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Evergreen Park mayor praises work of village clerk

  • Written by By Sharon L. Filkins

Evergreen Park Mayor James Sexton had nothing but words of praise for Village Clerk Catherine Aparo at the Monday village board meeting.

Proclaiming the week of May 1-7 as “Municipal Clerks Week” Sexton said, “For the 16 years I have served as mayor, I have had the honor of sitting next to the best Municipal Clerk in Illinois, if not the nation.”

Sexton’s comments were not just idle words as Aparo was named a Master Municipal Clerk in the International Clerk’s Association two years ago. She is a member of the Southwest Municipal Clerk’s Association and is one of only 43 clerks in Illinois to achieve the Master Clerk designation.

Later, Aparo said the achievement is a long process.

“It took me almost 12 years to complete all the requirements. There were a couple of times I thought about giving up, but I kept going, and I am glad I did,” she said.

She explained that the requirements include many hours of seminars, classes and meetings. “It is done in steps; first you are a registered clerk, then certified and finally you reach the highest level, which is the rank of Master Clerk. It is a title you hold for life.”

“The clerks do all the work in municipalities, but get none of the credit,” added Sexton. “I am very happy to announce this proclamation.”

A second proclamation announced that Friday, April 29 as “Arbor Day in the Village of Evergreen Park.”

In conjunction with the proclaimed Arbor Day, the village’s Public Works Department, under the direction of Gavin Yeaman, hosted its fifth annual Arbor Day contest, which was open to all K-8 students from schools within the boundaries of the village. One hundred entries were received. The top three winners in each category were honored at the board meeting.

This year’s theme was “Trees are important to our health and happiness.” Students were asked to produce an essay or poster reflecting the theme.

In the Poster category, Meydlin Rodriguez, a fifth-grader at Southeast School, captured first place. Louise Brady, a second-grader at Northwest School, placed second. Sarah Schroll, a sixth-grader at Most Holy Redeemer School, came in third place.

First place in the Essay category went to Sarah Beyer, a fifth-grader at Southeast School. Marion Isaac, a seventh grade student at Central Middle School, placed second. Samantha Ricks, a fourth grade student at Southeast, placed third.

“In addition to their other prizes, the first place winners have also earned a tree for their school,” said Yeaman. “We will be planting a tree at Southeast School on Arbor Day, Friday, April 29.

In other action, the board approved an ordinance to the village’s municipal code, which will prevent individual poles being erected in the public right-of-ways for the purpose of personal wireless telecommunications services and facilities.

Also approved was a resolution approving a grant application for the 2016 Cook County Community Development Block Grant Program, in the amount of $390,000. If received, the funds would be used for sewer linings.

The board also approved an application from Brendan Rosner to participate in the Evergreen Park Police Department’s College Student Internship Program. Rosner is a student at Loras University in Dubuque, Iowa.

Upgrade of Parkview Apartments in Hickory Hills continues on right path

  • Written by By Joe Boyle

The Hickory Hills City Council provided a positive update on the condition of the Parkview Apartments during a brief meeting last Thursday night.

Mayor Mike Howley was absent from the council session because he was attending the confirmation of his son. Ald. Scott Zimmerman served as the mayor pro-tem.

Ald. Michael McHugh said that new pipes are being installed in the buildings at the complex, 7800 W. 89th Place. The buildings, which now houses seniors since the city bought the property over 20 years ago, has undergone a number of repairs to modernize the facility.

The Parkview Apartments had sustained some damages over the years. Water damage from leaking pipes deemed it necessary that repairs were needed after this winter. McHugh said that problem is being addressed. New wiring was needed in some of the apartments, said McHugh.

“It has been pretty much overdue (for repairs),” said McHugh. “We are going to do it the right way. I think this is going to be a good investment.”

Upgrades at the Parkview Apartments have occurred over the years, including a new roof for one complex and a balcony for another.

“It really looks nice now,” said Dee Catizone, the city clerk. “The buildings are right next to the Community Center where the seniors don’t have to go far to take part in activities.”

