Chicago Ridge mayor, new trustees are sworn in

  • Written by Dermot Connolly



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Photo by Dermot Connolly

Chicago Ridge Mayor Chuck Tokar shakes hands with newly elected Trustee Edmund Kowalski following their swearing-in ceremony before the Village Board meeting last Thursday. Trustees Debbie Pyznarski and Lisel Kwartnik were also sworn in to their first terms in officer, along with Village Clerk Barb Harrison.


Three newly elected Chicago Ridge trustees and village clerk were sworn into office, along with Mayor Chuck Tokar, who won a second term, during a special village board meeting on April 25.

 Cook County Judge Denise Filan swore in Debby Pyznarski, Edmund Kowalski and Lisel Kwartnik. They took the seats vacated by Bruce Quintos, Sally Durkin and Amanda Cardin. Quintos and Cardin lost their bids for re-election, while Durkin, whose term was up as trustee, lost her bid to unseat Tokar.

Barb Harrison, who bested incumbent George Schleyer in the April 4 election, was sworn in to her first term in office. Family members held the Bible for all the new officeholders as they took the oath.

“I gave that oath of office many times in my 24 years as village clerk, and it never seemed so long (as when I said it)” joked Tokar afterward. “It’s a very serious oath and we’re honored to be your public servants. We appreciate your support through the coming years.”

Chicago Ridge Village Board meetings are usually held at 7 p.m. on the first and third Tuesday of each month, but Tokar said last Thursday’s meeting was necessary to accommodate Filan’s schedule. The only trustee missing was Frances Coglianese, who informed the mayor that she was unable to attend. She came in second to Tokar in the three-way mayoral race with Durkin, but has two years remaining on her term as trustee.

After everyone took their seats, the board met briefly in executive session to discuss the sale of the former Nicobee’s property at 10255 S. Harlem Ave., before resuming the public meeting, The board, including trustees Bill McFarland and Jack Lind, then voted unanimously to approve an extension of the closing on the vacant village-owned site where a developer plans to build a small strip mall that will include a Starbucks restaurant. Plans for the Starbucks, which would be the first in Chicago Ridge, were announced at the March 7 meeting.

Tokar said last Thursday that the developer asked to extend the closing date to May 31 to give him time to come to agreement with several other businesses interested in leasing space on the property. The sale price has not been made public yet, but Tokar said at the meeting in March that it would be “a lot more” than the $650,000 the village paid for it.

The board also voted to cancel the board meeting that had been scheduled for Tuesday, May 2. The board will hold its next regularly scheduled meeting in Village Hall at 7 p.m. Tuesday, May 16.

Our Lady of the Ridge enjoys victory lap

  • Written by Joe Boyle

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Photo by Joe Boyle

Roberto Ortega gives the number one sign as he races in as the winner of the second annual Our Lady of the Ridge School 5K run on Saturday morning. Ortega, who recently competed in the Boston Marathon, won the inaugural Our Lady of the Ridge run in 2016. Cheering him on (center) is Chicago Ridge Trustee Bill McFarland.


Sara Aldworth was hoping more people would come out for the second annual Our Lady of the Ridge 5K run/walk fundraiser Saturday morning despite the crisp temperatures and the expected rain.

But Aldworth, who is a member of the Our Lady of the Ridge School Board, was not complaining. She was just happy that the school was celebrating another run.

“We consider this as a victory lap,” Aldworth said with a smile.

She was referring to the fact that the administration, faculty, students and parents of Our Lady of the Ridge School, 108th and Oxford Ave., Chicago Ridge, were informed in January that they had to increase enrollment and raise more funds or the Chicago Archdiocese would have no alternative but to close the school in June.

School officials were told that they had to raise more than $250,000 by the end of February. After getting over the initial shock, the community and even residents who did not attend Our Lady of the Ridge began to lobby businesses and began spreading the word about the school that Sr. Stephanie Kondik, the longtime principal, described as a “little gem.”

Alumni board members raised more than $100,000 a couple of weeks later. A fundraiser was held in February at 115 Bourbon Street in Merrionette Park. Mary Grisolano, media relations volunteer and graduate of Our Lady of the Ridge, said the school was able to raise $321,500. Enrollment is now at 117 and Grisolano said that those numbers traditionally rise in the spring, especially now that the school will remain open.

