Hickory Hills makes push to aid fire-ravaged Gatlinburg

  • Written by Sharon L. Filkins

The Hickory Hills City Council voted to donate funds to aid recovery efforts in fire-ravaged Gatlinburg, Tenn. during the meeting held last Thursday.

Responding to a request from Ald. Tom McAvoy (3rd Ward) and Mayor Mike Howley, the council called for the vote on a donation of $200. The donation funds will be provided through the non-taxpayer funded Discretionary Fund.

McAvoy stated that he had contacted the municipalities of both Gatlinburg and Sevier, Tenn. at the request of a 3rd Ward resident who had family members in that area.

“It was very difficult to reach anyone, as normal communications were all down,” he said. “I was told that any money sent would be directed to the Red Cross for clean-up and survival efforts.”

McAvoy said he personally understood the devastation caused by fire, as his home had burned down 27 years ago.

“But I had neighbors who were there to help me,” said McAvoy. “I can’t imagine how these people feel with their entire neighborhoods destroyed.”

He said anyone wishing to donate can send checks to Sevier County Fire Relief Fund, c/o Citizens National Bank, 200 Forks of the River Pkwy, Sevierville, TN 37862, or, Gatlinburg Relief Fund, c/o SmartBank, P.O. Box 1910, Pigeon Forge, TN 37863.

On other agenda item, the council delayed scheduled action on an ordinance to approve a special use for the proposed Sabre Woods Plaza at 8900 W. 95th St. Village Attorney Vince Cainkar said preparation of the ordinance was still in progress and it would be presented at a later date.

The council approved a payment of $96,444.19 to AC Pavement Striping Company and $195,930 to Insituform Technologies, USA.

Village Engineer Mike Spolar stated that $150,000 of the payment to Insituform Technologies will be reimbursed to the city through the Community Block Development Grant (CBDG).

Public Works Director Larry Boettcher announced the hiring of Erik Wright at a Team 1 Grade level. Wright holds a Class C Water license and a CDL. He previously worked with Lombard and Brookfield.

Boettcher also announced that Keven Farrell was retiring after more than 35 years with the Public Works Department.

“He was an excellent employee. He will be missed,” said Boettcher.

Ald. John Szeszycki (2nd Ward), who is also the chair of Finance, reported that October’s revenue of $20,706 from video gaming was the second highest of the year. Revenue in March was $22,000, followed by $17, 000 in September.

“We have 15 video gaming locations in the city with a total of 63 machines,” Szeszycki said.

Ald. Brian Waight (1st Ward) announced the re-opening of businesses who now have new owners. The gas station at 8702 S. Roberts Road will have a new name, Fuel Line and the BP Gas station. The name will again be changed in February to Circle K. M & M Food & Beverage will re-open at 8031 W. 87th St., pending approval of its liquor license.

The Dec. 22 council meeting will be cancelled due to the Christmas holiday.

Mayor wants plans for RidgeFest 2017

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

Although it is still 2016, local communities are already looking forward to their 2017 summer festivals.

Chicago Ridge Mayor Charles Tokar told the Village Board at the Dec. 6 meeting that it was time to starting thinking about RidgeFest 2017, traditionally held the last weekend in July. The board agreed to discuss the issue at the next meeting, on Dec. 20.

“We have to decide whether we are going to continue with RidgeFest, for the 28th year. I’m already getting calls from bands (to gauge our interest). And a lot of these bands book up at least six months ahead of time, especially the good bands, like Infinity, that we have been getting,” said the mayor.

Tokar provided printouts showing that RidgeFest 2016 raised a total of $19,239 for local non-profits this year, up from $16,499 in 2015. At the Dec. 6 meeting, the mayor presented checks of varying amounts to a dozen local programs, including the Friendship Club, Ridge Seniors, the Park District, Chicago Ridge Library, Southwest Ball Hockey, and several scouting troops.

Money was also raised for the Kids Christmas Party, St. Vincent de Paul Society, Knights of Columbus and Operation Santa, an annual tradition held last Saturday in which Santa and dozens of volunteer elves of all ages travel through the village on fire engines dropping off gifts for every child in town.

