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The B-Side — Keeping Megan’s memory alive

  • Written by Bob Rakow

 Hurckes’ spirit sparks annual bowling event

Bobs Column - The B Side  I vividly remember the moment I learned that Megan Hurckes had died.
  My daughter and I were returning from the grocery store and before I could pull the car to the curb, my wife stepped onto the front porch to deliver the news. I was beyond shocked. What happened? How could this horrific news be true? But, sadly, it was true no matter how hard it was to believe.
  The news quickly spread throughout Oak Lawn. Megan Hurckes, 10, died in an ATV accident on Labor Day weekend in Wisconsin. Purple ribbons were tied around trees throughout the community to commemorate her short life. Social media was flooded with messages from friends and family offering their condolences and support.
  Megan was a sweet, adorable girl who had a smile you couldn’t forget. My daughter, Brigid, played softball with Megan on a team coached by her father, Jerry. Those were good times that I’ll always remember.
  Jerry Hurckes is a former Oak Lawn trustee, who ran for mayor several years ago. I know him as a politician, a coach, a community activist. He was always a good news source when he represented District 6 on the Oak Lawn Village Board. He and his wife, Maryann, are good people.
  Perhaps one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done is offer Jerry and Maryann my condolences at Megan’s wake. Hundreds of people stood in line at Blake and Lamb Funeral Home for more than two hours to offer the Hurckes’ their sympathies.
  When I approached Jerry, we embraced and he said, “She was a good girl, Bob. She was a good girl.” My heart was pounding. I had no idea what to say. What could I say? This family was grieving over the loss of their 10-year-old daughter, their baby girl. There were no words.
  More than four years have passed since Megan’s death. She would have turned 15 in February. She would have been a high school freshman. I have no doubt that the Hurckes’ deeply miss Megan every day, but what they’ve done to honor her life is remarkable. The family has gone beyond grieving to celebrate what Megan meant not only to them but to so many others who knew her from the community, St. Louis de Montfort Parish, Kolb School and Westside Baseball.
  Jerry Hurckes once told me, “To keep her memory going is much more important.”
  The Hurckes’ will do exactly that on Feb. 1 when they celebrate Megan’s 15th birthday at the annual Megan Hurckes Memorial Candlelight Bowl. The event begins at 7 p.m. at Arena Lanes, 4700 W. 103rd St., Oak Lawn. Tickets for bowling (which is optional) are $10. You can also sponsor a lane for eight bowlers for $150. A cash bar is available and raffles and chances will be held throughout the evening.
  The event is a good time, I guarantee it. Come out and see some familiar faces, bowl, eat, drink and, most importantly, take a moment to tell Jerry and Maryann Hurckes that Megan’s lives on, not just in our hearts and memories, but in the lives of so many children who’ve benefitted from the scholarship foundation, which was formed shortly after her death.
  The foundation has raised thousands of dollars for scholarships awarded to students from Oak Lawn Community High School, Simmons Middle School, Kolb Elementary School and Saint Louis de Montfort. Money also has been contributed to Westside Baseball and the Oak Lawn Children’s Museum, where the Megan’s Maze exhibit is on display for thousands of children to enjoy.
  The Hurckes’ have said they never would have survived the tragedy of Megan’s death without the support of friends and community members. Let’s show them that love and support once again on Feb. 1 while remembering Megan as well.
  For information or tickets, call (708) 599-7302 or visit www.meganhurckesscholarshipfund.com. If you can’t make it, donations can be sent to the Megan Hurckes Scholarship Foundation, 7036 W. 96th St., Oak Lawn, Ill., 60453.

 

 

Parachute wedding dress weaves Cox’s two loves together

  • Written by Claudia Parker

  The two things that longtime Evergreen Park volunteer Page-7-2-col-dressFormer Evergreen Park resident Rona Cox was married to her husband, Kenneth, in a dress made out of parachute material. Submitted photo.Rona Cox loves the most are her late husband, Kenneth, and the military.
  In what could be called the perfect symbol of her life, her love of Kenneth and the military were weaved together in the form of a unique wedding dress that was made out of a parachute.
  When Rona left the Air Force in the 1949, she was given a parachute. Rona’s mother, Helen Reynolds, was a skilled seamstress and was able to take that parachute, made from yards of pure silk, and create Rona a breathtakingly, gorgeous wedding dress.
  Nearly, 40 years later, on Jan. 1, 1988, Kenneth collapsed and later died from a massive heart attack while golfing with friends. While saddened by her husband’s death, Rona can’t help but to be grateful for all the years they spent together.
  Kenneth’s experiences in the war are described in a book titled, “Backwards into Battle: A Tail Gunner’s Journey in World War II”by Andy Doty.
  The national headquarters for The American Legion in Indianapolis is slated to keep Rona’s wedding dress there for display.
  Kenneth and Rona Cox married in 1949 shortly after returning from World War II. The couple both served in the United States Air Force. Kenneth was a radioman on a B-29 bomber, and Rona was a classification specialist for B-17 bombers.
  Shortly before the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, Aug. 6, 1945, Kenneth and nine airmen were on a reconnaissance mission. This is the military’s way of exploring beyond the area occupied by friendly forces. During this mission, their plane went down into the Pacific Ocean. Of the 10, seven survived with minor injuries. Kenneth was one of them.
  The dress provides good memories of Kenneth for Rona.
  “When I see my wedding dress, I think of him, floating overnight in the Pacific Ocean and I’m thankful he didn’t die that day,” she said.

