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Moraine faculty and staff helps add final touches to ‘Haunted Hills of Palos’

  • Written by Michael Gilbert

The only thing more frightening than the scary hayride planned for the Haunted Hills of Palos event later this month at Pleasure Lake may have been the path for the ride to traverse.

The trail around Pleasure Lake, which is the route for the hayride, has become more of a mud trail – especially when it rains – as the wood chips that cover the trail have eroded from the cold and wet winter and rainy spring leaving only dirt and grass, city officials said last week.

The Haunted Hills of Palos, which is sponsored by the city’s community resource and recreation department, is to take place the weekend of Oct. 28-29, and figures to draw a large crowd as in addition to the hayride attendees will be able to enjoy a variety of concessions including pizza and s’mores, according to Kristin Violante, the city’s commissioner of community resources and recreation.

A muddy trail would not have made for much fun at the event, which runs from 6-9 p.m. on both days, Violante said.

Enter the faculty and staff at Moraine Valley Community College, who, as part of the college’s Community Learning Day, spent more than three hours on Oct. 4 placing 75 cubic yards of wood chips around the trail at the lake, 10801 S. Roberts Road.

“It was awesome timing because we have the Halloween event coming up there and without (the staff of MVCC) there is no way we could have gotten it prepared,” Violante said after the city council last Thursday. “Not only does the hayride go on the trail but people have to walk to get on (the ride) and if the path wasn’t paved with the wood chips and it rained it would have been all muddy. Now the wagons have a nice surface and the people walking to the wagons have a nice surface.”

Tickets for the hay ride are $5 for adults and $3 for those under 10 years old. From 6-7 p.m. on both nights a “non-scary” hayride will take place.

Ald. Ricky Moore (4th Ward) is a member of the Moraine Valley Community College faculty and was one of the volunteers working at Pleasure Lake. Moore said he was more than pleased with the results.

“It looks nice because it was pretty much dirt when we started,” he said. “I was about 10 minutes late to get back to the bus (to return to Moraine Valley after we were done working) and I just told people I got lost because the walking trail was covered by wood chips. It really does look so much better.

“Pleasure Lake is probably one of the best kept secrets in Palos Hills, and I’d say we enhanced the beauty and safety there.”

Moore said Community Learning Day organizers approached Palos Hills Mayor Gerald Bennett about different tasks that could be completed in town and after Bennett met with Public Works Commissioner Dave Weakley, the project at Pleasure Lake was decided upon. MVCC staff also volunteered their time at The Little Red Schoolhouse, Sertoma Centre and at local food pantries and animal shelters, Moore said.

The mulch used to cover the trail came from branches collected by the city’s chipper service, Moore said. The city’s public works department collects branches from single-family homes at various times throughout the year.

“It’s nice because we kind of recycle,” Moore said of placing the chips at Pleasure Lake.

The work completed by the MVCC staff received praise from Ald. Mark Brachman (2nd Ward) during the meeting.

“The trail is now in tip-top shape,” he said.

Moore expects he and his co-workers to return to Pleasure Lake in 2017 to once again enhance the trail.

“As they say ‘If the good Lord’s willing and the creeks don’t rise,’ we will be there next year,” Moore said.

Board: No more gaming cafés

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

Video gaming cafés are no longer welcome in Oak Lawn, following passage of a new ordinance by the Oak Lawn Village Board on Tuesday night.

Mayor Sandra Bury, who introduced the ordinance, said it would have no effect on the two video gaming cafés already in the village. A total of 34 bars, restaurants and other businesses with liquor licenses currently offer video gaming in Oak Lawn.

‘Video gaming is big money,” she said, pointing to Illinois Gaming Board statistics showing that more than $333 million has been wagered at the machines in Oak Lawn since video gaming was introduced in 2012. The two gaming cafés account for 15 percent of that amount. In August alone, $11.5 million was wagered.

“When video gaming was approved by the previous administration, it was because the existing businesses came out in force and asked for help in a difficult economy. I have no doubt that if it had not been approved, some businesses that we know and love would not be open,” she said.

Bury said the unanimously approved ordinance would “raise the bar” for businesses seeking gaming licenses to ensure that gaming wasn’t their primary purpose. About 71 businesses in the village have liquor licenses, which entitles them to apply for gaming licenses, according to state law. But the mayor said the goal is to help “brick-and-mortar businesses” that offer more than video gaming.

The other issue discussed was vehicle stickers, following recent efforts by the village to catch up to vehicle owners who don’t buy them as required.

Several trustees reported hearing from residents who received letters in September from Finance Director Brian Hanigan, saying they had not bought stickers of vehicles registered to their address. Some either had bought the stickers or no longer owned the vehicles in question.

Those who had not bought stickers were told they owed the $25 sticker fee, plus a $100 penalty, which would be reduced to $50 if the stickers were bought by Oct. 31. He said the effort resulted in the village collecting $40,000. Hanigan pointed out that the sticker fees are lower in Oak Lawn than most neighboring communities.

