Young artists find inspiration at Easter

  • Written by Kelly White

charlie and claire photo 4-14

Photo by Kelly White

Evergreen Park residents Charlie Cushing, 6, and his sister, Claire, 4, work on handmade Easter cards to be distributed to hospitalized children at the Evergreen Park Public Library.

Maeve Broderick aspires to become an artist.

The 6-year-old Evergreen Park resident spends her free time coloring, drawing and making homemade craft projects In her first-grade classroom at Most Holy Redeemer School. Maeve also looks forward to art projects. On April 3, she utilized her artistic talents and joined several other youngsters, including her 3-year-old sister, Katie, at the Evergreen Park Library to make Easter cards for hospitalized children.

“I really like working on arts projects and making crafts that I can share with or give to other people,” Broderick said. “It makes them happy.”

“We visit the library on a weekly basis and I like to get my children as actively involved as possible, especially when it’s for such a good cause,” Brigid Broderick, Maeve’s mother, said.

The staff at the library, 9400 S. Troy Ave., Evergreen Park, hosted the youth event to make handmade Easter cards for hospitalized children, just in time for the holiday.

All materials were provided by the library staff. The cards were created out of construction paper that had an Easter bunny cutout on it. They were then decorated with markers, colored pencils, crayons, Easter-themed stickers and cotton balls for bunny tails, before being cut out in the shape of an Easter bunny.

Each card was designed by a child with their personal favorite colors and held an uplifting and encouraging message written inside for the card’s recipient. The event was free. It was organized and guided by Laura Meyer, the children's librarian.

“Kids love to make cards and be creative, so it's fun for them,” Meyer said. “It gives children in the community an opportunity to volunteer, be crafty and do something kind for someone else. It also gives them a chance to brighten the day of another child.”

The participants were not instructed by Meyer on what to write. Children were instead encouraged to come up with their own message in accordance to the holiday as well as offering good wishes.

“The cards are very happy and positive,” Meyer said.

The cards will be going to “Cards for Hospitalized Kids,” a non-for-profit organization based out of Chicago that is internationally recognized charitable organization that spreads hope and joy to hospitalized kids through uplifting, handmade cards. The program has been running for over five years and at the discretion of the organization, over 100,000 children in hospitals in all 50 states have received a personalized card through the organization, including volunteers like those at the Evergreen Park Public Library.

Meyer sent the cards to Cards for Hospitalized Kids, and volunteers of the organization will be distributing them to children's hospitals nationwide and to Ronald McDonald Houses for Children. The cards will be delivered prior to Easter Sunday.

“I like helping others,” Charlie Cushing, 6, of Evergreen Park, said, as he colored a card filled with orange and blue Easter bunnies, alongside his 4-year-old sister, Claire. “It’s fun to make cards for other people.”

“My children love sitting and coloring and working on craft projects together,” said Colleen Cushing, Charlie’s mother. “The library always has great ways to get the kids involved in something important.”

Pleasure Lake 'stocked and thriving' as fishing ban is lifted

  • Written by Michael Gilbert

Area anglers can rejoice. The long awaited reopening of Pleasure Lake to fishing has finally arrived.

Palos Hills Ald. Mark Brachman (2nd Ward) told the council and approximately a dozen residents in attendance during the committee of the whole meeting April 6 the fishing ban at the 8.1-acre lake has been lifted.

“Grab your fishing poles, enjoy the day and catch a big one,” said Brachman, adding public works crews had removed the “no fishing” signs and reinstalled ones that say “catch and release.”

Fishing has been prohibited at the lake, 10801 S. Roberts Road, since October of 2014 when Palos Hills officials placed an immediate and, at the time, indefinite ban. The exceptionally harsh winter of 2013-2014 caused a complete freeze at the lake, which, at its deepest point is only six feet, killing all of the fish, according to Ald. Joe Marrotta (4th Ward).

“The winter just froze us solid,” Marrotta said in the fall of 2014. “Everything was lost.”

A year later, the city spent around $1,300 to restock the lake with 1,500 blue gills, 325 bass and 300 catfish. City officials decided to give the fish two full cycles to grow and reproduce before allowing fishing.

“The lake is stocked and thriving,” Palos Hills Public Works Commissioner Dave Weakley said. “During hours when fish are active you will see fish jumping up at new insect larva. We are seeing a lot of activity in the lake. I’m sure our residents are going to enjoy fishing there again.”

