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Past Heroes – 2008

RARE Everyday Hero Stories


2008 - Cheryl Angelelli
Paralypmic Athlete
2008 - Barbara Koscak
2008 - Mike Fitzpatrick
Business Owner
2008 - John Considine
AP Teacher
2008 - Arnold Weiner
Executive Director- BBYO
2008 - Deborah Culver
Student Success Coordinator
2008 - James Stelter
Business Owner
Everyday Hero
Cheryl Angelelli
Marketing Director/Paralypmic Athlete

About this Everyday Hero

Cheryl Angelelli, of Clinton Township has been selected by the RARE Foundation of Troy as its second 2008 Everyday Hero award recipient.

Disabled at age 14 in a competitive swimming accident, Angelelli overcame her personal tragedy to become an outstanding communications professional, a world-class athlete and an inspiration to thousands. Not bad for someone who was told by doctors immediately following her paralysis that she would never lead "an ordinary life".

Following her rehabilitation, Angelelli returned to Regina High School in her wheelchair, graduated in 1986, attended Macomb Community College and earned her communications degree from Oakland University. Along the way, she was named Ms. Wheelchair of Michigan in 1991 and traveled extensively as a motivational speaker addressing audiences of people with disabilities. In 1998, she returned to competitive swimming, after a fifteen year absence, and two years later qualified for the U.S. Paralympic Team. She competed in both the 2000 Paralympic Games in Sydney and the 2004 Games in Athens where she won two bronze medals for the United States.

She recently won two gold medals at the IPC Swimming World Championships and is currently ranked number one in the world in both the 200-meter and 100-meter freestyle. Along with her husband and personal coach, Shawn Kornoelje, she’s now in training for the U.S. Paralympic Team trials in Minneapolis April 3-5. If victorious, she’ll head for Korea in August to train with the U.S. Paralympic SwimTeam, then on to the Summer Games in Beijing, where this time she hopes to win gold. Just last month, Angelelli was honored by The Michigan Sports Hall of Fame with the Tony Filippis Courage Award.

As Director of Marketing and Public Relations for the DMC Rehabilitation Institute of Michigan (RIM), Angelelli lives what she considers to be her dream job. Many days, she can be found in RIM’s state-of-the-art Brasza Outpatient and Fitness Center monitoring the progress of patients, and more importantly, encouraging and mentoring them through their rehabilitation. A plaque of Angelelli graces the north wall of the Center, as a member of the Michigan Athletes with Disabilities Hall of Fame.

Terry Ahwal Director of Development for RIM and Cheryl’s nominator for the RARE Award said, "Cheryl is not only the spokesperson for the Center, she is our greatest ambassador on behalf of all people with disabilities. She not only coined the phrase ‘Life Without Limitations,’ she lives her life by it every day. Cheryl continues to be an inspiration to so many. She has turned stumbling blocks into stepping stones and tragedy into triumph."

Angelelli will tell you, as she told the audience at the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame in February, "The doctors were right; I would never lead an ordinary life. Instead, I have led an extraordinary life. My wheelchair has taken me places and taught me things about myself that my legs never would have."

Angelelli will be honored, along with this year’s other RARE Award recipients at the Foundation’s annual "Night of Heroes" dinner in September at the Gem Theatre, although there’s a very good chance that she’ll miss the event because she’ll still be in Beijing. RARE Executive Director, Alan Hibbert, said, "It just means there’ll be a few hundred more people back here in Detroit loudly cheering her on."

Everyday Hero
Barbara Koscak
Co-Founder STARBASE/Executive Director

About this Everyday Hero

Barbara Koscak, Co-Founder and Executive Director of STARBASE, Michigan has been selected as the first 2008 recipient of the RARE Foundation’s Everyday Hero Award. As the RARE Foundation’s 50th Everyday Hero Award recipient (since its inception), she received her award in a special halftime ceremony at the Pistons (also celebrating their 50th anniversary) game on February 10th at the Palace of Auburn Hills.

STARBASE, an experience-based aerospace learning environment was developed in 1989 to spark young people’s interest in math, science and technology. Koscak, then a Utica Community Schools teacher, was the driving force along with Selfridge Commander, Brigadier General David Arendts (ret); former F-16 pilot Richard Racosky; and a Wayne State student Rick Simms.

