Celebrated collectively as “The Transformers,” the Chicagoans of the Year for 2007 gather at the Four Seasons for a group portrait: (from left) Haki Madhubuti, Kendall Ciesemier, Kathleen Casey, Charlie Trotter, Marca Bristo, Modesto “Tico” Valle, and Paula Fasseas. View more photos in the gallery.

On January 24th, more than 250 people gathered at the Four Seasons Hotel as Chicago staged its 14th annual Chicagoans of the Year luncheon. As it turned out, one of the day’s honorees, the poet and publisher Haki Madhubuti, had an earlier meal on his mind: a late December dinner with his family at the renowned Lincoln Park restaurant run by Charlie Trotter—who, like Madhubuti, was one of the magazine’s Chicagoans of the Year for 2007. The fare that December evening had been superb, Madhubuti told the luncheon crowd, but the highlight came when Trotter’s mother led his entire table on an impromptu tour of the kitchen—a memorable if unexpected moment in Madhubuti’s distinguished 40-year career.

Between Madhubuti and Trotter—who closed out the afternoon’s program by emphasizing the importance of striving for excellence—five other honorees appeared to dispense their own welcome dose of inspiration. (All seven honorees were graciously introduced by CBS 2 Chicago’s Mary Ann Childers, making her 12th consecutive appearance as the event’s mistress of ceremonies.) Access Living’s Marca Bristo related how the accident that left her partially paralyzed led to a lifetime fighting for the rights of the disabled. Paula Fasseas, the founder and chair of PAWS (Pets Are Worth Saving), described her quest to reduce by adoption and sterilization the number of strays in the city.

Next up, Kendall Ciesemier, the founder of Kids Caring 4 Kids, described how she had raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for African children orphaned by AIDS. Modesto “Tico” Valle, the executive director of the Center on Halsted, told of his crusade to wipe out hate and intolerance. And in a moment both tearful and uplifting, Kathleen Casey described how the death of her eight-year-old son, Barrett (“Bear”), led to the creation of Bear Necessities, a foundation dedicated to improving the lives of children with cancer.


Photography: Shelley Anderson/Chris Guillen Group