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Ahern: Church establishes scholarship in beloved pastor’s name

O’Donnell

O’Donnell

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Updated: October 24, 2012 6:13AM



When the Rev. William O’Donnell, pastor of Bethany Union Community Church, died on July 10, his congregation first struggled with the loss of their beloved church leader.

But then they turned their sorrow into a positive.

Members of the congregation and Bethany Union’s ArtCraft Theatre program opted to establish a scholarship in O’Donnell’s name, which not only will honor their former pastor, but will also help youth in the community.

“He just loved the theater,” said Glenn Pniewski, who is the artistic director for ArtCraft Theatre as well as a member of the Church Life committee.

“When Pastor Bill died, it was a sad day for the church and a sad day for the congregation,” Pniewski said. “He was a personal friend of us all, and we do miss him. He was pastor here 17 years, and he just loved the community outreach of this theater program. Because of that, he felt that if it didn’t make a dime, it was still worth doing.”

At this point, Pniewski said the scholarship specifics are being coordinated.

“This is the first time we have done this,” Pniewski said. “We have a scholarship committee at work defining the requirements. The program will be open to students of the community and based on grades and need. The application process will begin in the spring.”

Pniewski said the funding for the scholarship will be based upon a series of plays ArtCraft Theatre will present throughout the next several months during its 2012-13 season, which starts this fall and ends in May.

ArtCraft’s first production of the coming season will be Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” at 8 p.m. Oct. 18 at Bethany Union Community Church, 1750 W. 103rd St., Chicago. The play will run for the weekend, with additional shows at 8 p.m. Oct. 19; 7 p.m. Oct. 20; and 3 p.m. Oct. 21.

The movie “White Christmas” will be shown on Dec. 9 as a sing-along, and dinner will be part of the evening, too. On Jan. 12, ArtCraft Theatre will present “The 59 Club — An Old Time Radio Concert Broadcast,” which will feature Evergreen Park Community High School’s jazz ensemble, as well as area vocalists.

During the weekend of March 8, ArtCraft will present the stories of Hans Christian Andersen in a musical comedy, and then on May 18, the group will present “Memorial,” which is a dramatic musical. In this production, an ensemble cast of ArtCraft members will present a portrait of American soldiers throughout American history as told through their letters and memoirs.

“Pastor Bill was so active in this community, especially with area youth programs,” Pniewski said. “Therefore, it is only fitting that this year’s proceeds — minus expenses — will go toward this scholarship.”

Pniewski said that some of these productions have large casts, and while “To Kill a Mockingbird” already is cast, another casting call will go out to the community in December.

“I like to give everyone a chance,” Pniewski said. “In our youth productions, we like to give every young person their moment in the spotlight, so we make sure everyone has some lines, rather than having them get lost in a crowd.”

Pniewski also said it was possible that Wood Street between 103rd and 102nd streets will be named the honorary Rev. William O’Donnell Drive, which the congregation hopes will happen in the near future.

Chuck Diddia, the chairman of Bethany’s Church Life committee and the church coordinator of the Cub Scout program in the church, gave credit to Pniewski for his efforts to honor O’Donnell.

“ArtCraft was Glenn’s brainchild about eight years ago, and Pastor Bill loved having it at the church,” Diddia said. “He felt it was an extension of our church ministry and a way to serve the youth in our community.

“The youth efforts have been one of the strong ministries of our church. We don’t have a lot of young families in our congregation, so we reach out to the larger community. This way, when young people are doing activities, they are doing them at Bethany Union.

“This scholarship is very appropriate because of how Pastor Bill threw his support to ArtCraft Theatre. Pastor Bill went from being a staunch supporter to being the ticket agent for our shows. He even operated the light board for a performance.

“I think the scholarship is just a wonderful thing,” Diddia said.

Pniewski agreed, and said the scholarship would help Bethany Union members find a way to process O’Donnell’s passing.

“The halls are quieter (since O’Donnell’s death), and things will change,” Pniewski said. “We do miss him, but this will help keep his spirit alive within our walls and out in the community.”

For more information about ArtCraft Theatre or its scholarship program in honor of O’Donnell, call (708) 421-1296 or email artcrafttheatre@yahoo.com. Bethany Union’s website is www.bethanyunionchurch.net.



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