Chicagoans of the Year 2008 (from left): Timuel Black, Diane Limas, Jackie Shen, Jay Franke, Mavis Staples, Lar Lubovitch, and Nancy Gianni. See more photos in the gallery >>


Two days after the inauguration of President Barack Obama, 235 people gathered for a luncheon at the Ritz-Carlton Chicago to celebrate a few more local heroesChicago’s seven Chicagoans of the Year for 2008. Before the event was under way, one honoree, Nancy Gianni, had tears in her eyes. “It’s not about me,” insisted Gianni, the founder of GiGi’s Playhouse, a learning center for children with Down syndrome. “It’s about the kids and their families and everyone this is helping. I’m just their voice.”

For the 13th consecutive year, the veteran newswoman Mary Ann Childers emceed. In addition to Gianni, the crowd cheered Timuel Black, honored for Bridges of Memory, his tale of the African American migration to Chicago. Lar Lubovitch and Jay Franke were celebrated for their Chicago Dancing Festival, while Diane Limas of the Albany Park Neighborhood Council was honored for fighting unjust home foreclosures. The magazine chose the chef Jackie Shen for her efforts to raise money for some local enterprises, including Esperanza Community Services. “I want those organizations to be recognized,” Shen said. “To do that, I’m gonna keep on truckin’.”

Finally, the singer Mavis Staples, following in the footsteps of her late father, Roebuck “Pops” Staples—a Chicagoan of the Year in 1995—was singled out for her latest CD, Live: Hope at the Hideout. “For your home people to acknowledge you, that means more than anything,” said Staples, before breaking into a rendition of the Staples Singers’ hit “I’ll Take You There” that left the crowd clapping and singing as a jubilant Staples left the stage.

Photography: Steven E. Gross