Author provides comfort to kids who are victims of bullying

  • Written by Kelly White

jodee blanco photo 2-15

Photo by Kelly White

New York Times bestselling author of “Please Stop Laughing at Me” and bullying survivor turned activist, Jodee Blanco, presented a bullying survival and prevention seminar to children, teens and their parents on Monday night at the Chicago Ridge Public Library, 10400 Oxford Ave.


Jodee Blanco recalls her junior high and high school years as being traumatic. The bullying she received from classmates damaged not only her self-esteem, but her spirit, and she is not alone.

Bullying has become a nationwide epidemic. The phenomenon, ranging from verbal and emotional abuse to online bullying, has made countless children and teens fearful to attend school and take part in extracurricular activities.

New York Times bestselling author of “Please Stop Laughing at Me” and bullying survivor turned activist, Blanco presented a bullying survival and prevention seminar to children, teens and their parents on Monday night at the Chicago Ridge Public Library, 10400 Oxford Ave.

“Kids see bullying as joking around when they are the tormentors, but it’s not just joking around, and it’s never just joking around for the child being bullied,” Blanco said. “Being laughed at can take a piece of your spirit that you can never truly get back.”

Blanco has been helping the misunderstood, ostracized, and forgotten to reclaim their self-respect by traveling to present her program “It’s Not Just Joking Around” (INJA) at schools, libraries, and seminars. Blanco’s understanding of why kids abuse other kids and how that pattern can continue into adulthood, rearing its head at work, at home, in relationships, and wreak havoc on virtually every aspect of one’s life, comes from a deep personal place.

From fifth grade through the end of high school, while attending schools in the south suburbs, she was rejected and tormented by her peers simply for being different, and knows firsthand the long-term consequences. She recalled being laughed at, ridiculed, and shoved around.

“I didn’t really feel accepted until I was in college,” Blanco said. “I tell my story to others to generate awareness and understanding and motivate change.”

Bullying can began as young as kindergarten age, according to Blanco.

“Bullying starts at such a young age; however, it becomes dangerous around the fifth grade, because that’s often when cliques form,” Blanco said. “If a child doesn’t fit into any clique, that’s where things get dicey, because it makes the child feel that there is something personally wrong with them.”

Blanco’s award-winning sequel, “Please Stop Laughing at Us”, was written in response to the demand for more information from her core audience -- teens, teachers, parents and other adult survivors of peer abuse like herself -- who have come to know Blanco as the champion of their cause.

Her supporters said Blanco has successfully intervened in many bullying-related attempted suicides and acts of victim retaliation ranging from desperate, lonely teens and badly treated employees at the end of their rope, to grief-stricken parents unable to move on. 

“My objective is to help people feel stronger and more beautiful,” Blanco said.

“Lots of people are concerned about bullying in an abstract, but Jodee’s personal story of her being bullied in school helps them personally connect,” said Lori Lysik, adult programming coordinator at the Chicago Ridge Public Library. “I’m hoping parents will talk to their kids about speaking up if they or someone they know is bullied after attending this program.”

Lysik was responsible for organizing this first-time event at the library, which gathered not only children and parents, but also members of Our Lady of the Ridge and District 127.5, as well as students in the Richards High School SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions) program.

“I think it is important to educate parents and teachers on bullying because it is such a serious issue that prevents children from attending school,” Lysik said. “School is meant to be a safe and welcoming place. Those who are being bullied are suffering each day.”

The Coynes in Korea: Getting stranded, Kendall’s goal mark early part of this adventure

  • Written by Kevin Coyne


COYNE Kendall in South Korea

                                                                         Photo by Kevin Coyne

Palos Heights native Kendall Coyne, in white uniform, scored a goal against Finland.

Southwest Regional Publishing correspondent Kevin Coyne, along with his family of seven, traveled from Chicago to South Korea to watch his sister, Kendall Coyne, compete in ice hockey and experience all the Olympics and South Korea has to offer for over two weeks. Here is the first of three columns:

PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — The Olympics started with a bang, and the Coyne family is here to experience everything there is to offer in South Korea.

