Worth approves plan to revitalize area near Metra station and Depot Street

  • Written by Sharon L. Filkins

For the first time, after two town hall meetings were held earlier this year seeking input from residents and several months of review by the village’s Economic Development Commission, Worth Village officials presented a long-awaited Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) Master Plan at the Nov. 1 board meeting.

Created by the Chicago-based Farr Associates Planning Group and partly financed with a $75,000 grant from the Regional Transportation Association (RTA), the plan’s core was centralized on the area surrounding the Metra station on Depot Street.

Mayor Mary Werner presented the plan for discussion, seeking approval to move forward with preparation of an ordinance accepting the plan, but it was not an easy sell.

After a lively, and at times heated, discussion on the pros and cons of the plan, it appeared that the trustees were not going to reach a consensus. However, after Village Attorney Greg Jones reassured them that the Master Plan is not a binding document but is basically a guideline for future development, the trustees agreed to move forward with preparation of the ordinance.

Trustee Colleen McElroy, board liaison to the Economic Development commission, agreed with the attorney’s statement that the Master Plan is to be seen as a guide.

“This was originally a long-range plan for the Metra station area, not for the whole village. The concept was to increase ridership by attracting young people to the TOD mixed-use development, where they could have an apartment, walk to the train, shop and dine, etc. The idea was to create a place,” she said.

“They lost me at the public hearings when they talked about apartments,” responded Trustee Pete Kats. “If this plan is for apartments, I am dead set against it. I don’t want this board to be stating we are for apartments.”

His statement was in reference to conversations circulating through the village that a four-story building with retail space on the first floor and apartments on the remaining floors was to be located on the current site of the Marrs-Meyer American Legion Post.

“It is not a perfect plan,” said McElroy. “I think we learned some things about our zoning that we are working on, but it was never the intention to get rid of, or relocate, the American Legion building. That idea has caused a huge buzz.”

Trustee Kevin Ryan said, “People said they wanted a change, but when they were presented with change, they said they didn’t want it. But this is just a plan and we have to start somewhere.”

Ryan also suggested that the board consider bringing someone on staff, experienced in economic development and who could attract developers who would be willing and able to fund a development project.

“I hope our residents come and talk about this with the mayor at her Saturday Coffees,” said McElroy. “The town is not ready for change.”

Werner reiterated that the proposed Master Plan is a starting point.

“We are land-locked, but we can do infilling to improve our village. We can start on improving 111th Street,” said the mayor. “We have recently had some businesses come to us with plans for improving the exteriors of their buildings. This is a long-range plan.”

In other matters, the board approved a waiver of conflict of Interest that will allow Village Attorney Greg Jones to act on behalf of the village regarding a lease of property from the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District to the Worth Park District.

The waiver was necessary as Jones’ firm, Ancel Glink, is also the legal firm representing the park district, with another attorney handling the account.

Also approved was an ordinance amending the Worth Municipal Code to adopt the 2017 Chicago Electrical Code.

A schedule of the Worth Board meetings for the calendar year 2017 was also approved.

Shade structure is testament for two Evergreen Park women who died of melanoma

  • Written by Joe Boyle

shade structue ribbon photo 10-27

Photo by Joe Boyle

Nancy Donovan, mother of Meg Donovan Moonan, who died from melanoma in 2102, cuts the ribbon for a shade structure built over a sandbox to protect children from the sun at Klein Park in Evergreen Park. She is joined during the ribbon-cutting ceremonies by Evergreen Park Mayor Jim Sexton.


Nancy Donovan had an idea after watching the participants cross the finish line of the March4Meg’s 5K Run and Walk that has become an annual tradition at Klein Park, affectionately known as Circle Park, in Evergreen Park.

Donovan decided then that she would like to have a shade structure constructed to protect children from the danger of overexposure to the sun. She had only one location in mind and that was Klein Park, 9700 S. Homan Ave. Her daughter, Meg Donovan Moonan, lived across the street from the park and this is also where her children still live and play.

Meg Donovan Moonan died of complications from melanoma on March 30, 2012. Family and friends of Meg vowed to do what she would have – fight back to halt others from spending too much time in the sun.

During her 19-month battle battle, Meg endured two surgeries, numerous experimental chemotherapy treatments and 16 hospital stays. Nancy Donovan said that Meg battled the disease with quiet resolve that was an inspiration to everyone who knew her. Meg’s focus was on the family and the hope that one day she would live to see a cure.

