Palos, Worth United Methodist churches merge

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

As the newly expanded congregation gathered for the 10 a.m. worship service and “Rally Day” at Palos United Methodist Church on Sunday, Sept. 13, the sign outside said it all, “Two churches united by faith.”

The worship service, followed by a potluck luncheon at the church at 12101 S. Harlem Ave., marked the official merger of Palos UMC with the congregation of Worth United Methodist Church, at 7100 W. 112th St. The Worth church, which has a 132-year history, had been struggling with low attendance for some time, and both congregations voted in May to merge so the Worth congregation wouldn’t have to scatter.

Worth UMC officially closed its doors a few weeks ago when the Rev. Sung Kown Oh retired on Sept. 1.

“We are so glad for this day, when we’re officially joined as one,” said Pastor Laura Barkley, as she welcomed the new members from the pulpit. “This is wildly exciting. We can’t express in words how happy we are.”

Following the traditional greetings of peace that worshipers shared with those seated around them, Barkley brought more than 40 members from the Worth congregation in attendance to the front of the church, where they officially joined the Palos congregation with a renewal of faith.

As they returned to their seats, the Palos congregation of about 80 people gave them a round of applause, and some good-natured ribbing was heard in the pews about what else was in store for them. One woman was jokingly told that the next step in the membership process would be getting a tattoo. “Can I choose where I get it?,” the newcomer asked with a laugh.

“I was surprised at how many people came over from Worth. It was like Christmas or Easter,” said Jim Dagger as he headed over to the potluck luncheon following the service. “I wasn’t sure if the greetings of peace would ever end,” he said with a grin.

Byril Sanders, of Palos Park, and a member of the Palos Heights church for 40 years, said he has experienced the closure of four Methodist churches during his lifetime, including in the Morgan Park and Mount Greenwood neighborhoods of Chicago.

“A lot of the smaller churches are going to close,” he said.

Julie Milcarek, 52, said she was a lifelong member of the Worth church. “It is nice to have someplace to go. They have been very welcoming here. It’s new beginnings,” she said.

“It is sad when a church closes, but at least they had someplace to go,” said Judy Zedak, as she and her husband, Gene, chatted with members of the Worth congregation at the potluck lunch in the church hall.

“When I signed up to be the liturgist for this service back in June, I didn’t realize it would be such a big day,” said Gene Zedak.

Kristina Gaughan, who lives a block from the Worth church that she belonged to for 45 years, noted that its 132-year history predates Worth itself, which was incorporated in 1914. But she said that while its closure was difficult, traveling a little farther south on Harlem to go to church will be easy.

“While a building is important, it is not as important as the work we can do together. It was hard to get things done with only 30 or 40 members. We are stronger together, and we need to evolve to survive,” she said.

Many members of both the Palos Heights and Worth congregations had already been volunteering together at the food pantry at the Worth church, assisting more than 100 area families.

Barkley had said after the service that she was pleased to report that the food pantry will remain open in the building, although the church is no longer there. There was some concern about that because the Palos Heights church does not have the space for it. An outside agency also rents space for a daycare center there, and that will remain open as well.

“It is not the building that is important, it is the people. Jesus wasn’t concerned with buildings. It should be about his message,” said Gaughan, to the agreement of her lunch companions.

Rauner rips Madigan at Worth GOP picnic

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

Tom Petty’s song, “I Won’t Back Down,” was playing as Cook County Commissioner Sean Morrison (R-17th) introduced Gov. Bruce Rauner at the 4th Annual Southwest Suburban Republican Family Picnic, held Saturday at Water’s Edge Golf Course in Worth, and the governor stayed with that theme in his talk.

“This song reminds me of how he is battling down in Springfield,” said Morrison, as he watched Rauner slowly make his way to the microphone, pausing for photos with seemingly all 230 people there.

“We’re battling hard. We’re going to hang tough through this process,” said Rauner, expressing confidence that he will be able to resolve the state budget crisis in the near future, and get the structural reforms he has been pushing for since being elected last November.

