Congratulations to our winners at this year's Best of Blue Island Awards Dinner Banquet, as well as all who were nominated and attended. Cheers and thank you for representing the very best of our community!
Woman of the Year: Raeann Cantelo-Zylman
Raeann is someone who somehow magically mastered the power of being everywhere, always, and usually in the mix of running the show. She’s a teacher, a park district commissioner, and a tireless advocate for our community and our children. Her mentorship and guidance have helped so many students excel and achieve at levels they didn’t realize were possible. She is heart, soul, and as she likes to put it, just another kid from Blue Island.
Woman of the Year: Kelli Ferguson Shimko
Kelli is another incredible educator from Blue Island, and like Raeann, she has a secret talent: while nearly every person declares her the hardest working woman they know, she somehow manages to do so with leadership, compassion, and a sparkling smile that is contagious. Her dedication to her students, Girls on the Run, and any other way she can support Blue Island have endeared her to students, coworkers, family, and friends, and produced immeasurable positive impact on our community.
Man of the Year: Tom Cheatle
Tom is a hometown kid who puts his time, money, talent, and love into Blue Island. Not a weekend passes without at least one of his two businesses in town hosting a fundraiser for community organizations and causes. Over the years, he’s contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars in the form of donations and sponsorship, all while successfully assuming ownership of Double Play Saloon and launching a new business that, in addition to creating revenue, tax dollars, and local jobs, also rehabbed an eyesore building along a highly trafficked entry to the city. He treats his staff and customers with respect and loyalty, and he’s created the same in return from his fellow business owners, city officials, and friends.
Business of the Year: Maple Tree Inn
On the morning of August 24 2018, our city experienced one of the most devastating losses in history, when a dangerous fire consumed Maple Tree Inn, our nationally-ranked Cajun restaurant, our friends’ business, home, and livelihood, a successful multi-generational business and historic landmark district that provided the backdrop for lifetimes of anniversary celebrations, engagements, baptismal parties, birthdays, food and music festivals and so much more – important memories that in the softly falling rain that August morning and the weeks and months following played through our minds as Erich, Katie and their staff stayed on our minds and we prayed and hoped and wondered – what will become of Blue Island’s Maple Tree Inn?
Without a thing to wear or a building to operate in, with a mountain of insurance paperwork, processes, claims and literal clean up ahead of them, Katie and Erich put the wellbeing of their staff members at the forefront of their plans to rebuild the business, obtaining an interim location and readying it for operation as Maple Tree Inn Bistro a lucky 13 weeks to the day of the fire. Their commitment to their employees, customers, and our community – to invest real time and money back into our city for a second location without knowing the total costs to rebuild the original location – this inspiring act of dedication to Blue Island is playing a part in reenergizing Western Avenue. Like a phoenix from the ashes, Maple Tree Inn is back, and New Orleans has never felt closer to home, again.
Volunteer of the Year William Cazares
Will gives his time and talents to countless projects and causes around Blue Island – River Day Clean Up efforts, playground builds, community clean ups and festivals, and much more, but by most everyone in town, he’s known as Coach Will.
During the past decade, Will’s given countless evenings and weekends to creating the premier youth soccer program on the south side. And while his day job is partially responsible for those snazzy graphics and promotions for the program, it’s the time he puts into coaching the kids that has turned Blue Island Park District Soccer into a sell-out program every year, with parents lining up to register their kids the morning registration opens. In the words of one parent, “He is an amazing coach who will always get to eye level and feed the children words of encouragement and determination to understand soccer and learn to use their skills. Our children are so lucky to have such a dedicated coach.” And in the words of one of his players, “Coach Will sees the bigger picture and is giving to the community with this leadership so that his efforts will forever be remembered and recognized even when he isn’t around.”
Lifetime Achievement Award: Rick Fiske
This year, we’re proud to honor Rick Fiske with a Lifetime Achievement award. Since 1981, Rick has served Blue Island West Side Little League and the Untouchables as a volunteer coach, league administrator, and fundraiser, and as a role model to generations of young men from in and around Blue Island. Rick was never just a coach. He used the games of baseball and football to teach his athletes about true sportsmanship and fair play in the game of life, and to instill the importance of being a part of something larger – a team – a community. Now while he’s officially retired from his positions with little league and the Untouchables, We don't think you'll find him straying too far from the fields where he spent so many sunny Saturdays giving his all to his teams. All he asks is to have games to attend, community members stepping up to help lead the programs and keep them moving forward – it’s not a small request, as Mr. Fiske leaves behind some pretty large sneakers to fill.