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‘Smiling at people on the road’

Published: Thursday, July 17, 2014 9:48 a.m. CDT • Updated: Thursday, July 17, 2014 9:51 a.m. CDT
(Photo provided)
Barrington Junior Women's Club members Laura Powroznky, Jenn Martins, Tiffany Andreae and Lisa Olszewski (from left) present one of the group's annual Character Counts Awards to Lake County Department of Transportation road patrolman Leon Russell.

LAKE BARRINGTON – It was difficult for Barrington Junior Women’s Club members to track down a total stranger while making Character Counts award nominations this year, but Lake Barrington runner Sharon Whitaker knew just what to do.

Whitaker first saw award recipient and Lake County road worker Leon Russell a couple of years ago.

“Whether I was driving or road running, I would see Leon frequently, sometimes daily, waving and smiling at people on the road,” Whitaker said.

Whitaker never knew the friendly face personally but was always astonished at how kind he was to strangers.

“Most people don’t even make eye contact on the road,” Whitaker said. “Leon just has a great attitude, and it’s good to know there are people in the world who want to make someone else’s day a little brighter.”

The half-marathon competitor, who most often saw Russell along Kelsey Road and state Route 22 in Lake Barrington, said she could not wait to run up to the road worker and tell him he would receive special recognition at the Barrington Village Hall last month.

“It’s funny – he thought he was in trouble or something,” Whitaker said. “I gave him a big hug and told him ‘thank you for making me smile.’”

Russell was among 10 other individuals to be acknowledged by the women’s club for making a difference in the Barrington 220 area this year. The Character Counts awards were launched in 2012, often given to students, coaches, teachers, local employees, volunteers or neighbors.

Announcing the award June 23, one women’s club member said “it takes someone extraordinary to make construction and traffic a positive experience, and Leon is an example of how a number of seemingly small acts of kindness can make a big impact on many.”

Russell has been a road patrolman for the Lake County Department of Transportation for decades, his supervisor, Kevin Kerrigan, said.

Kerrigan said Russell always is respectful, coming into work with a good attitude every day.

Russell covers the southwest quadrant of Lake County, Kerrigan said. He drives the roads daily to check for debris, roadkill and areas in need of work.

One-man jobs for Russell include filling minor potholes and shoulder work. He plows the roads in the wintertime, Kerrigan said.

Women’s club member Lisa Olszewski said it was great to recognize such a genuine person, attributing Russell’s values to being one of 12 children.

Kerrigan said Russell declined to comment about the award because “he’s not much to talk about that sort of stuff.”

“We get phone calls and emails complimenting Leon all the time,” Kerrigan said. “It’s just his personality.”

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