Mike Spolar, the city engineer, discussed the weekly refuse and recycling for the city with Waste Management. The current recycle offset rate was $22.40 with the senior rate at $21.40. That was slightly above the rates for the contract year of June 1, 2014 through May 31, 2015, in which the unit rate was $21.75 and $20.75 for seniors.

The new rate, which was approved by the board, will be at $23.07 and $22.07 for seniors from June 1, 2016 through May 31, 2017, said Spolar.

Waste Management will provide residents with 96- or 64-gallon refuse carts. Weekly collection of refuse will be placed in carts, bags or 32-gallon containers. Residents have the option of renting or purchasing additional refuse carts from Waste Management.

A check for the amount of $7,500 will be given to Hickory Hills annually in support of community programs each contract year.

The city also approved two business licenses during the meeting. G & K Baking Butercrumb Bakery will open a wholesale bakery at 7731 W. 98th St. in the city’s industrial section. The warehouse will supply bakery for other businesses. The business is owned by Kathleen Meyer and Gina Errico.

Chill and Grill, 9348 S. Roberts Road, will also be open for business. Owners Nada Abed and Ghandi Dini will be serving ice cream and fast food.

Rep. Flowers rips Rauner over flap with Madigan

  • Written by By Joe Boyle

Gov. Rauner fired off yet another round of complaints at House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-22nd), blaming him for the budget stalemate that is now in its 10th month.

However, one local legislator is tired of hearing the governor targeting Madigan as the main culprit behind the budget impasse.

“The governor's voice is lurking in the newspapers and on TV,” said state Rep. Mary Flowers (D-31st), whose district includes Oak Lawn. “He complains about the Democrats and the Speaker instead of negotiating.

“If the governor keeps moving the goal posts, we can't get anything done,” added Flowers. “The governor is trying to destroy education. How are we supposed to get along? How are we supposed to work together? This is not a dictatorship.”

Legislators went back to work last week where some bills were initiated. During the recess, Rauner said that Madigan has not contacted him or attempted to offer any proposals to end the budget stalemate. Following Rauner’s criticisms of Madigan, Senate Democrats introduced a school funding bill on April 6 that would redistribute funds from wealthier districts to poorer communities. The measure would take place over four years.

Rauner has not ruled against the most recent measure that was introduced by state Sen Andy Manar (D-Bunker Hill). The governor said that the state’s current funding relies too much on local property taxes to fund schools. He said that state money should be provided evenly for lower-income districts and rural areas.

Manar’s plan is supposed to cost about $600 million. During the first year, $400 million will be provided to make sure that school districts don’t lose money. Manar’s bill would offer $200 million for the state to pay Chicago teacher pensions.

The bill is actually an amendment to Senate Bill 231. The language is based on a bipartisan report two years ago. While Rauner has not ruled against Manar’s bill, the $3.8 billion funding bill passed by Senate Democrats last month has not persuaded the governor. Republicans were also not in agreement. Democrats used their majority to pass the bill by a 39-18 margin. The vote had already cleared the House.

The proposal would allow for about $1.9 billion to colleges and universities that have not received funding since this budget lockdown started. Before the vote, Republicans called the bill irrelevant because it provides no funding to be put in the bill.

State Senate Republicans are calling on Democrats to support the governor’s proposal to fund elementary and secondary education. Senate Leader Christine Radogno (R-41st) said Rauner’s proposed increase of $55 million will meet the recommended per-student spending of just over $6,000 annually. The unveiled $1.3 billion budget spending plan introduced on April 7 would provide services and other programs to those who have struggled during this budget deadlock, according to Radogno.

But Radogno said the reforms would affect the retirement funds for teachers at local high school districts and public universities. Rauner’s plan would cease salary hikes for school officials who are near retirement. Pension costs of employees making more than $180,000 to a local school district would be deferred. Radogno said that the extra cost would have to be picked up by the universities.

Radogno discussed the budget impasse during a speech recently to the City Club of Chicago. A budget without the governor’s agenda, a budget passed only by Democrats, or no budget at all is not acceptable, according to Radogno. But she added that Democrats have to get on board.

“The only out for Illinois is option four, and that is real engagement from the Democrats, even though that means the status quo is going to change,” Radogno said.

While some Democratic and Republican legislators have been talking, Flowers said that the governor’s insistence on all aspects of this “turnaround agenda” bring negotiations to a halt.

