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Stagg students help make movie, book to document year and honor late teacher

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

cover of stagg book photo 8-11

 

Here is the cover of the book, “111th and Roberts: Where Our Stories Interact,” which was written by students at Stagg High School about their life at the school and to honor the late English teacher Mary Ogarek. A documentary was also filmed.

An effort to hold onto the sense of community and empathy that enveloped Stagg High School following the death of popular English teacher Mary Ogarek in 2014 has resulted in a book written by students called “111th and Roberts: Where Our Stories Intersect.”

Kenneth Erdey also filmed a documentary following the two teachers and 60 students involved in the senior English class project, and more than 300 people came to its first public showing on Aug. 2 at Stagg, 11100 S. Roberts Road, in Palos Hills.

“It was a very special event. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house,” said Principal Eric Olsen last week.

Mary Ogarek, who was 33 when she died in 2014, following an illness, got the project started herself when she and fellow teacher Lisa Thyer applied for and received a District 230 Foundation grant for $5,000.

“We taught the same type of classes, and although we didn’t co-teach, we collaborated on things,” said Thyer, explaining how she became friends with Ogarek.

“Our idea for the grant was to create a class where students could learn to ‘write for the real world,’” she said.

“Mary was there for the early planning stages, but she missed a lot. She was told she needed a liver transplant a few months before she died,” she said.

After students and faculty came together to mourn and share stories following Ogarek’s death on April, 2014, the decision was made to find a way to hold on to the “sense of community and empathy that formed” said Olsen.

“After Mary’s death, the school community could have gone a lot of different directions. They chose to make something positive out of it,” said Erdey, whose wife, Carla, is the communications director for School District 230.

After meeting with people from Voices of Witness, a San Francisco-based non-profit dedicated to promoting human rights and dignity by collecting oral histories, the faculty created a class doing something similar at Stagg. Thyer and fellow English teacher Christopher Wendelin agreed to teach the two sections, with a total of 60 students.

“The students who agreed to take the class deserve a lot of credit, because we didn’t know how it would go,” said Wendelin. “Some gave up AP classes to take it,” he added.

“Many of the students said they took it for the challenge,” said Olsen, describing them as “courageous.” The classes were as ethnically diverse as the school population, with everyone from honors students to those in special education getting involved.

Wendelin said that seeing the documentary brought back a lot of memories of what went into putting together the book over 10 months. “I don’t like seeing myself on film but Ken did it so well, without being intrusive.”

The documentary follows the students through the process of interviewing each other, and writing and editing each other’s work before the book was ready for print.

In segments available on YouTube, one student said she thought she knew about 80 percent of her classmates, but through the interviews, realized that she hardly knew them at all. The students found out that whether they came from the Middle East, high rises on the South Side of Chicago, or their families had lived in the suburbs for generations. They all had struggles to overcome.

Erdey, an instructor in the University of Illinois College of Media in Champaign-Urbana with 20 years of experience in TV news, called making the documentary “a very unique and life-changing experience.”

“When you film a short news story for TV, you never see the people again. But I was involved in this on a daily basis for 17 months,” he said. “I am going to try to incorporate what I learned from these students into my own classes.”

He said he really appreciated being introduced at the Aug. 2 showing by Molly Nagle, a graduate of both Stagg and U of I who was taught by both Ogarek and Erdey.

“She works on George Stephanopoulos’s program now (This Week), and flew in from New York to specifically to do this,” he said. “She was my student when we began the project, and was going to help me but she didn’t have time,” he explained.

“I’ve heard that (that there was not a dry eye in the house) during the showing, but my intention wasn’t to depress anyone. I hope they were all not bringing anyone down. I hope they were all good, happy tears,” he said.

Erdey said he plans to have the book and documentary included in a panel discussion at U of I in the coming months. The movie isn’t currently for sale, but he said he is working on copyright and other details that will make it possible.

Thyer said she is already looking forward to teaching the next “voice of witness” class this fall with Wenderlin. “There are only 30 students this time, because the classes had to be chosen in January and no one was sure how the first class would turn out.” She and Wendelin both said that after the book came out in May, a lot of juniors were trying to get into the class, but it was too late. But it shows there is a promising future ahead for the class.

