Slices of Life: Jazz Professor Chip McNeill throws himself into his work

By Samantha Kiesel — Chip McNeill walks down the hall in his black sneakers as jazz music floods the basement of Smith Hall. He waves with his left hand to a couple of students and clutches a soprano saxophone in his right. He looks at his watch and picks up his pace, realizing he’s late. In Room 11, a small space with a set of drums, a piano and an old organ, he gently places his instrument on the organ bench as he greets the students preparing for the day’s jazz rehearsal. The drummer tunes his instruments, the guitarist adjusts the volume on his amplifier, the vocalist tinkers with her mic, the saxophonist fixes his reed, and the piano player sits patiently.

Slices of Life: Danville woman adores her flock of feathered friends

By Jessica Bourque — Cindy Eaglen — that’s eagle with an ‘n’ — sits in her computer chair, a bird in one hand, a mouse in the other. The mouse is of the computer variety, but the bird is an African grey, one of the smartest avian breeds in the animal kingdom. Cindy carefully holds the two, kissing one on the beak and using the other to scroll through YouTube videos; she is searching for one of her favorites. “It’s amazing!” she says.

Slices of Life: Willie Summerville: “Somebody say ‘Amen'”

By Samantha Bakall — Willie T. Summerville sits behind the church organ, his fingers dancing on the keys and his lips slightly pursed at the microphone, ready to sing. He does not need his hands to conduct. His elbows, shoulders and upper body serve as the signaling baton. His close-cropped hair is sprinkled salt and pepper, showing his 67 years against his dark skin. His large, grandfather-esque bifocal glasses overshadow the rest of his face, but through the thick lenses, his eyes are smiling.

Slices of Life: Missing the music

By Sonia Kurniawan — If only. If only he were back in Bali. He would not have so many sleepless nights. His heart would not ache with sadness because of his inability to infuse the feeling of his beloved gamelan music into the hearts of his American students. “How am I to make my students one with the music?”

Slices of Life: Area families struggle to find life after a soldier’s death

By Jonathan Jacobson — Connie Bickers gave me simple directions to her house in St. Joseph, but the country roads in central Illinois all look the same and in the pitch black of a winter evening I get lost. I find her house when I see a memorial road sign labeled “Cory Hubbell Way.” The sign was dedicated last October (2007) by Illinois Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn in honor of Bickers’ son, who died while serving in Kuwait in 2003. He is the reason I’m here.

Slices of Life: Never give up: The constant message at Restoration Urban Ministries

By Candice Norwood — The Rev. Ervin Williams loves Sunday night, the rare time when he can stop, relax and listen. As the founder of Champaign’s Restoration Urban Ministries, his work week is long and often divided among preaching three church services, running staff meetings and teaching classes aimed at helping the 120 homeless residents the ministry has on average in its Transitional Housing Program. Yet each Sunday, he and a handful of congregants gather inside Restoration’s sanctuary for worship and testimony. During the morning service, the sanctuary’s 60 chairs might be full. Tonight, there are 14 people.

Slices of Life: Dave’s Firearms is a place for camaraderie — and camouflage

By Gabrielle Irvin — The sooty, unpolished wood floor in Dave’s Firearms hasn’t been refinished in years. Laid with random planks of different widths and lengths, it stretches across the small shop, supporting thinly stocked shelves that hold Hodgdon’s Longshot Powder and Blackhawk! holsters. Safely guarded in a smudged glass case are Nighthawk Dominator and Falcon pistols. Along the shop’s back wall lean Winchester and Benelli shotguns.

Slices of Life: A sacred fire: The last of a farming line, a father soldiers on

By Claire Benjamin — I’m a farmer’s daughter, but I can’t navigate the grain elevator, grease the combine or repair fence lines. I have never mucked a hog pen or delivered a stillborn lamb. My children will not build hay forts on my family farm or dams in the creek down the road. They will not tame herds of kittens or rescue baby birds from fallen nests. No more rotten apple wars.

Slices of Life: Iraqi woman relates tale of her ‘rebirth’ in America

By Zina Bhaia — So many lights! I knew that America would be big, but as I looked out my Royal Jordanian Airline window at the sprawling nightscape of Chicago and the towering cityscape of its downtown, I thought, “Oh, my God, it is huge. And Lake Michigan, why do they call it a lake? It is like an ocean.” I had flown into Baghdad at night many times, and Baghdad was but a speck of light compared to this glaring city below me.