-- Exhibit highlights stories of displaced people from WWII era

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

An ongoing exhibit at the Balzekas  Museum of Lithuanian Culture, 6500 S. Pulaski Road in Chicago,  brings to life the stories of  thousands of World War II-era “displaced persons” from Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, many of whom came to the southwest suburbs after fleeing their homelands.

Called “No Home to Go To, the Story of Baltic Displaced Persons, 1944-1952,” the exhibit shows through photos and donated memorabilia, from luggage to clothing, how they kept their cultures alive while waiting in displaced persons camps mainly in Germany and Austria, until getting permission to settle in the United States and Canada.

Rita Janz, the director of the museum, explained that the Baltic states were independent between 1918 and 1940, when their countries were invaded first by Hitler’s Germany and then Stalin’s Soviet Union. Nazi forces invaded the Baltic states first, and then Soviet forces took over. Fleeing Soviet domination, and possible deportation to Siberia, hundreds of thousands of people fled westward to Germany toward the end of World War II.

“A lot of people thought that they would just have to leave for a short time, and they could return when independence was restored after the war. But that was not the case,” said Janz.  She pointed out that when the Iron Curtain came down after the war, and the Baltic states were absorbed into the Soviet Union, few people who left wanted to return.

According to statistics, after the Allies defeated the Nazis, some 200,000 displaced people from the Baltic states were living in “DP camps” in Germany, and perhaps 100,000 more living in cities and towns.  They were all largely dependent on “CARE” packages from the United States to supplement their food rations. Janz pointed to one photo in which Campbell’s soup cans are evident among the food donations.

When the Allies divided Germany into zones run by the U.S., British, French and Soviets, Janz said the displaced people felt lucky to be anywhere but the Soviet zone, because people there were repatriated to their home countries, or sent to Siberia.

The exhibit includes a wealth of photographs showing all aspects of their lives, from the cramped quarters they were living in, to their efforts to keep their languages and cultures alive any way they could while waiting for permission to leave. National costumes made of curtains and other materials available in the camps are on display in the exhibit, along with everything from personal documents to a box of sugar that a fleeing Lithuanian family took with them when they left home.

Many educated women who may have been doctors and dentists in Lithuania, were taught how to be seamstresses in the camps so they could find jobs in the United States and elsewhere.

           The exhibit also includes a display of the luggage that the refugees brought with them from their home countries, and took with them when they eventually resettled in the United States and Canada. One steamer trunk is labeled with an address in Orland Park.

                Among those displaced persons who eventually settled in Chicago, coming to the already thriving Lithuanian community around Marquette Park, was Valdas Adamkus. His high school  class photo, taken while he was in a DP camp in Germany, is featured in the display. Adamkus worked for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency before returning to an independent Lithuania in the 1990s, where he served two terms as president.

                The exhibit also points out that Vaira Vike-Freiberga, who served two terms as president of independent Latvia, also spent time in a displaced persons camp in Germany before immigrating to Canada. The parents of Toomas Hendrik Ilves, the current president of Estonia, also were DPs who left their country in 1944.

                Stanley Balzekas  Jr., the museum founder who said he is now 91, said it is important to tell the stories of the displaced persons. He noted during a recent visit to the museum that his parents came to the United States in the years before World War I. But he saw the DP camps firsthand when he served with the US armed forces in Germany during World War II.

So many items have been donated to the exhibit that they cannot all be all shown at once.  So it is going to be “re-installed” during a ceremony at 6 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 17, with many new items put on display.

The museum, which also includes an exhibit that tells the stories of the Lithuanians who remained at home during World War II to fight the occupying forces, is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and noon to 4 p.m. Sundays.

Janz said the Displaced Persons exhibit is expected to be open through next year. A traveling exhibit has been to Washington, D.C., and plans are in the works to bring it to New York City.

CR health inspections may be conducted by Cook County

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

      Health inspections, and the possibility of turning that responsibility over to Cook County, was discussed at Tuesday's Chicago Ridge Village Board meeting—but trustees assured concerned residents that no decisions were imminent.

     At the invitation of Trustee William McFarland, George Papadopoulos, assistant director of health services for Cook County, explained the county’s role in health inspections.

    “We’re technically only responsible for unincorporated Cook County, but we also handle health inspections for 32 municipalities,” said Papadopoulos.  He said that Palos Hills, Palos Park and Palos Heights are among the communities that use the county services.