Marrotta said it was “great to have the lake back open to fishing.”

“I believe [Resource and Recreation Department commissioner] Kristin [Violante] did receive some calls from residents inquiring about the fishing ban so we are happy to lift it and once again have fishing.”

With the lake reopened, Marrotta announced the city will resume holding its annual fishing derby. The free event, which is open to all ages, is scheduled for June 17. The Department of Natural Resources has designated June 17 as one of only a few days in Illinois during which a person can fish without a state fishing license, Violante said. Therefore, in addition to being a free event one does not need to purchase a fishing license to participate in the derby.

All fishing at the lake remains catch-and-release, and Marrotta said Palos Hills police have been directed to make frequent checks at the lake to ensure the policy is being followed.

In other news, city attorney George Pappas told the council the Cook County Board of Commissioners Finance Committee is expected to review Palos Hills’ request to acquire the property which currently houses the shuttered Palos Olympic Health & Racquetball Club through the county’s No Cash Bid program during a hearing April 11 at the Cook County Building in Chicago.

The seven-member committee has been tasked with offering a recommendation to the full Cook County Board of Commissioners as to whether to approve or deny Palos Hills’ request, Pappas said.

City officials voted unanimously this January to direct Pappas to file the required documents with the County in an attempt to acquire the racquetball club property, 11050 S. Roberts Road, through the No Cash Bid program, an economic development tool designed to assist municipalities in acquiring tax delinquent property for reuse as private development and tax reactivation or for tax exempt municipal use. There are around $300,000 in back taxes on the property, which has been sold several times since the racquetball club closed more than a decade ago.

Pappas expects the hearing to go well for Palos Hills.

“I anticipate approval [from the Finance Committee] and recommendation to the County board to grant us the property,” Pappas said.

Mayor Gerald Bennett has previously said if the city was to acquire the property, the building, which is around 40 years old and in “poor condition,” would be demolished. The cost to raze the building and clean up the site would be around $100,000, he said. City officials have said they would initially leave the land as open space but would listen if a developer came along interested in the property.

The No Cash Bid Program for this property is only available to Palos Hills, Bennett said. Any individual looking to purchase the property from Cook County would need to pay the $300,000 in back taxes. 

Bennett rails against state budget impasse

  • Written by Joe Boyle

gerald bennett photo 4-13

Photo by Joe Boyle

Palos Hills Mayor Gerald Bennett listens as speakers discuss employee benefits and financial planning during the Southwest Conference of Mayors meeting held last month at The Bridge Teen Center in Orland Park.

Palos Hills Mayor Gerald Bennett sees no end in sight to break the budget impasse deadlock in Springfield that is closing in on a second year.

“Nothing has changed on the state budget,” said Bennett. “The magic continues down there (Springfield). I don’t know if we can have a budget this year.”

Bennett provided a report on the budget during a Southwest Conference of Mayors meeting March 29 at The Bridge Teen Center in Orland Park. Bennett, who serves as the president of the Southwest Conference of Mayors, was just one of a few mayors in attendance. Several mayors were not present because they were campaigning for the April 4 consolidated election.

“From the people I have talked to, we might not see a budget until after the 2018 election,” said Bennett, who was unopposed in the April 4 election. “I hope I’m wrong about that but I don’t see anything happening right now.”

Mayors who were in attendance did not disagree with Bennett’s assessment. At that point, Bennett switched gears and discussed the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning funding. Andy Plummer, a consultant for the RTA, provided a report on CMAP that he said is facing reductions due to the budget impasse.

“We want to submit as many projects as we can,” said Plummer. “We want to be proactive because these (projects) are going to be done with Phase 1 funding.”

The legislation creating CMAP called for the agency to produce a comprehensive land use and transportation plan for the southwest suburban region. It would also provide a funding source to enable CMAP to perform it duties. But the budget implementation bill has dissolved this funding. Bennett said the issue has to be addressed to ensure that CMAP has a funding source to effectively implement future programs.

The Southwest Conference of Mayors supports the passage of House Bill 6286 and Senate Bill 2966. Both bills seek to reestablish the Comprehensive Regional Planning Fund, which was dissolved in 2011.

In terms of the Regional Transportation Authority funding, Plummer said money is becoming scarce.

“We had about $400 million from the (former Gov. Pat) Quinn administration,” said Plummer. “We are now approaching our limit. The RTA CMAP projects were on hiatus last year. We are going to reintroduce it again this year on May 5.”

