Family, friends remember Abby as they raise funds for a cure

  • Written by Sharon L. Filkins

abby close up photo 10-27


Submitted photo

Oak Lawn resident Abby Wujcik, 8, died from a pediatric tumor in 2013. A benefit was held in her memory Saturday to raise awareness and help fund research.

On a bright, sunny Saturday, hundreds of people gathered at Oak Lawn-Hometown Middle School for the first “Live Like Abby Family Fest” in honor of Abby Wujcik, an 8-year-old Oak Lawn resident who lost her fight against a pedriatic tumor in 2013.

The event was organized to raise funds for the Live Like Abby group, a partner of the John McNicholas Brain Tumor Foundation (JMBTF), whose mission is to improve treatments and ultimately find a cure for brain cancer in children. The second part of the event was to focus on the activities on Saturday to remember Abby, whose family, friends and classmates said was very special.

More than 20 tents and play stations were set up for kids of all ages, as well as a number of bounce houses. Karate demonstrations were available along with a pie-in-the-face throwing event. Admission was free, but tickets were purchased to play the games and purchase food.

Abby’s father, Kevin Wujcik, said he and his wife, Kristyn, wanted the Fest to be family-oriented because they wanted to focus on Abby’s friends, classmates and cousins.

“They have all been involved in preparation of the event. We held a paint night, and the kids painted all the signs for the different stations at the Fest,” said Kevin. “The signs were done in purple and yellow, which were Abby’s favorite colors.”

He stated that preparing for the Fest had been emotionally hard for the family.

“We remain close to parents of her classmates and keep in touch with them. It is a great comfort for all of us,” said Wujcik. “We set up a Live Like Abby Facebook page and it has 1,000 members. It is a very supportive group. We know we have a lot of people behind us.”

Among those attending the Fest were two of Abby’s former classmates, Elena Leon, 12, and Annalisa Barajas, 11. They shared fond memories of their friend.

“Abby was the first friend I made in first grade. I was new to the school and Abby came up to me on the playground and introduced herself,” said Leon. “We became instant friends. She was always happy and smiling. When she was diagnosed she was very strong. She didn’t worry or fret about her chemo. She always just wanted to get her work done.”

“She wanted us to treat her normally, not like anything was wrong,” said Barajas. “She didn’t want us to treat her any differently because she had cancer. She concentrated on her school work, it was very important to her. She was always fun to be around. I sat with her at lunch and we were always talking through ‘chew-time’ a period of 10 minutes or so when we were supposed to be quiet and eating our food.”

Both girls remembered a gym period in which the gym teacher played Justin Bieber’s songs for the whole period because he was Abby’s favorite singer.

Leon related a second touching moment in gym when the teacher had everyone sit in a circle and Abby came in and entertained them by doing several “splits” in a little gymnastic routine.    

Abby’s story began in May, 2012, when the school nurse phoned her mother and informed her that the 6-year-old was having difficulty with her right hand in using scissors in the classroom. She suggested that they mention it to the doctor the next time they had an appointment.

Kristyn immediately made an appointment. The pediatrician ordered an MRI. There was no way the young family was prepared for the results.

“It was like being kicked in the stomach,” said Kevin. “The MRI revealed that Abby had a Stage 4 Glioblastoma brain tumor. It is the worst kind of brain cancer you can have. “

“We knew what we were up against and the possibility of the outcome. Incredibly, our very close friends had just recently lost their 7-year-old son, Danny Host, to the very same cancer. He and Abby had been good friends, always playing together when we visited. We even shared the same pediatrician and we just could not believe that these two little friends would have this same terrible disease,” he added.

There is no known cause of the pediatric cancer, which can strike children from newborn to teenagers and there is no cure at this time.

The Wujciks were up front with Abby, who they described as a very bright, mature child for her age.

“She was an ‘old soul,’ “said Kristyn. “We asked her if she wanted to fight this, and she replied, ‘Yes, I am going to fight.’”

