By Gordon Nary
Gordon: A friend of mine once remarked that it wasn't President Regan who was the great communicator. it was Jesus Christ who, if he was born today, would be an IT specialist and not a carpenter. Being responsible for the Assumption Church's website is a critical component of Assumption's communications. When did you first become interested in website design and management?
Ron: My first website was for Holy Name Cathedral around 1998. We had joined the parish only a year earlier and we were talking about “outreach” and the need for service to the large number of visitors to Chicago who include the Cathedral on their list of places to see. Introducing a website seemed like a logical thing to do.
Gordon: You also developed and support a portion of the Chicago Architecture Foundation's (CAF) website which provides interactive data services for docents (not part of the public website), What prompted your initial appreciation of architecture and when did you become a docent?
Ron: I joined the corps of volunteers at CAF in 1999. Organizations served by a large number of volunteers – each with unique skills or assignments – can create a nightmare of records. The worst part is when those records are all “in the office” and a volunteer wants information while at home. A private website can give volunteers direct access to information they need wherever they are.
Gordon: Could you list your five favorite buildings in Chicago and why there are architectural masterpieces?
Ron: While some people view buildings as sculptural masterpieces, I tend to be more interested in learning what problems the architect was trying to solve, and what technological hurdles were involved. So the buildings which were erected in the 1885 – 1930 period, which is when Chicago “gave birth to the skyscraper”, is the most interesting to me. We have a tour which exactly covers that period – including the progression from the Monadnock, the Rookery, the Marquette, and the Chapin & Gore buildings.
Gordon: You also conduct tours of Millennium Park. What are some of the most popular features in Millennium Park?
Ron: Millennium Park is one of my favorites because it can be so surprising. People have expectations that a “Park” will include standard items such askids’ swings, sliding boards, bar-b-cue pits, etc. This park is none of those. In many respects it is an active sculpture garden as an extension of the Art Institute’s North garden. The close proximity of so many monumental sculptures, each different from the others, provides a visual treat. The utility of the park invites people to not only see but also to be, to do, and to be seen. The elements of the park are all cemented by a stream of diverse people who enjoy it – it makes it magical. It gets more interesting when you add the stories of how it came to be. The focused attention of some key people, and the structural things you don’t see in a giant roof-top-garden. It was “the Chicago Way” at its best.
Gordon: You are also the webmaster for and job coach for the Career Career Transitions Center of Chicago. What initially interested you in job coaching?
Ron: When we came to Chicago in 1997 I had only recently retired. The bulletin at Holy Name, which was one of the original sponsors of the CTC, called for volunteers with work/management experience who would like to help. I have been doing it ever since. The predicament faced by people without a job, or in the wrong job, hasn’t changed. But it takes some new approaches to solve their problems because relationships between employees and their employers have changed.
Gordon: Considering the difficulty that some young people have getting jobs when they graduate, what are some of the more critical studies that college students should take to be more qualified for the many technical jobs that are available?
Ron: The most important skill for recent graduates, as well as older workers, is effective communication! It doesn’t matter what you can do if you can’t explain it in a convincing way. The second critical area is recognizing the importance of always knowing why you are doing whatever you are doing; who is your “customer”, how you will know how well you are doing. Don’t tolerate just “going through the motions”. Of course it helps to get training in specific work-related skills – but the details become obsolete quickly. The first two items I cited actually will have greater impact. When I look back at my college studies leading to an engineering degree – I still think one of my most important courses was “argumentation and debate”!"
Gordon: You worked for over 40 years as an Engineer at Western Electric. What were the most rewarding experiences you had at Western Electric?
Ron: The rewards I enjoyed were both of the “Macro” and the “Micro” varieties. Forty years was long enough to offer opportunities to help usher in major changes in technology – both in the products and the manufacturing technologies used to build them. The Micro rewards were the little challenges- the one-day eruptions of issues which required quick thinking. Through it all, I was part of an outstanding team of people who were focused on common objectives.
Gordon: When did you join Assumption Church and what aspects of the parish would you recommend to friends who might be interested in joining a new parish?
Ron: We moved from a condo on Huron Street, a short walk from Holy Name, to RiverBend, a high-rise on Canal Street. While Assumption was the closest church, we continued to go to Holy Name until, by chance, we tried Assumption and loved it. We all know why we recommend Assumption to others; we all tell the same story when we gather under the tent at the annual Homecoming: our inspiring clergy, wonderful look and feel of the church, friendly and intimate parishioners, etc. Of course, since we only go to the 7:30 am mass on Sundays, and the 7 am daily mass (where I am the regular lector) it is possible that the other masses have people who are entirely different. But I doubt it.
Gordon: There are some older people who are uncomfortable with some of the new media. Can you foresee a time when some parishes might start using Twitter, Instagram, and other new media tools to connect with some of their younger parishioners?
Ron: That is already happening. Even Pope Francis has a twitter account. There may not be a parish-wide dependence on social media but individual sub-groups are already using it among their members. Assumption has both a Facebook page and a website. They serve different purposes and are of value to different people. When I offered to build a website for Holy Name more than fifteen years ago less than half of the churches in the archdiocese had a web presence and the pastor wasn’t sure we needed one. Even now I doubt that as many as half of the Assumption parishioners have ever looked at our website. On the other hand the website traffic on Saturdays and Sundays is at least three times that of the average weekday – mostly from visitors checking location and mass times. It is important to match the solutions to the right problems.
Gordon: Thank you for a great interview and demonstrating the valuable impact of volunteering on our parishes and our community.