Koscak had been fascinated by space and flight since she was ten; but "little girls" didn’t grow up to be test pilots in the sixties. But she read and studied everything she could anyway, and ultimately decided to become a teacher so that she could inspire young people to pursue their dreams. Once in the classroom however, the reality was that most of her students weren’t the least bit interested in math or science, and hardly any had aspirations for careers in engineering or technology. Raised with a strong bias for action, she couldn’t just sit back and watch, so she started to dream up STARBASE.She approached General Arendts with the idea of creating a reality-based aerospace curriculum at Selfridge around real airplanes (every kid loves planes), and to engage the pilots stationed there to help with the teaching and be the role models. General Arendts then introduced Barbara to Racosky (call sign "Rico") and she met Simms through CAP; together they developed the first STARBASE curriculum to inspire students by immersing them in a real-world aerospace environment.

A three-year grant from the Kellogg Foundation gave the idea legs, and in the summer of 1990, the first STARBASE class was formed. Fifth grade students would come to Selfridge one day a week over a five week period to learn Newton’s laws of motion, the four forces of flight, and Bernoulli’s Principle. Potentially boring stuff until you put it in the context of actual flight simulators, designing and flying model rockets, and being assigned to the crew of a full-scale space station laboratory. The results were so impressive that in 1992, with the support of Michigan Senator Carl Levin, Congress approved federal funding for the first STARBASE at Selfridge under the Department of Defense. A year later, funding was increased to establish STARBASE installations in five states. Today that number has grown to fifty-seven.

The STARBASE curriculum also incorporates the principles of teamwork, goal-setting, and even substance abuse prevention to help students raise their own self-esteem and develop a passion for exploration and tackling the unknown."We focus on 5th and 6th graders," Koscak says, "because that’s the time in their lives when they start to get motivated about what they want to grow up to be. We didn’t want them turned off by science just because it was hard for them."Koscak recalls one of her favorite stories; "Two young boys on break were overheard talking. One said to the other, ‘This is so cool; I wish I could live here, I’d go to school every day of the week’. "That told me were doing it right," she adds. "Educated, motivated children are not only our goal, they’re our future."

Barbara Koscak didn’t become an astronaut, but that hasn’t held her back from flying in an F-16, being honored with the A. Scott Crossfield National Aerospace Educator of the Year Award, and meeting Presidents Reagan and Bush. Alan Shepherd, the first American in space, said this about Barbara: "I have never known a more effective, enthusiastic, professional teacher. Her move’em, motivate’em technique is dynamic". But most important to Barbara Koscak is the fact that STARBASE has helped change the thinking, and in many cases the dreams, of thousands of young people in Michigan and across America.

In announcing the award, Alan Hibbert, Executive Director of the RARE Foundation added this; "Barbara Koscak is a true role model for Michigan’s youth. She embodies all the attributes of an Everyday Hero; doing more than she is asked, giving back more than she takes, and leaving things better than she found them, every day."

Everyday Hero
Mike Fitzpatrick
Owner & President, Fitzpatrick Manufacturing Company

About this Everyday Hero

Mike Fitzpatrick, Owner and President of Fitzpatrick Manufacturing Company in Sterling Heights was named by the RARE Foundation of Troy as its third Everyday Hero Award recipient for 2008. The RARE Award was established in 1998 by Gilbert C. Cox, Jr. to recognize everyday people in the workplace who through extraordinary commitment, compassion and courage are changing lives and inspiring others.

Fitzpatrick was honored for his "employees-first" leadership style that has kept the company consistently viable through troubling times and for the exceptional commitment he has made over the past ten years to mentoring at-risk youth in the Warren community… Belying the stereotype of his position, Mike’s office is an open cubicle; he wears the same uniform as his employees and punches in and out on the Company time clock every day. His describes his personal business philosophy as, "…old-school, demanding and focused- but, it works!"

Fitzpatrick Manufacturing is a full service CNC machining company which specializes in annualized blanket purchase orders and short lead time batch manufacturing of molds, tools, dies and other finished parts. The company has been profitable twenty-nine of the thirty-one years Fitzpatrick has owned it. More significantly, it just completed its highest sales and most profitable quarter in its history.

Mike’s passion for his business is exceeded only by his compassion for young people. Over the past ten years, he’s personally mentored more than forty-five teenagers through the Winning Futures program, based out of Warren, MI, giving unselfishly of his time attending classes with them, providing job-shadowing experience and even hiring some into his co-op program. One such young man was scheduled to do jail time after high school. Instead of giving up on him, Mike interceded with the Judge, hired the teen as a machine operator in the plant and is in the process of helping him turn his life around. Compelling stories like this are repeated frequently under the visionary leadership of this compassionate hero.

