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Oak Lawn Library display recalls blanket of white that covered the area in 1967

  • Written by Joan Hadac

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Courtesy of Oak Lawn Library

An Oak Lawn resident uses a sled to carry her groceries after the blizzard of 1967 as she walks along an empty street.

 

 

 

Ask someone who grew up in the Chicago area in 1967 what they remember most about that year and most likely you will receive a couple of answers.

It is either the great blizzard that brought the area to a standstill, or the tornado that ripped through Oak Lawn and other communities that spring. Most likely, Oak Lawn residents will tell you both.

“A Blanket of White: The Blizzard of ‘67” photo exhibit is on display officially beginning today (Thursday, Jan. 26) at the Oak Lawn Library, 9427 S. Raymond Ave. The official opening date is significant. That was the day the snow began to fall in Chicago and suburban communities like Oak Lawn. And the snow continued to fall for two days.

When it finally ceased after just 24 hours, 23 inches of snow fell to the ground. The majority of schools had to close and people had difficulty getting to work the following day. Many Oak Lawn residents left work early on Jan. 26 as the snow was coming down at a rate of two inches an hour throughout the afternoon.

Even a busy area like 95th Street had virtually no traffic. Vehicles were stuck on side streets and usually busy corridors. Buses could not move because of the heavy snow. Many people had to walk miles and miles to reach their Oak Lawn destinations.

However, Kevin Korst, the local history coordinator for the Oak Lawn Library, said that most people who have come up to him were younger kids at the time living in Oak Lawn and actually have fond memories of the blizzard.

“You know what came across as much as anything when talking to people about the blizzard is that most of the things that were said were a microcosm of what was going on everywhere else then,” said Korst. “People who I talked to were kids at the time. They recall having a good time. No one could get around. The store shelves were almost empty. A lot of schools were closed for a few days.

“A lot of people told me that they remember going to the store with their parents and they used a sled to carry the groceries,” added Korst.

The snowstorm is a smaller display that can be found on the second floor of the library and shares a larger section dedicated to Oak Lawn’s history dating back to over 100 Years. Over 30 to 40 images from the snowstorm are on display along with some newspaper accounts of the blizzard. Korst said that a larger display will be built dedicated to the tornado that struck the village that April and had a large impact on the community.

While kids were sledding and having snowball fights, the next few days were tough on people trying to go to work. Most kids made it to school and adults made it work on Jan 26. But the snow kept falling and at noon there were eight inches on the ground. O’Hare Airport shut down while businesses began to let employees go home early.

According to some published reports, at least a dozen babies were born at home in the Chicago area. Another problem after the storm was low supplies of heating oil. Trucks could not get access to buildings. The Chicago area began to slowly start digging itself out on Saturday, Jan. 28.

Weather forecasts were not as sophisticated as they are today. Initial reports had for a few inches of snow. On Thursday morning, the total was increased from four to eight inches. It was the greatest snowfall in a day in Chicago area history with 16.4 inches of snow on Jan. 26. This record was broken when 18.6 of snow fell on Jan. 2, 1999.

“I did hear that Mayor (Fred) Dumke, who was the Oak Lawn mayor at the time, did a pretty good job of clearing the streets,” Korst said. “Matter of fact, I heard that most of the local municipalities did a better job of clearing the streets than Chicago. But maybe that was to be expected.”

Our Lady of the Ridge gains support

  • Written by Joe Boyle

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Photo by Joe Boyle

Signs have been posted in front of Our Lady of Ridge School, 10859 S. Ridgeland Ave., Chicago Ridge, alerting residents to an open house that will be held Sunday, Jan. 29.


Mary Grisolano said that her years as a student at Our Lady of the Ridge Elementary School provided her with great experiences, in addition to a great education.

After spending a few years in New York City, Grisolano felt the pull to come home to Chicago Ridge. One reason for her return was that one day her child can attend Our Lady of the Ridge, 10859 S. Ridgeland Ave., Chicago Ridge.

Now Grisolano, alumni, teachers and students at Our Lady of the Ridge have been working to keep the school open. The Chicago Archdiocese has stated that Our Lady of the Ridge has to increase funding and enrollment totals by the end of February or risk closing their doors in June.

The announcement was made public on Jan. 11, which was the same day that St. Louis de Montfort in Oak Lawn had been informed by the archdiocese that the school will close, effective on June 30. Low enrollment was the main reason given for the decision to close that school.

Grisolano has become the media relations volunteer and is confident that the community will rally behind Our Lady of the Ridge. An open house will be held Sunday, Jan. 29 to start off Catholic Schools Week. She said that along with the alumni, business and community leaders are also making efforts to keep the school open.

“We really feel good about this,” Grisolano said. “We are working on a long-term plan and everyone in the community is rallying behind this. Basically, we are getting the word out and everybody is excited.”