“We are ecstatic,” Grisolano said. “We were confident we could do this. Everybody helped out.”

Grisolano, who currently has a child who attends Our Lady of the Ridge and a toddler at home that will also be attending the school, was also present at the second annual run. She said she would be there, rain or shine.

“We have our ponchos ready,” Grisolano said.

The Rev. Wayne Svida, pastor of Our Lady of the Ridge, was also in attendance to cheer the runners and walkers. He took photos of the volunteers who assisted the participants. He also took shots of the runners and walkers. He said he was excited and relieved when he found out Our Lady of the Ridge would remain open.

Svida told parishioners during a Prayer Service of Thanksgiving at the church after they received the good news that “this is about family. We will continue educate young men and women.”

The annual run and walk stepped off at the school’s parking lot. Christina Lavin, a school board member, founded the event last year as a way to raise funds for the school and other ministries. She added that the event brings families together for fellowship and fitness in Chicago Ridge, Worth and surrounding communities.

“We were so excited to have more than 300 people participate (last year),” Lavin said. “Whether they ran or walked, it was fun to see so many people come together to support Our Lady of the Ridge. This year, we’re confident that we will be just as successful and we can’t wait to welcome our runners and walkers to a great, family event.”

Aldworth wore a coat but was positioned at the starting line to cheer on the runners and walkers. She said despite the cold, the turnout was better than expected.

“We wished the weather could have been better,” Aldworth said. “Sometimes people wait to the last minute on a day like this. We will end up with a lot of people.”

Roberto Ortega, 34, a Chicago Ridge resident, was the winner of the race, clocking in at 20:01 and was well ahead of the pack. Ortega, who won the Southwest Half Marathon race in Palos Heights a year ago, also won the inaugural event at Our Lady of the Ridge in 2016. He promised organizers he would be back.

He also competed in the recent Boston Marathon, which he described as a thrilling experience although the temperatures were hot and humid. It made it difficult to finish, he said.

“This is perfect for running,” said Ortega about the Our Lady of the Ridge run. “Temperatures in the 40’s and 50’s are perfect. It helps you stay strong.”

The crowd became larger at the end of the race as participants and spectators moved to the gym to later watch the winners receive their medals. Food was available and a bounce house for the kids was being utilized.

“One this is for sure, this will not be our last 5K race,” added Aldworth.

Former Oak Lawn resident is ready for his 10th Southwest Half Marathon

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

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Submitted photo

Steven Rice is seen here running in the Humana Rock ‘n’ Roll Chicago Half Marathon last July. He is planning to run for the 10th Annual Southwest Half Marathon on Sunday in Palos Heights, just as he has done every year since it started.


The 10th Annual Southwest Half Marathon kicks off at 7:30 a.m. Sunday beginning at 7600 W. Route 83 in Palos Heights, and Steven Rice will be running in it, as he has every year.

“I’m sure I am not the only one who has run it every year. I’ve been told there are at least three of us, and I have to think there are a lot more. But no one makes a big deal about it,” said Rice, 49, who grew up in Palos Hills and Hickory Hills, and owns Southwest Painting & Decorating Inc. He lived in Oak Lawn until a recent move to Chicago.

As usual, in addition to the half marathon is the 10K run/walk, which starts at 7:40 a.m., followed by the Southwest Special Recreation Association’s Run/Walk/Roll. For the first time this year, there will also be a free Kids’ Dash fun run for children up to 10 years old, which will be held at 10:30 a.m., after all the races are completed. More than 1,300 people have registered for the main races this year.

Rice is a longtime member of the Yankee Runners, one of several running groups he belongs to. The Yankee Runners, with more than 500 members, are named after Yankee Woods in Oak Forest, where they train on Saturday mornings.

He learned about the race through his friendship with Mel Diab, the owner of Running for Kicks in Palos Heights, and co-founder of the half marathon and 10K with Jeff Prestinario. The two men still organize the annual event, with help from many volunteers, and Diab serves as race director.

