Why it's important to get out and vote

Posted1/29/2016 10:47 AM

When I was a child, my folks often read me a rhyme by 19th-century American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

There was a little girl,


Who had a little curl,

Right in the middle of her forehead.

When she was good,

She was very, very good,

But when she was bad she was horrid.

I learned the verse by heart. And those words came rushing back Christmas morning when I opened a shiny metal box containing golden curls that my folks had saved since my first haircut.

Sitting at my mother's dresser years ago, restless to get going, I'd watch in the mirror as she artfully spun my tresses around her index finger to curl each ringlet.

Those memories were followed by more cherished time with my folks, now 92 and 88, during the holidays when we cleared out crammed closets to help prepare their home to sell someday.

We returned to Naperville with boxes of "stuff" my dad had labeled for me. Like buried treasures, this past month I've opened scrapbooks with black and white photos, stacks and stacks of letters and folders with Daily Herald columns from the late 1990s. They're all so yesterday!

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Report cards revealed that by first grade in 1954, I'd attended three different schools with perfect attendance during the year my father was building the home where my parents live today.

While at Garfield School, I adored my first-grade teacher, Miss Sherry, who also was a family friend. In fact, my dad tells the story of the time I raced home to share a special note she'd pinned to my jacket, only to have my self-confidence deflated when my parents sat me down to discuss the comments from my beloved teacher who'd expressed concerns about my self-control.

According to my dad, I responded defensively, "There are lots of kids worser than I am."

Yet, until the other day when I found a mimeographed form (remember that smell?) with handwritten notes inside a manila envelope, I'd never read Miss Sherry's words. In first grade, I couldn't read cursive anyway. Now I can't get her thoughts out of my mind.

"Stephanie just wants to do what she wants to do when she wants to do it," the note says. "She interrupts at most any time. She is such a capable, lovely child, I hope we can get her to overcome this without squelching her enthusiasm."


The stash of Daily Herald columns included one dated June 22, 1999, titled "Citizens who don't vote are an enigma."

"Growing up, suppertime was a command performance," I had written. " … My PTA-Scout leader mom made sure all food groups were part of every meal. My father challenged my two younger brothers and me to be independent thinkers. Sitting around the table engaged in spirited conversation is where my passion for politics and community began. My parents always voted."

Considering that the 2016 presidential primary election is March 15, that column seemed so today!

Friends have told me they're fed up and won't vote in the primary.

It's a daunting time.

Yet, we can't allow presidential candidates to distract us from paying attention to other primary contests where candidates also are vying for a place on the November ballot.

Hopefuls running to serve Naperville in Washington are campaigning for U.S. Senate as well as U.S. Representative in the 6th, 11th and 14th Congressional districts.

In Illinois, a special election will be held for state comptroller.

DuPage County lists contenders for forest preserve commissioner in the 5th District.

And Will County offers a choice for Circuit Clerk.

With many uncontested races, the primary offers time to think about the general election on Nov. 8, when all parties will be on the same ballot.

When it comes to participating in elections, I have little self-control. To me, all elections are a big deal.

I'll likely always be puzzled by appearances that Americans take their freedoms for granted when voter turnout is low, even though to vote or not to vote is a choice that comes with freedom.

Still, I'll continue to encourage our local electorate to embrace its civic duty to be educated, mindful that our republic -- even when faced with peril, challenges and imperfections of party politics -- is the best hope for the world.

• Stephanie Penick writes about Naperville each month in Neighbor.

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