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Cecilia Barnas: Beating Cancer Twice, Making Oreo Cookies For 30 Years, Running A Business And Raising Three Boys



I wanted to take a moment and recognize all the amazing women that have been part of my life. I’ve had the honor to meet and work with so many women throughout my professional life, from Jennifer Lyons, Savo, Aline Cox, Ana Belaval, and Dina Bair at WGN, to my second moms, Aunt Nance, and Sue Grant growing up.

I’ve been lucky enough to welcome into my life, my mother-in-law, Kerry Van Dyke (small business owner), Carissa Remitz (badass boss), and my wife, Lara (Remitz) Barnas…How I found or deserve her, I’ll never know. That’s another story for another day.

To use a tired phrase, I’ve been “lucky” to have known these amazing women throughout my life, all of them leaders in their own way.

I’ve learned so much about leadership, respect and compassion from the aforementioned women and dozens of others, too many to mention here. I wanted to talk about the O-G woman in my life, my mom.

Cecilia Barnas simply put is a badass.

Pull up a chair and listen…

My mom (Cecilia Barnas) moved to Chicago when she was around 17 years old. Not knowing how to speak a word of English, she memorized where she should put her name on job applications. One of those job applications was for a cookie packer for Nabisco on the South Packing section of the plant on Chicago’s Southwest Side.

My mom worked the Oreo cookie packing line. It’s there where she met dozens of friends (and I mean dozens…you should have seen our parties when I was a kid) that would become family to my brothers and I. It’s this life that my mom cultivated that defined her. She came from a family that wasn’t always easy, she created a network of family in Chicago that have been her strongest support system.

Nabsico proved to be the spot where she learned how to speak English, try new recipes, and talk about where to get the best deals on clothes (Sears, anyone?) from listening and learning for all of the ladies on the packing line. It’s also the spot where she met my dad, Tom Barnas Sr.

My dad claims it was an accident by knocking her down outside the cafeteria at Nabisco, but I think it was a calculated move. 40 plus years later my mom and dad are still happily married, they have raised 3 boys into fine strapping men (if I do say so myself) and now they are doting grandparents to Lucy, Lincoln, Anthony, and Nolan.

It’s within that 40 years that my mom lead our entire family by example. While raising 3 boys, my mom worked overnights at Nabisco, survived cancer TWICE, opened up her own business, retried at Nabisco, unretired at Nabisco, and took care of both of our grandma’s, (did I mention raising three boys), retired again at Nabisco, handled homework, baseball practices, after school functions, cooking, cleaning (and then showing us how to do it to as chores) and taught us the value of a dollar, hard work, dedication and a never give up attitude.

Simply put, my mom taught us love and compassion, and she would not allow us to treat anyone with disrespect, in fact, she demanded respect in the way we dealt with each other and every adult we met.

I wanted to take a minute to say thanks to my mom, Cecilia. She’s been an inspiration to our whole family, we love you so much and I wanted to take a moment during Women’s History Month to acknowledge her work in leading our family, keeping my dad on his toes, showing us what “working hard for what you have” really means and loving us with all of her heart.

Love you, mom.

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