Trustee Tim Desmond (1st) said he received one of the letters, and was thankful he had the receipt to prove he had purchased the sticker by the June 30 deadline. But he said many residents complained about having to come to Village Hall to sort out the matter

Hanigan explained that the letters were sent in order to track down “scofflaws” who neglected to buy the village stickers to do so. He said some letters were sent in error, because the village was using the Secretary of State’s database of vehicle registration, which did not always match with the information on file in the village.

“People don’t always inform the state or us when they changes vehicle,” said Hanigan.

“This is the first time we did this, and the database will be cleaned up next time,” he said.

He also pointed out that most trips to Village Hall were unnecessary because the letters stated that those who no longer owned the vehicle in question could state that and return the letter by mail.

“The trustees and I have talked about this for a while. Vehicle stickers are a revenue source, but they are considered a nuisance by a lot of residents,” said Bury. She asked Village Manager Larry Deetjen to look into the possibility of eliminating stickers, and making up the revenue elsewhere.

But that didn’t go over too well with Hanigan.

“They account for 900,000 in revenue to the village this year. I’m all ears as to how we are going to make up that amount of money in the budget, when we owe pensions,” said Hanigan, noting that he has followed orders from the board not to raise property taxes in recent years.

“If we want to get rid of the village stickers, it is incumbent on all of us on this board to come up with ways to make up the lost revenue,” said Trustee Mike Carberry (6th).

Jeff Vorva's Extra Point -- Compared to 2015, this isn't brain surgery

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

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Photo by Jeff Vorva

Shepard Athletic Director Curry Gallagher gets in some swimming practice in September with the Astros girls team.

 

 

One thing about Shepard athletic directors, they do some interesting things.

Gwaine Perkins jumped out of an airplane in 2011 as a part of a retirement gift.

Five years later, Curry Gallagher is trying something that might not be as dangerous but hasn’t been always easy so far.

He plans on participating in one practice for every athletic team that Shepard has to offer. In September, he started things off with a girls swimming practice that left him feeling quite a bit tired after it was over. He practiced with the girls tennis team, but because he was the newbie on the team, he had to go fetch the cart with the tennis balls and wheel it to the courts.

On one recent Friday, he ran cross country and then worked in a soccer practice that featured a drill called “Gilligan’s Island.’’ There is no word if Ginger or Mr. Howell were participating, too.

Outsiders may scoff that this is a stunt, but Gallagher said he is doing it to get closer to the student-athletes at the school.

And after the way he spent 2015, let the man play. Let him run, jump, grunt and do grunt work with the athletes. He’s entitled.

Last year he opened the 2015-16 school year on the disabled list.

He was recovering from having a brain tumor removed.

Just the words “brain tumor’’ are scary, but Gallagher said he lucked out, as he has an Acoustic Neuroma tumor which had to be taken out. He lost his hearing in his left ear, but he only had to spend 48 hours at Northwestern Memorial hospital in early August and was back on the job in late September.

 “If you’re going to get a brain tumor, this is the one to get,” he bragged. “I got the best brain tumor available.’’

It also gave him a new outlook on life, hence his new project of practicing with the Astro athletes.

“I feel blessed to be upright, I feel blessed to be on the good side of the green, I feel blessed to have a wonderful family and a great job,” the 40-year-old Gallagher said. “The district and the supervisors and coaches were all fantastic when I was sick.

“I do look at life differently and that’s why I want to do this.’’

Aside from a few aches and pains, it’s been rewarding.

“It’s getting back to having fun with kids,” he said. “Last year, I was sick and you kind of reevaluate your job. You’re sitting behind a desk and being an administrator is time-demanding and you are further away from kids.

“I want the kids to know me a little bit. And I want the kids at each practice to teach me something. Teach me about the team. Teach me about the sport. They can also ask me questions about Shepard athletics and being an administrator. Teach me something and I’ll teach you something.’’

Gallagher said he played football, baseball, tennis and bowling in high school in Philadelphia and ultimate Frisbee on the club level in college. He tried his hand at triathlons before his family (wife Carrie, daughters Deidre and Brigid and son Liam) started to grow.

He has worked at Marist, St. Ignatius and Richards before landing the AD job at Shepard.

He said he wants Shepard athletes to know his door is always open to them.

“I don’t want kids to look at me as the administrator who doesn’t talk to them,’’ he said. “Or the administrator who is distant from them.’’

He also said the brain surgery was just a blip in his life, similar to when he had knee surgery.

“If it grew more, it could have been life threatening,” Gallagher said. “I lost my hearing in one ear – some hard wiring was destroyed.  But all they did was take a little grey matter out of my head. I was in and out of the hospital in two days. I am still so amazed by that.’’

