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Kevin Hieronymus

Peanut Tillman a Bear with a big heart

Greg Wallace couldn’t help but notice the trademark dreadlocks in the crowd at Bureau Valley High School Saturday. The lifetime Chicago Bears fan told his wife, “that’s Peanut Tillman.”

Charles “Peanut” Tillman, a two-time All-Pro cornerback for the Chicago Bears, was among hundreds of friends and family who packed the Bureau Valley auditorium to say their final farewell to their dear friend, Cora Peters.

Tillman and his wife, Jackie, came across Cora’s story in her blog for Caring Bridge. The Tillmans had their own trials when their daughter, Tiana, was born with a heart ailment in 2008 and required an immediate heart transplant. At the time, Tillman said it was hard for him to pray, “because I didn’t know if it was right for me to pray for a heart for my child because I knew that for my child to live, somebody else’s child had to die.”

The Tillmans took a special interest in Cora and took the time to visit her in the hospital. Peanut also treated Cora and her family to a Bears game.

This wasn’t just a professional athlete looking for some publicity. This was genuine love shown by a famous football player and his family, who play the game of life the way he plays football. This was about a special girl, who had a zest for life, a big heart and was loved by all that knew her and many more who didn’t.

Shannon Reuter, Cora’s close friend, said it was “really incredible to see such a big face in a small town for a special girl.”

Another one of Cora’s friends, Bailey Russell of Wyanet, met the Tillmans when they were visiting Cora in the hospital. She also got to speak with Tillman again Saturday. Russell said Tillman is the most amazing person she’s ever met, besides Cora, of course.

“He is an extraordinary person. He is truly one of the most influential people I have ever met,” she said. “He does so much for others that people aren’t aware of, and taking time to get to know Cora was just a small piece, but made a difference in her and her family’s life.

“Charles blessed the Peters family not only with things like tickets, food, etc., but he also blessed them with his love and prayers. Truly, truly one of the most amazing people I have encountered. He did so much for one person who his wife loved dearly, and it just makes a mark on peoples lives, showing them the good in the world.”

Tillman and his family have established the Charles Tillman Cornerstone Foundation to provide opportunities and resources to children and their families in need. Tillman’s charitable efforts have impacted the lives of more than one million Chicago-area children.

Wallace, my comrade here at the BCR, said he now how has a favorite Chicago Bear. Count me in that corner, too. Peanut is simply a professional athlete who gets it. Unlike NBA Hall of Famer Charles Barkley, who infamously said years ago, “I’m no role model,” Peanut Tillman’s actions and care shows he truly is.

Charles “Peanut” Tillman is someone our kids can and should look up to.

If you would like to hear more about Peanut, Google “Charles Tillman: My Story.” It is an excellent piece about the man behind the famous No. 33 in the Bears uniform. I found several other stories on other athletes sharing their faith.

• Peanut Trivia: Wonder how Tillman got his nickname? It seems when he was an infant an aunt called him Peanut because the shape of his body resembled peanut.

• My condolences to the family of Michael S. Jonas, 41, also known as “Jonas the Giant” to area professional wrestling fans, who passed away suddenly Sunday. He was a giant with a big heart.

Also, I’d like to express my condolences to the family of Spring Creek golf ace Theresa Blanco, who passed away Jan. 2 at the age of 87. She won the Spring Creek club championship 27 times.

• Princeton native Rebecca (Hanson) Pecorelli, 38, now of Chicago, qualified for the Boston Marathon with a time of 3 hours, 38.47 seconds in the Chicago Marathon this fall.

Kevin Hieronymus is the BCR Sports Editor. Contact him at khieronymus@bcrnews.com.