“I thought the race was a great idea, and I started running in it to help support Mel’s efforts,” said Rice. “I keep doing it because the race is well put-together, and well-supported with first aid, snacks and water.”

“This race is good for the community, too. It raises money for charity, and brings a lot of people in,” he added.

During the first four years of the event, Rice even did double-duty, providing musical entertainment for the crowds after the race with “Defining Silence,” a local band that has since broken up.

“I would get there early and set up my drum kit, then run in the race. As soon as I was done, I would change clothes and join my bandmates,” said Rice.

Rice also noted that another good thing about the out-and-back race, which starts at 76th Avenue and turns around at Archer Road, “is a flat course.”

“It is not that it is easy, but it is a good race to set your personal best time,” he explained.

He set his own personal best time on the course in 2011, at 1:32:42.

“I’m not expecting to beat it this year,” he said with a laugh. “That was a long time ago and I was younger then.

“But it is run at a good time of year to kick off the season,” said Rice, who likes to run two or three half marathons each year, and at least one marathon.

He has run the Chicago Marathon more than 14 times, and the Boston Marathon twice.

Rice trains with the Yankee Runners every Saturday, in all weather, running on paved paths in Yankee Woods for most of the year. When the paths become snow-covered and icy during the winter, they run on trails through forest preserves in Palos Park, near McCarthy Road. He runs with other groups on weeknights.

Although it is the 10th anniversary of the race, and his 10th time running it, Rice doesn’t expect anything other than the usual celebrations afterward.

“The Yankee Runners always have a little cook-out afterwards, and we’ll just have some hamburgers and enjoy the atmosphere,” he said. “It’s always a good time.”

Registration and more information about the Southwest Half Marathon and 10K may be obtained at

Local officials are pleased with 294 expansion agreement

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

The Illinois Tollway Board of Directors last Thursday agreed to move forward with plans for a $4 billion rebuilding project on the Central Tri-State Tollway (Interstate 294) between Balmoral Avenue and 95th Street.

It was all good news to people like Chicago Ridge Mayor Chuck Tokar, who sat on the Central Tri-State Tollway Planning Council last year, as did Justice Mayor Kris Wasowicz.

“The two things we thought were the most important were improving traffic flow on I-294, and ingress and egress to the expressway, and those are on top of this project,” Tolar said.

He said the 95th Street entrance and exit ramps west of Harlem Avenue “are convoluted, the way it was set up. It is like a zoo there, whether you are getting on or off the expressway.”

He added that “even the mile-long bridge is bad” over the UPS facility near Willow Springs.

The stated goal is to increase capacity, reduce congestion and improve travel reliability on the 22-mile stretch of roadway. The Board also agreed to expand the Tollway’s Move Illinois Program commitment to more than $14 billion in spending over 15 years, without requiring an increase in toll rates.

Plans call for building additional lanes, including integrating a Flex Lane through the full length of the corridor, which is a wide inside shoulder with access controlled through the use of SmartRoad technology. Additional noisewalls, aesthetics and quality-of-life improvements such as local park enhancements, tree plantings and bike and pedestrian connections are also to be considered.

Tokar said members of his committee asked about possibly moving or adding interchanges at 103rd, 105th or 107th Street, which are all going to be under review by engineers in the next couple of years.

“I think it is encouraging and gratifying for the Tollway Board to be in favor of increasing the scope of the project. Instead of just looking ahead 20 years, they are looking to have it be 40 or 50 years,” said Tokar.

He noted that the Hinsdale and O’Hare oases will likely have to be removed, due to the planned widening of the expressway to six lanes in each direction. “The planners of those didn’t think far enough ahead,” he said, adding that Illinois is one of only a few states with overhead oases.

“Anything that improves traffic flow on 294 is going to help the economic conditions in the south and southwest suburbs,” said Jim Sweeney, a director on the Tollway Board and president and business manager of Operating Engineers Local 150.

According to the Tollway Board, I-294 connects four other interstates, I-80, I-55, I-290, I-88, and I-90, with the new I-490 Tollway being built as part of the Elgin O’Hare Western Access Project set to become the sixth interstate connection. It also provides connections to both O’Hare and Midway airports, and plays an important role in Chicago’s freight economy, which supports more than 176,000 jobs and generates $12.3 billion in personal income.