“The cost is $100 per inspection, and we generally do two inspections per year, roughly every six months,” he added. He said all establishments that serve or sell food are inspected, from mini-marts to large grocery stores and restaurants. Nursing homes and other facilities that serve food are also inspected he said, noting that municipalities are not generally charged for follow-up inspections done to ensure that all corrections are made.

He said that state law requires that the inspections are done by people holding the LEHP designation of licensed environmental health practitioner.

Papadopoulos said fees were last raised in 2002, from $60. He said that in 1993, when he joined the department, the fees were $40.

                “The program is done to help suburban municipalities, but the fees don’t actually cover our costs,” he said.

                He said that if Chicago Ridge were to contract with the county, “We would perform inspections on your behalf, and send you quarterly records. They’re actually your records anyway.” He said that aside from the quarterly records, the county officials do not usually notify municipalities about every inspection done, unless there are major issues that would require a business to be closed.

“Our goal is not to close businesses,” he said, adding that the county does not actually have the large notification stickers that the city of Chicago’s health department posts on businesses that are temporarily closed for failing health inspections.

“The goal is to get the problems solved. If you want to put up a sign saying closed for repairs, that is OK with us,” he said.

When resident Lynn Barker asked if the village was seriously considering contracting with the county for health inspections, McFarland said that nothing will be done immediately anyway.

“It was just an exploration of what is out there,” said McFarland. “I’d like to do a lot more research on this.

                Currently inspections are done by Rick Ruge, the village’s part-time health inspector, and Barker and several people in the audience commented that the job should remain within the village.

The cost of inspections currently works out to be about $65 per inspection, village officials said, but Trustee Frances Coglianese said cost savings would be realized if the village billed the businesses, as many communities do.

                Barker responded that the business licensing fee should either cover the cost of the inspections or be lowered if they are going to be charged, and Mayor Chuck Tokar pointed out that the typical business license fee of $100 basically does cover the inspection cost now.

                “We have tons of questions. At least I do,” said Trustee Amanda Cardin.

 McFarland said after the meeting that he would be against passing the inspection cost on to businesses. “We need our businesses. I don’t want to scare anyone away. There will be a lot more to come on this (before the current system is changed),” he said.

A good sign -- football is back

  • Written by Jeff Vorva


This weekend, thousands of area fans will be heading out to stadiums to watch the start of the 2015 high school football season in Illinois.

And they won’t have far to go.

Seven of the 10 area schools in the Reporter-Regional area will host opening games and the other three are not terribly far away.

Just four of the 10 games are rematches from the 2014 opening week.

Brother Rice hosts Michigan power Brother Rice out of Bloomfield Hills. Last year, the Michigan squad beat the Crusaders 40-34 but that convinced members of the Chicago team that they could play with the big boys and they went on to knock off Loyola, Mt. Carmel and St. Rita to earn a tie for first in the Catholic League Blue. The visitors are ranked 16th in Michigan by the MLive website and had a 33-game winning streak snapped last year in a Division 2 Regional game.

Evergreen Park hosts Lake Station (Ind.) and last year the Mustangs held a 14-0 early lead when rain and lightning postponed the game to Saturday and they didn’t miss a beat, completing a 55-13 victory.

Shepard hosts Niles North in Palos Heights and hopes to avenge a 49-14 road setback from last year.

Chicago Christian hosts Westmont and last year, the Knights opened the season with a 56-34 road setback.

The other six games will feature teams not as familiar with each other.

Marist plays Mount Carmel at Soldier Field and it promises to be a tough game for a RedHawks team that missed the playoffs last year for the first time since 2007. The Caravan won 12 state titles and last year went a disappointing 5-4 in the regular season and was in danger of missing the regular season but won three postseason games and reached the Class 7A semifinals before bowing to eventual state champ Providence.

St. Laurence, which qualified for the playoffs for the first time since 2009 last year, had opened the past two seasons with the historic Battle of Burbank against Reavis but this year the Vikings will battle Benet.  The up-and-down Redwings have gone 1-8, 11-2, 6-4 and 6-4 the past four seasons.

Richards heads to Frankfort to take on Lincoln-Way North, a team that has gone 24-8 the past three seasons. Two weeks ago, the Lincoln-Way school board voted to close North after the school year so this figures to be an emotional season for the Phoenix as they prepare for their final campaign.

Oak Lawn hosts Lane out of the Chicago Public League. Lane was 4-5 last year. Area teams played four Public League teams in the two weeks of 2014 and won all four games by a combined score of 135-6, including Oak Lawn’s 49-0 rout of Kenwood.