During the meeting that lasted just over an hour, the board discussed pension reform and protecting municipal revenue. The Southwest Conference of Mayors encourages the General Assembly to address and reform the pensions of current public safety employees. The goal, according to the mayors, is to develop longer term, comprehensive solutions that protect local taxpayers and secure sustainable retirement benefits for all public safety employees.

Bennett said the Illinois Genera Assembly should take immediate action to consolidate the over 650 individual public safety pension funds into the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund or a similar single multiple employer pension system.

“The best way to get pension relief is to have a single consolidation state fund,” Bennett said.

The mayors also urge for the protection against any further efforts to erode municipal revenue sources, especially the share of the state income tax and the one percent local portion of the sales tax.

“The state must refrain from withholding, freezing, diverting, delaying or reducing any state-collected local revenue streams,” Bennett said. “If local revenue is withheld in any way, municipalities will be forced to cut essential services, raise property taxes or layoff critical staff to cover this loss.”

Bennett said that this would harmful to taxpaying residents and businesses throughout the state.

Other local mayors who attended the meeting were Bob Straz (Palos Heights) and Mike Howley (Hickory Hills).

Players of the Year in basketball and wrestling

  • Written by Jason Maholy and Frank Gogola




Photo by Jeff Vorva

Brother Rice's Josh Niego embraces the role of the underdog.

The Crusaders' senior forward took it as a challenge when his squad was absent from Chicago-area news outlets' preseason boy's rankings.

“I always read what the so-called 'expert' reporters say, and this year there were a lot of them doubting us, saying we were too small, whatever,” he said. “I used those as a reminder just to prove people wrong.”


Niego and his teammates did just that, as Rice went 25-6 while winning the Catholic League Blue crown and the program's first regional title since 2008. Oh, and the three-year starter averaged 18 points and six rebounds while earning Catholic League Player of the Year honors.


For his personal accomplishments and helping lead the Crusaders to its finest season in nearly a decade, Niego has been named The Regional/Reporter's Boys Basketball Player of the Year.


He was also miffed to be left off a preseason list of elite CCL players, not because he seeks personal accolades, but because he knew the impact he could have on his team.


“They named like 12 guys (on the list) and I wasn't on there,” he recalled. “I had that hanging up in my locker the whole year. And it turned out I was Catholic League Player of the Year, so it was really satisfying to get that.”


More satisfying was being part of the team that brought the Crusaders back to prominence. The season's pinnacle was beating Homewood-Flossmoor in the Class 4A Regional title game, a contest in which Niego scored 27 points, including 15 in the decisive fourth quarter of a 57-50 victory.


Throughout his years at Rice, Niego said he never cared about personal glory – only that the Crusaders were on top when the final horn sounded.


“I just wanted to give everything I have; all I wanted was wins,” he said. “I didn't care if I scored 30 points, I didn't care if I scored two points, as long as Brother Rice won at the end of the day. I just wanted to go out and be remembered as the team that brought Brother Rice back.”


Niego will continue his basketball career at Lewis University and will play on the same court on which his father (Charlie Niego) three uncles (Tom, Joe and Mark Niego) and three aunts (Mary McNamara, Terry Pozdel and the late Nancy Collins) played.



Photo by Jeff Vorva


Kara Shimko, Queen of Peace senior basketball player, sensed something was up when she stopped by her dad’s office on Jan. 24.

Based on the demeanor within the office, she guessed the news out of the recent coaches’ meeting was that Peace would be closing at the end of the year. George Shimko, the athletic director and girls basketball coach, told her to focus her energy on that night’s game against Joliet Catholic Academy.

Shortly after she helped lead Peace to a 58-22 victory, a mass e-mail confirmed the school’s impending closure.

The Pride went 5-3 after the announcement, but they still set multiple records to close the school’s history book. Shimko set numerous individual school records with her strong, balanced play, which helped her earn the Reporter/Regional Girls Basketball Player of the Year award for the second straight season.

“Playing the last few weeks was emotional, especially since it’s senior year and you’re not going to be able to come back and walk through the gym and remember all those good memories,” she said. “It’s hard, but it’s something we had to go through. It was definitely an unforgettable season and unforgettable memories that we’ve created together.”

Shimko, who had her number 14 retired during an emotional senior night, paced the team with 16.6 points per game and was second in total assists (120) and steals (107). She was third on the team with 4.9 rebounds per game despite standing at just 5-foot-4.