Skater made our country greater

  • Written by Claudia Parker

 

  With wheels on her heels, 90-year-old Rona CoxPage-1-2-col-CoxPage-1-2-col-CoxFormer Evergreen Park resident Rona Cox was in what is now known as the Air Force in the 1940s, topt photo, and has served as an American Legion volunteer in the area for more than 60 years. Cox, bottom photo, just turned 90 and retired from volunteer work in December.Page-1-color-2-col-cox

has spent a lifetime rolling through life and serving her country.

  Approximately 400,000 women enlisted with the armed forces during World War II. Cox, a former resident of Evergreen Park, is one of them. Her two-year stint had such an impact, she continued to serve as a volunteer for 63 years with an unflinching dedication at the American Legion Post. The first 10 were served in Hometown and the final 53 at Post 854 in Evergreen Park, where she remained until retiring in December.
  And she was a pretty good roller skater, too.
  Even at 90-years-old, Cox is vibrant and lucid. She said, “I’ve spent my entire life being active. I didn’t retire from skating until I was 83. At that age, had I fallen, I would have been finished off in a wheelchair somewhere.”
  For nearly 70 years on roller skates, Cox said she never had an injury. “Nothing kept me from rolling.’’ Cox said.
  In addition to volunteering, Cox worked full-time while raising her two children, Dave Cox of Lemont and Patricia Morrin of Chicago. She said her mother, Helen Reynolds, offered a tremendous amount of support. Reynolds moved the year Dave was born in 1952 and didn’t leave until she died in 1985. Having family support allowed Cox to offer more than what most could give. She said, “If I couldn’t be totally committed. I didn’t do it.”
  With Cox’s official retirement from the ALP, she said, “I’m getting organized. I’ve made my final plans. I told the funeral director not to put a crucifix on my program. Instead, put a B-17 bomber on it!”
  Cox was barely out of high school when the war began.
  She graduated six months prior to the bombing of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. She admits to being naïve about going to war, saying, “I had no idea what the war was about. I’d just discovered roller skating. After taking dance lessons for 12 years, I was enraptured by being able to dance to the organ on skates.’’
  The skating rink became her stage. It wasn’t long before her solo performances turned into duets.
  She blushed, saying, “Sailors from the Great Lakes training center came to the rink by the busloads. I liked them boys.”
  Cox befriended many of the servicemen. One in particular, named Kenneth Cox, whom she’d dated since high school, joined the Army Air Corps, which is now known as the United States Air Force.

  “I found myself being drawn in but no one from my small family had ever served in the military,” she said.
  After becoming more skilled at her hobby of roller skating, she began to compete. Skating kept her mind occupied as she sought her mother’s approval to enlist in the Air Force, which is where Kenneth had already been for a year. She finally joined in July 1944, becoming a classification specialist for B17 bombers.
  Cox spent her tour in New Mexico and later, Colorado Springs, which is now the Air Force headquarters. She was responsible for getting classified personnel into Europe. Although the war ended in 1945, she spent an additional year bringing her fleet home. She was honorably discharged in August 1946. She and Kenneth married in 1949 and moved to Hometown.
  “Hometown was where you went to establish yourself when you got back from the war,’’ she said. “The community was built for returning veterans. The American Legion Post and its auxiliary were just being formed. I was one of the first to join.”

PAGE-7-4-col-cox-jump-hotoRona Cox shows off a B-17 model airplane. The 90-year old still loves the military after spending more than 60 years volunteering for area American Legion groups. Photos by Jeff Vorva.  The purpose of the American Legion is to assist veterans of all wars, their widows and dependent children. The Legion also is active in developing and promoting legislative activities that establish or protect the rights of veterans.
  “This work is important,’’ Cox said. “Through the years, I’ve held just about every job there is serving my local post.”
  She’s received various accolades from the district, county and state for her work, including recognition for being one of the first female commanders and auxiliary presidents.
  She loves the military and is fond of veterans.
  Even while considering her own death, she’s thought of the veterans.
  “It’s a far drive from Evergreen Park to the cemetery, and I don’t want people hungry,” she said. “So, I told the funeral director to serve lunch first.” When he asked what style of thank you cards she wanted, she replied, “I’ll take care of those myself.”

  There’s no need to print those programs just yet. Cox is very much alive and well. Today you can find her at a ballet performance or snuggled on her sofa watching a good ol’ war movie.
  “After 63 years with the Legion, I guess it’s time to relax,’’ she said. “But I’ll never forget the veterans.”