“If we ever do get together, Rauner is going to protect his friends,” said Flowers. “Until everybody truly has some skin in the game, nothing is going to happen.”

Flowers said instead the governor, with the assistance of Democrats and Republicans, should be providing more jobs and coming up with innovative ways to provide health care for residents of all ages. The local legislator said it is time for the governor to get serious in negotiations.

“The vast majority of my political life I have worked for Republican governors,” said Flowers, who was elected in 1984 and began serving in 1985. “This governor has no institutional history. He is going by sound bites. Let’s move forward, governor. I’m going to stay the course. When the governor wants to talk to us, we will listen.”

Local Catholic pastors come to terms with lower enrollments, less priests

  • Written by By Joe Boyle

Archbishop Blase Cupich has raised concerns among Catholics about the future of local parishes in the Chicago Archdiocese due to lower enrollments and fewer priests.

But several southwest suburban pastors said that they don't foresee any church closings. However, changes are imminent, the pastors said.

“We had three meetings (with the archbishop),” said the Rev. Lawrence Malcom, pastor of St. Gerald Parish, 9310 S. 55th Court, Oak Lawn. “By 2030 there will only be 260 priests for the archdiocese. We have 370 parishes in the archdiocese. So, in the future, the archdiocese is talking about closing some schools while merging others.”

Malcom does not believe changes will be occurring soon to parishes in Oak Lawn, for instance. He said there is a list of 70 parishes in the archdiocese in which school enrollments are low. Schools with an enrollment of under 200, or under 225 if they offer kindergarten, will be considered for future closings if those numbers do not substantially improve.

The St. Gerald pastor is pleased with the numbers at his parish. School enrollment at St. Gerald is currently at 385.

“It has been steady,” said Malcom. “What's going on here now is that we are having more baptisms. We are having more baptisms than funerals. This is the oldest section of Oak Lawn, so I think a lot of families are coming here because homes are more affordable.”

The Rev. James Hyland, pastor of Most Holy Redeemer Parish, 9525 S. Lawndale Ave., Evergreen Park, said that he has also spoken to the archbishop. The parish has to address some issues in the future, he said.

“Do we have financial challenges facing us? Well, yes,” said Hyland. “Enrollment figures are down a bit.”

Hyland does not believe any churches in the area are in danger of closing. But Hyland, who has been at Holy Redeemer the past seven years, said that some parishes in the future may share resources.

“What you might see is more consolidation of programs,” said Hyland. “You could see an area RICA program, for example. Perhaps a regional St. Vincent de Paul Society office could occur. I think you will see more sharing of resources. The parishes may work together more. Some schools in some areas may consolidate.

“But I think the biggest challenge is lower enrollments,” added Hyland. “That is something we have to work on.”

Susan Burritt, spokesperson for the archdiocese, said some changes will occur.

“Some churches will close,” said Burritt. “But that does not mean there will be sweeping changes at all parishes. It may be totally different for some areas of churches.”

Cupich is coming to the grips with sexual abuse claims and the physical state of older buildings, especially in Chicago. Many church pews are far from filled each week. Collections have dipped somewhat from 2014 when they had $215.9 million in 2014. The figures for annual collections for 2015 were $214.4 million, according to a recent archdiocese report.

The Rev. Michael Furlan, pastor of St. Germaine Parish, 9711 S. Kolin Ave., Oak Lawn, said that parish volunteers have been a tremendous asset. He said that there are two priests at St. Germaine and at the four other Oak Lawn parishes. Furlan said many of the priests are older.

“How long can we sustain having two priests at one parish? Some changes will have to take place,” said Furlan. “These are things that can be done with a little collaboration.”

Burritt said that finances are just one of the difficulties. The dwindling number of priests has to be addressed, she said. Furlan agrees but said some realignment could help soften the blow.

Furlan suggests that some priests could say a Mass at another parish. He added that close attention would have to be made to weekly schedules so there are no conflicts.

“Just looking at our parish, we have some of the same volunteers who are very dedicated,” said Furlan. “But we don’t want to burn them out. Maybe we can help by having parishioners from other churches help out here and we can assist others on occasion.”