Another Fitzpatrick employee with a similarly troubled background was just awarded a scholarship to pursue his Journeyman’s card in CNC machining at Macomb Community College. By doing so, he hopes to advance up the ranks within Fitzpatrick to earn enough money to apply to Detroit’s renowned College of Creative Studies and earn his degree in Transportation Design. In his scholarship essay, the appreciative teen described Mike Fitzpatrick as ‘one of the most profound people in my life.’

"Mike is always there for people, not with a handout, but always with a helping hand," said Kris Marshall, President and CEO of Winning Futures. In 1999 Fitzpatrick was recognized by Winning Futures as Mentor of the Year.

Mike’s advice to young people is straightforward and challenging. "Develop your personal vision then align everything in your life with that vision. Seek out positive people whose interests are aligned with yours and stay away from the people who drain your batteries."

Mike has been recognized with numerous business awards and is an active supporter of his alma mater-Lawrence Technological University. Fitzpatrick will be honored along with this year’s other Everyday Hero Award recipients at the RARE Foundation "Night of Heroes" dinner held annually in September at Detroit’s historic Gem Theatre.

Everyday Hero
John Considine
Advanced Placement English Teacher, Thornapple-Kellogg High School

About this Everyday Hero

If you should find yourself in one of John Considine’s advanced placement English classes, you can be certain of one thing; you will be required to think! "Good writing is so difficult," says the much-traveled Englishman, "because it demands clear thinking."

Mr. Considine moved to Michigan from England as a college student. He spent summers hitchhiking cross-country on a dollar a day, meeting people and gathering real-world experiences that he would later share with the students in his inspiring classroom.

He is considered "old school" by many of his students because his curriculum is rigorous and filled with college-level theories and texts. His ability to catch plagiarizers is legendary. One of his students, Lindsey Wilson, writes of him, "Mr. Considine has become an icon for every student who dreams of something bigger in life than an office and a pension."

"Action removes the doubt that theory alone cannot resolve" is one of John Considine’s most widely used quotations. "It’s not enough to just be aware of an issue," he says. "You must then decide for yourself what the possible responses are; and most important, what positive actions am I willing to take?"

The student-run Environmental Action Council at Thornapple- Kellogg is a prime example of his teachings in action. The students came up with the original idea, but he challenged them to develop a list of at least twenty actionable steps to which they would commit for the cause of a better environment. Their response resulted in an initiative that has brought positive results to the school and their community.

Mr. Considine is passionate about the need for quality education and is working through his church on a way to extend the idea of the Kalamazoo Promise, where every child who graduates from high school receives a college scholarship to his or her local community. Considine says, he’d like to see a Michigan Promise for every child in our State, someday.

Lindsey Wilson, Thornapple-Kellogg High School graduate, nominated Considine for the RARE Foundation’s Everyday Hero Award. She wrote, "John Considine is guaranteed to change your life. As a leader both inside and outside of the school setting, he has inspired me to live my life to the fullest, to pursue even my seemingly unrealistic dreams and to fight with passion for causes both great and small."

Every Friday at the end of class, he reminds his students that "whatever situation you find yourself in, ask if it will bring value, meaning and dignity to your life."

Everyday Hero
Arnold Weiner
Executive Director- BBYO

About this Everyday Hero

As a graduate student at the University of Michigan, Arnold Weiner was hired as Assistant Regional Director of BBYO in 1969, the year that Neil Armstrong took his famous one giant leap for mankind. B’nai B’rith is an international Jewish organization founded in the 1920’s. One of its goals is to develop the next generation of leaders through camping, fellowship, education and the lessons of tolerance and diversity.

Arnold Weiner has been an effective guardian of this mission for thirty-nine years, and now he is retiring. One job, one organization, one focus; not many of us can make that claim these days, especially in these times where commitment has been defined as ordering a pizza an hour in advance.

"I looked forward to coming to work every day", says Arnold, who has quietly and with dignity done just about everything that needed to be done, from licking stamps to leading international excursions for his students. He has always viewed his work as a blessed opportunity to make a difference and change lives. He recalls with a smile many of the small things, like all the times his kids would leave school over the lunch hour to come across the street and share conversations with him.

"Young people are always looking for a place where they can be who they are and where they can find that important other person to fill out the gaps in their lives. I’ve felt privileged to be one of those people."

His greatest memories are of taking groups to Poland for the March of the Living and to Bulgaria following the fall of the Iron Curtain. "These are experiences that stay with young people for a lifetime; learning in such a context is indelible."