We departed O’Hare Airport on Feb. 7 and arrived at Seoul Incheon Airport on Friday morning. After traveling through time, we completely missed a day.

My brother, Jake, 23, and I ended up in a taxi where we did our best to get a feel for the Korean culture and how much they knew about American and British culture. Our taxi driver, Jinn-Soo, said he loved rock music, specifically Eric Clapton, Paul McCartney, and Mick Jagger. When asked about music, he mentioned the lead singers’ names as opposed to the bands they played in, but we knew that he had good taste in classic rock music.



             Kevin Coyne

We enjoyed a wide range of Korean dining in one filling and satisfying meal after over 14 hours on a cramped airplane. The meal started with a creamy soup followed by noodles complemented with fresh vegetables and other Korean novelties.

After we enjoyed the noodles, we started to enjoy real Korean culture: the meat.

After the third dish of beef, chicken and pork, we got to the final dish — Korean steak. We used scissors to cut the plump and juicy steak and add some of the veggies from one of the several plates on our table.

Opening Ceremonies

Getting ready for the opening ceremonies included a lot of warm clothing. We got ready to endure the bitter cold and hellish wind supplied by the mountains at the Pyeongchang Olympic Stadium. The temperature reached a low of 17 degrees.

The stadium was at its maximum capacity of 39,000, along with the largest athlete pool of 2,900 representing 92 different countries.

After the parade of athletes and the lighting of the Olympic torch, most fans left the stadium, which was a terrible mistake. The grand finale, or encore, included a massive fireworks display. We spent nearly three hours in the stadium, but the final 15 minutes of the show made braving the cold worthwhile.

Immediately following the ceremonies, we were herded to the buses that were supposed to take spectators to the main KTX station in Jinbu. Unbeknownst to us, the bus driver had other plans, which included leaving us in a desolate, empty parking lot in the freezing cold.

Luckily, one of the volunteers spoke to an incoming bus driver who went out of his way to take a group of tired, cold and unruly Americans to the main train station after waiting 30 minutes for some sort of assistance.

Once we arrived at the KTX or KROL station, we learned that the only way to get a taxi in South Korea is by waiting in a long line outside of a train station or by asking a business owner to call on your behalf.

We took the next best option: taking a long two-mile walk home.

Stranded again!

On day two, we spent hours watching snowboarders fly hundreds of feet above our heads. The twisting, spinning, and flipping was a mouth-dropping sight. We even witnessed a Swedish athlete take a blow that rendered him unconscious.

We stopped by a small coffee shop about 100 feet from our home to get lunch. We asked the business owner to call a taxi to take us over to the venue. We struggled to communicate with the gentleman, but it appeared that he knew exactly what we were asking him.

We spent 15 minutes going back and forth before the Korean gentleman gestured for us to follow him. He removed his apron and began to get in his car. He then said in broken English “no taxi” and “I take you,” which was enough for us to understand.

The ride was only 10 minutes, and we attempted to pay the man 20,000 won ($20 USD) but he refused. We will make it a point to eat every meal at his establishment in an attempt to pay him back for the ride.

We attended the short-track speedskating event, watching nearly 15 races. However, we spent hours in the freezing cold attempting to catch a taxi. This is now the second night we went through this song and dance.

After the first hour elapsed, we needed to get out of the freezing cold. We also did not dress warm enough to be sitting outside for hours on end. We ended up taking a bus 30 minutes away from our destination to get a taxi from one of the KTX stations.

We again had no luck getting a taxi once we got to the station and again made the two- to three-mile walk back home in the bitter cold.

A goal for Kendall

On day three, we spent a few hours singing, having fun and talking about the coming game against Finland. At the end of the tailgate, a Chicago news station dropped by to join the fun. It was great to talk with other Olympic families and the individuals who spent the past few days capturing all the great stories from around South Korea.

With five seconds left in the first period, Finland popped the only goal of the period. But the United States won that opener, 3-1, and Kendall scored one of the goals. After the game we were able to see Kendall along with her teammates and the other Olympic family members.

