Part-time Evergreen Park firefighter dies fighting Chicago blaze

  • Written by Dermot Connolly


Fire departments and communities from Evergreen Park to Palos Park are mourning the loss of Chicago firefighter/paramedic Daniel Capuano, 42, whose wake is being held today at St. Rita High School in Chicago, followed by his funeral tomorrow.

In addition to being a 15-year veteran of the Chicago Fire Department, where he was assigned to Tower Ladder 34 in the South Chicago neighborhood, Capuano also was a part-time Evergreen Park firefighter for the past 16 years.

The former resident of Palos Park, who began his career with the Palos Fire Protection District based there, was killed while battling a blaze in a vacant Chicago warehouse early Monday morning.

          Chicago Fire Department officials said Capuano was searching through thick smoke on the second floor of the building when he suffered fatal injuries, falling through an unmarked elevator shaft in the warehouse. According to city officials, illegal work, including removal of the elevator, was being done in the building without permits.

          He was taken by ambulance to Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, where he was pronounced dead.

“It’s a very sad day here,” said Evergreen Park Fire Chief Ronald Kleinhaus on Monday. “This is the first time something like this has happened to us.”

Kleinhaus and other members of the department had just returned from a visit to Capuano’s wife, Julie, a Chicago Public Schools teacher, and their three children in their nearby Mount Greenwood home. Their daughter, Amanda, 16, attends Mother McAuley High School, while Nick, 12, and Andrew, 13, are students at Queen of Martyrs School in Evergreen Park, a few blocks from their house.

“It has been very, very rough here,” said Queen of Martyrs Principal Kathleen Tomaszewski. “We’ve had two parents pass away in the past week.”

In addition to knowing the Capuanos through the school, Tomaszewski grew up with Julie Capuano in Chicago’s Wrightwood neighborhood.

“It is very sad. They are a very faithful, very wonderful family,” she said.

“Dan got his start with us,” said Palos Fire Chief James Graben . ”He went through our fire academy and EMT training here,” he said, and stayed with the department for about eight years.

“It’s devastating news for all of us,” said Graben, a 35-year veteran of the department who remembers working with Capuano himself. He noted that his parents, Michael and Jacqueline Capuano, still live in Palos Park.

“We’re all affected by this tragic loss. A lot of our guys go on to other departments. Many who are here now also worked with him in Evergreen Park, too,” he explained. He noted that prior to going to Evergreen Park, Capuano also worked for the Lemont Fire Department.

While there, Capuano was one of four paramedics credited with saving the life of a caddy on the 15th fairway Cog Hill Golf Course, using a portable defibrillator to restart the man's heart.

          In addition to his wife, children and parents, Capuano is also survived by two brothers, one of whom lives in Palos Heights.

          His wake is scheduled from 3 to 9 p.m. today, Thursday, at St. Rita High School Chapel, 7740 S. Western Ave., Chicago. The funeral will be there at 10 a.m. tomorrow, followed by interment at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery.

Chicago Firefighters Union Local 2 and the Ende, Menzer, Walsh & Quinn Retirees' Widows' and Children’s Assistance Fund have established a memorial fund to benefit the family at BMO Harris Bank. The bank's locations are accepting cash or check donations from customers and the general public.

Donations can also be mailed to: EMWQ Fund, Attn: Daniel V. Capuano Memorial Fund, 20 S. Clark St., Suite 1400, Chicago, IL 60603. Checks should be made payable to: Daniel V. Capuano Memorial Fund. Donations are also accepted online.

Big Pappa's to prepare big Christmas meals for less fortunate

  • Written by Dermot Connolly


Photo by Dermot Connolly

Sandi DiGangi holds one of the hundreds of turkeys she will be preparing for free holiday meals for the 6th Annual “Feed the Needy” Christmas Dinner she will be serving up in her Big Pappa’s Gyros restaurant at 10806 S. Cicero Ave., Oak Lawn, on Christmas Day. She is also collecting toys that will be given to children with the meals.

Big Pappa’s to prepare big meals on Christmas Day for less fortunate

By Dermot Connolly

       A serious health scare earlier this year has not stopped Sandi DiGangi, owner of Big Pappa’s Gyros in Oak Lawn, from going on with her 6th Annual Christmas Dinner to feed the needy and working poor.

       DiGangi said that even a family tragedy, her mother-in-law’s death on Thanksgiving Day, did not prevent her from bringing 90 Thanksgiving meals to homebound seniors in Oak Lawn.

    That was just practice for the big event on Christmas when she expects to feed at least 3,200 families, providing them with a traditional home-cooked holiday meal of turkey and the trimmings, as well as presents for any children in the house.

     That number has grown from the 750 meals served when she and her family began the tradition of serving free holiday meals in the restaurant at 10806 S. Cicero Ave. in 2010.

     They went through 236 turkeys last year.

    DiGangi considered selling her business earlier this year after being misdiagnosed with throat cancer. She was hospitalized twice for several weeks at a time for other health concerns, had two operations and was told she was going to die at one point before she gradually recovered.

    “I’m going to be doing this as long as I am alive,” she said, giving thanks to her children, Tony, 20; Michaline, 17; and Nicolette, 14, for pitching in and never complaining about not having a holiday at home.