She helped lead Peace to its best record (28-4) in the school’s 55-year history. With all five starters returning, the Pride won its second consecutive regional title, marking the program’s first back-to-back regional titles since 1994.

“Once they announced (the closure), I saw in Kara even more passion to finish as strong as we possibly could to leave a mark at Queen of Peace,” George said.

Shimko broke the Queen of Peace career scoring record of 1,214 points set by Shelby Elstner in 1994. She scored 1,407 points in just three seasons at Peace after playing her freshman year at Plainfield North.

She broke her own school record for 3-pointers made (92) and free-throw shooting (91 percent), both of which she originally set in 2016.

Shimko will continue playing basketball at Cardinal Stritch, a NAIA school in Milwaukee so she will still play close on occasion when her team visits St. Xavier University and Trinity Christian College.

WRESTLER OF THE YEAR: Patrick Brucki, Sandburg


Photo by Jeff Vorva

Patrick Brucki remembers it vividly – can see it, smell it, feel the sense of panic.


The Sandburg grappler is in the state wrestling tournament for the fourth consecutive season, vying for the state title that had narrowly eluded him the previous two seasons. Then, in an instant, he's in the worst place a wrestler can be – on his back. With his season on the brink of being over and his dream of a championship moments from being quashed, he desperately kicks his legs in an attempt to right himself...


Then he's wide awake.






Brucki experienced that nightmare more than once during his senior season – which did, in fact, end with him standing atop the podium as the Class 3A champion at 195 pounds. He was the lone area champion and earned the Regional/Reporter Wrestler of the Year honor.


“I truly did become obsessed about winning a state title,” Brucki said roughly one month after his title run in Champaign. “I was so close multiple times, and that eats at you, it takes sleep away. You wake up in the middle of the night because you had a dream.”


Brucki finished third in state in 2015 and second in 2016, both times at 182 pounds, and entered his senior season with the mentality that there was only one satisfactory outcome.


“You eat, sleep and breathe it – I've witnessed the truth in those three areas,” he said. “My brain is so in tune, even when I'm sleeping I start panicking. I'm dreaming of being in the state tournament, actually experiencing it in my dream. I get caught on my back or something.”


The Princeton-bound wrestler dominated the competition during a season in which he finished 44-1.


“I enjoyed the season,” he said. “I was much more relaxed, even at the end. As much as I was wound up about it I was truly excited about getting that title, and I really wanted to take in as much as I could, enjoy who I was there with and the people following me throughout that journey, and I think I did that.


“It feels so good. I'm pretty hard to satisfy... and I just feel good about the season. I prepared my body, my mind. There is no one more deserving of that title than me, and I am just proud of myself for going out there and getting it, finally.”








Student trustee falls short in his bid for seat on Moraine Board

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

In the three-candidate race for two seats on the Moraine Valley Community College Board of Trustees on Tuesday, David Shipyor fell short in his bid to be elected a voting member of the board.

Preliminary Cook County Board of Elections results showed, with 275 of the 279 precincts reporting, that Brian O’Neill won the election with 41.85 percent of the votes (27,622), along with incumbent John Coleman, who won a second six-year term with 36.17 percent (23,877).

Coleman, a Burbank resident, is currently vice chairman of the board, while O’Neill is assistant administrator of Orland Hills. Shipyor, 24, of Justice, lagged behind them with 21.98 percent of the vote (14,511).

Coleman said recently that if re-elected, he would like to re-introduce a four-year baccalaureate nursing program at Moraine Valley.

The second seat was open because Trustee Susan Murphy didn’t run for re-election. Shipyor said that after being a non-voting student trustee, he ran for a seat on the board because “I think they need to be shaken up a little bit. I don’t think (the MVCC board) are looking forward enough. Enrollment is declining and tuition is increasing.”

The St. Laurence High School graduate was also recently appointed to the Justice Economic Planning Board.

Among other things, Shipyor criticized the board of trustees for approving a large pension for outgoing MVCC President Vernon Crawley in 2012, and the college for “wrongly firing” an adjunct professor who criticized the administration.

“We have been good stewards of taxpayer money,” said Coleman, disagreeing with Shipyor. He said enrollment has dropped four to five percent, and tuition costs have risen two to five percent.

“But it is something that is going on everywhere. Ours is not that much,” Coleman said.