Burritt said that nearly 250 parishes may need to be reconfigured in the next 14 years, she said.

“It’s more than just finances,” said Burritt. “The dwindling number of priests means that changes will have to take place.”

Images detail life along 95th Street in Oak Lawn over past century

  • Written by By Joe Boyle

Rick Sorley recalled some special memories as he viewed the opening of “Hitting The Road: An Historic Trip Down 95th Street” photo exhibit Saturday at the Oak Lawn Library.

Sorley looked over the photos at the exhibit on the library's second floor accompanied by his son, Rick III.

“I grew up in Oak Lawn and there are a lot of memories here,” said Sorley. “I was telling my son about the Branding Iron Restaurant. My dad proposed to my mom there.”

The photo exhibit features photos from Oak Lawn's past along 95th Street dating back to when the community was called Black Oak. Photos include the original Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church from 1891. Other photos feature the first Oak Lawn Village Hall from 1918; the Harnew Service Station, 5250 W. 95th St., from about 1930; Behrend's Hardware Store at the northwest corner of 95th and Raymond Avenue in about 1912; Premo's Ice Cream from 1987; and the Branding Iron, 4200 W. 95th St., from 1960. The Branding Iron, once a popular restaurant in Oak Lawn, closed in 1988.

Included in the display is the entrance of Kiddyland at 95th Street and Pulaski in 1950; the Coral Theater near 95th and Cicero in 1984, shortly before it was demolished; and Christ Community Hospital, which opened in 1961.

The project took about 16 months to complete, said Kevin Korst, local history coordinator at the Oak Lawn Library.

“We had a lot of help and so many of them contributed so many photos,” said Korst, who has written one book on Oak Lawn's history and another on the 1967 tornado that ravaged the village. “It took about three weeks to actually put it together.”

Over 100 photos can be viewed at the exhibit, which includes a video. One older image included a photo of Wilhelm and Wilhelmina Brandt posing near their tavern 5137 W. 95th St. Wilhelm operated a blacksmith shop. The Brandts were members of Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church.

Korst said an interesting period in Oak Lawn history was the development of the annual Round-Up Day Parades down 95th Street that began in 1949. The first parade was a modest affair that included a few bicycles, a couple of cars and about six merchants on horseback. The parade was part of a three-day event that was held in September that grew dramatically in the 1950s.

The event and parade eventually drew vast media coverage at the time, including live broadcasts by WGN-TV.

“Jack Brickhouse was the master of ceremonies one year,” said Korst. “The parade was about six miles long and I believe even went into parts of Evergreen Park. This event drew thousands of people from everywhere every year.”

The two-hour parade at its height featured over 500 horses, floats, marching units, horses and buggies, covered wagons, high school bands and a drum and bugle corps. The first parade was allegedly a result of the Oak Lawn Chamber of Commerce delving into the village's past in which it was once referred to as “Horse Thieves Hollow.”

The Round-Up Days derived from those stories that Korst said was more legend then fact. The first parades were held in conjunction with National Safety Day. Since there were several riding stables just west of the village, it was decided that riders and their horses from these stables were to participate in the parade. The event became a source of community pride with local businesses contributing to the event.

In 1953, one published report referred to the Crippled Creek Gold Mine, in which residents would try their luck “panning” for gold. Spectators would dig for “nuggets” that contained a prize or merchandise donated by members of the Oak Lawn shopping district.

The parade became a victim of its own success, said Korst. A Golden Jubilee parade was held in 1959 to mark the village's 50th year. The Round-Up Day events went on hiatus but the parade was discontinued in 1960.

“It was just becoming too complicated,” said Korst. “It was amazing how many people would show up for the parade. It just got too expensive and too big. Just imagine that at this time a community of 10 to 15,000 people held a parade that drew as many as 10,000 people. We have had many parades since, of course. The Round-Up Days just ran its course.”

Korst said the exhibit will be up for a year. It will be replaced by an exhibit focusing on the 50th anniversary of the Oak Lawn tornado. Another display will be set up for the 1967 blizzard that also occurred in 1967.

“We are going through interviews, written and audio, and hundreds of photos,” said Korst. “We have a lot of work to do.”