      While her health battles did not keep her down, DiGangi acknowledged that both monetary and gift donations are down considerably over previous years. She pointed to a counter lined with gifts, noting that in past years they had a table full by now.

       Last year, in addition to donations, she added $5,000 of her own money.

      While this is her sixth year serving the meals out of her Oak Lawn restaurant, DiGangi and her family have been volunteering at homeless shelters and elsewhere for the past 19 years. She said she does it all in honor of her son, Gary, 5, who died in a fire in 1995.

     “I was able to help those in need,” said DiGangi, who remembers growing up poor herself in Chicago’s Bridgeport neighborhood. “God always blessed me, and this is what Christmas is all about, giving back, especially to the children,” she said.

     The restaurant owner said that 1,300 people have already signed up for the meals, and she is expecting to serve at least as many as they did last year.

   “We stopped counting after 3,200,” she said. Local volunteers, often Oak Lawn police officers, deliver some of the meals to homes in the Oak Lawn area, but she said that in addition to nearby communities such as Chicago, Burbank and Summit, many people come from as far as Orland Park and Park Forest to pick up meals.

 “There will be a line around the block, there always is,” she said, explaining that people are asked to come between noon and 6 p.m., but they often are handing out meals up until 9 p.m.

   “I figure if people come from as far away as Park Forest, they need a meal. People don’t realize, a lot of these people have absolutely nothing. Food is expensive,” she said. “And every child will get at least one gift. I tell them Santa stopped by here with their gifts, because they might not have gotten any at home.”

Monetary donations and unwrapped gifts for children may be dropped off at the restaurant. Donations may also be sent through a GoFundMe site set up for her by a supporter at

Mayor casts deciding vote on video gaming cafés in Palos Hills

  • Written by Michael Gilbert

The controversy over allowing video gaming cafés in Palos Hills has not subsided in the last month.

Four weeks after Mayor Gerald Bennett cast the deciding vote to break a 5-5 deadlock to create a new classification in the liquor ordinance for the gaming cafés, the mayor was once again called into duty.

This time it was to break a 5-5 stalemate last week to approve licenses for two gaming cafés – Stella’s Place and Durbin’s – to come to town.

In the moments prior to Bennett’s vote, Ald. Marty Kleefisch (1st) argued the motion made by Ald. Dawn Nowak (5th) to consider the licenses for Stella’s and Durbin’s should be ruled “out of order.”

Kleefisch’s claim was that back on Oct. 15, Nowak made a motion to have City Attorney George Pappas draft an ordinance creating a license in the liquor ordinance for gaming cafés that was ultimately defeated by a 5-4 margin. At the very next meeting on Nov. 5, Nowak, now with all 10 aldermen present, made another motion to have Pappas draft an ordinance – which came down to Bennett’s deciding vote.

Kleefisch stated that on Nov. 5 Nowak should have asked the board to “reconsider” the ordinance rather than make a make a motion to request Pappas draft the ordinance. He argued that what he believed to be incorrect wording be ruled an improper motion and out of order.

“You don’t ask our attorney to draft motions on motions that have failed,” Kleefisch said following the city council meeting on Dec. 3. “The way I interpret Robert’s Rules (of Order) she could have made a motion to reconsider the vote that failed. The motion Ald. Nowak brought up on Nov. 5 was an improper motion and should have been ruled out of order.”

Bennett disputed Kleefisch’s claim and said there are no rules in parliamentary procedure that prohibit an elected official from bringing back a motion as long as it does not take place at the same meeting the motion was originally voted on.  

“The only time you talk about the reconsideration of a motion (cannot take place) is during a meeting in which it was voted down,” Bennett told Kleefisch. “Any alderman has the right to bring back a motion that was voted down at a past meeting.

“There is no limitation on the fact that (Nowak’s) action originally failed and then her coming back (with the same action) at a following meeting.”

The two continued to debate the issue for nearly 10 minutes with Bennett on two separate occasions asking Kleefisch if he wanted to “sit up here,” meaning the mayor’s chair. Eventually Ald. Ricky Moore (4th) called for a vote on Nowak’s motion with Aldermen Moore, Nowak, Joe Marrotta (4th), Pauline Stratton (2nd) and Mike Lebarre (3rd) voting in favor of approving licenses for Stella’s and Durbin’s.

Aldermen Kleefisch, Joan Knox (1st), Mark Brachman (2nd), A.J. Pasek (3rd) and Mary Ann Schultz (5th) voted against.

Representatives of Stella’s previously told the council they have plans to open on 111th Street and Southwest Highway in the building that formerly housed Hills Pharmacy. The café operated by Durbin’s would be located in the strip mall in the 10100 block of Roberts Road.

“I think these are going to be upscale facilities – a nice addition to the city,” said Nowak, who was unsure when either video gaming café would open for business. “I think a lot of people think video gaming will bring in the riff raff but the proposal Stella’s presented to us was a very nice, upscale facility.”

Kleefisch said he believed if Nowak’s motion was ruled out of order that it was “possible” the item would be prohibited from coming up for discussion again. He also understood that may not have been the case.

“I realize I may lose the main motion, but I want to the procedure to that point to be correct,” Kleefisch said.

Pappas declined to comment on the issue when asked by The Reporter after the meeting.

Release of funds gives local governments get some holiday cheer

  • Written by Dermot Connolly


Municipalities throughout Illinois received a holiday present of sorts on Monday when the state Senate unanimously passed a bill that Gov. Bruce Rauner promptly signed, releasing $3.1 billion in funds that had been held up since July due to the ongoing budget impasse in Springfield.

The legislation, which was approved by the House last week, will reportedly send $1 billion to lottery winners whose payments had been held up. But it was the revenue from local gaming, as well as $582 million in motor fuel taxes that was due to local governments, $77 million for local 911 emergency centers, in addition to local use taxes, a percentage of sales tax revenue, that local mayors are most looking forward to receiving.

“We have a phone call in to the state comptroller (Leslie Munger) to see whether or not we can expect to receive the funds this fiscal year, ending Dec. 31, or whether we will have to wait until next year,” said Chicago Ridge Mayor Charles Tokar.

He said that the MFT funds, and revenue from video gaming and other monies his village is owed, could amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars.

“We have a budget hearing next Tuesday, and we want to know if we can expect a lump sum or whether it will be coming in dribs and drabs,” said the mayor.

“I’m grateful that they were at least able to do this much, but I hope the guys in Springfield will be able to come to some agreement on the entire budget,” added Tokar, who has stressed at recent village board meetings the difficulty of finalizing the village’s budget for next year when cuts to the funding municipalities get from the Local Government Distributive Fund are considered likely in any eventual state budget.

The Orland Park Village Board approved the 2016 budget following a brief hearing on Monday, and Mayor Daniel McLaughlin said whether or not state funding would be allocated didn’t play into it.

“We were conservative, but we figured that they have to give us the same amount as last year. State senators and representatives know we depend on those funds,” he said.

“I’m just glad to see some movement toward agreement. Hopefully, this will spur them on to do more,” McLaughlin added.

“All our local governments are happy about this,” said Palos Hills Mayor Gerald Bennett, who is president of the Southwest Suburban Conference of Mayors. “Hopefully, the funds will start coming to us in January.

“The hold-up of these funds affected 1,300 cities and villages around the state,” Bennett said. “It took a lot of work to get this done, and to get (legislators) to see that this money was never part of the state budget, and shouldn’t have been included in it.”

“This is a win-win situation for both sides in Springfield. Whether it spurs them on to come to agreement on the budget is debatable, but before long, they will have to start work on the following year’s budget so it will get convoluted,” Bennett noted.

“We’re relieved to know that they are releasing our funds, our taxpayers’ money,” said Palos Heights Mayor Robert Straz. He said his city expected to receive perhaps about $200,000, including MFT funds and the portion of the local use tax.

Like Orland Park, he said his city was not depending on the state action to balance the budget.

“We have very good staff members who go through every line item. We try to live within our means,” Straz said.


Water rates to rise by 3 percent in Worth

  • Written by Sharon L. Filkins

Worth residents will see a three per cent increase in their water rates in 2016, but no increase in the cost of their vehicle sticker fees, due to action taken by the village board at the Tuesday night meeting.

With the water rate increase, residents will see an increase from $7.64 per 1,000 gallons in 2015 to $7.93 per 1,000 gallons in 2016. Business and commercial uses will increase to $7.93 per 1,000 gallons in 2016, from $7.70 in 2015.

Churches, schools and nonprofit institutions will see an increase to $7.34 in 2016, compared to $7.13 in 2015.

Village Clerk Bonnie Price presented the board with a comparative study of water rates in neighboring communities, including Palos Hills, Bridgeview, Burbank, Palos Heights, Chicago Ridge, Crestwood and Hickory Hills. According to the report, Worth was one of four communities, including Chicago Ridge, Crestwood and Hickory Hills, with the lowest water rates.

“We do not charge a minimum use rate,” said Worth Mayor Mary Werner. “We have many seniors in our village who do not use even 1,000 gallons per billing period. We have not had an increase in five years.”

Trustee Rich Dziedzic asked if the City of Chicago, which supplies Lake Michigan water to Worth, had notified the village of any increase in water rates for 2016. Price stated that she had not been notified of any increase.

On the matter of vehicle sticker fees for 2016-2017, the board voted to not increase the fees. They will remain at $28 for passenger automobiles, $22 for recreational vehicles, $18 for motorcycle/scooter, $33 for Truck B Plates, $55 for Truck D,F,H,J Plates and $133 for Truck P,X Plates. For seniors, 62 years and over, the cost is $5. The vehicle stickers will go on sale May 1.

In regards to finances, Werner was asked how the village is coping with the budget impasse in Springfield.

“For the last three or four years, we have been very, very conservative with our budget,” said Werner. “So far, we are OK. We have been able to meet our obligations. We are hoping that the state will come to a resolution, but in the meantime, we are holding our own.”

In other business, the board approved an ordinance repealing the village’s leaf collection program. As of Dec. 1, the village will no longer administer a leaf collection program.