomores, and we came together. Sometimes, it’s not easy to put three different classes together and play together, but, we did a great job and I was very proud of our team.”

“I just want to say thank you for all the support we had this year,” senior forward Anthony Goodar told the audience. “It was really fun.”

Goodar’s statement was short and to the point and said what the fans who attended games probably felt, too: They also had a good time watching these boys climb their way to State this season.

“I also want to say thanks to my teammates and coaches sitting up here,” Senior guard Brent Turner said. “Because without everyone sitting up here, we wouldn’t have made it as far as we did.”

The ceremony’s most poignant moment came not from a player but from a man who has served as chauffer to the players – bus driver Frank Bins.

Bins, 71, is a State Farm retiree, who has been serving as team driver for the last eight years. Bins was choking back his emotions when he told the crowd the three days he had spent driving the team back-and-forth from Peoria, and from the team hotel to Carver Arena “were three of the greatest days of my life.”

Bins choked back tears as he thanked Turner for the opportunity to be able to drive the team to their games. Bins called the players he had spent the season shuttling “the most gentlemanly group of kids” he has had the chance to know. “Not once did they ever forget to say ‘thank you’ before getting off the bus,” Bins said. “They’re a great bunch and you will go a long way in life, young men.” Turner thanked Bins and added a thank you for Frank Becker, the team’s official scorekeeper, who also was present.

Before we knew that NCHS’ Class 4A Boys basketball team would reach as high as 4th Place in IHSA Finals last weekend, I decided to take the pulse of the fans who had gathered to watch the Ironmen in their Super-Sectional at Redbird Arena on March 15.

Witzig said playing at Redbird Arena was the highlight of the season for him because of all the NCHS fan support that poured out to see the Ironmen try for a win “at home” in a bigger facility.

There were your usual spectators: Students, parents, other interested fans and fans cheering for the opposing team from Crete-Monee. All of them were very vocal prior to and during the game. All of them were vigorously cheering for their respective sides.

Tomeka Boddie, mother of Ironmen sophomore guard Callen Boddie, admitted prior to the beginning of the game against the Warriors to being “very nervous for the team,” she said. “I’m also excited because, I hear, we haven’t been past the regionals in years. So, I’m very excited for the boys. They’ve worked really hard.”

Boddie said that amongst the parents, the Ironmen’s success “has just been a big surprise. It’s been exciting for us because we’ve never gotten this far. This is also the first year that Callen has played varsity, so he’s never gotten beyond this point, either.”

Getting a brief view of how family members hear about team goings-on was interesting. Tomeka didn’t spill anything confidential, but she did paint a small portrait of what the players and their families must have been thinking as Witzig’s boys marched on through the playoffs. It’s a point-of-view I had not had the chance to ask about before. I am glad I did.

Tomeka said her son “didn’t underestimate the team,” she said. “They work pretty hard. They work really hard during practices on everything.”

Fans inside Redbird Arena at the Super-Sectional got to see that hard work pay off, as the Ironmen polished off Crete-Monee, 59-48.

There was one guy in the stands who, on the surface, looked out of place at an NCHS game. But his reasons for being there became clear once I talked to him. First off, he was wearing a Normal Community West High School windbreaker. He said he was trying to make sure his wife knew he was sitting, waiting for her, in Section J, Row 1, Seats 1 and 2. That man was Normal West High Baseball Coach Chris Hawkins.

There was open seating for the Super-Sectional. All one needed to do was buy a ticket. That partially explains Hawkins’ presence, but I will let him speak for himself here. “First of all, I live right by Normal Community. My wife teaches there. My stepson went to school at Normal. I love basketball. I love Redbird Arena, and when you can sit anywhere you want, what a game to come to.”

Karrin Hawkins, Chris’ wife, is a counselor at NCHS.

Hawkins said he knew some of the Crete-Monee football players. He reminded me about the Warriors football team’s win over Normal West last fall. Personally, I try to not hang onto those memories if I can help it, but for a coach, it may not be that easy.

Hawkins said he would have liked to see Normal West’s Wildcats do well enough to be where NCHS found themselves last weekend.

Wouldn’t we all, either in school or in our professions, like to find ourselves shooting to be on top?

By Steve Robinson | March 20, 2011 - 10:41 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite

Star of DavidNORMAL – If he could avoid it, Joe Koek didn’t speak of his pre-teen years growing up in The Netherlands in the early 1940s. To do so would evoke painful memories of hiding from and losing a number of family members to German Nazis.