Tokar pointed out that since the fest began in 1990, more than $1.15 million has been raised for local non-profits. According to the information provided, 1994 was the most profitable year, when $43,700 was raised.

“What is this talk about ending RidgeFest?” asked Trustee Jack Lind. “We’re not seriously considering that, are we?”

Trustee Sally Durkin said she was not asking for it to end, but told Tokar, who chairs the RidgeFest committee, that she would like to see details about how much the fest costs, which she has asked for previously.

Tokar said residents have asked him about rumors they heard that the fest would be ending, and wanted to gauge the interest of the trustees in keeping it. An informal poll determined that all six favored keeping it.

“Ridgefest is great. It brings the village together. Rest assured, we all want to keep it around,” said Trustee Bruce Quintos. “What we want to do is see what we do to improve it and make it even better.”

As with RidgeFest, the funds raised for non-profits at Oak Lawn’s Fall on the Green festival were discussed at the Nov. 28 Village Board meeting there.

Mayor Sandra Bury and Trustee Tim Desmond, the special events committee, presented oversized checks representing their shares of the money raised to two local non-profits, Park Lawn and the Courage program. Steve Manning, executive director of Park Lawn, which provides many volunteers for Fall on the Green, picked up a check for $20,512.33. Maureen Shields, director emeritus of the Courage Program, a ministry for young pregnant women and single mothers based in St. Germaine Parish, received a check for $6,837.45.

“Thanks to all the Oak Lawn residents who drank a lot of beer that weekend. That’s where most of this money came from,” said Desmond with a smile. “I also want to thank the Special Events committee and all the volunteers. They are the ones who do all the work, and Fall on the Green would not be a success without them,” he added.

Lions spread joy with Christmas trees

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

trimming tree photo 12-15

Photo by Dermot Connolly

Worth Lion John Bruce trims the trunk of a newly bought Christmas tree for Mike Nelin in the Lions Club tree lot at 116th Street and Harlem Avenue on Saturday.

Members of the Worth Lions Club are happily back selling Christmas trees, a tradition that began soon after the chapter was founded in 1953.

On Saturday, the Lions Club tree lot at 116th and Harlem Avenue was bustling with activity, as people came to pick out their trees before the snow fell, and left with them either tied to the roof of their vehicles, or in some cases stuffed in the back of a van.

“This is our one fundraiser of the year. We’re here from the day after Thanksgiving to whenever the trees are sold out, from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily,” said Greg Mazak, the chairman of the tree lot committee. “If we only have a couple left, we will donate them to local needy residents,” he said. “Ever chapter has to support itself with fundraisers, and our founders came up with the idea of the tree sales,” he explained. The Palos and Orland Lions Clubs also sell Christmas trees.

“We always start out with 1,000 trees, as well as some wreaths. We go through a broker, and get balsam firs from Nova Scotia and New Brunswick in Canada, and Scotch pines from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. He always looks out for the best ones for us.”

“We have families who have been coming here for generations. Some originally came with their grandparents, and have moved to Indiana or the northern suburbs and still come back,” said longtime member Steve Werner. And they are not just coming for the candy canes handed out to every customer.

“I’ve been coming here for 25 years,” said Mike Nelin, of Tinley Park. “They always have the balsam firs. I don’t like the Scotch pines,” he explained.

Tony and Therese Wyatt, of Burbank, stopped in to get a tree because it was convenient. “We usually like to go out as a family to a tree farm and cut down our own tree. But I’ve been working second shift and I don’t have time,” said Tony Wyatt. He declined the offer to trim the trunk of the tree, saying he would do it at home.

“I’m happy with the selection here,” he added, after hoisting the tree into the back of his pick-up truck.

Lions Club International was founded in Chicago in 1917, and now has chapters in 257 countries and territories, Mazak said. Known for providing glasses and vision care for the underprivileged, the Worth Lions donate to food pantries, and also provide scholarships that allow boys and girls to join athletic teams who wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford it.      

