Will County Take Back the Night committee members recall 20 years of rallying against abuse

Annual grass-roots event affecting views on domestic violence

hn-2016-3JOLIET – Lora McGuire abruptly stopped one of her students from entering a patient’s room.

McGuire was a nursing professor at Joliet Junior College. Her students were performing their clinicals at Presence Saint Joseph Medical Center in Joliet. The student had a black eye.

When McGuire learned the student’s husband inflicted the injury, she told the student, “You have to go to the police.” The student’s reply stunned McGuire: “He is the police.”

The student was Kathleen Savio. Her husband was Drew Peterson. That encounter convinced McGuire to join the Will County Take Back the Night committee.

As McGuire looks back on the 20 years Will County has hosted the annual grass-roots rally and candlelight vigil, she feels the event is meeting its goal.

“We wanted to raise awareness,” she said.

This year’s event is Oct. 16, a Sunday and not the traditional weekday. Also new are community boxes. These contain information about domestic violence and purple ribbons – including lapel ribbons, which Girl Scout Troop 70058 of Lockport made during its September meeting, said Tycee Bell of Joliet, who recently joined the Take Back the Night committee.

Bell said one of the community boxes went to the Plainfield Junior Woman’s Club. The club received permission from the village of Plainfield to tie ribbons and put up a sign in Settler’s Park near the Village Hall, Bell said.

Like McGuire, Bell had attended the events but became more involved when domestic abuse affected one of her friends.

“I don’t know another way to give a voice or show admiration for those fighting and those who have survived,” Bell said. “For those who have left us, it’s good to take some time and reflect.”

hn-2017-1Another committee member, Mardi Wunderlich, has participated in all 20 events: the first as a speaker and the rest as an organizer. In year one, Wunderlich, newly hired at the Joliet Police Department, was asked to fill in for the chief, who was scheduled to speak.

Wunderlich doesn’t recall the exact words she spoke that night. But she saw how profoundly the rally and vigil affected the families of domestic violence victims. She joined the committee the following year.

Now, as the domestic abuse worker for the Joliet Police Department, Wunderlich especially wants to stay connected with the event. She feels Will County Take Back the Night has altered the way people view domestic violence.

“It’s brought the issue to the forefront. People talk about it more openly or publicly,” Wunderlich said. “Domestic violence is still happening but people are more inclined to report it.”

But that doesn’t bring back the victims.

With encouragement from McGuire, Savio temporarily dropped out of the nursing program, divorced Peterson and built a new life for herself. McGuire recalled the change in Savio when she returned to the program a few years later.

“She was like a different person,” McGuire said. “She looked great. She was doing great in clinicals and great in school. I saw her on a Friday afternoon and on Sunday I read in The Herald-News how she was found dead in the bathtub.”

When class met again, Savio’s chair was empty. McGuire said she and the students held a moment of silence for her.

“Nobody taught me how to handle that,” McGuire said. “It still makes me so sad. She didn’t have to die.”