Born in The Hague, Netherlands, he was the son of a tailor father and a mother who was a manicurist. He has two sisters, and in their youth, the family lived above their father’s shop.

Koek, now 80, said his family’s life went undisturbed until May 1940 when German Nazis invaded Holland. After that, life changed. Nazis imposed a curfew on Jewish residents and mandated they wear a Star of David on their clothing so they could be easily identified in case they were stopped by authorities.

He spoke before a group of 120 people, including a group of 28 students from the Centennial Academic Club of El Paso Grade School, in a large classroom inside Heartland Community College’s Community Commons Building on March 16. It was the first of two lectures Koek would deliver that day to tell of his young life in hiding.

Ed Schupbach, an instructor who teaches classes in religion and music at HCC, applied for and received grants that helped pave the way for Koek’s appearance. He said he had heard Koek speak previously, and felt that “first hand accounts of this experience are disappearing,” and because of that, needed to continue to be told.

Koek said his odyssey of being hidden from Nazis began in August 1942 when his family received a letter telling them to report to the local train station to be transported to German camps.

Within the next 24 hours, Koek said his father arranged for his children to be picked up and taken to a farm used as a safe house.

There first safe house was a Montissori School, where Koek and his sisters stayed in hiding, in silence, in a room above the school, only to come for meals after all the students had left. Koek said his older sister, one year his senior, had taught him needlepoint as a silent activity to pass the time while in hiding, so as not to give themselves away.

“When I say we had to be quiet, that meant we couldn’t even walk with shoes on,” Koek said, explaining, particularly to the children in the room that absolute silence, though uncommon from school-age children, became the norm, so as not to be detected.

His parents were arrested by authorities in October 1942, put on trains bound for the Auschwitz Concentration Camps, where they both died.

Koek explained the Resistance found out about Koek’s parents’ fate, and moved him from the school to a second safe house in the Netherlands community of Zevenhvizen. He and his sisters were separated from one another as a result of that move. From there, he moved a third time to live with a Protestant family on a farm in the town of Groningen. As a result, he attended a Christian school there.

He learned to perform many chores on the farm, Koek said. But after an accident on the farm, he was hospitalized with a broken leg. He was laid up for six weeks, as a result. As it turned out, Koek’s injury was a lucky circumstance, because, two days after he was hospitalized, Gestapo soldiers arrived in town.

“Had I been on the farm at that time, they would have shot me,” Koek said.

Koek, now a father of three and grandfather of four, said episodes like his being in the hospital at such a moment is one of “a lot of good mysteries in my life.”

JOE KOEKAmong those good mysteries: Being undetected by the head of the hospital’s childrens’ ward – who was a Nazi — while Koek recovered from the broken leg. “But since I had been changing my name at every safe house, the hospital official never knew I was Jewish,” Koek said.

Koek made one more move to evade Nazi soldiers, to the town of Oosterzee, where he lived until the war ended in 1945. At Oosterzee, he was liberated by French Canadian soldiers. The Red Cross and Dutch authorities managed to reunite him with his sisters.

He was in an orphanage in the town of Hilversum until he turned 21. He even served in the Dutch Army briefly during the Korean War.

Koek said the Red Cross informed him that his parents had died at Auschwitz. “I didn’t believe it,” he said was his first reaction to hearing the news. “I’m one of those folks who has to see to believe, but as time goes by, you have to realize the truth.”

Currently living in Chicago, Koek told his audience he wants to write a children’s book regarding the experience.

He said he was encouraged to tell his story by the director of Illinois Holocaust Museum and Educational Center after the director gave a speech at Koek’s synagogue.

Koek said he was reluctant to share his experiences. He said the director told him, “But Joe, you must.”

“Ever since then, I haven’t shut up,” Koek said, a comment that produced laughter from the audience.

“What this story tells us is that there are people who hate other people so much that they will kill them,” Koek said. “This story also tells us there is another group of people who will do anything help others.”

Then, looking around the room, starting with children from El Paso, then moving to meet every face in the room, Koek added, “I hope you will be part of the second group.”

During a question-and-answer session following his remarks, Koek said before the Holocaust, his relatives numbered 60. Afterward, only nine were left. He was asked if he had ever visited or wanted to visit a concentration camp. He said he has not, because “it would be like visiting a cemetery.”