“I’m working with people on a grassroots level, with people like you,” Rauner said, thanking the crowd for coming out after two days of heavy rain. In addition to the guest speaker and plenty of food, other attractions at the picnic included a bounce house for children, and beanbag games for all ages.

The governor remains adamant that his five goals of a property tax freeze, term limits, redistricting reform, tort reform, and workers comp reform are all necessary to get the state’s financial house in order on a long-term basis.

He said his next stop after the picnic was a meeting with Democratic legislators in Chicago to discuss the budget impasse.

“A lot of people from both parties are starting to agree with us (about the need for reform),” said Rauner, blaming House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-22nd) for standing in the way of change.

“I grew up in Illinois. I love this state, and we should be kicking tails (economically), but jobs are leaving here every week,” he said, blaming high property taxes, and workers comp payments for driving companies to Indiana and other neighboring states.

Rauner is pushing for a two-year freeze on property tax, and the ability for local governments to decide on what issues have to be collectively bargained.

Madigan and others have asserted that Rauner’s five-point agenda is not directly related to balancing the budget, and should only be addressed after that is done. The state is currently without a budget

Illinois Comptroller Leslie Munger accompanied Rauner to the event, and backed up his statements about his reform agenda being necessary for a balanced budget.

“These issues are integral to the budget,” she said, asserting that the reforms Rauner wants, particularly with workers comp and tort reform, would lead to immediate and substantial cost-savings for the state. Other officeholders in attendance included Liz Doody Gorman, who recently stepped down as Cook County commissioner for the 17th District, for a job in the private sector. Gorman remains the Orland Township Republican committeeman, and Rauner praised her for her many years of work within the community.

Palos Township Trustee Sharon Brannigan, of Palos Heights, was also there and spoke briefly with Rauner. She had considered running in the Republican primary against incumbent Dan Patlak for a seat on the Cook County Board of Review this year, but decided against it in the interests of party unity.

Chicago Ridge mourns loss of police officer

  • Written by Dermot Connolly


Illinois State Police are investigating a three-vehicle crash involving a wrong-way driver on Interstate 294 that killed Chicago Ridge Police Officer Steven Smith, 27, early Sunday morning on Interstate 294 in Hillside.

The ISP said that about 3:45 a.m., someone called 911 to report a female motorist driving a car the wrong way near the Cermak Road Toll Plaza near Hillside. Her 1998 Toyota Camry was heading south in the northbound lanes when she struck the 2002 Dodge Neon head-on that Smith was in, police said. The Camry then spun around and struck a 2013 Chevrolet pickup truck.

Smith was off-duty and a passenger in the Neon driven by his cousin when the collision occurred. He was pronounced dead at the scene, according to police and the Cook County medical examiner's office.

The cousins were on their way to retrieve Smith’s car in Stone Park, where he had left it after a wedding the previous day.

Described by Police Chief Robert Pyznarski as “a tremendous asset to our department,” Smith was scheduled to work later on Sunday.

A graduate of Finley Junior High School in Chicago Ridge and Richards High School in Oak Lawn, Smith joined the Marines in July 2009 and served in Afghanistan before becoming an active reservist. He joined the Chicago Ridge Police Department as a part-time officer in 2010, and was promoted to full-time in February. Even before becoming a police officer, he was known for helping neighbors in the 6200 block of Birmingham Street, where he lived with his parents.

“He was just a delightful young man,” said Village Clerk George Schleyer, who swore Smith in as a full-time officer at a village board meeting in February.

“Being a Marine veteran, he was all about police work, and just a very respectful young man,” said Schleyer. Schleyer, a production manager for a bakery, said he often met Smith during his frequent visits to the police department bringing baked goods to the officers.

“We’re a close-knit community, so we all know each other. To have this happen is just devastating for his family and friends, the department and the whole village,” said the clerk.