Enrollment has been as high as 196 at Our Lady of the Ridge but had declined over the years. But Grisolano is confident because the community is reaching out and the majority of current students have signed up for next fall. Enrollment had slipped to about 115 but there over 130 students now. After the open house and push for enrollment, those figures should rise, according to school officials.

The school is required to raise about $250,000 by the end of February. Alumni board members have said that they have raised nearly $100,000 going into this week. School officials are pleased that most current students are coming back. Our Lady of the Ridge had to raise their tuition about $1,000 to nearly $3,700 per year.

Along with the open house on Sunday, the Our Lady of the Ridge alumni and friends are holding a fundraiser from 4 to 10 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 19 at 115 Bourbon Street, 3359 W. 115th St., Merrionette Park. The fee is $35 for food and refreshments. Entertainment and raffles will also be held.

Sr. Stephanie Kondik, principal at Our Lady of the Ridge, shares Grisolano’s confidence. She said the school is special and refers to it as a “little gem.” Kondik has served two terms at Our Lady of the Ridge, spending eight years in the interim at St. Patricia School in Hickory Hills. After her term at St. Patricia, Kondik returned to Our Lady of Ridge in 2002 and has been principal at Our Lady of Ridge for 23 years overall.

“We have had people coming out from all over to help out,” said Sr. Stephanie. “The parents have been unbelievable. We have had businesses and the community helping out.”

Grisolano and the principal said Our Lady of Ridge offers students a variety of programs, including the OLOR Junior Stewardship Club. Abby Cross, executive director of StandUp for Kids, met with Our Lady of Ridge club students in the fourth through eighth grade Wednesday to thank them for coordinating a donation of 10 bags of clothing, socks and personal items to be used in the work of finding, stabilizing and assisting youths on the streets.

The school also has a choir, band and athletic programs. Sr. Stephanie said that volunteer parents will be on hand at the open house to greet residents who can sign up to help assist with school programs. The parish has also provided subsidies to help some parents pay their children’s tuition.

“I think Our Lady of the Ridge really helps out students,” said Sr. Stephanie about the school, which opened in 1954. “They are protected here and they are safe. We provide some sanity for them. The kids get a solid education. It’s a little school that deals with the whole child. The whole community is behind us and we pray for each other.”

Grisolano has a son who attends Our Lady of the Ridge and a toddler whom she hopes will be able to do the same

“Our Lady of the Ridge, as cliché as it sounds, is a real community,” Grisolano said. “They have welcomed my son with open arms. I’m still in association with alumni and everyone loves the school. I have a little one run running around here right now and I would like to see him go to Our Lady of the Ridge.”

Columnist Claudia Parker is inspired to be part of Women's March

  • Written by Claudia Parker

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Claudia Parker took this selfie as she joined thousands of people Saturday in the Women’s March at Chicago’s Grant Park. A scheduled 60,000 were supposed to participate, but the crowd was estimated to be closer to 250,000.

 

News outlets estimated more than 600 organized protests took place worldwide on Saturday, Jan. 21 to unite in solidarity and highlight the many grievances of the American people. These concerns range from women’s rights, civil rights, gay rights, pay equality, immigration and religious rights, to name a few.

The Women’s March on Washington was the largest. They had 500,000 people trekking around the National Mall, reportedly more than President Trump’s inauguration, which was estimated by 193,000 transit tickets sold. While official attendance numbers aren’t yet known, numbers were down significantly from President Obama’s 1.8 million attendees in 2009.

I didn’t board a bus for the march in Washington. I drove right down to Grant Park to support my fellow females. At the time of my registration, 60,000 were slated to attend. Perhaps the sunny and 60-degree temperature lured the other 190,000 because 250,000 of us plastered our feet to the streets, grid-locking traffic for hours.

“Silence is no longer acceptable,” said my best friend, Shanett Coleman, of Chicago. “The best way for us to be heard is to unite, and when we do, it enlightens a consciousness for all of our causes.”

I couldn’t agree more. I saw men holding signs that read, “I’m marching for my mom, wife, sister and daughter.” I can still hear “Black Lives Matter” being chanted by a large group of white protesters. There wasn’t a single black person among them. I took a ton of pictures. My favorite is of my daughter, Donae, standing with three black female, uniformed police officers. I posted it to social media with “#BlueLivesMatter, #BlackLivesMatter #YoungLivesMatter, @WomensMarchChicago and #StrongerTogether.”

An elderly man I happened to spot packed in the crowd like a sardine took a stance that caused me to ponder. He wobbled as he walked, his balance supported by a cane on one side and female companion on the other. I’d climbed above the sea of people to stand on a 15-foot concrete embankment. “God Bless you Sir, thank you for being here,” I yelled to him with a smile. His response caught me off guard. He stopped, turned back to look at me and spewed a rebuke. “I’ve been doing this for 50 years, 50! What have YOU been doing?”

