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South Chicago rallies with Neil Bosanko

Neil Bosanko is a man on a mission.

The longtime neighborhood activist is out to tie up loose ends from the 35-plus years of projects he’s worked on in his Southeast Chicago neighborhood.

So rather than turn inward, as many might after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, he’s made a list of things that need to get done in case his chemotherapy doesn’t take.

Photo: NCP file photo

Honored as an NCP Community Hero in 2008, Neil Bosanko unofficially held that status for many years for his work on everything from retail development to school reform.

On May 14, a large number of Neil’s friends and supporters filled the Neil Bosanko Auditorium at Bowen High School, 2710 E. 89th St., both to wish him well and to hear what’s on his list. 

“There are several projects that I am currently working on,” he explained in his regular column in the Southeast Observer newspaper, adding that he’s asking folks to “join me on this last journey … to help me ensure that all of the work that I did over the decades would not end up in vain.”

That will never happen, say his friends, because Neil’s many projects have either been accomplished … or are on their way to completion as part of the plans and processes he helped set in motion.  One such is South Chicago: Change on the Horizon –the 2007 LISC/NCP quality-of-life plan Bosanko helped write as executive director of the South Chicago Chamber of Commerce.

A fighter
Those who know him best say they’re not surprised Neil has decided to share his struggle with cancer with the public … and indeed, turn his struggle into a call for community action.

 “Once he sets his mind on something, he puts the blinders on and goes after it,” said Lynne Cunningham, former executive director of the Southeast Chicago Development Commission who now directs employment programs for St. Leonard’s Ministries on the West Side. “He never backs off from a fight.”

And there have been many fights, most gently won, such as converting Bowen High School into a campus of four smaller schools—and when that didn’t achieve the desired results—converting it back to a unified Bowen. No wonder they named the new auditorium after this third-generation alum and Local School Council dynamo.

Then there was the fight, won in February, to reopen the South Chicago Neighborhood House on Mackinaw Avenue, complete with its lunch program for senior citizens and after-school homework and activity center for area youth. Or the fights to keep producing seasonal events, from the Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners at the YMCA, to the Back to School Fair, where 500 book bags full of school supplies have been handed out.

Community Hero
Bosanko often talks about keeping up the fight for quality retailing along Commercial Avenue – the need to keep the shoppers’ trolley rolling, the need to keep up the storefront remodeling and street beautification programs he helped put together.

While fighting for a safer and healthier South Chicago, Neil has quietly acted as a foster parent to more than 160 troubled teenagers, many of whom have gone on to finish school, get jobs and start families of their own.

Little wonder Neil Bosanko was honored as a bona fide “Community Hero” in 2008 by LISC/Chicago and NCP--or drew a crowd of supporters on May 14.
 

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