St. Gerald parishioners push for Father Malcolm to stay

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

Parishioners at St. Gerald Church in Oak Lawn have started a letter-writing campaign to the Chicago Archdiocese after their pastor, the Rev. Lawrence Malcolm, mentioned at Mass about two weeks ago that he had been asked to retire.

Malcolm did not want to comment on the situation himself, saying simply that the decision has not been made yet.

Members of the Parish Council also did not want to comment on the situation when asked about it recently, perhaps out of concern that publicizing the matter might be detrimental to their goals.

But one parishioner did confirm that parishioners are writing letters to Cardinal Blase Cupich and Bishop Andrew P. Wypych, auxiliary bishop in charge of Vicariate 5, asking them to reconsider. Vicariate 5 is the part of the archdiocese that includes Oak Lawn, and the woman, who did not want to be named, said Wypych is planning to meet with some of the parishioners at a Mass later this month.

fr. malcom photo 2-15

         Father Malcolm

Before coming to St. Gerald about 10 years ago, Malcolm, who was ordained in the 1960s, was pastor at St. Daniel the Prophet in Chicago’s Garfield Ridge neighborhood, and at St. Bede the Venerable in the city’s Scottsdale neighborhood. He was popular in both parishes, and a new gymnasium built at St. Daniel the Prophet School is named after him.

Similarly, at St. Gerald, he oversaw the building of the Jonathan Collins Activity Center, which was dedicated in 2013. Since then, the debt related to the construction has been paid off.

Although the Archdiocese generally asks pastors to retire at 70, St. Gerald parishioners are asking for an exception to be made for Malcolm, who is 72.

“I don’t think of age. He is the most energetic, dedicated people-person I have ever seen here,” said Oak Lawn Trustee Alex Olejniczak (2nd), a lifelong member of the parish and member of the Holy Name Society.

“If Father Malcolm hadn’t come here, I don’t think we would be the parish we are today. We’re a faith-based, active parish with growing enrollment at school. With the way things are going in the Archdiocese, with the consolidation of parishes, and the way he shares his beliefs and faith, I think Fr. Malcolm is the right man for the job here. He is very inspirational,” Olejniczak added.

The pastor is known as a baker at St. Gerald, where his homemade bread is a hot commodity at all the parish events. But he is also known as a walker, getting in at least 10,000 steps a day, and leading class trips to downtown Chicago.

“That’s one of the greatest things about him. Many of these kids in Oak Lawn would never get to downtown Chicago otherwise,” said fellow Trustee Tim Desmond (1st), whose sons went on the trips. “But he’ll take them on buses and trains, and show them all around. It is a great experience for them.”

Oak Lawn acts quickly to replace retiring 'double duty' fire chief

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

GeorgeSheets 2-15-18

Photo by Jeff Vorva

George Sheets had served as fire chief for both Chicago Ridge and Oak Lawn.

“Double Duty” Fire Chief George Sheets, who has been leading the fire departments of both Chicago Ridge and Oak Lawn for the past four years, notified officials in both communities last week that he will be retiring.

     Sheets said in his resignation letter that he planned to retire in July, but following an executive session after the Oak Lawn Village Board meeting on Tuesday night, Village Manager Larry Deetjen accepted his retirement effective immediately.

     Deetjen said Sheets' resignation and the decision by Chicago Ridge officials to end the intergovernmental agreement to share the fire chief necessitated the executive session. Sheets, who lives in Oak Lawn, was not at the village board meeting and his name was not mentioned during it.

   In a statement issued Wednesday morning, Oak Lawn Mayor Sandra Bury said, "The village manager accepted Fire Chief Sheets' retirement effective as of midnight Tuesday, and immediately appointed Robert Tutko as acting fire chief for Oak Lawn. The village will be conducting a search for a permanent fire chief over the coming months."

   Tutko had been deputy fire chief.


Although Sheets said two years ago that he was planning to retire ‘in the next few years,” this decision seems to have been made suddenly. There had been rumors that he was going to be fired last week in Chicago Ridge, but that could not be confirmed, and Sheets firmly denied them on Friday.