Shanett, seeing the “huh?” expression on my face quickly redirected the awkward exchange. “We’re right behind you sir, we’re following your lead.”

“What’s his deal” I wondered? I was paying him a compliment and he chewed me out! Hmmm. What have I been doing? Apparently, not enough!

Critics of these women’s marches say, “Your efforts might have been better served before November. What’s the point of all this now? It’s too late!” To them I say, don’t underestimate the power of women. If we can launch a movement of 2.5 million protesters globally…what else might we be able to accomplish?

The objective isn’t to remove the current administration. Well, for some it might be, but that will probably take four years. I’m thinking more along the lines of using our energy to impart our ideology and ideas within the fabric of this administration so that it reflects the interests of all people.

When I have a third-grader saying, “Mom, I want to march to protect our life from crime, I want the guns gone.” That’s enlightening, she’s paying attention. Or when she asked, “Is Donald Trump going to send my friends back to Mexico?” These kids are American citizens but because of their ethnicity, they believe they are at risk to be targeted unfairly and have expressed this to her.

When I was 9 years old, I couldn’t have expounded on any issues regarding the presidency or politics, period. My bright and beautiful daughter is light years ahead of where I was. I suppose that’s why ‘Mr. Elderly Man’ struck a chord when he asked, “What have YOU been doing?”

I’ve been doing the minimum: I vote.

Voting is a start, but if we really want to evoke change we need to get to know our legislators like we do our neighbors. I’ve had the privilege of meeting my Illinois state Sen. Bill Cunningham (D-18th) and Evergreen Park state Rep. Kelly Burke (D-36th). Local government helped me restore Respite Care service for my cognitively disabled daughter when funding was cut.

As constituents, we have power that’s underutilized. Our elected officials are put in office to help fulfill the needs of the people. Let’s not bypass them on our way to the next March. Invite them to the party. Share your ideas and your concerns. Contrary to negative political perception, most of them really do want to help. Who knows, they just might be able to save us a little tread on our marching shoes.

  

Claudia Parker is an author, photographer and a reporter. Her columns appear every second and fourth Thursday of each month. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Granat found guilty of killing his parents; Bridgeview man convicted also

  • Written by Steve Metsch

John Granat Jr. and his best friend, Christopher Wyma, were both found guilty Wednesday afternoon of two counts of first-degree murder in the bludgeoning deaths of Granat’s parents in September 2011.

After closing arguments were made in Room 110 of the Bridgeview Courthouse, it took a jury of seven women and five men just under two hours to find the younger Granat guilty.

Granat, 22, in dark slacks and a white striped shirt, showed no emotion as the verdicts were read by the clerk of Cook County Circuit Court Associate Judge Neil Linehan. He did not look toward the 20 or so relatives and family friends gathered in the court room.

Wyma’s jury, of nine women and three men, needed just 40 minutes to find him guilty. Wyma, 22, nodded slowly as the clerk read each verdict.

The son of a Palos Heights police officer, the cleanly shaven Wyma wore dark slacks, a striped shirt a few sizes too large, and a striped tie. Three times he looked toward family and friends in the court room, flashing a brief smile as he was led to a holding cell.

Post-trial motions will be heard Feb. 22 for Wyma and Feb. 24 for Granat, said Judge Linehan, who thanked each jury for their service.

Wyma’s family and friends quickly left the courtroom after his verdict was read.

Assistant state’s attorneys Deborah Lawler and Donna Norton hugged the sister of Maria Granat afterward. Family members declined comment, but a friend said he was surprised at how quick a verdict was reached.

“All I can say is justice is swift. At least now the family can get some closure. It’s been too long,” said Frank Brongiel, of Alsip, a Granat family friend for 20 years. “They can go home to their families now.”

Lurid details revealed in the trial “were gruesome” Brongiel said.

He said he never saw anything out of the ordinary in the younger Granat that gave him cause for concern. “I’d see him out cutting the lawn on his father’s properties,” Brongiel said.

But the prosecution painted a much darker picture of a young man who, although he never wanted for money, hated his parents, especially after they found his backyard marijuana crop and threw out the plants.

He was grounded in August 2011 for that, and grew so angry he told his friends that he wanted his parents dead. Together, prosecutors said, they devised a plot in which the parents would be murdered

John Granat Sr. and his wife, Maria Granat, were beaten to death with baseball bats in the bedroom early Sept. 11, 2011, in their spacious Palos Township home in the 12700 block of 81st Court.

When Maria, showed signs of life after the beating, she was also stabbed 21 times in the brutal attacks, prosecutors said. Wyma, of Bridgeview, and another friend, Ehab Qasem, of Hickory Hills, had beaten the couple. Qasem did the stabbing. They acted on orders from Granat, who was busy in the garage, counting money stolen from his parents and later distributed to Qasem, Wyma and Mohammed Salahat, driver of the getaway car.