“We are not going to write a book again, but we might do a podcast. We will see how it goes,” said Thyer.

More information about the project is available at www.staggvow.com. The book is available through the school and a few local bookstores. Erdey said he is planning to show the documentary at a U of I panel discussion, and is working on getting it copyrighted for wider release.

All proceeds from book sales will be donated to Voice of Witness San Francisco and to The Mary Ogarek Memorial Scholarship Foundation.

Worth mayor said Lucas Berg Commission will to be dissolved

  • Written by Sharon L. Filkins


Worth Mayor Mary Werner informed residents who attended the Aug. 3 village board meeting that the Lucas Berg Commission, which was formed more than 15 years ago and comprised of members of the Care of the Earth group, is going to be dissolved.

The Care of the Earth group has been in existence since the 1970s.

“The commission has not met since the Lucas Berg site was deeded back to the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District by the Army Corps of Engineers in 2014,” said Werner. “This is just a formality.”

She added that the primary focus of the group was to prevent the dumping of sludge from the Cal-Sag Channel into the 78-acre property and to preserve the site that borders on 111th Street to the north, Oketo Avenue to the east and Southwest Highway to the west.

“That threat was removed when Cong. Dan Lipinski (D-3rd) successfully inserted language into the Water Resources Reform and Development Act, which prevented the dumping of the material and led to the site being transferred to the MWRD,” added Werner. “It is now up to the MWRD to determine the future of the site and I am meeting with them later this month.”

Earlier this year, Werner stated that if the MWRD did not have a corporate use planned for the site, it could possibly be sold. At that time she said that the village would be interested in purchasing the land, if at all possible, as the majority of the acreage is in Worth.

Trustee Colleen McElroy asked Werner if there were any plans to honor and recognize the people who had worked hard for so many years to preserve the site. Werner said that plans will be made to recognize their efforts.

McElroy also asked Werner if the position of life safety officer, which was established in 2005 in conjunction with the Lucas Berg Commission, would also be dissolved. “This is a separate issue from the Commission,” McElroy said.

Werner agreed but said the position would also be dissolved. McElroy’s husband, Mike, has served as the life safety officer since the position was established. The mayor said at the conclusion of the meeting that the MWRD has their own security since it is now owns theland. But Werner added that the village is given access twice a year for cleaning up the area and Mike McElroy can still play a large role in that.

In another matter, in lieu of an economic development report from McElroy, Werner announced that she would be meeting with the board in the near future to review the business licensing process especially as it applies to special uses.

In board action, the trustees approved a resolution outlining rules for the public comment portion of board meetings. According to the rules, each person will be permitted to speak one time only, with a limit of three minutes per person. Only one person can speak at a time. Total time available for public comment during any meeting shall be limited to 40 minutes unless the village board waives the rule prior to the commencement of the time for public comment.

The rules are designed to avoid repetitive comments, testimony, and general questions unrelated to village business.

In other business, the board agreed to direct the village attorney to update the police department portion of the village’s municipal code.

Also approved were Halloween trick-or- treat hours from 3 to 7 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 31.

Worth Waterfall Park reopens but mayor warns residents about feeding birds

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

 

Xworth wildlife photo 8-11

 

Photo by Dermot Connolly

A family enjoys watching the birds in the MWRD's newly reopened Waterfall Park in Worth, at 117th and Harlem Avenue. Many new signs caution against feeding wildlife, a common activity which is believed to be harmful to the birds and other animals as well as draw dogs and coyotes to the area.


 

Worth’s popular Harry “Bus” Yourell Waterfall Park at 117th and Harlem Avenue reopened last week, following a two-month closure to search for an aggressive dog.

During a visit to the park this week, the ducks, Canada geese and other birds usually found there seemed to be as plentiful as ever, so the absence of human activity for a couple of months didn’t hurt their population anyway. The only change seemed to be new large red “stop signs” urging people not to feed the wildlife.

The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District closed the park temporarily on May 24, following several reports that began in late April of a dog or coyote acting aggressively toward people on the grounds of what is technically a sidestream elevated pool aeration (SEPA) station.