“That is not true. I was not fired. This is nothing more than a simple retirement. This is the right time for my family and myself,” he said.

Sheets was hired as Oak Lawn fire chief in 2009, and joined the Chicago Ridge department four years later when the two villages decided to share a chief, an experiment that saved both communities money.

Sheets will be leaving Chicago Ridge soon, but he did not say exactly when.

“I am just wrapping up a few things now,” he said last Friday, when he was reached at his office in Chicago Ridge.

“I’ve been at this for 36 years, 22 of them as a fire chief,” said Sheets, 54.

“I’ve had enough. I’m tired. I’m exhausted. I just don’t have the energy to do it.”

“Between the two villages, I work with 12 trustees and two mayors, and a village manager (in Oak Lawn), who all have varied opinions, wants and needs.”

“Most fire chiefs do not get the fantastic opportunities I have had. This has been a joy to work at both departments,” said the chief.

In resignation letters sent to both Chicago Ridge Mayor Chuck Tokar and Village Manager Larry Deetjen, Sheets said he had been “tremendously challenged” by the work, and thanked both the village officials and “the citizenry” for making his accomplishments possible.

He added that he was at peace with his decision, and making it felt like “having a ton of bricks lifted off my shoulders.”

His retirement apparently did come as a surprise to Oak Lawn officials.

When asked for comment on Tuesday, Oak Lawn Village Manager Larry Deetjen issued a statement saying that “Officials on Thursday, Feb. 8, received official notice from Chicago Ridge that they were terminating a Shared Use Intergovernmental Agreement’ entered into by both municipalities in 2014 and renewed in 2017. The agreement provides for Chicago Ridge to fund approximately $40,000 of the Chief’s wages and benefits in exchange for professional executive fire-rescue administration services. This sudden termination of this agreement is a financial and policy issue as well as a personnel issue for Oak Lawn. The Chicago Ridge decision resulted in Oak Lawn’s Governing Body holding an Executive Session tonight (Feb. 13) to fully consider the matter.”

Whatever the case is, Sheets said he felt he was leaving both departments in good hands.

“We have done some tremendous things in Chicago Ridge, to have a union president create an annual award named for me, says a lot,” referring the award that was first presented last year.

The Missouri native began his career in 1981 with the Missouri Fire Service, moving up from firefighter to lieutenant and captain before taking leadership positions in fire departments in Portage and Kalamazoo, Mich. He was chief of fire and EMS services in Beaver Dam, Wis., before coming to Oak Lawn with his wife and two children.

“Chicago Ridge is running on all cylinders. We have three captains who are superb,” said Sheets.

He counts the 2015 opening of the second fire house at 10658 S. Lombard Ave. as one of his biggest achievements. Originally it was only open 12 hours a day, but since February 2017, it has been open 24/7, staffed by part-time firefighters.

Much of the work that needed to be done on the long-shuttered firehouse was also completed by firefighters who volunteered their time. Getting the part-time and full-firefighters in Chicago Ridge working together on shifts was another achievement credited to Sheets.

Engineer Joe Bandy, secretary treasurer of the Chicago Ridge firefighters union, a 16-year veteran of the department, had good things to say about Sheets on Friday as well.

“I’ve had a good relationship with him. We have had a very good working relationship with him,” said Bandy.

Asked what he most appreciated about Sheets, Bandy said, “His ability to use his expertise to listen to us and work with the village board to accomplish the tasks we wanted to do for this department.”

“What I intend to do first is travel and relax,” said Sheets.

He added that he is also considering going back to school to get a PhD.

Palumbos are still grappling with history as they lead area contingent of 16 wrestlers down state

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

PAGE 1 MIA 2 15

Photo by Jeff Vorva

Richards’ Mia Palumbo, tying up Lindblom’s Steven Ross in sectional action on Saturday, is the second female freshman in history to qualify for the IHSA state finals.