And fight she did. In her 15-month battle, she endured 115 chemotherapy sessions, 40 clinic visits, 33 radiation treatments, over 30 days in the hospital, and two surgeries before she lost her fight, just days after her 8th birthday in 2013.

Her journey was marked with a chain of “Beads of Courage,” which was on display at the Fest. It is a colorful collection of beads marking each treatment, surgery and hospital stay. It is 17 feet long with 460 beads.

Kevin’s eyes filled with tears as he displayed the beads during an earlier interview. “Looking back, these beads help the family remember what each one represents, what she went through during those days and weeks.”

Early on, the family decided they would handle this situation together, as a family. “We wanted to make sure we lived life to the fullest during the time she had left and we were blessed to be able to do that,” said Kevin.

He said the family traveled to Hawaii with Abby through the Make a Wish Foundation and were able to meet Bieber.

“We went to Disney World and saw the Blue Man Group. We cherish those wonderful family memories,” said Kevin.

It was after the passing of Abby that the JMBTF reached out to the Wujcik family and asked Kevin to serve on the Foundation’s Board. He was later encouraged to start a “Live Like Abby” branch.

“It is hard doing this, but we know we are making a difference. There are only a few degrees of separation among families who have suffered a tragic loss like this, losing a young child. We know each other’s pain. It is our hope that working together we can raise awareness of this terrible disease and provide the funding needed for research, clinical trials, improved drugs and treatments, he said.

A highlight of the Abby Fest was a presentation by Dr. Rishl Lulla, from Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago. He explained that he was not the doctor who had treated Abby Wujcik but he had treated John McNicholas, who died from a malignant brain tumor four years ago, at age 15, just 10 months after his diagnosis.

For John’s parents, Ed and Amy McNicholas, the death of their son from pediatric brain cancer was the catalyst for the founding of the John McNicholas Brain Tumor Foundation, whose goal is to raise awareness and funds for research into the devastating disease.

“When we began this terrible journey with our son, we were unaware of the lack of funding and research into improving treatments for these young victims,” said Amy. “We knew we had to do something, but we couldn’t do it alone. It is the mission of the Foundation to improve treatments, which haven’t changed in the last 30 or 40 years and ultimately we hope a cure will be found for brain cancer in children.”

The JMBT Foundation is now the umbrella organization for four branches: Live Like Abby, Live Like John, Live Like Leah and Live Like Finn. “The name of each group is significant, as we want people to celebrate the lives of these children and to keep their memories alive. Their lives were more important than the disease,” said Lulla.

“It is rare today that we can give parents hope, once the diagnosis is made. That is why it is critical that funding is diverted to research for pediatric brain cancer. It is humbling to see so many people gathered here today to support Abby’s family and this cause with this fundraising event,” added Lulla.

He added, “Events like today remind us of the importance of community and collaboration in raising funds for the research needed for pediatric brain cancer. Sadly, there are virtually no funds for research from federal sources. Only four percent of funds go to all pediatric cancers. That is why private funding is so important.”

According to a press release, the JMPBTF and its partners donated $500,000 to fund a two-year collaborative effort to research how brain tumors grow, with the hope of using that information to recommend new treatments. With events similar to the Live Like Abby Fest, the Foundation hopes to donate an additional $500,000 in the coming years.

“For further information on the Live Like Abby group and the John McNicholas Brain Tumor Foundation fundraising efforts and how to contribute, visit

Son is charged in stabbing death of his mother in Oak Lawn

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

william sink photo 10-27

                        William Sink

A 19-year-old Oak Lawn man faces a first-degree murder charge in the stabbing death of his mother that occurred on Saturday in the home they shared in the 4600 block of West 106th Place.

Oak Lawn police said they responded to a domestic disturbance call involving someone with a knife at 4:52 a.m. Saturday. Upon arrival, they said Grace V. Sink, 50, who made the 911 call, told them she had been stabbed by her son, William, during a physical altercation. She was transported to Advocate Christ Medical Center for treatment of stab wounds, and survived emergency surgery. But she died about 9:30 a.m. that day. An autopsy determined that she died as a result of multiple sharp force injuries, according to the Cook County Medical Examiner’s office.