Stagg, which opened its season with Hillcrest the past two years, switched up and will host Minooka this year.  The Indians were a power from 2009-2011 but the past three seasons they have failed to finish with a winning record. Stagg is hoping to avoid its 10th straight losing season.

Sandburg, which opened the past two seasons against Lincoln-Way Central, visits Naperville North. North was 2-7 last year but had made it to the playoffs 17 straight years prior to that including a Class 8A state title in 2007. It was North’s first losing season since 1983. Sandburg made it to the playoffs six straight seasons but fell short in 2014.

Jeff Vorva's Im-PRESS-ions: Against my better judgement, I am ready for some football

  • Written by Jeff Vorva



Jeffs Col Impressions

I never learn.

This is the time of year I get geeked up for football.

Really geeked up.

We are just a day away from the 2015 area high school season. In seasons past, this was the time of year that I couldn’t wait for things to start.

And it’s not just because of the football itself.

I enjoy seeing and sniffing the thick smoke from the grills as some parents or teachers are making brats or burgers for the concession stands.

It’s cool to smell the fresh-cut grass although with the new artificial turf at many stadiums, that pleasure is waning.

I like hearing the bands even though some of them can hit a few sour notes now and again.

Hearing the bellowing of crazed first-year assistant and sophomore coaches who treat the sport as if their mother’s life depends on it always amuses me the first week.  Sooner or later, they mellow out – a little.

Seeing old and familiar faces on the sidelines is always a treat. Some guys have been following their teams forever and they still have the passion to do it another season.

And then there is that final huddle before the game starts. Whether a team is a state championship contender or a sub-.500 team, that huddle features a bunch of dudes screaming until their lungs give way. They are pumped up and ready to go into a season in which they have no idea what’s going to happen in the next nine weeks.  

That moment is golden.

And then the game starts.

For me, that’s when reality hits.

Penalties. Fumbles. Bad football.

And I stand there thinking “I got all geeked up for THIS?”

And I vow that next year, I won’t get so amped up.

But I never learn.

One year, I remember making a long trip to about five or six different towns in order to get special preseason football sections so that I could be up on as many teams as possible. I even made the trip to Palos Heights to pick up the Reporter/Regional’s section even though I didn’t know at the time that I would be someday be working here.

With the exception of a 10-year gap in which I covered the Cubs, I have covered a bunch of season openers. A few were classic games. Many others were dogs.

Two years ago, when I took over as editor of the Reporter, a part of my job was to go out and cover two games on a Friday night as a photographer.

Wow! I got to experience two openers in one night! I hit the jackpot.

But I never learn.

The first night of football in 2013 was so bad with rain and lighting that eventually most of the area games were postponed. I drove to Burbank, Oak Lawn, Palos Heights, back to Oak Lawn back to Burbank waiting for a game to start and couldn’t find one. Long after I got home, I found out that Oak Lawn High School indeed got its game going hours before the scheduled kickoff and played deep into the night.

That was a lousy weekend and last year, the weather played some games with the games as well.

Usually the play gets crisper and better in the third or fourth week. Then the storylines start kicking into gear. That’s when I should be getting excited.

But I never learn.

So it’s 2015. I have been covering sports since 1977. After all of these years, I finally vowed not to get excited for this season. During the summer, when the teams were playing 7-on-7 games, I mostly ignored it.

I took a mild interest when the schedules came out, but that was about it.

Then this month, it started to hit me.  Lincoln-Way North is closing and two of our teams – Richards and Sandburg – will face the Phoenix in non-conference games in the first two weeks.

I started talking to people about Marist playing Mt. Carmel on Friday at Soldier Field. That game should be pretty cool.

Uh, oh.

My interest was getting bigger.

There is one of the best programs in the history of Michigan football named Brother Rice and that team is coming to Chicago on Saturday to play our Brother Rice.

And then, just to mess with me, fate took over. After dropping my son, T.J. off to college, we made a side trip through a small town called Arcola and it is football crazy. A bunch of the light poles had drawings of the Arcola players and we passed the high school field and a youth game was going on. I heard the whistles of the refs, the roar of the crowd and the clunk of pads hitting pads.

That hooked me.

So no matter if there is a tornado Friday night or 200 yards of penalties in the first quarter of a game I am at, I am geeked up for the season.

I never learn.



Palos Park, Lemont go to battle over land

  • Written by Dermot Connolly




Lemont Mayor Brian Reaves promised an overflow crowd at its village board meeting on Monday that he would work to prevent Palos Park from annexing four properties totaling 1,400 acres of unincorporated Cook County land.