A list of state wrestling qualifiers from the area:


Stagg – Domenic Zaccone (120 pounds), Peter Radev (160) and Ahmed Suleiman (170)

Sandburg – Pat Nolan (132) and Mike Amedeo (220)

Marist – Michael Leveille (106) and Jacob Dado (138)


Brother Rice – Hassan Johnson (120)*, Dominic Murphy (160)*, Paul Gliva (170) and Myles Ruffin (285)*

Richards – Mia Polumbo (106)*, Rocco Polumbo (145) and Marquis Hall (285)

St. Laurence – Mike Archer (113), Mike Rodriguez (126)

*-- Sectional champion


Mia and Rocco Palumbo didn’t let the pressure of sectional action get in the way of making history.

The two Richards High School wrestlers became the second brother/sister combo to qualify for the Illinois High School Association Individual Wrestling State Finals when Mia, a freshman won the 106-pound championship and Rocco, a sophomore, finished second at 145 at the Class 2A Hinsdale South Sectional Saturday in Darien.

Mia also became the first female to win a conference, regional and sectional title and the fourth female to qualify for state. Caitlyn Chase of Glenbard North qualified in 2005 and lost in her only match at state. Carbondale's Ally Ragan qualified in 2007 and lost her first match. Dunbar senior Quiovany Santos also qualified on Saturday by winning the Class 1A Hope Academy Sectional. Palumbo could be the girst girl to win a match at state.

The Palumbos lead a group of 16 area wrestlers to state, which begins today, Thursday, and runs through Saturday at the State Farm Center in Champaign. Brother Rice is bringing the biggest contingent with four wrestlers including sectional champions Hassan Johnson (120 pounds), Dominic Murphy (160) and Myles Ruffin (285).

Richards coach Nick Grabarek said before the postseason began that Mia Palumbo could win a regional, sectional and state title and she is four matches away from that. She beat three sectional opponents by a combined score of 24-0 to improve her record to 28-3.

And she is picking up a bigger following with every victory.

“It was crazy with everyone cheering for me at the end,” she said. “People have been supporting me throughout.’’

She makes her state debut against Springfield’s Kaeden Kinison (35-9). The other wrestlers in the field have records ranging from 42-1 (Crystal Lake South’s Christian Olsen) to 27-16 (St. Rita’s Noel Rosales, whom she beat twice in the postseason).

Mia said she watched the final night of the state tournament from the stands last year.

“It was fun to watch, but it’s better to be out there on the mat,” she said.

Her goal, like her coach’s goal, is a state title.

“No matter who steps on the line, I’ll give it 110 percent – even if they are ranked higher than me,” she said. “Anything can happen in any match so you have to go out there and compete.’’

Rocco was on a roll in sectional action when he blanked Rich East’s Jalen Terry, 10-0 in the quarterfinals and topped Nazareth’s Alex Carrillo in the semifinals, 6-2. But he was pinned by Thornton Fractional North’s Bilal Bailey in the finals. Rocco brings in a 29-4 record into his second state appeance. Two of his losses were to Bailey, a sophomore who has not lost to an Illinois opponent this season.

“I’ll pull around and get him one time hopefully,” Rocco said. “Making it back to state is exciting. When we wrestled in the (Illinois Kids Wrestling Federation) I never made it to state the same time Mia did so it’s nice to be together.’’

Brother Rice coaches are hoping for big things from the Crusaders’ contingent.

Johnson, who was second in the state at 120, pinned his first two opponents at Hinsdale South and earned a 7-2 decision over Lemont’s Kyle Schickel to win the sectional title. He improved to 31-6

Murphy beat Rich East’s Michael Terry, in just 28 seconds in the sectional title match and takes a 35-9 mark into the state finals.

Ruffin, who finished third in the state last year at 285, pinned his first two sectional opponents and beat Richards’ Marquis Hall, 10-4, in the finals to improve to 35-3.

Other area grapplers who didn’t win sectional championships who could still make a lot of noise in Champaign are Stagg’s Domenic Zaccone (120 pounds, who finished second in the state at 113 last year), Marist’s Jacob Dado (138, who took fourth at 120), and Sandburg’s Pat Nolan (132, fifth at 120).

Sectional dual team wrestling takes place on Tuesday and Sandburg faces Marmion at 6 p.m. at Downers Grove South. The winner goes to the state finals.