Police said William Sink was at the home when they arrived and he also was taken by ambulance to the hospital. He remained there this week receiving psychiatric treatment. Following an investigation by Oak Lawn Police and the South Suburban Major Crimes Task Force, the Cook County state’s attorney’s office filed the first-degree murder charge against Sink on Sunday.

Judge Patrick Rogers issued a $2 million bond for William Sink on Monday, after prosecutors made an appearance in his Bridgeview courtroom to outline their case. Sink, a 2016 graduate of St. Rita High School, was represented by his attorney, Dave Fewkes. His father, who is a Chicago police officer, also was in the courtroom, according to reports.

Sink, who played hockey at St. Rita, was currently attending Moraine Valley Community College. Rogers ordered that he be transferred to Cermak Health Services of Cook County if he could not post bond. He is next scheduled to appear in court on Nov. 17.

Prosecutors are alleging that Sink stabbed his mother about 5 a.m. Saturday inside their home after arguing and fighting with her, his younger brother, and his mother’s boyfriend earlier. The other two males separated him from his mother and the three went outside, where he allegedly knocked the boyfriend unconscious. Sink then returned to the house and resumed fighting with his mother.

“The entire community is really saddened and shocked to hear about this. Our hearts go out to the Sink family,” said Oak Lawn Mayor Sandra Bury on Tuesday.

“I really want to thank the first responders and the staff of Advocate Christ Medical Center for doing all they could for her,” said the mayor.

“It is just awful, a real tragedy for a whole family that has been torn apart. You have a mother’s life taken, a young man with a promising future that is now gone, and his brother and father (in mourning).”

“I don’t know what the exact circumstances were in this case, but we have got to make mental health a priority,” she concluded.

We welcome some chills and thrills as Halloween approaches

  • Written by Joe Boyle

With Halloween just four days away, I admit that I like hearing a good ghost story. I suppose it’s the unknown or the unexplained that intrigues me.

The movie “The Amityville Horror” was based on alleged paranormal activity that took place in this town in New York state. But I have also read accounts that much of what appeared in the book and film did not happen. Most of so-called paranormal activity can be explained.

I guess I’m like anyone else. A little bit of mystery can be exciting. For instance, I enjoyed watching the 2013 movie “The Conjuring” about malicious spirits who haunted a family and their home in Rhode Island in the early 1970s. I suppose some of these events can be explained. On the other hand, there is a part of me that would like to believe that there are events that happen that defy explanation.

We know old homes make noises. Floors sometimes creak and a wind can create strange sounds from the attic. Doors sometimes can open or close in an old home because the foundation underneath pitches at certain times of the year. An explanation can be provided for most strange occurrences.

But this is time of the year when things go bump in the night. Soon witches and assorted goblins will be walking door-to-door with their bags out looking for a treat. That’s when these tales have their most appeal. Feature stories will appear in newspapers or a piece can be viewed on TV in the next coming days.

That includes our newspaper. Earlier this month, I attended a program that featured author and parapsychologist Ursula Bielski, who has written several books on the supernatural. Her local appeal comes from the fact that the authors hails from Chicago’s North Side. Her latest book focuses on Bachelor’s Grove Cemetery, the ancient burial grounds in the southwest suburbs.

Bielski believes that there are unnatural forces present at the cemetery and recalled an evening when she toured the area with a friend who had connections to allow her to come along. The author admits that the two should not have been touring the cemetery at night because the land is owned by the Cook County Forest Preserves. The cemetery is closed during the evening, but she admits the two were adventurous and their curiosity took over.

According to Bielski, the two traveled along paths and would occasionally see bright lights that seemed to follow them. When they would get closer, the lights would disappear, according to Bielski. But what frightened the author was that they were unable for hours to find their way out of the cemetery. The fact they were lost was unnerving because her guide knew his way through the cemetery. He had walked the path numerous times with no difficulties, according to Bielski. But that evening they reportedly saw these bright lights and became disoriented and lost.