 

‘Midnight Terror’ continues to provide chills at new Oak Lawn location

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

 

The Midnight Terror haunted house, a popular Halloween attraction in Oak Lawn for the past two years, has moved to a new and bigger location in the village, with more ghouls and goblins than ever before.

Oak Lawn resident Justin Cerniuk, with his uncle Robert Page and friend Maciek Kulawiak, is still operating the haunted house in its new, permanent location at 5520 W. 111th St., just east of Central Avenue and opposite Holy Sepulchre Cemetery. Some parking is available in nearby lots, and free shuttle buses will also be run from the Metra parking lot at 95th Street and Tulley Avenue.

The original location in the 4,000-square-foot Beatty Lumber property at 9531 S. 52nd Ave., was demolished earlier this year, but “we outgrew it anyway,” said Cerniuk. He pointed out that the new site, a former fabrics factory, is 26,000 square feet.

“This is now my full-time job. We’ve been spending 24 hours a day for the past two months working on this,” he said, as he gave a tour of the new site just before it opened on Sept. 29. “But I really enjoy doing it.”

Cerniuk credits his uncle with getting him interested in creating Halloween displays, which he used to arrange on his driveway on Massasoit Avenue in the village until he outgrew that.

The new location now has two haunted houses inside the building.

“We hit the mother lode when we found this warehouse, which offers so much more room than our previous site,” said Cerniuk, a Marine veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan.

This year, Midnight Terror includes The Factory of Malum, populated by shrieking and wailing employees driven insane by an unseen force. But first, visitors must pass through the equally haunted village of Black Oak Grove.

“We called it Black Oak Grove because that is the original name of Oak Lawn,” Cerniuk explained.

According to the storyline, which visitors can read on monitors as they make what could be a 30-minute trek through Midnight Terror, Black Oak Grove has turned into a hellish landscape populated by monstrosities lurking around every corner. To get through, visitors must follow the mark of Willow, a wraithlike female searching for her father, a factory owner named Sledge. The Factory of Malum is named after the demonic overlord who has enslaved Sledge and his employees within an industrial labyrinth with equally gruesome creatures.

Visitors of all ages are welcome, but the operators said they would rate the haunted house PG-13.

It will be open Thursdays through Sundays, with its last day of operation on Saturday, Nov. 5. It will also be open from 7 to 10 p.m. on Halloween, Oct. 31.

It will be open from 7 to 10 p.m. on Thursdays and Sundays, and 7 to 11 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.

It will also be open on Friday and Saturday, Nov. 4 and 5.

General admission tickets are $23 online at www.midnightterrorhauntedhouse.com and $25 at the door. VIP admission (to bypass lines) is $31 online and $35 at the door. A “fear package,” which comes with a T-shirt, is $33 online and $35 at the door.

Oak Lawn trustee: "No significant rise in crime'

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

In response to two armed robberies that occurred in his district last month, Oak Lawn Trustee Terry Vorderer (4th) will be holding a community meeting to discuss public safety issues at 7 p.m. Oct. 13 at Salem United Church of Christ, 9717 S. Kostner Ave.

Vorderer said representatives of the Oak Lawn Police Department and the business community will be there to answer questions.

The incidents of most concern locally are two armed robberies, which police believe were committed by the same man, that occurred during the afternoon on Sept. 13. In both cases, the man robbed people at gunpoint in garages in the 4100 block of West 93rd Street and the 9600 block of South Kildare Avenue. Both locations are in Vorderer’s district.

When the trustee announced that he would be having the session at the Sept. 27 Village Board meeting, he cautioned residents that there is no reason to think that “crime is rampant” in the village.

A retired Oak Lawn police officer and chief of patrol, Vorderer claimed that Trustee Bob Streit (3rd) “takes liberties with the statistics,” on his online blog, in an effort to scare residents about crime levels.

In an overhead display of local crime statistics between 2010 and 2015 that he showed during the meeting, Vorderer pointed out that “there is no significant rise in crime over the last few years.”

He said that 2016 statistics are not available, and there was a spike in several areas in 2014. But crime has actually dropped this year in most areas, including burglaries, which are down from 121 to 110 this year, and robberies, down from 34 to 21.

“Variances can occur every year. One offender can cause a lot of trouble. But nothing indicates there is a large increase in crime.”

Vorderer and several other trustees argued that Streit is finding fault with the police department unnecessarily.

Streit did not challenge Vorderer during the meeting, except to ask, “Has anyone been caught for those burglaries?”

No one has been, but the same offender is now suspected of committing a similar robbery in north suburban Harwood Heights on Sept. 14. Jewelry was stolen in all three cases, and in Harwood Heights, he went into a home and took a ring from a man. A red Buick Enclave SUV was reportedly seen in Oak Lawn and in Harwood Heights.

The suspect in all three cases was described as a man in his 20s or 30s, black, and thin. He was described as wearing a black jacket and black floppy hat in Harwood Heights, and in Oak Lawn, witnesses said he wore a baseball cap and black writing.