One of four siblings who grew up in Chicago’s Wrightwood neighborhood, Meg attended St. Thomas More School and Maria High School. She and her twin sister, Maureen, were both fair skinned so their mother overcompensated with long-sleeve shirts and pants in the warmest of weather. But Meg still contracted the deadliest of cancers. She is survived by her husband, Ken Moonan, and their four children.

Though the local parish rallied around the family, Nancy Donovan sensed they were wilting under the weight of grief and longing.

“We had to do something bold because everyone was do depressed and heading nowhere,” Nancy Donovan said.

With the aid of her daughters, Maureen Kovac and Mary Pat McGeehan; niece, Meredith McGuffage; and others, March4Meg was founded. Shortly after the first race, the money that was raised as earmarked for the Meg Moonan Endowment for Melanoma Research at Advocate Christ Medical Center. A check presentation of $30,000 was made based after the first event. The second year, a check for $60,000, was presented to Advocate Christ Medical Center.

Nancy Donovan’s idea of a shade structure had more meaning after another Evergreen Park resident, Lucy Barry, died in 2014 due to melanoma. Nancy Donovan was more determined than ever to accomplish her goal and make adults and children aware of the dangers of overexposure to the sun.

“It’s a deadly disease and we have so many Irish in Evergreen Park,” said Nancy Donovan. “Many of them are fair-skinned. There are other parks that could use a shelter, like Duffy Park. They don’t have many trees and it is so sunny there.”

The shade structure is about 550 square feet in coverage area and it shadows the entire sandbox portion of the Klein Park playground to protect children playing in the sand area in the far southwest corner of the park and playground. Nancy Donovan was advised by Kathy Figel to contact Wendy Schulenberg, a landscape architect with more than 35 years of experience.

“This is the first time I’ve located a sun shade structure over a sand play area,” said Schulenberg, a resident of Chicago’s Beverly neighborhood. “I don’t remember ever seeing it done on such a large scale before, so I think we are a bit ahead of the curve on being sensitive to sun protection in an area like this.”

“I’d like to think we’re taking a leadership position here in Evergreen Park in the commitment to creating a safe haven from the danger s of the sun’s strength,” said Evergreen Park Mayor Jim Sexton. “Much of the credit goes to Nancy Donovan for bringing us this concept and the support she got from the March4Meg committee and the Barry family.”

Dennis Duffy, the recreation director in Evergreen Park, led a series of meetings at park offices that completed Nancy Donovan’s vision with Schulenberg’s expertise. When Lucy Barry died, Donovan reached out her husband, Jim, and the five Barry sons, consoling them and welcoming them into the fold.

Now president of the March4Meg board, Jim Barry shared Donovan’s vision to provide research into a cure for melanoma. The unveiling of the shade structure and two memorial markers with accompanying photos of Meg Moonan Donovan and Lucy Barry were displayed on Oct. 21. Along with Nancy Donovan and her family, Jim Barry and his family were on hand. Sexton was in attendance along with state Rep. Kelly Burke (D-36th). The Rev. Jim Hyland, pastor of Holy Redeemer Parish, gave a blessing.

“”For me personally, this is a dream come true but it doesn’t happen without our own dream makers,” said Nancy Donovan. “In a short time Jim Barry and his son, Matt, have helped take our visions and make them reality. We can only hope this will lead to more shade structures and greater awareness.

“Meg would be so proud today,” added Nancy Donovan. “From the day she was diagnosed, she talked of building awareness and taking action. Despite her suffering, she was plotting ways to help others. She was determined to beat the monster – melanoma – and the next best thing would be helping others never get it.”

According to the American Cancer Society, melanoma is one fastest growing cancers in the U.S. and throughout the world. Every hour of the day someone dies from melanoma. Promoting awareness can save lives as melanoma is curable if detected early, with a greater than 90 percent survival rate.

Historic Willowbrook Ballroom goes up in flames

  • Written by Steve Metsch

willowbrook smoke11-3-16

                                                                                                                               Photo by Steve Metsch

Flames and smoke billow up from the Willowbrook Ballroom in Willow Springs on Friday. A Pleasantdale Fire Protection District snorkel truck pours water onto the Willowbrook Ballroom. Thick black smoke from the fire could be seen from as far away as St. Rita High School in Chicago and at 87th and Harlem in Bridgeview.