BIelski told an audience over 90 people at the Green Hills Library in Palos Hills that she has heard other accounts from people who have seen these bright lights that suddenly disappear when they grew closer. They also told her that they also were lost for hours. Bielski said she was terrified and believes that the bright lights were the result of a malicious spirit that haunts the cemetery.

My impression is that some of these sightings could be explained. It could have been someone playing a hoax on these cemetery travelers. On the other hand, you always wonder. While these tales were interesting, I knew why so many people were at the library that evening. They wanted to hear about one ghost in particular – none other than Resurrection Mary.

The legends and stories about Resurrection Mary are popular because of its local origins. Several girls and women have been called Resurrection Mary. One popular account is that of Marija “Anna” Norkus, 12, who lived in Chicago’s Garfield Ridge neighborhood. She died about six weeks before her 13th birthday. She reportedly loved to dance and begged her father to take along dancing to O Henry’s Ballroom (now the Willowbrook Ballroom). Her father relented and brought her daughter and some other people along.

Reportedly, several people had too much to drink and on the way home, the impaired driver collided with another car and Anna fell out and was crushed by one of the vehicles. She died on July 20, 1927. Reportedly, people have seen the blonde-haired girl along Archer Avenue after her death. Mary Bregory, from Chicago’s Back of the Yards neighborhood, also reportedly died in a car crash after a night of dancing and has been referred to as Resurrection Mary.

A photo of Anna Norkus was featured at Bielski’s library presentation, along with the gates at Resurrection Cemetery. The cemetery gates in the photo along Archer shows a blackened section which Bielski said was burned and fingerprints, allegedly from Resurrection Mary, could be seen.

I’ve heard this story often that included a segment on “That’s Incredible” on ABC-TV in which a truck driver saw a girl grabbing the cemetery gates. He stopped and walked up to the gates and the girl disappeared. According to the TV program, the truck driver went to the Justice police. An officer and the truck driver returned and they saw the burned portion of the gates with the fingerprints, according to the show.

That’s why Resurrection Mary continues to be discussed to this day. A story on Anna Norkus, for instance, appears in papers at the time of her death.

I guess we all want to believe in something mystical and scary at this time of the year. That’s why the legend of Resurrection Mary continues to live on.

Joe Boyle is the editor of The Reporter. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Hickory Hills Zoning Board approves development on old Sabre Room property

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

mike pryal photo 10-20

Photo by Dermot Connolly

Mike Pryal (at right) was among the Hickory Hills residents who got a chance to peruse development plans for the Sabre Room property at a community meeting on Oct. 12.

Following a public hearing on Monday night, the Hickory Hills Planning Board and Zoning Board of Appeals voted to approve a zoning variance requested for a proposed mixed-use development on the site of the Sabre Room property at 8900 W. 95th St.

The final decision on the development, called Sabre Woods, is up to the City Council, which will consider it at its Nov. 10 meeting.

Hickory Hills residents had a chance to meet the property owners and development team, and ask questions about their plans, at two community meetings held Oct. 12at St. Patricia Parish Center.

“We’re very excited about this. We’re going to miss the Sabre Room, but we’re looking forward to something new. The name will live on as Sabre Woods” said developer Chip Cornelius.

“There is a tremendous amount of heritage there. Frank Sinatra, Liza Minelli, Johnny Carson, Bill Cosby were among the people who performed at the Sabre Room. But, the economy, the health of the family took its toll and the decision was made to close,” said Jim Koziarz, representing the family of Arthur and Marie Muzzarelli, who founded the Sabre Room in 1949.

“We’re here to look forward. We made a decision to develop the 30-acre site in a comprehensive way, rather than hodgepodge. We developed this master plan with three primary components,” said developer Jim Louthen, president of Re-Town.

The senior living component, referred to Sabre Woods Senior Village, would include 20 single-family ranch homes, as many as 84 senior apartments and 120 assisted living units.

Louthen described it as “sophisticated senior housing.”

