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Author shares Wheaton connections through memoir

Published: Wednesday, April 17, 2013 7:21 a.m. CDT
After Mary Kanak finished writing her memoir "Ripples of Connections," which includes stories about her time spent growing up in Wheaton, she gave the very first copy to her father, Jack Slivka. Kanak said she wrote the book for him. Submitted photo

WHEATON – When Mary Kanak finished her memoir, she knew the first person she wanted to give it to: her father.

Her family was sitting at the table at her sister’s house playing cards. Kanak went up to her dad and asked him to close his eyes. She placed the book in his hands.

“That’s very nice, Mary Terese. Let’s play cards,” Jack Slivka said.

But the next day when Kanak was driving to work, she received a call from her dad, who’d been up all morning reading her book.

“You got me crying,” he told her.

Kanak said she wrote the book for her dad after learning he had bone cancer in 2009. She found comfort in family stories and felt an overwhelming need to record her family’s history, she said.

Originally planning to write a memoir that focused on an important friendship, she expanded the book to include several important “ripples,” or foundations she recognized in her life, including faith, family and love, calling the memoir “Ripples of Connections.”

The book talks about Kanak’s Irish heritage, her parents’ young “rabble rouser” days in Chicago and her own experiences growing up in Wheaton during the 1960s and 1970s. Throughout all the stories that are told, she shares the important role these ripples can play as they create connections across generations.

“I’m just better if I’m connected to the people I care about,” said Kanak, who recognizes her role as the connector among her family and friends, striving to keep everyone together, a role her mother used to play as well.

Kanak’s mother died about 20 years ago. Part of the reason she wrote her book was to help her children and nieces and nephews get to know their grandma. But in her research, Kanak ended up learning things about her mom that she didn’t know, too.

Kanak researched stories for her memoir by talking to relatives and old family friends. One story she learned was that her mother had been a “fierce” Irish dancer, something her mom never talked about.

Although some stories she had to turn to others to tell, some were pulled straight from Kanak’s memory, especially those stories from her childhood.

“Through the process of writing the book and after I published it, sharing it, I started to heal from losing my mom,” Kanak said. “I wasn’t the girl who lost her mom. I was the girl who had this wonderful childhood I was telling everyone about.”

Some of her fondest memories of growing up in Wheaton include the Fourth of July Parade and fireworks, participating in Pioneer Girls at College Church and trick-or-treating until 10 p.m., sometimes traveling as far as Elmhurst along the Prairie Path.

Kanak grew up on Williston Street near Illinois Street and shares stories in her book about the Williston Street Indy 500, a bike race among the neighborhood boys.

Her book is available for order at

After Kanak gave “Ripples of Connections” to her dad, he died about four-and-a-half months. But his ripples live on through Kanak’s book.

She said her dad always used to say to her that “good things happen to good people, and you’re the best.”

Kanak borrowed his words to thank everyone who made her book possible, permanently sharing them in print with everyone who opens her memoir to see.

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