New Lenox man wins honor of best granddad
By Jaime Angio For The Herald-News August 20, 2012 1:52PM
New Lenox resident George Sablotny (right) and his granddaughter Claire Chekytis, 9, (left) of Naperville, display Sablotny's Grandfather of the Year Award from the Illinois Fatherhood Initiative Monday, Aug. 13, 2012, in New Lenox. | Matthew Grotto~Sun-
Updated: September 24, 2012 6:49AM
NEW LENOX — Never in his wildest dreams did George Sablotny, of New Lenox, think he would be called “Grandfather of the Year.”
Nor did the 71-year-old grandfather of three ever think he would stand by home plate at U.S. Cellular Field and accept an award for it. After all, there were 18,000 essays submitted from children throughout Illinois.
The contest was sponsored by the Illinois Fatherhood Initiative and the White Sox. There were four categories: father, grandfather, father figure and stepfather.
And Sablotny, who has been married to his wife, Carol, for 46 years, was feeling a little bit out of place with the whole thing.
“Geez, there’s got to be other men that are more qualified and working harder at this than I am,” Sablotny said. “I just thought there had to be more people that were more deserving.”
Sablotny’s granddaughter, 9-year-old Claire Chekytis, of Sugar Grove, thinks otherwise.
“He tells funny jokes,” she said. “I get really excited when I know I’m going to see him.”
So, needless to say, Claire had a lot of thinking and idea organizing to do when it came to writing her essay in February.
After receiving the assignment in her third-grade English class, taught by Mrs. Habas at Noonan Elementary School in Mokena, Claire took about two weeks to complete her essay and three reasons for “What My Father Means To Me.”
The second part of the essay required Claire to give it to her grandpa so he could respond and write on the essay as well.
‘He helps me to stay healthy’
“I was thinking I was over here one time and I saw the garden outside; I just have a bunch of allergies,” she said. “And so Grandpa just decided since the vegetables out there weren’t organic, he ripped up the whole entire garden and planted organic seeds.”
‘He is always supportive’
“We have plays and grandparents and parents day, and every day, he shows up for everything,” Claire said. “If he didn’t show up, I know he still loves me, because he just had surgery a month ago and I know it’s hard for him to get around right now, but I still know he loves me very much.”
‘He is loving’
“Every time I come over, he says, ‘I love you,’ and it’s a hug and a kiss, he just loves us and we all love him,” she said.
Reading the essay brought tears to the former Marine Corps squad leader’s eyes.
“I was surprised at what she had wrote and I was very moved by it,” Sablotny said. “So then I had to sit down and really think how I was going to respond to it. I could only do it in paragraph form, and when I first did, it was several pages long, because it’s pretty hard to express yourself in a few sentences.”
The essay was complete and “it just snowballed from there,” he said.
From 18,000 entrants to 154, then down to 12. The whole process took about four months, which included questionnaires and rounds of interviews.
And there were special events, too.
“We were just happy all along,” Claire said. “We went to the Sox game, and before you know it, we were at the Union League Club, which was the most beautiful place ever.”
Sablotny and Claire soon called themselves “The A-Team” because it just kept going and going.
And then on Father’s Day, they went to Arlington Park, where they were treated to lunch and got to stand in the Winner’s Circle. The next day, George received word from the Illinois Fatherhood Initiative that he had been named the organization’s 2012 Grandfather of the Year.
“I called my daughter and I said, ‘Can I speak to Claire?’ So she got the phone and I said, ‘The A-Team is moving on to Grandfather of the Year,’ ” he said.
The family attended another Sox game on Aug. 4 where they stood by home plate, their names were announced and they were handed a plaque by White Sox infielder Gordon Beckham.
Looking at the plaque, Sablotny said it’s all mind-boggling.
“I never dreamed that something like this was going to be sitting in front of me, which leads me to believe as I think about this now, my family has thought a lot more about me than I realized,” he said.
But Sablotny doesn’t take all the credit. In fact, he prefers to give it all to the women in his life.
“Because I had such great women in my life, that’s what helps me be a better person,” he said. “I’m not perfect by any means, and I have a lot of fault; the ladies in my life have done a lot to make me a better person.”