There are friends, and there are FRIENDS. So, when I refer to Joe Ballerine, I use the spelling FRIENDS, indicating that special kind of friendship.  

Joe was very active in the village of Riverside particularly in the area of the recreation, serving as the chairman of the Riverside Parks and Recreation Board for many years. In the early 2000s, the department was going through some administrative turmoil, and Joe was one of the people who was instrumental in keeping the Riverside Recreation Department going, That team of volunteers even managed to build Turtle Park and Patriots Park as well.  

Joe served as trustee on the village board and ran for president, a position he currently holds. Those are all things people can read about Joe, but I will tell you why Joe is my FRIEND.  

My favorite Riverside holiday is July 4, and when there were threats that the funding for Independence Day events might be cut off, I was determined the celebration would continue. Joe whispered in my ear that, if I was serious, he would help me — and help me he did.

We assembled a committee, Danny Jisa, Andy Daun, Ben Sells, Rey Navarro and the Recreation Department staff and called it the Friends of the Fourth. Through his help, the village’s July 4 celebration has continued to be more successful each year.  

He has proved to be even more of a FRIEND this year. As many of you know, I have not been in the best of health this year, with trips between Cantata and MacNeal Hospital.  

One of the first to come to see me was my FRIEND Joe Ballerine, who arrived at Cantata with a beautiful bouquet of flowers in a vase. He has visited me a number of times since and calls regularly — now that is a FRIEND.

So, it is safe to say I was disappointed my FRIEND would be moving to Florida. I knew he and Donna would be moving, but not this soon. However, good for them. Good FRIENDS remain close even though there is a distance.

My best childhood friend is Kelly, who lives in Indiana, and we have been friends since first grade.

So, I wish Joe and Donna the best as they start this new chapter in life in Florida.  Much of their life together has been spent in Riverside, so they will always refer to this part of the world as home, where they have so many FRIENDS.