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Wheeling native creates upbeat video for children

WHEELING — Wheeling native Maria Pappas’ multi-faceted career has taken another spin with the creation of a musical video for children.

The new video, titled “Me and My Iguana,” is the initial entry in a series that Pappas and her team plan to develop.

Pappas is treasurer of Cook County, Illinois, a position she has held since 1998. A Chicago resident, she was elected to a sixth four-year term in 2018.

At age 70, Pappas has a simple reason for taking time from her serious career to make a comical video.

“To make a difference in the last 25 years of my life, I wanted to make people laugh,” she said.

Through her service in government and past work in the fields of law and counseling, she has traveled and worked around the world. Now, she hopes those international connections will advance the reach of “Me and My Iguana.”

“We’re just going to get this to go viral internationally,” she said of the video. “We will continue developing a series.”

She returned to her hometown earlier this month to premiere the video for a group of childhood friends.

“For me, I wanted to launch it here,” she said. “I am the person I am in Chicago because I started here. I’m successful in politics because of my start here. I love this town.”

Pappas, a graduate of the former Warwood High School, is the daughter of the late Ted and Irene Pappas, who lived in the Warwood section of the city. Her brother, the late Dr. John Pappas, was a Wheeling dentist.

Taking a note from the “Baby Shark” craze, “Me and My Iguana” features a catchy tune designed to appeal to children (and create an earworm for adults).

Pappas wrote the rhyming lyrics with a repetitive theme to attract the attention of young children. The video’s brightly-colored graphics change rapidly to delight youngsters.

The fast-paced animated video runs for 1 minute and 35 seconds, “which is about as long as you can keep a kid’s attention,” she said.

Adding a universal element to the light-hearted tale of the adventures of a child and pet, the cartoon iguana stays the same throughout the video, while the figure of the child changes gender frequently and morphs into different races and religions. “This is a very diverse video,” she said.

Tim Maeder, a multimedia designer who worked to develop the video, said, “The iguana is kind of out of left field. It can take people’s minds out of what they’re struggling with day to day. It’s an escape.”

Upon turning 70, Pappas said, “I wanted to find something that captured all of my professions and all of my experiences.”

The sing-along video represents a collaborative effort between Pappas, Maeder and Frank Lucas, a musician and composer. Maeder and Lucas live in Chicago.

Maeder, who also is a musician, songwriter and producer, has collaborated on projects with several famous entertainers, including Jennifer Lopez. Lucas has performed with many well-known musicians.

“Tim Maeder animated the video, bringing my vision to life,” she said, adding, “I did the lyrics. Tim made the lyrics and the song come to life.”

Pappas, who has visited 52 countries, said, “I have made the decision that what people really want is to laugh. They want something to laugh about.”

The video is available for viewing online, free of charge, at www.MeandMyIguana.com.

“The link takes you to YouTube. Eventually our website will be built out,” Maeder said.

He said they are in discussion with a company in Chicago to create an “augmented reality” version with a camera for children to see the iguana with them.

“Kids will be able to create their own ‘Me and My Iguana’ video,” he said.

“Working with Maria is awesome. She never slows down,” Maeder added. “I’ve never met anyone so focused.”

Under Pappas’ leadership, the Cook County treasurer’s department has become a streamlined operation. She said six offices have been consolidated into one, with the number of employees reduced from 258 to 58.

“It’s one of the more sophisticated financial collection systems anywhere in the world,” she said.

Pappas earned a degree in sociology from West Liberty State College in 1970, a degree in guidance and counseling at West Virginia University in 1972, a doctorate in counseling and psychology at Loyola University of Chicago in 1976 and a law degree at Chicago-Kent College of Law at the Illinois Institute of Technology in 1982.

Along the way, she also served as a church organist and played clarinet and piano.

“My parents were down on my having a music career. I’m back at it,” she concluded gleefully.

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