Arnold Weiner was nominated for the RARE Foundation Everyday Hero Award by the current President of the B’nai B’rith youth chapter, Zachary Berlin. In Zac’s scholarship-winning essay, he recalls the positive influence that Arnold Weiner has had on his life in this way:

"My four years in this organization have come and will soon be gone, but the subtle lessons Arnie has taught me will stay with me for an eternity. After thirty-nine years of creating inspirational programs, dealing with teen issues and encouraging Jewish teens to find their identity, I can’t thank him enough for making a difference, for taking the time, and for throwing the starfish back into the ocean."

Everyday Hero
Deborah Culver
Student Success Coordinator, Swartz Creek High School

About this Everyday Hero

As counselor, advisor and friend to students at risk of failing to graduate, Deborah Culver brings extraordinary compassion to her job in a community where "at-risk" is a way of life to so many.

One of her many innovations to bring inspiration and hope to Swartz Creek’s diverse student body is "Peers Who Care", a program where successful students both tutor and mentor those who are challenged academically and in other ways. She trains and mentors students in the art of peer-counseling and instills in them a sense of pride that through selflessness, they can make a positive change in the world. Her underlying belief is that by first becoming peers who care they will ultimately become people who care.

The compassionate Ms. Culver was instrumental in bringing "Challenge Day" to Swartz Creek, fighting diligently for the necessary funding because she believed that diversity training was badly needed to bring the student body closer together. Because she stuck to her conviction, student violence is down, school pride is high and she is considered a pioneer in making her school a safer, happier place.

Deborah Culver has left her footprint on the greater Flint Community as well through her role as Director of Club SCCAT (Swartz Creek Cares About Teens). SCCAT is a youth club located at the local Methodist Church that provides its youth with a safe place to hang out. Through her diligence, SCCAT is one of the most popular and celebrated youth programs in the community.

Brock Veehnuis is a Swartz Creek graduate and one of Deborah’s peer tutors, a participant of Challenge Day and President of Peers Who Care, and also was the individual who nominated her for the RARE Award. Brock says, "She is an Everyday Hero and a true difference-maker in the Swartz Creek community because she goes above and beyond what her job entails to brighten the lives of others and ensure that their future will be brighter than they ever imagined."

In her own modest way she describes herself as "merely a human being who cares." She offers this advice to young people about connecting the dots in their own life. "The first thing is to make sure you’ve got plenty of dots out there to connect. In other words, take chances and build all the relationships you can."

Everyday Hero
James Stelter
Founder & CEO, StelterPartners – Grand Rapids, MI

About this Everyday Hero

James Stelter founded StelterPartners in 2003 after a successful, twenty-five year sales and marketing career with Steelcase. Satisfied that he had achieved his goals in the corporate world, he turned to his entrepreneurial side and started his own company to design and manufacture low-to-medium cost educational furniture and mobile storage systems. After five years, the company is established and growing and doing some great things for downtown Grand Rapids.

Stelter’s company is deeply committed to bringing back business to the marginal areas of Grand Rapids. In just five years, he has bought and renovated three buildings and created exciting working environments and created hundreds of jobs, including many for the disadvantaged.

Among his company’s core values are words like Bold, Good and Community; and Jim Stelter definitely "walks his talk." He encourages his employees to act on their own, rewarding smart decisions that solve problems and benefit customers. He stresses responsibility to one another, both at work and at home; and he makes sure that his employees engage with the community by sponsoring a different company outreach project every quarter with such community partners as Mel Trotter Ministries and Goodwill Industries.

The Grand Rapids community and the State of Michigan have recognized Jim Stelter as one of its heroes as well. In 2007, he received the Employer Achievement Award from the Michigan Commission for the Blind.

Jim was nominated for the RARE Foundation’s Everyday Hero Award through an essay submitted by Plymouth Christian High School student, Collin Elliott. Collin has worked at StelterPartners as a summer intern unpacking and assembling desks and chairs. Jim requires this of all new employees so that, "…they will learn to do the very basic, foundational work with the same excellence that will be required of them when they become responsible for more important work."

Collin, who is headed to Grand Rapids Community College this fall, was inspired by the spirit of his fellow employees and by the personal interest that Jim Stelter took in each and every employee. In his scholarship-winning essay, Collin wrote this about his Everyday Hero:

"One of the best things about Mr. Stelter is that he tries to help all his people get an equal chance in life…He’s one of the greatest men I have ever met…never thinking just about himself, only about others. While he has accomplished much more in his life than most ordinary men, he is still that ordinary man."