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Posted by Avenues in News on 6/19/2018

More than 400 people attended the Avenues to Independence Annual Dinner and Dance, which also celebrated 65 years of the organization on June 15 at The Hilton Chicago in Northbrook.

Bob Okazaki, the Avenues to Independence executive director, said the 65-year milestone is “a testimony to the people who support the organization.”

“We’ve had a lot of good donors, board members, families have helped to create the success we’re enjoying today,” Okazaki said.

According to the organization, Avenues to Independence is a nonprofit organization that “provides homes, jobs and community living programs to Chicago area adults with physical, intellectual, and other developmental disabilities,” such as Down syndrome, autism, epilepsy and cerebral palsy.

“Everything we do for people who are less fortunate is important, and Avenues does a fantastic job,” said attendee Anne Stewart of Burr Ridge.

The Chicago Blackhawks and WTTW television were thanked for supporting the organization.

“I’m honored, are you kidding me?” said John McDonough, CEO of the Chicago Blackhawks, about the privilege of being present that evening. “I’m proud of all of our players and our staff and our coaches. One of the things that we emphasize is being involved in the community.”

Fred Sasser, a Park Ridge resident, is chairman of the Avenues to Independence Foundation board. He said the organization is “very important to Park Ridge because Avenues has been a part of Park Ridge since its inception.”

“The clients are part of our community,” Sasser said. “It’s as simple as that. They’re part of the community, and we love having them there.”

According to the organization, it was launched in 1953 when a postal worker in Park Ridge, William Knaack, noticed a need. Along his mail route, Knaack met families who had children with developmental disabilities. He and his wife Jean Knaack became founding members of what eventually was called Avenues to Independence.

Elaine Hodgson of Las Vegas, William Knaack’s daughter, received the William and Jean Knaack Spirit of Avenues Award.

“Park Ridge was a town he never wanted to leave,” Hodgson told the audience about her father. “I’m very proud.”

Avenues to Independence is at 515 Busse Highway in Park Ridge. For information, visit

Karie Angell Luc is a freelance photographer and reporter for Pioneer Press.


Tags: 65 years , anniversary , annual dinner and dance , park ridge , chicago blackhawks , spirit of avenues award

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