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Glen Ellyn rallies around own Superman in his time of need

It's not a Fourth of July parade in Glen Ellyn without Superman.

Even if the parade is winding down and most of the floats have passed, at least one spectator will almost always say, "Where's Superman?"

And then the Man of Steel appears. He gets no introduction, no banner marking his entrance. It's just him and his costume, entertaining generations of families as he has for the past 26 years.

In that time, Superman has earned his status as an Independence Day icon, always stopping to snap a picture with a familiar face, his hands squarely on both hips.

"He always has and will always be my favorite superhero because I believe in the ideals that he represents, and there are a number of moral lessons that can be learned from him," said Jonathan Charbonneau, the man who dons the red cape.

Easily recognized around town, Charbonneau adheres to a kind of superhero morality, striving for his best in practicing karate (he holds a third-degree black belt), cleaning up litter and helping businesses tidy up after sidewalk sales. He even stopped a would-be thief at one of those sales.

But last month, Superman found himself in an unusual position: He was the one who needed help.

Charbonneau, 52, who has Asperger's syndrome, a high-functioning form of autism, has lived in an apartment above the old Soukup's Hardware store for as long as he's marched in the Fourth of July parade -- since 1992.

A new owner bought the Main Street building in early 2017 and last month nearly doubled his rent, from $455 to $800 a month.

His friend and downtown business owner, Julie Spiller set up an online fundraiser, hoping to secure $4,500 to cover the rent difference for a year. She knew a major change in his routine would be upsetting and wanted Charbonneau to have enough time to find a more affordable apartment.

"So we were just initially trying to think one year ahead, but now it's extraordinary," Spiller said.

The GoFundMe page has far exceeded that initial goal, raising $35,600 in little more than a week.

"It gives you hope in humanity again," Spiller said.

Glen Ellyn may as well be Smallville for the outpouring of support for Charbonneau. People have offered to help hire moving companies for when he eventually settles into a new apartment, ideally close to public transportation so he can commute to his job at a DuPage Medical Group office in Downers Grove and to his karate classes.

"Then we've even had people say we're going to take up the offer for a special-needs attorney to take the remainder bulk of the money and set it up as a special-needs fund," Spiller said. "That way for Jonathan's future, when he wants to retire or needs to retire or has any issues with insurance, he will have a safety buffer."

Charbonneau last week signed a month-to-month lease for up to six months at the new rate, and his landlord agreed to still pay for utilities.

Building owner Ariel Darmoni said he initially increased the rent to $600 for apartment residents shortly after the purchase of the property but kept Charbonneau's unchanged. Darmoni said he recently increased the rent for the eight or so remaining units that have not yet been remodeled and could no longer afford to keep Charbonneau's rent at the lower price. Apartments that have been renovated are renting for $850 to $900, he said.

"It's just not him," he said. "The fact that he has special needs doesn't make any difference in that."

For Spiller, the mission to help Superman is personal. Mom to a 14-year-old son who has attention deficit disorder, Tourette syndrome and other special needs, Spiller is inspired by Charbonneau "and what he's been able to accomplish in his life."

Superman came to her aid years ago when he stopped a man who tried to steal a chair from a sidewalk sale outside her Main Street antique shop. "Jonathan literally was Superman," she said.

Besides launching the fundraiser, Spiller is compiling a book of notes she's received from supporters.

"I've had so many people reach out to me personally," she said. "One man said, 'I'm 29 years old. The first memory I have is Jonathan in a parade, and I've seen him ever since.' So many people have donated and reached out that have moved out of Glen Ellyn 10, 15 years ago, and they tell their children and their grandchildren about Jonathan, so he's part of a lot of people's lives and memories."

Charbonneau already knows how he will show his gratitude during next year's parade. There's a public address system on Main Street, and Superman will have a special message.

"I'm going to make an announcement over the PA of thanks for each and every person who helped me in whatever way they have," he said.


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