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Thumbs up to Mary Nell Chew of Carbondale, no, make that two thumbs up. Wanting to do something to honor the veterans in her family, Chew offered her services as a guardian on a Veterans Honor Flight of Southern Illinois. When she was told she was too old, Chew didn’t get vindictive. She dug into her pocketbook. She paid for an entire flight by herself, an $83,000 donation, deciding the donation would not only honor the veterans in her family, but create memories for other veterans. “I realized recently what an opportunity it would be to give people a chance to go instead of just talking about it. I decided I’d just do something,” she said. Chew’s selflessness is nothing short of awe-inspiring.

Thumbs up to Carbondale’s Corene McDaniel for her continued research into the service of African-American soldiers during the War Between the States. While visiting her father’s grave at the Mound City National Cemetery, headstones with the abbreviation USCT (United States Colored Troops) caught her eye. In the last year, McDaniel has walked the cemetery, plotting the location of more than 350 USCT graves, hoping her records will be added to the cemetery museum’s directory and making the graves easier to find for history buffs or family members. But, McDaniel doesn’t want to stop there. “I’m interested in the contribution that was made,” she said. “There may be so many people that do not know the role they played. In the Civil War, we’re thinking about slavery and not necessarily the sacrifice these soldiers made.” Amen. History tells us that about 200,000 African-Americans served in the Union army during the war, 40,000 of whom were killed in the fight for freedom. Their story needs to be told, especially during his time of racial and political polarization. “It’s an experience that gives you goosebumps,” McDaniel said. “It is so wonderful to walk here peacefully and know that all these soldiers, colored and noncolored, have served this country.” What a concept – all of us working together for a better United States.

Thumbs up to Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s annual International Festival. The festival kicked off earlier this week with students from dozens of countries parading under the flags of their home countries. If the United States every needed a reminder of the strength of diversity, it’s right now. SIUC interim chancellor John Dunn noted there are students from about 100 countries attending SIU. “A university cannot be a truly great university until it’s an international university,” he said. “Thank you for sharing your cultures, your languages, your knowledge and who you are.” That’s an astute observation. A college education is more about taking notes in a lecture, about regurgitating information during finals week. For many young men and women, especially from rural areas, the college experience is the first time they are exposed to different languages, foods and experiences. Many students will forget formulas they memorized or theories they learned, but being exposed to another culture is an unforgettable experience.

Thumbs up to Jackson-Union County Habitat for Humanity, or as Jaylen Quarterman said, “God bless Habitat for Humanity. I want to thank them for this opportunity.” The organization turned over its newest home, located in Carbondale, to Quarterman, his wife and their four children. The home wasn’t an outright gift, the Quartermans had put more than 300 hours of sweat equity into the home. Habitat for Humanity Homes are built by volunteers without federal or state funding. Jamie Perryman, president of the local chapter, said the group is currently looking for its next homeowner. When that person is chose they will determine whether the home will be built in Murphysboro or Carbondale.

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