As he carefully stepped along the gravel shoulder of Archer Avenue on Monday morning near the iconic Willowbrook Ballroom, Greg Sikorsky had a sad look on his face.

“It’s a shame,” the Countryside man said. “It’s been an institution for so long, and then to have it burn down.”

On Friday, fire swept through the building that cost $100,000 to build back in 1930. The current ballroom opened its doors in 1931. But on Friday, the venerable institution that had survived for decades had little chance when a fire started on the roof and quickly spread.

On Monday, all that was left was the red-and-white marquee sign, and the exterior brick walls black with soot from the flames. A brick chimney stood tall on the north side of the building.

As Sikorsky walked along the roadway, an employee of a Naperville fence company was busy securing a tall fence around the building. An employee of Morrison Security said they wanted to make sure “nobody got in here on Halloween night because of Resurrection Mary.”

He referred to the ghost long-rumored to frequent the ballroom. Now, Mary is joined by the memories of countless people who visited through the decades.

There were dances, wedding receptions and funeral luncheons. There were club meetings, romantic New Year’s Eve and Valentine’s Day dinners, and the Girl Scout’s Susie Snowflake daddy-daughter dances each winter. There was the big band sound of Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw and Count Basie. And there was the rock ‘n’ roll of the Bryan Setzer Orchestra, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy and The Guess Who.

If you wanted to learn how to dance, the ballroom offered lessons. The ballroom’s website features a calendar booked solid for months.

“A lot of people came here to dance, have a good time, and have wedding receptions here. It’s just a shame. I don’t know if the owner will re-build,” Sikorsky said.

Attempts to reach the owner were not successful. Some want it rebuilt. A wooden cross erected near the marquee read “RIP Resurrection Mary” and “Please rebuild Willowbrook Ballroom.” Since the fire, curious motorists slowed as they drove past, as if paying their last respects

The end started at approximately 2 p.m. Friday when a roof fire was reported at the ballroom, 8900 Archer, according to a release from the Tri-State Fire Protection District.

Upon arrival, firefighters found employees had fled the building and initial firefighting was started, Fire Chief Daniel P. Niemeyer said.

Within a few minutes, fire broke through the roof of the structure above the main ballroom. The building’s outdated bowstring truss construction prevented any interior firefighting operations, he said. Roofs built with that construction – which is no longer recommended – tend to collapse, he said, and he didn’t want to endanger firefighters inside.

The roof did indeed collapse. The fire’s intense heat was felt a block away. The huge pillar of smoke could be seen for miles.

The fire extinguishing efforts required a constant water supply to douse the fire in multiple directions. Firefighters used three separate water sources due to the size of the structure and the danger to a neighboring residence and restaurant, Niemeyer said.

Greco’s Restaurant, which is just east of the ballroom, would have been lost but for the “exceptional” efforts of firefighters who kept the fire from spreading by directing water at all four corners of the ballroom and on Greco’s itself, Niemeyer said.

“We put a lot of effort into saving that,” he said.

Ed Hageline, a chef at Greco’s, said he smelled smoke around 2 p.m. and “thought someone was burning leaves.” Then he looked out a window.

“This is devastating. I’ve worked next door for 25 years. I’ve gone dancing in the ballroom. We relied on each other. They helped us out and we helped them out if one ran out of supplies. My grandparents used to dance here. It’s a landmark that’s destroyed, utterly destroyed,” Hageline said.

A large pile of roofing materials still sat near the ballroom marquee on Monday, and there may be a connection to the fire, officials said.

“My understanding is they were doing work on the roof Friday. We’re ruling out other possibilities at this point in time. Our investigation has included parties that were present on the property before, during and after the fire started. The insurance companies have their private investigator out there,” Niemeyer said.

“That word has never been used,” he said when asked if arson was suspected. “We don’t have a final determination (for the cause).”

The good news is no injuries were reported, he said. But firefighters had some problems with the water supply, he said.

“Due to the volume of fire and the immense size of the structure, the water system couldn’t keep up with the volume (of water) needed. We tapped into three separate water mains to provide water,” he said.

Tanker trucks from far-flung communities – “Places I didn’t even know the names of,” Niemeyer said – were filled with water and brought to the scene. Tanker trucks at one time were lined up a few blocks. “We had to take that step because of the sheer size of the structure,” he said. Each tanker carried up to 2,500 gallons of water which was dumped into a pool near the building and pumped onto the fire.

The ballroom building was not equipped with sprinklers.

