Shorewood — Volunteers play a strong role in any community, and that is definitely true in Shorewood.
Shorewood village and school officials honored its most notable volunteers with Shorewood Spirit awards Friday afternoon, just before the debut of Shorewood High School's production of West Side Story. The winner of the village's Spirit award was Mike O'Brien, while Nathan Bayer was honored for his involvement in the Shorewood School District.
Mike O'Brien moved to Shorewood in 1998, ending up right across the street from longtime Village President Guy Johnson. O'Brien would eventually join Johnson on the board for two full terms, but Johnson said he also witnessed O'Brien's volunteer commitment outside of the board room, as he chaperoned school field trips, worked the chains at Shorewood Intermediate School football games and participated in career day events.
With four children at home and a career as a financial advisor, O'Brien has somehow always found time to give back to the community.
"Mike and his wife Megan purchased their home on Shorewood Boulevard across the street from Mary and me, and instantly they brought a sense of vitality to our neighborhood," Johnson said. "Their front yard became a magnet for other neighborhood kids playing with their four wonderful children."
After serving on the Village Board from 2000 to 2006. O'Brien served as chairman of the Shorewood Marketing Committee for eight years, until recently stepping down. He said the marketing committee wanted to be pro-active in increasing school enrollment, educating Realtors and creating a tax piece that compared Shorewood to other communities.
"We have a lot to brag about, and we felt we really needed to get up on the rooftops and tell our story," he said.
O'Brien said his most rewarding experience was watching the number of new businesses sprout up on Oakland Avenue in recent years.
"We had a specific vision of what we wanted our business district to look like, and that's really coming to fruition," he said.
In the 12 years that Nathan Bayer has coached the Shorewood High School mock trial team, the Greyhounds have won 11 regional competitions. The team has been to the state finals five of the last eight years, and in 2007, went to the national competition in Dallas.
Bayer, a Marquette Law School alum, started coaching to help out one of his law school friends, but he ended up continuing for another dozen years because he saw the impact the program had on young Shorewoodians. From October through May, he dedicates three evenings a week, and many weekends, to coaching mock trial.
Just this week, he was in the courthouse when he ran into one of his former mock trial students, who is now working in the public defender's office.
Bayer thinks it's neat to see mock trial alums go into the field of law, but that's not the most rewarding part. He said the real value of coaching is helping students gain skills and confidence.
"It's the kids who you have to pull them out of their shell because they might not ordinarily do something like this," he said. "All of a sudden they have a better self esteem, and they have come out of their shell. I think it prepares life skills regardless of the area you go in to. That's what it's really all about."
School Superintendent Marty Lexmond said Bayer received five nominations for the Spirit award, including one nominator who said: "To say that he has changed the lives of the students for the better hardly scratches the surface of the powerful effect that he has had on our students."
"Nathan teaches our students public speaking and critical thinking skills. He is an excellent role model as well, demonstrating hard work, sportsmanship, confidence, poise and more," Lexmond said.
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