 

EP Mayor frustrated over potential danger from long train delays

  • Written by Bob Rakow

  Evergreen Park Mayor Jim Sexton was shocked when he witnessed a cyclist get off his bike and crawl under a delayed freight train rather than continue to wait for the train to pass a crossing in the village.

  It was an extremely dangerous thing to do, but the move emphasized for Sexton the frustration people are dealing with when it comes to stalled trains and downed crossing gates at various spots in the village.
  “People who get frustrated do crazy things,” Sexton said.
  Sexton said the delays force ambulances headed for Christ Medical Center—the region’s only trauma center—and Little Company of Mary Hospital from 2-col-railroadA series of signs warn drivers of oncoming trains at one of the crossings, which has experienced massive delays that Evergreen Park Mayor Jim Sexton hopes that the railroad can prevent.. Photo by Bob Rakow.reaching their destinations in a timely fashion. Rerouting wastes precious moments that could be the difference between life and death, he said.
  “Somebody is going to get hurt or die waiting for an ambulance,” Sexton said.
  The railroad line, which CSX took over in 2012, dissects the village and crosses 95th Street near Troy Avenue and Kedzie Avenue at 94th Street—immediately adjacent to the police and fire departments.
  Stalled trains and downed gates occur numerous times a week, and the delays have exceeded one hour in some cases, Sexton said.
  “It’s a mess,” said Sexton, who added that the village has received hundreds of calls from complaining residents. The trouble is, there’s little the village can do, as the federal government oversees the railroads.
  Sexton last week attended a 90-minute meeting with CSX officials to discuss a solution to the problem. State Rep. Kelly Burke (D-36th) state Sen. Bill Cunningham (D-18th) and representatives from the offices of U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, Rep. Bobby Rush and 19th Ward Ald. Matt O’Shea also attended the meeting.
  Railroad officials made a commitment to put an end to the delays, Sexton said, but the mayor is tiring of promises the railroad doesn’t keep, he said.
  “They’re going to make everything better,” Sexton said with a trace of sarcasm. “I’ll feel better when it gets fixed.”
  Sexton said no improvements were made following a previous meeting with CSX officials at O’Shea’s office.
  “It’s only gotten worse,” he said. “It’s just off the charts. I can understand why there’s so much road rage.”
  CSX officials told Sexton that recent extreme weather as well as repairs being made along the line are to blame for the delays.
  The train line runs through Chicago’s Mt. Greenwood community before entering Evergreen Park where it crosses several major streets in the village, including 99th Street, 95th Street, Kedzie Avenue and 87th Street.
  In addition to safety concerns, Sexton said the delays and resulting snarled traffic have a negative impact on the village’s business community.
  CSX is currently repairing and replacing signals and replacing tens of thousands of railroad ties, and has ordered slow zones through the area while the work is in progress. The work will be ongoing into 2014, CSX officials have said.
  The railroad purchased the line from the Grand Trunk Western Railroad, and the company’s plan to run more than 20 trains a day through town was not well-received by village officials in 2012 when railroad officials spoke at a village board meeting.
  CSX’s acquisition of the rail line will allow the company’s freight trains to be expedited more quickly in Chicago, railroad officials said. Trains do not run through Evergreen Park between 5 and 9 a.m. or from 4 and 7:30 p.m., CSX officials said.

Police suspect foul play in death of Rice teacher

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

  An icon from Brother Rice High School was found dead in his Orland Park home on Tuesday and police are investigating the possibility of foul play.
  Al Filan, 62, a longtime business teacher at the school and soccer coach in the area, was found dead at his Orland Park home in the 9400 block of Georgetown Square and multiple media reports say that the Orland Park Police Department is handing it off to the South Suburban Major Crimes Task Force for further investigation.
  “We don’t want to leave any stone unturned if there is any possibility [of] foul play,” Orland Park Commander John Keating told Sun-Times Media. I can’t confirm [it is a homicide]. It’s still classified as a death investigation at this point…’’
  An autopsy was scheduled for Wednesday, after The Regional Publishing deadline.
  A statement from Brother Rice said that Filan taught at the school for more than 39 years and “touched the lives of thousands of students.”
  Filan was also a veteran soccer coach and was a former head coach and assistant at Andrew High School in Tinley Park.
  Orland Hills’ Tim Neighbors, who was a goalie coach for Filan at Andrew for a couple of years, was shocked to hear the news.
  “One of my sons called us,” Neighbors said. “We were like ‘holy cow!’ You know people get up in age could have a heart attack or something like that. He was in his 60s. But to find out if it was foul play, I can’t believe it.’’
  Neighbors’ sons, Greg and Tim, played for Andrew in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
  “Al was more of a quiet coach — but like all of us he had him moments when he got loud,” Neighbors said. “And I’ll tell you what — he always faced the stiffest competition. He never backed down from a challenge and the teams we played were loaded.’’
  Marist High School held a moment of silence for Filan before the boys basketball game between the RedHawks and Brother Rice on Tuesday night.