McHenry County Residents Carve Out Unique Careers
Finding a great career can mean more than scanning a few “hottest jobs” lists. Creativity, talent and passion have helped these McHenry County professionals find success in careers that are slightly off the beaten path.
Sticking to it
Many discover a new career while reaching for the skies, but Gina Kappler of McHenry found hers while looking down.
“I was coming out of an ice cream shop, and I noticed all these black spots on the sidewalk,” the 49-year-old says. “It just looked nasty. Before long, I started seeing them everywhere, and I thought, ‘Someone could make a business out of this.”
In 2012, Kappler did just that, launching The Gum Gal, which specializes in removing chewing gum from sidewalks, furniture and carpet; graffiti removal; and cleaning and sterilizing tile and grout.
She uses a dry vapor steam machine, which uses just eight gallons of water and no harsh chemicals.
“It’s completely non-toxic,” she says.
Kappler says she was drawn to the idea because of her interest in the environment.
“I’m very green, and I hate litter in any form,” she says.
At the time of her ice-cream shop revelation, Kappler had a full-time sales job. She suggested the business idea to a friend, and he scoffed at it, but Kappler couldn’t let it go. She went online, did research and talked to a number of people including potential customers.
“Practically anyone I could get to stop and listen, I’d ask what they thought,” she says. “It gave me lots of ideas.”
She discovered that chewing gum removal was a viable business and that there were similar companies in other parts of the country.
Unfortunately, Kappler was laid off from her sales job, but she used the opportunity to take the plunge and launched her business.
Since then, she’s been constantly networking, conducting demonstrations and handling marketing tasks like creating a website.
“I have a sign by my desk that says, ‘Don’t let fear control you,’” she says. “I’m very persistent, and if someone else can succeed at something, there’s no reason I can’t.”
Spirits All Around
Like many professionals who serve homeowners, Tony Olszewski’s work typically begins with a phone call.
“I interview the person, determine the problem and sometimes we can resolve it over the phone, but usually it requires us to go out to the site,” he says. “Sometimes, we’re called in on emergencies, especially if there’s a child involved.”
As founder of McHenry County Paranormal Research, Olszewski specializes in helping residents and businesses resolve haunting issues in their buildings. A retired police officer, he founded the nonprofit business to help both clients and spirits.
“Spirits are everywhere, but a house is only haunted when they interact with people,” Olszewski says.
“The average person would be shocked at how many spirits there are.”
Interactions can include apparitions, voices, objects moving on their own and physical contact.
Often, hauntings can be resolved by simply setting boundaries.
“It’s like a parent dealing with a child,” Olszewski says. “You have to set up rules, such as no noise at night, and designate areas where the spirit can go. It’s called co-existing.”
But if the spirit won’t listen or the homeowner isn’t interested in co-existing, Olszewksi and his team of mediums and empaths — those able to sense the emotions of others — make a house call. Using temperature gauges, various types of cameras and audio recording devices, they locate the spirit and cleanse the house.
He and his team answer about 25 cleansing calls a year, all of which have been successful. His clients include homeowners, businesses and historical societies.
“We keep a low profile and don’t talk a lot about what we do,” he says. “If someone wants to debate it, I don’t engage them. Skepticism is fine, we need it, but my mediums are just normal people who happen to have a gift.
“It’s a joy to help people because most of the time when they call us, they’re in doubt,” he continues.
“But when we help a spirit cross over, it’s a wonderful experience.”
For Good Health
As a registered nurse, Linda Swearington discovered she had a knack for helping new mothers learn to breastfeed.
Six years ago, Swearington turned her knack into a profession when she became an international board certified lactation consultant.
“It’s a new specialty that’s only been around about 25 years, and sometimes, people don’t know what it is,” she says. “They’ll call me a ‘lactose nurse’ or a ‘lactaid nurse.’ But women usually get it, especially if they had difficulty breastfeeding. Then it’s more like, ‘Wow, I wish I could have had help.”
In cultures where breastfeeding is common, new mothers have plenty of experienced role models to turn to, but the current generation is the first in a long time to embrace breastfeeding, Swearington says.
“Most of our mothers used bottles and formulas, and even in this culture, we don’t do it in public,” she says. “Because we’re not around it, the moms don’t know how to hold the baby or how it’s supposed to feel.”
There’s also a misconception that because breastfeeding is natural, it should be effortless. While registered nurses usually show new mothers the basics, lactation consultants help in special circumstances such as multiple births, children with cleft palates, children with Down syndrome and pre-term babies.
Mothers may have issues, too, such as low milk supply and soreness. Swearington helps new mothers in the hospital, conducts a class for pregnant women who are considering beastfeeding and runs a weekly support group.
“Ongoing support is paramount because once they’re home from the hospital, a lot of questions come up,” she says.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfeeding, and while many new moms start, few reach the crucial six-month and one-year milestones.
“What’s rewarding for me is that small adjustments can make a huge difference in the comfort of the mom and her success feeding her baby,” Swearington says.
Diamond In The Rough
Though he looks more like comedian Tim Allen, Dennis Svehla of Harvard, also known as “Denny Diamond,” has transformed his vocal resemblance to Neil Diamond into a full-time career that also employs his wife and two sons.
“We treat the show as its own genre by adding family,” says Svehla, describing Denny Diamond and the Family Jewels, which includes his sons Lucas, 24, on guitar, and Spenser, 23, on bass and drums.
Daughter Sarah, a 20-year-old culinary student, occasionally joins in on back-up vocals.
“We call her the Precious Gem,” Svehla says.
In addition to the music of Neil Diamond, the band also performs songs by the Everly Brothers, Johnny Cash and others.
As a student at St. Ignacious College Prep Academy in Chicago, Svehla began performing in musicals and trained with a Lyric Opera singer. At Triton College, he studied vocal music and data processing. In 1979, he began a career in information technology, but moonlighted as a wedding band lead vocalist, then as a singing karaoke disc jockey.
“That was when people started to tell me I sounded like Neil Diamond,” he says.
The manager of a local Frank Sinatra impersonator invited him to perform as Neil Diamond as an opening act, which led to solo gigs. A friend insisted he audition for a TV talent show, Dick Clark’s “Your Big Break,” and Svehla made the cut, performing the song “America.”
“They even brought in Neil Diamond’s hairdresser,” Svehla says.
The show brought national attention, as did a chance encounter with Nashville-based band Sixpence None the Richer, whose guitarist formed the base of Svehla’s back-up band, The Longfellows, for Nashville gigs.
In 2001, Svehla left IT to pursue music full time.
“I knew he was going to take off, which was exciting, but also hard work,” says Svehla’s wife, Janet, who handles band bookings, finances and also sells merchandise at performances. “This is a nice, family show, and there aren’t a lot of them around.”
Have a Dream Job?
Dreaming of an unusual career, or have an idea for business?
Career counselors such as Patricia Zokal, chairman of McHenry County College’s counseling department can help.
Through brainstorming and research, Zokal says making contacts and defining an unusual dream job is easier than you think.
“You can go to the Encyclopedia of Associations and look up your profession,” she says. “There’s usually someone out there doing the job you want who you can get in touch with.”
Interest and skill assessments can be helpful as well, especially for clients who don’t know what kind of job they want.
“Those are the most fun because the person just holds up a white flag and says, ‘Help,’” Zokal says.
Sometimes the answer is to start a business, and resources like the Small Business Development Center through the Shah Center at McHenry County College can help budding entrepreneurs with classes that teach business basics such as marketing, accounting and more.
Many services are free to adults residing in the McHenry County College district.
For more information, visit www.mchenry.edu.