After a 16-year-old boy reported being bitten by what he described as a coyote there in late April, the village of Worth sent out notices in June water bills informing residents of the incident. But Mayor Mary Werner said the MWRD decided to temporarily close the site to the public following three more reports of people being attacked or threatened by a similar animal. Cook County Animal Control was called in to set humane traps for the problem animal.

Although coyotes are known to live in the wooded areas surrounding the park, officials determined from biological evidence left behind that the culprit was most likely a mixed-breed dog, like a shepherd-mix that may have looked like a coyote. Because so many coyotes do live in the surrounding area, trapping them would not be feasible, and experts point out that they typically shy away from humans rather than attack them.

Werner said this week that she was told by MWRD officials that although no animal was trapped, there has also been no evidence of “animal activity” in the park for two weeks. Therefore, it was deemed safe to reopen.

The mayor had said previously that when the park did reopen, the prohibition against feeding wildlife on the grounds would be stressed, which explains the new signs erected by the MWRD.

“Feeding waterfowl is very detrimental to their health. God did not intend for them to eat carbs like bread and cereal. This is equivalent to people feeding their children a diet of candy 365 days a year,” said Werner, citing information provided by the Humane Society of the United States.

“Also feeding them in mass brings them on shore where they are now eating in the same area where they defecate and it spreads diseases,” she added.

The mayor noted that practice of feeding the birds also might be what drew the problem dog there in the first place because the food left on the ground attracts other animals as well.

In addition to walking, jogging, and riding bikes on the paths around the waterfalls, feeding the birds is one of the other popular activities that people engage in at the park, so it will likely be a hard habit to break.

One Palos Hills resident who was there with his family on Monday said they missed going there when it was closed. “The kids like to see the wildlife,” he said. He admitted they had brought breadcrumbs for the birds, but put it away when they saw the signs.

But elsewhere in the park, another family was seen scattering crumbs for the birds right beside one of the new signs warning against it.

More information about living in close proximity to coyotes may be obtained at online at urbancoyoteresearch.com. For assistance with problem animals, residents are advised to call Cook County Animal Control at (708) 974-6140.

Oak Lawn man dies when his SUV is struck by Metra train

  • Written by Joe Boyle

A man was killed when the SUV he was driving was struck by a Metra train Monday morning in Oak Lawn, according to the Oak Lawn police and fire departments that arrived on the scene.

The crash occurred at about 7:40 a.m. at 97th and Central Avenue, according to Oak Lawn Fire Chief George Sheets.

The Cook County medical examiner’s office identified the man as Arthur Hornsby, of the 9200 block of Massasoit Avenue in Oak Lawn.

According to witnesses at the scene, the driver of the Honda Pilot drove around the warning gates at the railroad crossing. The Metra spokesperson said that the bells and lights at the railroad crossing were operating.

An Oak Lawn Fire Department ambulance team happened to be dropping off equipment at the nearby public works building when they heard the collision. Sheets said the driver had to be taken out of the vehicle and was transported to Advocate Christ Medical Center, where a Metra spokesperson said he was pronounced dead at 8:09 a.m.

"We're not sure how the car hit the train or the train hit the car," Sheets said.

Sheets said no one else was in the vehicle. The fire chief said that three people on the train were also taken to the hospital. However, none of them had any major injuries, said Sheets.

The fire chief said that were about 600 passengers on the train. Riders indicated they heard a large boom and felt the train brake suddenly.

The crash created delays for the Metra Southwest Service line. Investigators temporarily halted service in both directions. Trains were moving with delays at about 9:30 a.m. Central Avenue was shut down after the crash but reopened later that morning, said Sheets.

Mayor starting search for part-time village finance director

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

Chicago Ridge Mayor Chuck Tokar informed the village board on Tuesday that he had contacted several municipal consulting firms to begin the process of hiring a part-time village finance director.

He explained during the village board meeting that he was going to contact one of the companies this past Wednesday, and a second one within the week. The need for a finance director came up following the village board’s recent passage of a new ordinance limiting the mayor’s ability to appoint department heads and other village officials.

The two appointments that five of the six trustees voted against were Burt Odelson as village attorney, and Tokar himself as budget director, a position he has held for years.