“We always recommend commercial, residential of any sort to have sprinklers,” Niemeyer said. “This was the largest fire loss in the history of our district, but the efforts of our people kept them safe and kept the local businesses from suffering the same fate.”

Friday afternoon, as firefighters atop towering ladders showered the blaze with water, curious onlookers gathered along Archer. Each seemed to have a special memory.

“We had our first date there in 1967,” said Dan Durkovic, who stood with his wife Clarise in the parking lot of The Irish Legend as they watched the firefighters across the street.

Maybe it was the ballroom working its magic? They fell in love and got married three months later.

Clarise said she and Dan “had a lot of fun” dancing and attending Lions Club parties there. They even saw the ‘70s disco band, The Village People, there. “They signed an album for our son. It was a fun show.”

The marquee promoted an Elvis show on Nov. 11. Promoter Joe Sparks said he had sold 500 tickets to the show “and we expected to sell 100 more.” The show, starring Cody Ray Slaughter of the Tony Award-winning “Million Dollar Quartet,” has been moved to Chateau Del Mar at the Hickory Hills Country Club on Nov. 11.

The other side of the marquee read “Best Wishes Vicci + Dan,” a nod to a couple whose wedding reception was scheduled the evening of Oct. 28.

"We were supposed to have our reception there last night. Such a shame," read a comment Saturday on the Desplaines Valley News website from Victoria Ferro.

Oak Lawn resident Eddy Bernotas, who works at nearby Dead Serious Tattoos, attended his Lockport Township High School prom there. Now 35, he said he and his girlfriend took swing dance lessons at the ballroom.

“I was planning on bringing my son there for a swing dance and costume party there on Sunday (Oct. 30). It was a beautiful place. I hope it can be restored,” Bernotas said. “Think of all the bands who played there, Resurrection Mary, the mob history. It’s a nice place with good, cheap drinks, too,”

Billy Curtin, 14, of Chicago’s Mount Greenwood neighborhood, saw the smoke from 87th and Western after classes let out at St. Rita High School. He called his father, a Chicago firefighter also named Bill, and they raced to the ballroom.

“We don’t usually get fires this big. I thought it was an oil tanker in Romeoville from where we were,” the elder Curtin said. “It’s such a shame. All the history. My mom and dad came out here to dance.”

Bridgeview, La Grange, Lyons, Hodgkins, Western Springs, Lemont, East Joliet, Channahon, Manhattan, Troy, Wilmington and Lemont were among the fire protection districts and departments that responded.

The original ballroom built in 1921 was destroyed by fire in 1930.The building that burned down Friday was built to replace it. There’s no word as of Tuesday on the future of the ballroom site.

Willow Springs will support whatever the owners decide to do, Mayor Alan Nowaczyk said Monday.

“I did urge them to consider rebuilding. The village will do everything in its power to assist them. Keep in mind, the square footage is 53,000 square feet when you take into account the lower level, which had a varied array of rooms,” he said.

A rebuild won’t replace memories.

“The bricks, mortar, wood moldings and draperies could be replicated. But the magic of the bandstand and the dance floor generations danced on? How can you replace that? My wife and I seldom missed a New Year’s Eve there. When we were there, I’d picture all the people going back to the 1930s, the happiest event of their week was going to dance at the Willowbrook Ballroom,” Nowaczyk said.

“You felt like you were walking back to the 1940s. If filmmakers needed that look, they’d be sent there. It was wonderfully clean and preserved. It had a special feeling when you walked in. I loved going there,” the mayor said.

On Aug. 10, co-owner Birute Jodwalis posted this now-ironic message on Facebook: “On behalf of all of us at the Willowbrook Ballroom, I would like to thank you for attending our 95th Anniversary celebration. Your support helped make our celebration truly special. We are looking forward to many more years!”

‘Clown Takeover” occurring at Midnight Terror haunt

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

Throughout 2016, creepy clown sightings have dominated the news. Now, sinister circus exiles everywhere have descended on Midnight Terror Haunted House in Oak Lawn, which will present a special two-day-only “Clown Takeover” haunt from 7 to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Nov. 4 and 5.

Midnight Terror, located at 5520 W. 111th St., wrapped up its third annual Halloween-themed attraction on Oct. 31, but the owners decided to extend the season with these two “Clown Takeover” themed encore dates. The haunt will be completely redesigned with all-new characters, costumes, props and themes that play upon our innate fear of clowns.

