Most superheroes are not Tony Stark. They do not seek fame and fortune. Case in point: Retired Army Officer Margaret DeLillo-Storey, whose first question when I sat down in her office at Edison Junior High School was “how did you even pick me for this?”
“In high school, I was working as a bagger and cashier at Stoll’s IGA. I knew I wanted to go to college, but not right away. Three of the guys I worked with were joining the Marines. When I told them that I thought ‘boot camp would be a blast,’ they said I couldn’t do it. Well, I was a feisty little Italian girl,” DeLillo-Storey recalls.
She enlisted and came quickly to appreciate the opportunities in education and leadership, ones she said she never would have been given otherwise.
Ultimately, she served a year overseas in Operations Desert Storm, Shield and Farewell.
“When I came back home, retired at 42, I realized that I had learned what was really important in life. I didn’t love it, I survived it. But I’m grateful because it has shaped the path I’ve chosen.”
She lasted exactly one month in retirement, making the answer to her initial question about her “superhero” status easy. Her selection wasn’t for her military career alone. Not even close.
DeLillo-Storey completed her degrees, obtaining a doctorate with plans to be a military psychologist for returning veterans. She chose instead to become a civilian clinical counselor, specializing in trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.
While working at private agency Northeast Ohio Behavioral Health, she recognized that she was receiving many referrals for adolescents, for truancy and bad behavior, some of the most at-risk kids.
“I would have these kids for an hour a week. The schools have them for 30 hours. I thought, ‘What’s going on in these schools?’ If these are traumatized kids, school is not a safe place for them, not a place to learn. It’s a place for meals and 7 1/2 hours of not being yelled at or hurt,” DeLillo-Storey said.
She found quickly that while her skill lies in trauma, her heart lies with our youth. That passion led her to become a founding member of the Stark County Traumatized Child Task Force, and also to her biggest challenge yet: district mental health counselor for her alma mater, Perry Local Schools. Here she sees emotionally disturbed students with specific behavior needs, many of which may be the result of trauma.
At Perry, she serves the needs of the district and its schools on any given day — upwards of 4,500 kids. She conducts individual and group counseling, parent meetings, even appears in court on behalf of students, talking to magistrates, asking them to let her try.
I go where I’m needed. The most important gift in life is a solid foundation of love and family. The second is education. Nothing breaks my heart more than kids who give up on school and drop out. If it’s good for kids, I say let’s give it a shot.”
Margaret DeLillo-Storey on her work at Perry Local Schools
She also oversees the Junior ROTC program, now in its second year with more than 100 students. She’s emphatic that the ROTC is not a recruiting program, describing it as a leadership program designed to give students the opportunity to become part of a team. The program at Perry creates a nontraditional classroom with mini-leadership positions and includes color guard, rifle competitions, Veterans Day ceremonies and a military ball.
“To see these kids on the field or in the classroom is to see the pride that radiates from them, and from their parents. This may be the first thing they’ve ever really done, and the parents are beaming. You can be any size, any shape, and you’re a part of this precision team.”
DeLillo-Storey was inducted into the Ohio Veterans Hall of Fame in 2011, was the youngest Stark County veteran ever inducted, and was one of only 23 veterans to be inducted from Stark County since 1992. She remains the only female veteran from Stark County to this day.
“I thought someone was pranking me. When my superintendent came down to congratulate me, I didn’t know what he was talking about. When I found out it was real, I was overwhelmed. I wish I could tell you that I’m this great, wonderful person. I’m not. I’m really not. I do what I do because it’s what makes me tick.”
DeLillo-Storey still is very much involved in anything to do with our veterans, along with husband Duane Storey, also a veteran, who served in mechanized infantry on the east German border. She is a core supporter, consultant and treatment provider to the Veterans Honor Court in Stark County. She also is serving a three-year term on the state executive committee for Ohio’s Veterans Hall of Fame.
It’s true what they say: once a soldier, always a soldier. I have an unspoken connection with other veterans and members of the military.”
And if her own two children decided to enlist?
“If we were in a significant combat situation, I wouldn’t want them to go. As a parent, I now understand my mother’s initial reaction. But I would absolutely support their decision to join any arm of our armed forces. I hope that we have instilled patriotism in our children, thankfulness. That the choice to go or not, the choice to be free, is the work of a veteran.”
Superhero. The word has no equal in the English language when it comes to precisely pinpointing the confluence of hope and action.
It’s a word most often applied to pop culture goliaths—those larger than life crusaders that have entertained us for decades on the screen, page and now, even on Broadway’s stage. And here locally in the Hall of Fame City and City of Champions, it is difficult not to idolize our gridiron heroes.
We root for the good guys, and at the root of that rooting is hope.
For this issue, it was my great privilege to sit down with six local superheroes. No capes, no tights—just honest, unassuming, real-life superheroes—men and women who are saving lives and rescuing our residents. Men and women who give us hope.
If writing this story has taught me anything, it’s that superheroes are among us. I think you’ll agree—unmasking these six is proof enough.
And there are more out there. Superheroes are not fictional characters with too good-to-be-true powers. Their powers are true and good and very, very real.
Their powers give us hope.