“It hits home for me because I have a 27-year-old son. I can’t imagine getting that call,” he added.

According to police, the person in the pickup was not injured. The driver of the Camry was taken to Elmhurst Hospital with non-life-threatening injuries, officials said. The crash remained under investigation, and charges may be filed against the driver of the Camry.

Smith, who was single, is survived by his parents and brother. Arrangements were pending on Tuesday, but Schleyer said big crowds are expected to attend his wake and funeral, which were tentatively planned for Friday and Saturday.

Eighty years of saving lives

  • Written by Dermot Connolly


The Animal Welfare League has come a long way since it was founded 80 years ago, mainly to look after neglected horses that pulled wagons carrying everything from coal to watermelons through the streets of Chicago.

Originally named the Illinois Citizens Animal Welfare League when it opened in 1935, the non-profit organization now focuses on the care and adoption of stray or unwanted dogs, cats and other domestic pets. But a wide range of animals still come through the doors of the main Animal Welfare League facility at 10305 Southwest Highway in Chicago Ridge.

“We see 16,000 animals a year, coming from 54 municipalities, mainly the suburbs,” said Terri Sparks, the marketing and public relations manager for the non-profit organization, which is holding an 80th anniversary gala at 8 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 26, at Giorgio’s Banquets, 8800 W. 159th St., in Orland Park.

“We’re celebrating 80 years of saving lives,” said Sparks. The $60 tickets for the gala will include a full buffet dinner with carving station, dessert and unlimited soft drinks with a cash bar, and DJ music for dancing. There will also be raffles and silent auctions.

“The only thing we won’t have is animals there. They won’t allow us to bring them,” said Sparks.

The smaller, original Animal Welfare League site at 6224 S. Wabash Ave., Chicago, remains the largest no-kill shelter on the South Side of Chicago. Between the two facilities, the AWL annually takes in about 10,000 stray animals and more than 13,000 animals given up by owner for one reason or another.

“We see an average of 110 clients a day in the clinic (in Chicago Ridge). It is like Cook County Hospital,” said Sparks with a smile.

She said that in addition to the cats and dogs, birds, and small mammals like rabbits and hamsters that come through the door regularly, other, more exotic animals have ended up at the Animal Welfare League too. 

“We have had alligators, monkeys, and there is a picture of me somewhere with a tiger cub too,” said Sparks. “Wolves and coyotes also have been here.”

She recalled that an unknown person once just abandoned a box in the middle of the busy admissions area. “When an employee noticed, and opened it, there were something like 60 snakes inside, causing her to emit an ear-piercing scream,” she said.

Sparks explained that the exotic animals are typically turned over to rescue organizations that handle that type of animal specifically. Only organizations with special licenses are allowed to handle them, so they cannot be adopted like dogs and cats.

One bird that was turned over about 20 years ago, and has taken up residence at the Chicago Ridge shelter is Clancy, a colorful parrot, who will say a few words when he wants to. “He won’t do it on command,” said Sparks. “He is not up for adoption. He is like one of the family.”

“We have about 1,200 animals that are available for adoption here now,” she said. Dozens of volunteers help out by exercising and bathing the dogs, among other things, she added.

During a recent visit, it seemed that as soon as one family left happily with a newly adopted dog, someone else came to the counter with a dog being dropped off.

“We’re about the only shelter that takes in stray animals any more. Our main concern is the welfare of the animals. We don’t want to turn any away, because what would happen to them if we did? Where would they go?” she wondered, noting that the facility is open 24 hours a day for animals to be brought in.

Heather Lathus, of Oak Lawn, and her daughter, Addyson, 6, were among the happy ones, leaving with their newly adopted puppy, “Blue,” an American Staffordshire terrier. The friendly little dog had been with them for a few days, and gets along well with all three of her young children, Lathus said.

Sparks said that people adopting pets go through a vetting process, and in cases where pitbull-type breeds with reputations for fighting, house checks are done to see where the dogs will be going.

