Make ‘em laugh, a LaGrange Park volunteer believes
Brian Stephenson helps his son Cole untangle his hook from a tree branch in the pond. | Jon Langham~for Sun-Times Media
CHILDREN: Mary Grace, a junior at Indiana University, Madeline, a freshman at St. Ambrose College in Iowa, Sophia, a sophomore at Fenwick High School in Oak Park, and Cole, a seventh-grader at St. Francis Xavier School in La Grange
PROFESSION: Trial lawyer; 1987 graduate of John Marshall Law School
COACHING: 25 teams for soccer, softball, baseball, football and two high school mock trial teams
Updated: August 13, 2012 6:03AM
LAGRANGE PARK — LaGrange Park resident Brian Stephenson is a top prescriber of laughter as the best medicine for whatever ails you.
The 51-year-old father of four, attorney and volunteer for numerous causes considers humor an essential mind set for approaching and appreciating life.
“I can’t tell you the power of laughter. It’s remarkable,” he said. “One thing I’ve learned, the ability to make people laugh is very beneficial.”
In November, Stephenson saw the value of humor even more after he was diagnosed with epilepsy and hospitalized. A positive attitude and healthy dose of daily chuckles aided in treating the condition, now under control, he said.
“I’m trying to set up a program in a hospital now to have a comic come in twice a month to make patients laugh and take their minds off whatever they have,” he said. “If I see something and think it would work, I just do it or try to set it up.”
Seeing a need and tackling it led Stephenson to develop a one-week improvisation class for juvenile offenders being supervised by Cook County Circuit Court. He based his program on a successful experience in working with a La Grange teen theater group.
“After the last show, I noticed the kids were just glowing and on top of the world,” he said. “These are kids in the suburbs who really have a lot. I wondered if I could take this formula and take it to other kids.”
Through a juvenile court judge, Stephenson arranged to direct a class in Chicago and has been offering sessions for three years.
“The kids really responded. At the end of the class, we would do a show for family and friends,” he said. “It was remarkable the change we saw in these kids, the same as we saw in La Grange. It builds up their self esteem and allows them to believe in themselves.”
What Stephenson teaches he has honed from personal experience as a part-time stand-up comic doing fundraisers for various local groups, including the LaGrange Park Little League and in January, the Danny Did Foundation for children with epilepsy.
“I was sort of the class clown growing up in New York,” he recalled. “My dad was a very outgoing guy. He did a lot of programs for the community and was very funny, and I guess that struck a chord with me.”
Stephenson said he soon found that community involvement was even more satisfying than making people laugh, and he turned to his family for help in his many projects.
“I like to go fishing with my son, Cole, and we found a pond near Hinsdale with a dock with a ramp and a railing,” Stephenson said. “I thought handicapped people could probably come here to fish.”
Stephenson contacted an agency for developmentally disabled children, who are transported to the pond on Saturday mornings, and Cole and other boys put worms on the hooks and take off the fish, his father explained.
Stephenson also tried his hand at politics. He ran unsuccessfully for state representative for the former 41st District in 2010 and for Cook County Circuit Court judge in the Democratic primary in March. Politics was a great learning experience, but other projects have moved to the forefront, he said.
“My family and I have been very blessed, and why not share it,” he said. “If you help people and reach out and share what you’ve got with others that’s what matters. That’s a successful life.”