 “This will be an entirely new and unique haunted house totally different from what we offered in October,” said Justin Cerniuk, Midnight Terror creator/co-owner and Oak Lawn native. “We will have over 100 clown characters, each with a one-of-a-kind personality, costume, and backstory. Visitors will be treated to a lot of shocks and surprises as they rediscover Midnight Terror in a whole different way from what they previously experienced.”

 According to the storyline Cerniuk conceived, the unnerving clowns spotted across the Chicago this year have been kidnapped by Boss Clown and his greasepaint-faced minions and brought back to Midnight Terror Haunted House. There, the unleashed clowns wreak havoc and force everyone they come in contact with to join their evil jester ranks.

 Highlights of the Clown Takeover edition of Midnight Terror include:

An 30-minute walk-through of 60 rooms in two indoor haunted houses; over 100 actors; Hollywood-style CGI effects, a cutting-edge lighting system, and a state-of-the-art sound system; and free entertainment for guests waiting in line

 Tickets can be purchased online at or at the box office on site: regular admission per person is $25 at the door or $23 online; VIP admission per person, which provides faster entry without having to wait in the general admission line, is $35 at the door or $31 online.

More information, visit or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Jeff Vorva's Extra Point: Emotions run the gamut in Rice-Fremd game

  • Written by Jeff Vorva


Photo by Jeff Vorva

Brother Rice players anxiously wait during a 15-minute span in which their teammate, Brian Olsen, was being tended to by medical personnel.

For close to three hours Saturday, Brother Rice's stadium was jumping and noisy.

There were loud cheers from the thousands in attendance at Tom Mitchell Field at Gary Little Stadium for great plays during this Class 8A opening-round playoff game.  There were boos for the referees after what were perceived as not-so-great calls.

The Brother Rice student section was in full voice, heckling opposing Fremd players. At one point, some heckled their own basketball coach, Bobby Frasor who was standing on the sideline. They wanted him to take off his shirt and display his “North Carolina physique.” Frasor is one of the top hoops players to come out of the school and he attended and played for the University of North Carolina.

Music? The band was loud. And some of the rock and techno music from the PA system was even louder.

The game was full of twists, turns and touchdowns so both Rice and Fremd fans had plenty to yell about.

With Rice down 45-42 and Fremd with the ball in the closing minutes, Vikings running back Joe Schneider ran hard for a first down with 1 minute, 17 seconds left and crashed into a host of Crusaders including linebacker Brian Olsen.

Both players ended up on the ground from the impact and were not getting up.

By the time people realized what was happening, the stadium fell silent.

That was eerie.

Trainers, coaches, medical personnel and family members raced out and gathered around the two players. Someone motioned for a stretcher right away.

What was even eerier was that it was cloudy and in the background bells could be heard from a church in the southwest distance.


Shivers, meet spine. Spine, meet shivers.

Add to that, the violent collision took place a few feet from the Fremd sideline, where Vikings assistant coach Brock Shiffer sat in a wheelchair, which was a result of a car accident 14 years ago.

Schneider was able to stand and walk back to his sidelines and the silence was broken for a few seconds by Fremd fans applauding.

There is more good news. After 15 minutes of angst among fans, Olsen was placed on a stretcher and gave thumbs up to the crowd as he was wheeled off the field. Brother Rice coach Brian Badke said Olsen was knocked out and recovered and was talking and was taken to a hospital for precautionary reasons. Olsen was released from the hospital that night.

During the time he was still on the field, my own thoughts strayed to one of the worst assignments I ever had in my career in which a girls basketball coach collapsed a few feet in front of me and subsequently died in the first quarter of a big game for a conference championship. I had just talked to him the night before.

I never want to cover something like that again and, like the thousands of people at Rice on Saturday, prayed something like that wasn’t happening.

Thankfully, it wasn’t.

The game resumed but it wasn’t the same. Fremd was able to run the clock out to record the upset and Fremd’s celebration was dampened. Sure, a few players jumped up and down but it wasn’t a full-tilt crazyfest.

Rice players were crying for more than just a lost game.

Even the band’s rendition of “Hey! Baby’’ was slow and somber after the game.

This weekend had plenty of highs and lows all over the state in sports such as football, cross country, swimming and soccer. Emotions have been running high in Illinois.

But it’s doubtful the wide range of emotions were felt like they were at Brother Rice’s stadium.