“We also do 30- , 60- and 90-day checks,” she added.

In addition to adoption, the AWL provides veterinary care, low-cost spaying and neutering services, and microchips animals to help ensure lost pets are reunited with owners. The League also has a foster-care program for sick and injured animals, wildlife rehabilitation, and educational programs about the humane treatment of animals, as well as pet assisted therapy programs for elderly or physically challenged individuals.

Sparks said she fosters animals, and has four of her own dogs and five cats.

“You want to take all of them home,” she said, noting that fostering many types of animals has been a learning experience for her children too.

More information about the AWL, and tickets for the gala, may be obtained by visiting the website at


Jeff Vorva's Im-PRESS-ions: Warning to politicians: Stay out of our sports pages

  • Written by Jeff Vorva


Jeffs Col Impressions



You’ve heard of the Sports Illustrated cover jinx?

How about the Reporter/Regional News sports cover jinx?

A few weeks ago, I covered the third annual Battle of the Burbs softball game at Standard Bank Park in Crestwood, which was a softball game with police chiefs, fire chiefs, mayors and other politicians. Money raised from the event went to the Special Olympics.

The first two years, we ran photos and stories on that event in the regular news sections but with the Stanley Cup coming to the area and gobbling up our valuable page 4 space, and sports needed an extra story, we ran it on the front page of the sports section with three photos.

One of the photos in our Aug. 20 issue was of a couple of politicians horsing around. State senator Napoleon Harris, a former Northwestern and NFL player, hoisted Harvey Mayor Eric Kellogg over his shoulders and gave the mayor a little airplane spin.

Just a few days later, TV stations and newspapers had stories on some alleged shenanigans regarding Kellogg using grant money to buy an SUV for his personal use.

Actually, it’s probably not fair to admit to a jinx when it comes to Kellogg and unflattering headlines. Just Google up his name and you will get an eyeful.

Harris, on the other hand, seemed to have a clean record.

He was a football hero and thanks to excelling at NU (ironically, the Kellogg School of Business) he was an owner of a pair of Beggars Pizza locations. He was hoping to be a candidate for the U.S. Senate.

Less than a week after he was on our sports front hoisting Kellogg, I saw a TV story in which Chuck Goudie and the Channel 7 I-Team said he illegally underpaid his Beggars employees. The I-team said he owed 40 workers roughly $23,000.

Harris released the following statement:

"Ensuring the citizens of Illinois receive a fair wage is an issue I take very seriously. I would never knowingly deny anyone his or her right to fair compensation. As a public servant, business owner or citizen, it has always been important to me that the workers of Illinois are paid a fair and sufficient wage. My record as a State Senator reflects this. My life experiences embody this. In the event that my business is not in full compliance, these alleged issues will be addressed and resolved."

As for us?

We’re going to try to keep the politicians off the sports pages for a while.

(SUB HEADLINE) Roaring sarcasm

Last week, I was listening to the police scanner and in one of the nine towns the Reporter/Regional covers, a dispatcher asked a couple of officers to check out a report of a mountain lion roaming a neighborhood.

I wasn’t listening all that closely and I wondered if I heard it right.

So I put the scanner on hold and waited awhile for the next dispatch.

A few minutes later, the officers arrived at the neighborhood and one of the cops told the dispatcher “We’re here looking for the mountain lion…in Illinois.’’

That was pretty subtle yet pretty funny, too.

(SUB HEADLINE) Will she run a fowl campaign?

I am not in her jurisdiction, but if I could vote for her, I would consider voting for Tonia Khouri for 11th district congress.

She recently announced she was running for office at a chicken dinner she hosted at Frontier Park in Naperville.

But it wasn’t just any chicken dinner. It was a Yummy Chicken Dinner, with capital letters on the Y, C and D.

She had a handful of these YCDs all over her district recently.

I wish she was in our area because if she were to knock off incumbent Bill Foster, I could write the headline “Winner winner (yummy) chicken dinner.”