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Jewish World Review June 26, 2001 / 5 Tamuz, 5761

Bob Greene

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Consumer Reports

The happiest 30th birthday -- thanks to you -- THE Molinari family wants to thank you from the bottom of their hearts.

But they're going to have to wait for just a second. Because I want to thank you first.

Last week the story of Greg Molinari appeared here. Greg has had a difficult life; a brain tumor he suffered as a child resulted in complications that left him legally blind, and health problems throughout his childhood and adult years have robbed him of many pleasures the rest of us take for granted. But he determined to make something of himself; he earned a college degree (sometimes spending five hours a day commuting by bus to take a single class), and now has a job at the Brookfield, Ill. Public Library.

Greg's mother, Lois Molinari, asked for my help in suggesting something the family could do for Greg's 30th birthday. Greg lives at home, and his only nights out are when he goes to a local bingo hall, or when, on library payday every two weeks, he takes his mother and father out to dinner. Mrs. Molinari had tried to buy tickets to the hit musical "Mamma Mia!" at the Cadillac Palace theater in Chicago for last Saturday night, but the show was sold out. She asked me if I could think of somewhere the six members of the Molinari family might go for Greg's birthday to let him know how proud they are of him.

When I wrote about Greg -- about the quiet courage with which he has lived his 30 years -- it didn't take you long to respond.

Officials of General Motors' Cadillac division gave up their own seats to "Mamma Mia!" on Saturday night so the Molinari family could have them; the Cadillac seats are in the front of the house, and thus Greg, with his limited vision, could see the performance as clearly as physically possible.

Soon after the column was published, I got a call from Rich Melman, whom I have known since he was a teenager working behind the cash register of his father's delicatessen, and I was a teenager coming in to buy the early weekend editions of all four Chicago newspapers from him. He said he wanted the Molinaris to be his guests at any of his Lettuce Entertain You restaurants; we selected Petterino's, close to the Cadillac Palace. A private individual (who wishes to remain anonymous) with a limousine at his disposal gave it to the Molinaris Saturday night so they could come into Chicago from their home in LaGrange Park.

But so many of you got in touch, and there were so many offers for the family . . . in a few days, if I can find the words, I will thank you more fully for that. Greg's birthday celebration turned into a three-day event. On Friday, Jackie Shen, executive chef at Lawry's prime rib restaurant in Chicago, arranged dinner for the Molinaris; Zanies comedy club on Wells Street was their host after that. Chicago Limousine Service provided a car and driver.

On Sunday, the management of the Signature Room on the 95th floor of the John Hancock Center invited Greg and his family for brunch; after that, the Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire provided front-row tickets for a sold-out performance of the musical "The Taffetas." Class Act Limousines volunteered the transportation.

Some acts of kindness made a special impression. The evening after the column appeared, LaGrange Park village president Sue Tutt and police chief Dan McCollum went to the Molinaris' home with a congratulatory proclamation for Greg; they then took him to Brookfield's famous zoo, where the Illinois Police Association was having a barbecue dinner. The attendees applauded Greg; he dined with them and was given a behind-the-scenes tour of the zoo, which he loved.

If you could have seen the joy, and the grateful tears, of the Molinari family over the weekend, you would feel even better about all you have done, and offered to do. But I think all of us know that the real thanks should go to one person:

Lois Molinari, Greg's mother. The family almost lost Greg last year, when he was in the hospital in a coma and on a ventilator. He almost didn't have a 30th birthday -- and she was not going to rest until she did everything she could to try to make the birthday memorable. Even if nothing had come of her efforts, and Greg had spent the day quietly at home, he would have had, and does have, the most precious gift of all: a mother who is that proud of him, and who loves him that much.

JWR contributor Bob Greene is a novelist and columnist. Send your comments to him by clicking here.

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