“I will do everything in my power to fight this,” he promised the crowd, encouraging them to do the same by contacting officials in Palos Park and Cook County to express their own displeasure. “I will do whatever I can to stop this.”

The four unincorporated properties in dispute are Cog Hill Golf & Country Club, a public golf course that was home to the PGA’s Western Open from 1991 to 2006; The Gleneagles Country Club; Mid-Iron Golf Course and Ludwigs Feed Store Corp., known locally as Ludwig Farm. Because the properties are adjacent to the village of Lemont, and completely separate from Palos Park, Reaves and everyone who spoke during public comment agreed that it makes no sense to allow the annexation. Lemont had future development plans for the properties, but Palos Park made the first move.

“It is a true misappropriation of what belongs to Lemont. (These properties) have been a part of Lemont forever,” said the mayor.

He pointed out that allowing Palos Park to annex the disconnected properties would split up his own village. “Can you imagine coming to Route 83 and Main Street, and seeing “Welcome to Lemont, and then welcome to Palos Park, and back to Lemont again? It is ridiculous.”

Responding to an audience question, he said the annexation would also break the area into separate ZIP codes.

Palos Park is surrounded by forest preserve district property, and in order for the annexation to work, the village needs to obtain a piece of Cook County Forest Preserve District property that now separates it from the Mid-Iron driving range, at 126th Street and Bell Road. This would meet the requirement that a municipality be contiguous to property it annexes.

Palos Park would provide Lake Michigan water free of charge to a nearby Forest Preserve District police station, and give zoning rights back to the forest preserve district because the village doesn’t want to develop the land.

Reaves said the water issue should be “taken off the table,” because it would be much easier for Lemont to provide the water mains needed for access to Lake Michigan water than Palos Park. “If they really want to pay for Lake Michigan water, we can give it to them,” he said.

Palos Park Mayor John Mahoney has said that the Mid-Iron Golf Course, which did not open this year, could be part of a commercial development in the future. And to officials at the Lemont meeting said there is enough space on the Lundy Farm piece to build about 200 homes, and 400 more on the Gleneagles property.

“(Because the properties would still be within the boundaries of Lemont school districts) It could have a huge impact on our schools,” said Reaves, answering a question from a Boy Scout in his junior year at Lemont High School.

Reaves and others at the meeting said the annexation issue, which has been in discussion since at least 2009, stems from the property owners being “disgruntled” with Lemont, for one reason or another. All the property owners have applied to Palos Park for annexation.

“Whatever has upset these individuals, this shouldn’t be allowed,” said the mayor.

When asked if the deal could go through without support from Lemont residents, Reaves said, “unfortunately, we don’t have any official say in the matter.” Officials  acknowledged that what Palos Park is trying to do is legal.

State Sen. Christine Radogno (R-), who lives in Lemont, was at the meeting to hear from residents, and afterward expressed her displeasure with the annexation moves being made by Palos Park and the “wealthy disgruntled landowners”.

“This is terrible public policy, to have a community eight miles away making decisions that will affect this community. It is clear that Palos Park is using the Forest Preserve Board to get around the legislation (against municipalities annexing property not connected to them).

If the Forest Preserve Board of Cook County approves the deal with Palos Park to take ownership of the piece of Forest Preserve property, the annexation can go ahead with the approval of the Palos Park Board. The Forest Preserve Board is made up of the same people as the Cook County Board, and since Cook County Commissioner Sean Morrison (R-17th) lives in Palos Park and supports the annexation, many people expressed resignation about the whole process.

However, residents such as Kathy Hendrickson suggested forming a community group to lobby against it, saying residents might have more influence than officials.

“That is your right to do,” said Reaves, noting that the next meeting of the Cook county Forest Preserve Board is Sept. 8.

Other residents said they will begin attending Palos Park Village Board meetings, which are held at the same time as those in Lemont.

  “This has been going on for a long time. Follow the money trail,” said Hendrickson. “I’m saying this because I want you to get fired up. I want you all to fight this,” she said, appealing to residents to lobby against the annexation.

The Rev. Glenn Bergmark, a resident of Lemont since 1965 and chairman of the Environmental Advisory Commission, described the action being taken by Palos Park as “very selfish and self-centered.”

“I’ve seen a lot of annexation attempts over the years, but this is the most egregious.”

Ray Lehner, a resident of the Equestrian Estates subdivision, was more direct. Noting that after much deliberation, residents of his subdivision rejected annexation overtures from Palos Park several years ago. He referred to the neighboring community as  a  “political predatory parasite.”