“We have a tradition that we pick out one tree at the beginning, usually one that looks the worst and wouldn’t sell. We place it under the trailer, and then when we’ve sold all the trees and are ready to close up, we burn it in honor of all the members who have passed on,” said Bob Zabka. “I’m one of the newcomers, only here since 1998,” he said with a smile.



Chuck E. Cheese's closing its Oak Lawn location

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

chuck e. cheese photo 12-15

Photo by Dermot Connolly

The Chuck E. Cheese restaurant and entertainment center at 4031 W. 95th St. in Oak Lawn soon will close its doors.

Chuck E. Cheese’s officials have decided to close the company’s Oak Lawn location instead of getting entangled in a court battle.

The parent company of the Chuck E. Cheese’s franchise in Oak Lawn made a surprise announcement on Dec. 7 that the restaurant and entertainment center at 4031 W. 95th St. would be leaving town. The announcement came shortly before the village board was to meet in a special emergency session that could have led to the business license being revoked.

Trustee Terry Vorderer (4th), whose district includes the restaurant and entertainment center, had organized several meetings in recent months to discuss the chronic problem of violent altercations inside and outside the business, resulting in frequent 911 calls.

The company had added more security and lighting inside and outside the business, and made other changes inside aimed at reducing the chances of fights breaking out. But Chris Kelly, the regional vice president of Chuck E. Cheese’s, was given an ultimatum at the Nov. 22 village board meeting that if problems continued, the next step would be starting the process of revoking the business license.

Vorderer had formed a residents’ advisory group to monitor the situation, but after a drive-by shooting incident involving a restaurant patron that occurred Dec. 3 in Evergreen Park, he asked Mayor Sandra Bury to call a special emergency meeting of the village board.

The shooting victim had just left Chuck E. Cheese’s when the incident occurred at 9 p.m. Dec. 3. According to reports, he was about two blocks from the restaurant, driving east on 95th Street near Springfield Avenue, in Evergreen Park, when someone in a black Jeep-like vehicle heading in the same direction fired multiple shots at him. The wounded man was able to drive himself to Advocate Christ Medical Center, where he was treated for minor injuries to his lip and lower back.

“I’ve have been working with Chuck E. Cheese’s on this problem for a long time, but it only seems to be getting worse, with incidents happening more frequently,” said Vorderer. “I think the company that has been here since the 1980s was entitled to do everything in its power to resolve the problem. But my residents have spoken loud and clear that they want me to take former action, and that is what I am going to do,” said Vorderer before the meeting was called off when the company decision made it unnecessary.

“CEC Entertainment, the parent company made a corporate decision and we can understand that,” said Village Manager Larry Deetjen.

No time frame was given for when the Oak Lawn location will be closing, but Deetjen said the village will be working with the company to make the process of getting out of its lease agreement with the owner of the property as smooth as possible.

“It is unfortunate that the business model did not work here, but it certainly works well across the country,” said Deetjen. “They told us they are in the process of finding a new location, and we wish them well.”

Mayor Sandra Bury said, “I applaud Chuck E Cheese’s corporate officials for their decision to relocate out of Oak Lawn. This can only be viewed as positive for Oak Lawn taxpayers because it saves them the potential cost of litigation and preserves the 100-plus jobs there which will likely transfer to the new location. I especially want to thank residents who have reached out to share their opinions on this matter. Their calls and letters made a difference."

Vorderer had said he was trying to avoid the cost of litigation as long as possible in his efforts to find a solution to the problem short of pulling the license.

There are more than 150 Chuck E. Cheese’s restaurants around the country, with the closest to Oak Lawn being at 16090 S. Harlem Ave. in Tinley Park.

Several Oak Lawn residents who showed up for the meeting expressed surprise and happiness when they heard why it was called off. A press release explaining the situation had been posted in the Village Hall.

One woman, who did not want to give her name, hollered with joy when she heard the news.

Jim and Donna Perisin, who had also come for the meeting, said they were surprised but relieved by the turn of events.

“We were just inquisitive,” said Jim Perisin.

