Walking 10,000 steps at a good clip through their Spring Grove neighborhood, Sue Cisko and Marlene Nei, wearing bright yellow, have returned lost dogs and wayward children.
The nightly walks work as therapy sessions for the best friends, a time when Cisko is able to unwind after work and Nei worries about her husband’s health troubles. When the weather doesn’t cooperate, they descend into the “dungeon” in Marlene’s house to use the treadmill.
“We can talk about anything and everything,” Cisko said. “We talk about things that I don’t say to my husband.”
The two have been walking for about a year and a half – since Nei came over with a fruit basket to thank the Ciskos for watching their house while her husband, Bill, battled a rare form of cancer, gastrointestinal stromal tumor.
The Neis had spent several months total away from home, first at the University of Chicago Medical Center for surgery and subsequent complications and then in Lake Geneva, Wis., where one of the Neis’ children lives.
Cisko asked Nei if she liked walking and Nei said, “Oh, I’d love to walk. I used to walk, but there’s nobody here.”
“We started, and we haven’t stopped since,” Sue said.
It was Cisko’s support – from just being a listening ear to bringing cookies over when nothing tasted good to Bill – and her work as a teacher at Nippersink Middle School that led Marlene to nominate her as an Everyday Hero.
“Sue is a selfless individual who works tirelessly to help the kids in her class as well as her family and friends,” Nei wrote in her nomination.
Cisko has been a teacher for 30 years, 12 of those years at Nippersink. She had started at the elementary level but moved to the middle school because she was looking for a challenge.
“I work with all the teachers in trying to help the students be successful in their academic areas,” Cisko said. “Every day is different, and it’s very challenging but rewarding. I like to see the positive changes; I truly, truly enjoy working with them.”
She’s come up with new ways of encouraging the sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders to succeed, one time doing 100 jumping jacks in exchange for a student doing something he didn’t normally do.
Cisko got her start as swimming instructor, she said, working her way up at the pool from a locker room attendant to manager.
“I’ve been teaching all my life, but in a lot of different settings,” she said. “I just like children, I think, and seeing them successful and seeing them learn new things.”
Cisko studied special education with an emphasis in physically handicapped children at Northern Illinois University, later expanding her specialty to include children with mental disabilities.
The Cisko lowdown
Who is she? Sue Cisko is a teacher at Nippersink Middle School, which has students from the Richmond and Spring Grove area.
Her family: Sue and George Cisko have two children, Ryan, 21, and Christine, 19. They also have two dogs, a one-and-a-half-year-old golden retriever named Troy and a 7-year-old Norwegian elkhound named Titan.
Hobbies: She is doing agility training with Troy at WAGs in Spring Grove and sings in a volunteer, on-call choir that goes to different churches for special occasions.
How did you meet your husband? “We both lived in the same apartment complex,” Sue Cisko said. “He lived on the second floor, and I lived on the third floor. ...
“I used to always watch him out my window, and he would be watching me out with my dog. I thought he was really cute, so I would always try to leave my room and get to the elevator at the same time he would be. Sometimes I would meet him. Sometimes I wouldn’t.
“One day, he introduced himself to me in the laundry room.”