Stories by Jay Shefsky

A praying mantis on the Paw Paw River. (Jay Shefsky / WTTW News)

My Praying Mantis Teacher

When “My Octopus Teacher” won an Oscar last month for best documentary, I was reminded of my own cross-species encounter with a rather large insect on the Paw Paw River in southwestern Michigan.

Erwin Helfer in 2001. (Credit: Paul Natkin)

To Hell and Back: Chicago Musician Recovers from Severe Depression

There are many ways the COVID-19 pandemic has turned people’s lives upside down. This is the story of the emotional devastation — and recovery — experienced by beloved local musician Erwin Helfer.

Isoo O’Brien

Local Teen’s ‘Big Year’ Breaks Cook County Birding Record

Meet a high school student who’s on a quest to see more bird species in Cook County than anyone, ever.

Shoe Repair Dynasty: A Dozen Cobblers Across 3 Generations

A cobbler in his mid-80s inspires a shoe repair dynasty that spans three generations.

Alison Newberry and Matt Sparapani in Mount Kinabalu, Borneo. (Courtesy of Alison Newberry and Matt Sparapani)

Globetrotting Hikers Learn to Love Chicago Nature During the Pandemic

Matt Sparapani and Alison Newberry weren’t planning to be in Chicago this summer. But like many of us, they had to rethink their plans. What the local teachers have learned about the natural areas of Chicago.

Employees of the Dr. Lucy Lang-Chappell Housing Complex in Chicago wear face shields provided by the “Noble Army.” (Courtesy of Rob and Susan Parks)

‘Noble Army’ Makes Thousands of Face Shields for Health Care Workers

Personal protective gear is often in short supply, but a group of people in the Chicago area have made a serious dent in that shortage. And, as we found out, they were inspired by “Chicago Tonight.”

Jeff Skrentny (WTTW News)

On Chicago’s Northwest Side, LaBagh Woods a Haven for Birds, Volunteers Alike

More than 200 species of birds have been identified at this small forest preserve, along with hundreds of other living things. We meet up with Jeff Skrentny and several dozen volunteers for a morning of pre-pandemic restoration work.

The Herbst House is part of Avenues to Independence, a nonprofit that provides housing to 54 people in 17 homes. (WTTW News)

‘I Don’t See This as a Job’: Group Home Manager Quarantines with Residents After COVID-19 Diagnoses

The COVID-19 pandemic has presented many of us with challenging decisions, from managing our groceries to caring for vulnerable family members. Linda Smith made a choice many of us would find hard to imagine.

Quention Curtis of the Black Fire Brigade (WTTW News)

Black Fire Brigade Offers Free Training for EMTs, Paramedics and Firefighters

The Chicago Fire Department has long been overwhelmingly white, but that’s changing, in part due to discrimination lawsuits and, more recently, with the help of group that mentors and trains young first responders.

An undated photo shows Cornelius Coffey

Aviation Training Returns to One Chicago Vocational High School

You may have heard of Bessie Coleman, the pioneering African American pilot from Chicago. But there is much more to the history of black aviation in this town. And though that story has been largely forgotten, it’s now inspiring a new generation of aviators.

Chicago artist Edo (WTTW News)

Chicago Artist Edo Wants to Light Up the World With Color

From clothing to digital art to painting, Chicago artist Edo sees color in all forms. “Color is my thing,” he says. “I want it to light up a room.”

Photographer QT Luong at Kings Canyon National Park in California. (Courtesy QT Luong)

National Park Photographer Completes His Portfolio with Visit to Indiana Dunes

QT Luong is renowned for his photos of the country’s national parks. In 2019, he photographed what was then the newest national park: the Indiana Dunes.

For Elsa Harris, Playing Music About Preaching the Gospel, Healing

Elsa Harris has played in Chicago churches since she was 12 years old and has performed around the world. We visit this “legend of Chicago gospel.”

Smashed Plastic in Chicago. (WTTW News)

For First Time in 30 Years, Vinyl Records Being Made in Chicago

Ten years ago, less than 2 million records were purchased in the U.S. But last year, nearly 17 million were sold. And now there are records being made in Chicago for the first time in decades. We stop by to see how it’s done.

(WTTW News)

Local Violin-Making School Draws Students from Around the World

If you want to become a professional violin-maker, there are three places in the U.S. where you can learn how to do it: Boston, Salt Lake City and the Chicago suburb of Skokie.

Mary Grace Pingoy and her son Zachary, the most recent member of the Martirez family to wear this hand-crocheted onesie, called a “sunsuit” in the Philippines. (Jay Shefsky / WTTW News)

60 Babies, 1 ‘Sunsuit’: A Tradition of Family Unity and Love

A baby outfit made by a nun in the Philippines in 1945 has now been shared by three generations and 60 newborns. We meet the latest member of the family to wear it.

(Courtesy of Jimmy Nuter)

Newly Discovered Photos Reveal Childhood of Groundbreaking Journalist

Dozens of old glass negatives found in the attic of a North Side home lead to a surprising discovery, just days before the house was scheduled to be torn down. 

Dr. Jeremiah Stamler (WTTW News)

At Age 100, Heart Health Pioneer Still Doing Research

These days, we know that eating foods high in saturated fats, salt and cholesterol is unhealthy. But that wasn’t always the accepted wisdom. And the doctor whose research led to many of those discoveries just celebrated a milestone.

The photographer Dorrell Creightney.

Commercial Photographer’s Archive Shows Passion for People

When he died in 2011, Chicago photographer Dorrell Creightney left behind half a million photos. His work is not well known, but his daughters are on a mission to change that.

(Credit: Tom Palazzolo)

Tom Palazzolo’s ‘Clark Street’ Highlights Gritty Past of River North

The River North neighborhood offers a mix of restaurants, bars and galleries, but it wasn’t always so trendy. Chicago photographer and filmmaker Tom Palazzolo captured the area in the 1960s and now many of those photos are part of a new book.

Dorothy Olson Pauletti

At 102, This Longtime Chicago Pianist Has Still Got the Chops

Dorothy Olson Pauletti came to Chicago at age 17 and played piano professionally for nearly eight decades. At 102, she’s still living musically.

Nestor Gomez tells his story “Growing Another Heart” at a Moth StorySlam. (Credit: The Moth)

Nestor Gomez: Chicago’s Champion Storyteller

Live storytelling has become its own competitive sport, and it’s drawing crowds across the country. We meet the winningest storyteller in Chicago.

Sister Stephanie Baliga runs past the Our Lady of the Angels church in Chicago. (Jay Shefsky / WTTW News)

Local Nun Leads Chicago Marathon Team

In college, Stephanie Baliga was the sixth-fastest freshman in the nation. Now 31, the local nun is still running, but her goal isn’t the Olympics. It’s raising money for the religious community she serves.

Al Westerman with three of the 124 apple varieties growing in his orchard. (Jay Shefsky / Chicago Tonight)

Farmer’s Love of Trees Leads to Lifelong Hunt for Heirloom Apples

When Al Westerman’s grandparents bought a farm in Northern Illinois in 1911, it came with a house, a barn and an apple orchard. Now, he collects heirloom apple trees and grows more than 100 varieties. 

Mickey Alice Kwapis

Mickey Alice Kwapis Wants You to Love Taxidermy As Much As She Does

Mickey Alice Kwapis knows that she doesn’t fit most people’s idea of what a taxidermist looks like. And she is trying to change that.

Joel Paterson, Master of Classic Guitar Styles, Takes on the Beatles

There are plenty of Beatles covers in the world. But when a talented local guitarist like Joel Paterson applies his artistry to the fab four, that gets our attention.