“We know there is a need for assisted living and going along with that is memory care,” he said.

Pricing for the senior residences will be market-driven, Louthen said.

The retail component, being called the “Shops of Sabre Woods,” will be facing 95th Street. No decisions have been made about exactly which businesses would be going in there.

“It is still early but we’ve set the bar very high as far as the standard of retail that we’re looking for,” Louthen said. “A very modern big-box store could fit right.”

The third, “civic component” of the property includes the possibility of donating a piece of the property for a civic building in the wooded, northwest corner of the property.

“We really believe in community,” said Louthen. He described it as a public-private partnership, but Mayor Mike Howley said afterward that the city has not been asked to come up with any money for the project yet.

Howley also pointed out that the property is currently zoned for residential, so if this proposal had not come along, a residential developer would have needed no variance to build a big subdivision that could result in overcrowded schools.

When flooding concerns were raised by area residents, Louthen said, “We know there were issues with flooding in the past. That will all be taken care of. This new plan accommodates drainage; we wouldn’t get a permit without it. We have to calculate the amount of rain that will fall and provide space for that,” noting that the site plans include several retention ponds. “We think that it is economically feasible, will generate jobs and is marketable and fits into the fabric and goals of Hickory Hills.”

“It’s a big piece of property, I think the development will be good for the community,” said Mike Pryal, after looking over the plans. Residents were invited to submit suggestions about the project. Pryal said his only concern was attracting the right businesses that will do well.

“We need some nice restaurants. We have three main retail strips in Hickory Hills, and there are already a lot of vacancies,” he said.

Chicago Ridge is making progress in its war against rats

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

Chicago Ridge officials are seeing some signs of success with their efforts over the past month to deal with a burgeoning rat population.

The first indication that the situation is improving was the announcement made at a rather uneventful Village Board meeting on Tuesday that Royal Palace banquet hall was cleared to reopen, after cleaning up a rat problem inside the building. The banquet hall at 6254 W. 111th St had been closed since early September, when an inspection found rat problems in the basement.

But on Tuesday, newly hired health inspector Peter Gianakas told the board that the facility passed the latest inspection with a 98 percent score.

“We want them to reopen as soon as possible and start making money again,” said Mayor Chuck Tokar.

The rat problem “is abating” village-wide, said Tokar afterward. In addition to the baiting done by Guardian Pest Control, he said the new policy begun in September of placing dry ice in rodent burrows is working. As an example, he pointed to the Shell gas station property at 6358 W. 111th St., where 30 burrows were found in September. But over the weeks since the dry ice has been applied, the number of burrows has dropped steadily, with only three being found this week.

Trustees Bruce Quintos and Fran Coglianese agreed that there has been improvement with the rat problem. Quintos pointed out that Coglianese came up with the idea for the dry ice, after discovering that it was being done elsewhere. She also found a local supplier for the ice, which releases carbon dioxide into the burrows, causing asphyxiation.

“I feel like the ice woman,” said Coglianese with a grin.

When the meeting was opened to public comment, a resident of the 10800 block of Oxford Avenue told the board that she was still dealing with a rat problem on her property. The woman said she has found evidence of a new burrow close to her siding, and wants to get it baited.

“I’m very scared,” she said, expressing fear that rats will get into her house.

Another resident of Marshall Avenue praised Public Works Director Stan Barwock for working with railroad officials to remove rotted railroad ties that were providing shelter for rats. She also said dog-walkers seem to be paying attention to recently installed signs warning them to pick up dog waste or face fines.

Tokar agreed that the signage is working, and approved the purchase of 25 more signs that will include details of the possible assessment of $100 fines.

Also at the meeting, the board discussed the possibility of enacting an ordinance limiting the number of video gaming cafés in the village. Oak Lawn recently enacted an ordinance capping the number at the two cafés already open. Tinley Park and New Lenox also have passed similar limiting ordinances, and village attorneys have been asked to draw up an ordinance modeled after them.

“It might be ready to be voted on at the next meeting, or possibly the one after that,” said Tokar.