“All of the ramps are going to be improved. There are some real bottlenecks,” said Sweeney, citing the interchanges between Interstates 294 and 290 specifically, as well as those at 95th Street and Interstate 55.

“This will increase capacity, reduce congestion and improve travel reliability,” said Sweeney, noting that the Tollway system opened in 1958, “when Eisenhower was president.”

“There will be no increase in tolls. We will be able to do it with our present revenue capacity,” said Sweeney.

He said the cost of the Jane Addams Memorial Tollway construction project came in under budget, so some of that money will go for the 294 improvements. Other revenue will be generated from “chasing derelict consumers,” delinquent in paying tolls.

Sweeney said that for every billion dollars spent, 35,000 jobs will be generated, including many permanent jobs as well as construction jobs.

The Tollway’s analysis estimates improvements will reduce stop-and-go traffic and delays and result in significant reductions in peak travel times, including a 55 percent reduction in time it would take to drive the full length of the Tollway.

“It is desperately needed,” said Sweeney. “This is one of those rare things that really is a win-win for everybody.”

Project information along with the recent public presentations held in Justice and elsewhere are available online at

Palos Hills mayor encouraged by business surge

  • Written by Joe Boyle

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Photo by Joe Boyle

Palos Hills Mayor Gerald Bennett prepares to cut the ribbon Saturday afternoon to mark the grand opening of the Baha Auto Group in the city. He is joined by (from left) Ray Ihmud, owner and founder of the Baha Auto Group; Musa Muza, general manager; and Muza’s father, Abbel Muza.


Palos Hills Mayor Gerald Bennett said that there have been some indications of why businesses have been locating in the city.

But the best evidence of the recent surge is to just take a drive along Southwest Highway.

Bennett and other Palos Hills officials attended the official grand opening of the Baha Auto Group, 11001 Southwest Highway, Palos Hills, on Saturday afternoon. Musa Muza, the general manager of the Baha Auto Group, is excited about the opportunity to sell high-end used cars at this location.

“It has really been exciting,” said Muza. “The building was in pretty good condition, but we had a lot of work to do to bring everything up to code. We had to put in new lighting and new landscaping. We are very happy.”

Bennett was all smiles as he walked in the new Baha Auto Group facility, which has been in operation for just over a month. The owners have another Baha Auto Group center on Harlem Avenue in Burbank.

But the mayor remembers that just a few years ago this stretch of Southwest Highway from 111th Street and extending east a few blocks has been mostly barren since the recession dating back to 2009.

“I think when Webb Chevy moved in across the street a year and a half ago it began to change things,” Bennett said. “It was not that long after that the owners of Baha reached out to us. I believe we are seeing a trend here.”

Muza admits that Webb Chevy’s presence across the street influenced their decision to come to Palos Hills. But the ample parking lot on the side of the building and the warm welcome they received from the Palos Hills Board was another reason.

“I am very pleased with the landscaping,” said Ald. Martin Kleefisch (1st Ward). “It’s great to have a vibrant business here. It’s just great to see business here again.”

Bennett said that before Baha Auto Group shown interest in the property, the property was vacant for over 10 years. The building was once occupied by Hames Buick.

“They (Baha) contacted us and liked the property,” said Bennett. “Along with Webb Chevy across the street, we have a new restaurant next door.”

The restaurant the mayor was referring to is Demi’s Breakfast and Bistro, which will be opening their doors soon.

Ray Ihmud, president and founder of Baha, said he loves the community and is planning to move into the area. He sees great potential along Southwest Highway and predicts more businesses will be moving in.

“This is just a great community,” Ihmud said. “I just see so much potential.”

Muza said the new location, which is roughly 31,000 square feet, will allow for some expansion.

“We are going to add a service department and that will include oil changes,” Muza said.

Bennett is confident about the future, pointing out during a “State of the City” address on April 13 that this could be the best year since 2008 in building permits. He added that 10 to 13 small businesses have been added to the city over the past couple of years.

“I think the future looks bright,” Bennett added.