“It is too bad that is has come to this, but it is right thing considering all that has happened. A lot of residents just don’t want it there anymore,” said Donna Perisin.

A Chuck E. Cheese’s employee stopped to talk about the situation as he left the restaurant on Saturday.

“I first heard it was closing on TV. The management hasn’t really told us anything,” said the employee. He travels from the North Side of Chicago to work, and said he hadn’t heard of plans for a new location, but would like it if it allowed all the current employees to keep their jobs.

“In the meantime, I’m looking for something else,” he said, heading for the bus. 

Learning about giving for Christmas

  • Written by Joe Boyle

Christmas is just 10 days away. It’s funny how time goes by so quickly when we grow older. For a child, 10 days is an eternity. St. Nick’s arrival seems like it will never get here.

I can’t recall all of my earliest moments of Christmas. But I knew I was getting a little older when my mother suggested that Christmas is also about giving. She reminded me that it is better to give than receive.

Well, I knew she was right, of course. But I guess there was the part of me that liked that receiving part. When you are very young, Christmas leaves you in a euphoric state. Little kids receive the gifts and are excited about the prospects the big day brings. Parents are delighted to see their kids excited when they are opening their presents for Christmas.

But that one year my mother suggested that maybe I should buy some gifts sticks out in my mind. My older sister was already buying little gifts for my parents and siblings. So, I got in the spirit of things. The main obstacle was money.

The weather could play a large role in having additional money to purchase gifts. A heavy snowfall like we have been experiencing this December could be lucrative. I would grab a shovel and ask neighbors if they needed their sidewalks cleared of snow. The majority of residents would say yes. During the 1960s, we had more stay-at-home moms. In many cases, those moms could not work because they had several small children to take care of. The dads were usually still out working. That seemed to be the majority of residents I would shovel snow for.

My mother realized my dilemma. She would suggest chores I could perform that she would pay me for so that I could go Christmas shopping. During my early years, I lived in Chicago’s Roseland neighborhood at 100th and Michigan Avenue. I think the first time I actually went shopping was at a Ben Franklin store that was east on 103rd Street. I recall that I purchased a small doll for my younger sister and a large pink cup for my mother. I just felt they were going to be thrilled when they opened their presents.

Well, let’s put it this way. It’s a good thing that Santa Claus makes house calls. I imagine my mother got a chuckle out of that.

While living in Roseland, my father would often drive us to 111th and Michigan Avenue, where the main stores were all located for shopping. We would drive into the Gately’s Peoples Store parking lot in the back. Large crowds of shoppers can be seen walking up and down Michigan Avenue. The parking lot was on several floors. I remember seemingly going in circles before my father found a parking place

Gately’s was great in that it was a family-owned operation that had several floors and a variety of goods. I recall the toys were at the bottom level and I spent a lot of time down there. My mother would often look over my shoulder and ask if I liked something. Amazingly, those gifts were often under our Christmas tree.

But a trip to Gately’s provided opportunity for all of us to do some shopping. I could buy some little gifts for my parents and my brothers and sisters in one trip. A trip to Gately’s might also mean that our parents would buy us some popcorn. I always remember the popcorn machine at Gately’s. They had a dinette as well.

Even after we moved to Chicago’s Washington Heights neighborhood, we still would occasionally go to Gately’s. But a lot of our Christmas shopping was now done at the Evergreen Plaza. We actually went there a couple of times when we lived in Roseland. I recall being there once with the snow coming down and looking at the long series of retail shops and restaurants. I remember my mom telling me that they were going to put a roof on it. I thought that was amazing. In 1966, they did just that.

The Plaza allowed for plenty of opportunities for shopping because there were so many stores. Many times I would go with my sister, taking the bus from 95th and Throop to 95th and Western. At that point, I had more money over the holidays. I would continue to shovel snow and sometimes receive a couple of bucks for pushing drivers out of snow drifts.

The presents I bought were of a higher quality, too. But I don’t always remember the presents. I just remember having a good time. Those days of Christmas shopping at Gately’s and the Evergreen Plaza were a special time.

Joe Boyle is the editor of The Reporter. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .