As new year begins, local mayors focus on some key projects

  • Written by Joe Boyle

pleasure lake  photo 1-4

Photo by Joe Boyle

Palos Hills Mayor Gerald Bennett said plans have been set aside this year to revitalize and upgrade Pleasure Lake at 108th Street and Roberts Road. The mayor said a gazebo and walking path around the lake may be part of the project.

The holidays are over but local mayors still have a list of items on their wish lists that they would like to see begin sometime in 2018.

Chicago Ridge Mayor Chuck Tokar has one goal in mind – the development of Harlem Avenue along 103rd Street. The village has hired William Whitmer as the business development director to assist in targeting various projects this year.

“I think he can really help us,” Tokar said. “I just want to see it move forward.”

Tokar mentioned that a craft brewery business will open sometime this year. The owner is still in the process of filing the proper paperwork with the state.

But the mayor would most like to see development of the old Yellow Freight property near 103rd and Harlem, which is now owned by Crown Enterprises.

“The main property there has been a struggle,” Tokar said.

What Tokar puts at the top of his wish list is a Top Golf driving range, an indoor facility which has three levels that allows golfers to swing at a computerized image. The mayor would like to see a facility located just south of 103rd and Harlem.

“I’d love to see a golf range out there,” Tokar said. “I think it would draw in businesses.”

Palos Hills Mayor Gerald Bennett said that the city has made progress, although infrastructure upgrades do not always grab headlines.

“We have replaced our sewer lines and we are pretty proud of that,” Bennett said.

But the mayor said there are two projects that he would like to see accomplished. The development of Pleasure Lake at 108th and Roberts Road will be one project that will be worked on this year.

“We would like to put in a gazebo and have a trail around the lake,” Bennett said. “Last year we stocked more fish in the water.”

The Palos Hills mayor would like to see a new public works building built to replace the antiquated facility that dates back to 1968.

“We would like to modernize for our employees and residents,” Bennett said.

Oak Lawn Mayor Sandra Bury is pleased with the new restaurants and a variety of other businesses that have been added to the village the past year. She said the village is working on many long-term projects.

Village officials are reviewing options to replace the shuttered Chuck E. Cheese, which closed officially in November due to frequent disturbances there that sometimes resulted in verbal and physical conflicts that took place outside the restaurant.

“Right now we are working on the pension funds,” Bury said. “We are working on a lot of things that will make us a stronger community.”

The mayor said that Phase II for the promenade along 111th and Cicero Avenue will begin to take shape. The TIF District features anchors such as Mariano’s and Cooper’s Hawk Winery and Restaurant. The mayor said as Phase II plans begin to take shape, two established restaurants could be added, along with a retail business.

The mayor does have advice for residents and shoppers who visit Oak Lawn and that is to shop locally.

“The most important message I can give is to shop locally,” Bury said. “These online conglomerates are not adding anything to our economy. My holiday wish is for more residents to go to local stores and support local businesses. It helps the local economy.”

But she adds that Oak Lawn’s economy is growing stronger and more diverse with the addition of the three escape rooms in the village. Escape rooms are an entertainment center in which participants have to solve puzzles and clues. The opening of Buona Beef last month was met with great fanfare that included a “beef-cutting” ceremony.

Evergreen Park Mayor James Sexton would like to just see development plans continue for his village.

“We would like to see all the businesses open at the Plaza,” Sexton said of the revised development along 95th and Western Avenue. “We would like to see that happen by the end of the summer.”

His other top priority is the construction of a new community center. Sexton is optimistic that it can occur by the fall.

“We would like to see this done so that young people can have a modern place they can go to,” Sexton said. “And we would like to have a new place for our seniors to enjoy in their retirement.”

Worth Mayor Mary Werner was pleased that refinanced bonds will provide over $700,000 for the village.

“That was pretty exciting,” Werner said. “We got an A-plus credit rating. It took a few months to go through the process and it is great.”

Another highlight, according to Werner, is the additional activities that will be offered at Water’s Edge golf course at 115th and Harlem Avenue. The mayor is hopeful that the village can sell the Lucas Berg property.

Werner also is pleased with the opening of Captain Jack’s Beverages, 7030 W. 111th St., near the village hall. The mayor sees the restaurant as a great addition to the community along 111th Street.

The demolition of the Sabre Room and the future plans for the Sabre Woods development was at the forefront for Hickory Hills Mayor Mike Howley. He said the old Sabre Room, where Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin once performed, was once an icon setting in the city.

But the new Sabre Woods development at 8900 W. 95th St. will be a great boost to the city, Howley said.

An agreement was reached with the Koziarz Group, owners of the property, during a Hickory Hills City Council meeting last spring. The approved ordinance includes a planned unit development (PUD) proposal that would take in the site of the old Sabre Room.

“They need to just get certain services developed,” Howley said. “We have residential agreements for six to eight single-family homes. Any other residential use after that is for ages 55 and over. We just don’t want to put more burden on our school districts. They have a lot of kids going to these schools now and we have to think about them.”

Along with Schools Districts 117 and 230, Howley said that 70 to 75 percent of all real estate has to be set aside for senior housing, according to the agreement.

“They are moving forward,” Howley said about the developers. “They have to contact the MWRD and the Army Corps of Engineers. There is still a lot of planning ahead.”

Oak Lawn boxer is grateful for a second chance

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

joe maloney photo 1-4

                                    Photo by Dermot Connolly

Oak Lawn boxer Joe Maloney, 21, has recovered from a serious health scare and will make his professional debut on Feb. 10, in Libertyville.

Oak Lawn boxer Joe Maloney, 21, is back in the ring after a serious health scare nearly two years ago, and will be making his professional debut in Libertyville on Feb. 10.

A 2015 graduate of St. Rita High School, Maloney has been boxing since he was 12 years old. He was also a student at St. Catherine of Alexandria School in Oak Lawn.

“My buddy Ken Duggan got me into it. It’s a good hobby, I got picked on a little bit in grammar school, and it helped me gain a lot of self-confidence,” said Maloney on Saturday. “I started out at Palos Courts in Palos Heights.”

Maloney was the 2015 Chicago Golden Gloves champion and 2014 winner of the Title Boxing National Championship. He has 62 amateur bouts under his belt, but his biggest battle came in January, 2016, when he suffered a debilitating hemiplegic migraine headache. It resulted in partial paralysis and other symptoms similar to a stroke, and was brought on by an underlying blood disorder.

He was laid up for seven weeks, including six weeks of physical therapy as an inpatient at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn. He also traveled to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota to see specialists there.

“It was a long six weeks of therapy,” he said.

“I still go to speech therapy, but physically I am 100 percent. All the doctors at the Mayo Clinic and Oak Lawn gave me the all-clear to get back in the ring.”

He said his mother, Mary, was concerned about him getting back into the ring. But he said she and his father, John Maloney, know how much it means to him.

“When I wasn’t boxing, I was just sitting at home gaining weight,” he said.

“I’m back training twice a day, strength and conditioning in the morning, and boxing in the afternoon,” said Maloney. He trains at Silencer Athletics at 10955 S. Western Ave., in Chicago’s Beverly neighborhood, as well as at Sam Calonna Boxing, at 2600 W. 35th St. in the city’s Brighton Park neighborhood.

When he is not training, he is working as a bouncer at a bar in Beverly.

“I’m on a special diet. No sugar or bread. It is hard but you get used to it,” he said.

“I’m down about 15 pounds since I saw you a few weeks ago,” Maloney told Oak Lawn Trustee Tim Desmond (1st), during a recent visit to the trustee’s Jack Desmond’s Irish Pub, 10339 S. Ridgeland Ave., in Chicago Ridge.

Maloney was introduced there during the “Irish New Year” festivities on Sunday evening.

“It’s great to have a professional boxer from Oak Lawn,” Desmond said. “It doesn’t happen very often. Here we have a young man, putting himself out there, taking a chance. Hopefully, the whole neighborhood gets behind him.”

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                                           Photo by Dermot Connolly

Oak Lawn boxer Joe Maloney (at right) spars with his trainer, Paul Amos.


Maloney is already organizing two buses of supporters to come with him to the Feb. 10 fight against Roman Falagoria at the Libertyville Sports and Fitness Complex, 1950 US 45. The event will be part of a fight night sponsored by Conquer Fight Club.

“I already have one bus full,” he said proudly. The buses will be leaving from Jack Desmond’s.

In order to make sure he is in top shape, he will be heading off soon to a 22-day boxing camp in Detroit, something else he is looking forward to.

“It is will be eat, sleep and train, every day,” said Maloney, who said he looks up to boxers such as Irish Olympian Michael Conlan, who recently turned pro.

“I met him when he was in Chicago,” he said.

“When I come back for the fight in Libertyville, I am going to have my father in my corner, along with my trainer, Paul Amos,” said Maloney.

“I want to thank everyone who has supported me in this,” he added.

Anyone who would like to reserve a spot on the bus going to Libertyville may contact Maloney at (708) 582-9687.

While he has big plans for the future, he is running on a shoestring budget now. He said that anyone interested in a small sponsorship or donation may also call him. All the money raised will go toward equipment and his training camp, he said.

Local chamber of commerce closes its doors

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

A lack of participation by members led to the Chicago Ridge-Worth Chamber of Commerce quietly closing its doors at the end of December.

The board of directors of the chamber, which was restarted in 2013 after a previous closure, notified members in a brief email sent on Dec. 27, that “after careful consideration,” the decision was made that the chamber could not remain open after Dec. 31.

“This decision was difficult for the board, but with declining membership and little participation, we felt we can no longer remain viable. For those members who sent membership money in for 2018, we will be returning your dues by mail in the next few weeks. The remaining funds held by the Chamber of Commerce will be donated to local nonprofit organizations, split evenly between both villages,” they said in the letter.

“We thank everyone for your support over the years, and we wish your businesses well in the years to come,” it concluded.

Bill Ritter, the owner of Metal Masters CARSTAR, a body shop at 10235 S. Ridgeland Ave. in Chicago Ridge, was the president. He and Worth Village Clerk Bonnie Price, were among the leaders who got the chamber restarted in 2013, after five years of inactivity.

“I was the president because the past president just walked off about a year ago,” said Ritter on Tuesday.

“The chamber was going for quite a long time. Then a bunch of businesses left about the same time. That is why it closed the first time,” he said.

“But in 2013, we thought we had enough people interested to start again. We had about 145 businesses at its height, but it was down to 90 in the last couple of years,” said Ritter.

“We had no problem getting members to sponsor things, but we couldn’t get enough people to attend events that we were hosting,” said Ritter.

He said the chamber had trouble even getting members to come to the grand opening of Miller’s Ale House in Chicago Ridge Mall about a year ago.

“You couldn’t even get people to come for the free food,” he said.

“The annual mayoral state of the village luncheon we hosted used to be very popular too. But last year, we only had about half of what we used to get,” he said of the event, which was usually held at Jenny’s Steakhouse.

The chamber used to hold a lot of community benefits, collecting books, coats and other items to help both communities.

“For whatever reason, I don’t think anyone wanted to get involved. And you can’t do anything without participation,” said Ritter.

““I really wasn’t surprised to see it close,” said Chicago Ridge Mayor Chuck Tokar.

“The board seemed to be trying very hard. I went to several of the breakfast and dinner meetings they had, but attendance was poor. A lot of people don’t mind being members, but they just don’t want to participate.”

Tokar noted that the chamber only attracted the small, family-owned businesses in Chicago Ridge and Worth, but very few of the stores in Chicago Ridge Mall.

“Most of the stores in the mall are national chains, and they don’t usually join the chambers of every community they are in.”

“It was kind of sad to see the chamber close. But there is not much we could do about it,” said the mayor.

Two District 230 teachers receive national awards

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

The District 230 School Board at its meeting last week recognized two faculty members who received national awards.

Dr. Stacey Gonzales, director of curriculum for the district, was named among the top 30 education technology leaders in the United States by the Center for Digital Education, a national research and advisory institute specializing in K-12 and higher education technology trends, policy and funding.

 She was a leading force behind the district’s ongoing technology program, which has provided every student with a Chromebook laptop computer this year and more teacher training on how to get the best use out of the technology in the classroom.

The CDE called her one of the 2017 “Top 30 Technologists, Transformers and Trailblazers,” education and technology leaders who are “transforming the education landscape through the use of digital tools.”

During the “Digital Learning Program,” update she gave at the meeting last Thursday, Gonzales said all students now have the computers, and they are a hit with students and teachers alike. Now in Phase 3 of the program, this was the first semester that students in all four years have the computers.

“It has been a really smooth semester so far,” said Gonzales. “It has been a really busy year, but so far, so good. Students have told me they would rather be using the $179 Chromebooks than the $1,200 desktop computers they have at home.

“This has not been a top-down thing,” she said, “All 140 teachers have been involved from the beginning. That is the key to success.”

Gonzales and other district officials are now getting involved in webinars, helping other districts roll out similar programs.

According to the CDE, the 2017 Top 30 winners were selected based on their efforts to improve education through effective implementation of technology-rich solutions; their impact on student outcomes; and their overall initiative, creativity and leadership skills. Gonzales is one of only two recipients from Illinois this year. The other is Linda Ashida, a teaching and learning facilitator at Elk Grove High School.

Christopher Wendelin, who teaches Advanced Placement English to freshmen, along with senior-level English at Stagg High School in Palos Hills, was also honored for being named a Top Ten 2017 Claes Nobel Educator of the Year by the National Society of High School Scholars. Formed in 2002 by James W. Lewis and Claes Nobel, members of the family that established the Nobel Prizes, the NSHSS is aimed at recognizing academic excellence at the high school level and helps to advance the goals and aspirations of high-achieving students.

He was nominated for the award by a student, at least in part for The Voice of Witness class he and fellow teacher Lisa Thyer created last year. The 60 students in the class published a book called “111th and Roberts: Where Our Voices Intersect.” The process they went through was the subject of a documentary by a University of Illinois College of Media Instructor and his journalism students entitled “Voices of Stagg.”

“I feel very indebted to the people around me,” said Wendelin at the meeting last Thursday, referring to the board members and the district leadership who allowed him to create “a learning environment with student-centered classes, where success is shared and creativity is encouraged.”

He said he wants to provide education that is “long-term and nonlinear.”

“Students and teachers should see themselves and each other as works in progress, using every setback, success, and query as a stepping stone to improvement and believing that everyone can grow and learn with hard work and grit.” 

Wendelin’s nominating student wrote, “He has gone above and beyond making learning fun along with co-teaching a one of a kind class dedicated to the Voice of Witness program while willingly giving up his plan period to help students and make sure they succeed.”

“Chris has always shown himself to be an excellent teacher. He is a genuine individual, whose caring personality coupled with humor and humility allows him to form meaningful connections with students, helping each one believe that not only that they can learn, but also that they deserve to be successful,” said Stagg Principal Eric Olsen. 

OLCHS spreads goodwill through Operation Santa Claus

  • Written by Kelly White

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Photo by Kelly White

Dominika Bryniarska (at left), 15, of Oak Lawn, and Natalia Tylka, 15, of Oak Lawn, wrap gifts together during Oak Lawn Community High School's Operation Santa gift wrapping party on Dec. 20 at the school in Oak Lawn.


'Tis the season of joy and giving and Oak Lawn Community High School students are standing strongly by that view. For the 13th consecutive year, students from all grade levels participated in Operation Santa Claus this December.

Operation Santa Claus is similar to the Angel Trees commonly seen at local shopping malls during the holiday season, according to Operation Santa Claus organizer and Oak Lawn Community High School math teacher Ellen Kruger.

“We adopt families from the Oak Lawn High School community who demonstrate a need for assistance, as determined by the counselors and social workers,” Kruger said.

In order to become a part of the project’s wish list, every family participating had to have at least one or more students attending Oak Lawn Community High School, with ages ranging anywhere from freshmen to seniors.

“I used to get families referred by Oak Lawn Family Services, but as the years went by, there was such great need within the Oak Lawn High School community that I was able to fill all of the spots from referrals from our counselors and social workers,” Kruger said. “This year we adopted more people than ever before with 40 individuals from 11 different families.”

“I like the ability to help the less fortunate families of Oak Lawn,” said Jasmine Cates, 17, of Oak Lawn.

Candy canes hung on Christmas trees located in the student and staff cafeterias at the school, 9400 Southwest Highway, for one week, each containing a gift tag identifying a person, their age, and desired wish/need. Wishes included anything ranging from clothing, gas/grocery gift cards, and toys in addition to a few specific requests. In order to participate in the program, students and staff chose a candy cane at random, purchased the gift or gifts with their own money, and returned it to the school unwrapped.

The gifts were then wrapped during a wrapping party, hosted by Kruger, and the 20 students on the Operation Santa Claus school committee on Dec. 20. From there, the gifts are taken on the school’s Spartan minibus and hand-delivered to the families in need by staff and students.

Students reported to enjoy the giving project.

“I like that it is a fun and fast way for everyone to contribute to those in need,” said Nicole Arias, 17, of Oak Lawn.

“I like how you get a look at how others are living who are less fortunate, and you have the opportunity to help them,” said Ansam Abdeljaber, 17, of Oak Lawn.

“This is my first year helping, and I am really glad to be able to help those who need it the most,” said Peggy Fritz, 17, of Oak Lawn.

Since 2005, during the holiday season, Kruger and members of Oak Lawn Community High School have collected over 3,140 gifts and over $13,000 in cash and gift cards for Oak Lawn residents, according to Oak Lawn Community High School’s Assistant Principal Marcus Wargin.

“Operation Santa Claus amazes me every year,” Wargin said. “Our students, staff, and families step up to help those in need, and bring joy to our community families during the holiday season. Ellen (Kruger) goes above and beyond to organize this event each year, not out of obligation, but out of genuine kindness. I am proud to work with her and all of our stakeholders who take time out of their days to support this cause. It is events like these that constantly remind me of why Oak Lawn Community High School is more than just a school. We are a family and I am grateful to be part of it every day.”

The project originally sparked at the high school after Kruger participated in a similar project through the University Recreation Center at James Madison University. She then adapted it for Oak Lawn Community High School.

“I feel this program brings students and staff together to help those within our own school community,” Kruger said. “We see firsthand the effect these donations have on the families who attend our school. They participate in a program that gives back to the community. The students who gain the most are those who stay around after the wrap party to load the gifts into the cars of the families who they are being donated to. They see the appreciation and gratefulness first hand.”