Trustee Bruce Quintos had previously said that the budget director role was only needed on a part-time basis, and should be filled by someone other than the mayor.

When he was asked after the meeting if the finance director position would replace him as budget director, Tokar said, “Well, that is up to the village board.”

He maintains that the new ordinance, which requires a majority of the board to approve all of his appointments, is unconstitutional and plans to file a lawsuit seeking a declaratory judgment against the board.

Also at the meeting, the village board approved the police department’s purchase of a new transit van to carry prisoners, as well as a radar recorder that can be installed on light or telephone poles to monitor traffic patterns and speeds on local streets.

Deputy Police Chief Dean Mann explained that both purchases -- $59,703 for the van and $3,655 for the radar recorder -- will come from seized narcotics funds allocated to the department so no taxpayer money is needed.

“The 2017 Ford Transit-250 van will replace an old, obsolete transit van that wasn’t really equipped to transport prisoners,” said Mann.

He explained that the new vehicle will be divided into three compartments, so male, female and juvenile prisoners could be safely transported at the same time if necessary.

He said visual monitors will be installed in it so the driver or other staff can ensure that no harmful activity is taking place. At Trustee Jack Lind’s suggestion, Mann said an audio recording component may also be added for the protection of both the police and prisoners.

“The radar recorder can be used to confirm a street or intersection as a hotspot,” said Mann. “Radar detectors in cars will give motorists a warning, but we will be able to collect the information without expending manpower. We can more effectively deploy our resources, rather than stationing a car there for hours.”

He said that if the department receives a request for a resident about the need for a traffic control device at a certain location, the recorder can be placed there for a week or a month to collect data on speeds and times of the heaviest traffic flow.

“It will give us more of a reference point, when residents come before the board to ask for a speed bump or stop sign to be installed,” said Lind.

By Dermot Connolly

Chicago Ridge Mayor Chuck Tokar informed the village board on Tuesday that he had contacted several municipal consulting firms to begin the process of hiring a part-time village finance director.

He explained during the village board meeting that he was going to contact one of the companies this past Wednesday, and a second one within the week. The need for a finance director came up following the village board’s recent passage of a new ordinance limiting the mayor’s ability to appoint department heads and other village officials.

The two appointments that five of the six trustees voted against were Burt Odelson as village attorney, and Tokar himself as budget director, a position he has held for years.

Trustee Bruce Quintos had previously said that the budget director role was only needed on a part-time basis, and should be filled by someone other than the mayor.

When he was asked after the meeting if the finance director position would replace him as budget director, Tokar said, “Well, that is up to the village board.”

He maintains that the new ordinance, which requires a majority of the board to approve all of his appointments, is unconstitutional and plans to file a lawsuit seeking a declaratory judgment against the board.

Also at the meeting, the village board approved the police department’s purchase of a new transit van to carry prisoners, as well as a radar recorder that can be installed on light or telephone poles to monitor traffic patterns and speeds on local streets.

Deputy Police Chief Dean Mann explained that both purchases -- $59,703 for the van and $3,655 for the radar recorder -- will come from seized narcotics funds allocated to the department so no taxpayer money is needed.

“The 2017 Ford Transit-250 van will replace an old, obsolete transit van that wasn’t really equipped to transport prisoners,” said Mann.

He explained that the new vehicle will be divided into three compartments, so male, female and juvenile prisoners could be safely transported at the same time if necessary.

He said visual monitors will be installed in it so the driver or other staff can ensure that no harmful activity is taking place. At Trustee Jack Lind’s suggestion, Mann said an audio recording component may also be added for the protection of both the police and prisoners.

“The radar recorder can be used to confirm a street or intersection as a hotspot,” said Mann. “Radar detectors in cars will give motorists a warning, but we will be able to collect the information without expending manpower. We can more effectively deploy our resources, rather than stationing a car there for hours.”

He said that if the department receives a request for a resident about the need for a traffic control device at a certain location, the recorder can be placed there for a week or a month to collect data on speeds and times of the heaviest traffic flow.

“It will give us more of a reference point, when residents come before the board to ask for a speed bump or stop sign to be installed,” said Lind.