When told his mother was still breathing, Granat handed a knife to Qasem and told him to “finish it,” the state said.

On Wednesday, during closing arguments, Lawler recounted how Qasem on Tuesday told the jury that on Sept. 10, 2011, an angry Granat told his friends “I want it done today.”

“What this offender did to his parents is unimaginable. It takes our breath away with its sheer brutality and callousness,” Lawler said as she pointed one of the aluminum bats at the unflinching Granat.

Granat, she said, had lured and groomed the other three by buying clothes for them and handing them wads of money, once giving Qasem $2,300 stuffed into an empty chewing gum package.

“He planted the seed. You asked if they liked this lifestyle. He told them, ‘If my parents were dead, everything would be in my name’,” Lawler said.

Using a code word for the murders, he sent a Skype message to Wyma at 1:46 a.m. Sept. 11 that set the wheels in motion.

“He was the mastermind of the plan. This ‘Son of the Year’ opened the door for them,” Lawler said.

Detailed cell phone records place the four in the vicinity of the Granat home in the early hours of Sept. 11, 2011, she said. She also noted how Granat’s story changed 14 times when he was interrogated by Cook County Sheriff’s police investigators, and questioned how a teenager who allegedly finds his parents brutally murdered would sound so calm on a 911 call.

When talking with police at the scene, Granat asked “is the fire department going to clean up the mess because I want to keep living here.”

His story began to unravel when, after dividing the money at Wyma’s home, Granat was pulled over by a Palos Heights police officer in a routine traffic stop at 5:18 a.m., she said.

“We know he’s not a quick thinker. He told (detectives) no less than 14 versions of his whereabouts Sept. 10 and 11 and who murdered his parents,” Lawler said.

Public defender LaFonzo Palmer said “John did not kill his parents” and said the murders were carried out by Wyma and Qasem who feared their “gravy train” of easy money from Granat was coming to an end.

“John is stupid. He hung out with the wrong kids, with the bad kids,” Palmer said. “The state says he wasn’t upset on the 911 call. You all know everyone responds differently to shock and fear."

He blasted Qasem’s testimony fingering Granat, saying that Qasem admitted to lying to detectives and a grand jury.

“You didn’t see a remorseful young man. You saw a young man here protective himself,” Palmer said, noting that Qasem testified against his friends in exchange for a 40-year term in prison, not the life sentences faced by Granat and Wyma.

After the Granat jury began deliberations, it was time for final arguments on Wyma.

Assistant state’s attorney Norton made extensive use of his sometimes chilling videotaped interrogations from October 2011.

Told that Qasem was given more money than him, an angry Wyma asks, “How much does he have? Sixteen K?”

The quote showed Wyma’s hunger for “blood money,” Norton said. “This was Chris’ priority, his greed.”

Another tape has Wyma saying that in a visit on Sept. 10, 2011, Granat told him he wanted his parents “(expletive) dead.”

Norton recounted Qasem’s testimony in which he admitted having second thoughts before entering the couple’s bedroom that night, again stressing Wyma’s hunger for money.

“He slapped him on the back of the neck because Wyma need Qasem to help him do his job, to help feel free and live like a king. That was dream. What were the dreams of John and Maria Granat? To grown old together in the home he built with his two hands? To enjoy the fruits of their years of hard work, to be surrounded by loved ones? Their dreams were shattered by the sound of baseball bats striking their heads and bodies,” Norton said.

Earlier in the trial, Wyma’s former girlfriend told of finding $15,000 in his room the day after the murders.

“He got his money for helping John out. He got it for murdering Maria and John Granat. The $15,000 he got in exchange for the screams he can’t get out of his head,” Norton said.

Qasem and Salahat, now serving 35 years, were also paid cash by Granat, she said.

Wyma’s attorney, public defender Daniel Nolan, argued there was no proof beyond a reasonable doubt that Wyma was actually in the house on Sept. 11. Cell phone records indicating his phone was there do not mean he was, Nolan said.

A sentencing date has yet to be set.

Chicago Ridge firehouse will have 24/7 coverage

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

 

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Supplied photo

The second Chicago Ridge firehouse at 10658 S. Lombard Ave. will be open for 24 hours starting Feb. 1.

Chicago Ridge firehouse on Lombard Avenue will be open for 24 hours

By Dermot Connolly

Chicago Ridge Mayor Charles Tokar announced on Tuesday that the long-awaited Lombard Avenue fire station will open for 24-hour coverage starting Feb. 1.

The station, at 10658 S. Lombard Ave., had been shuttered for years prior to being renovated, largely by fire department volunteers, and reopened for 12 hours a day, in March 2015. The main fire station is located at 10063 Virginia Ave., in an industrial park on the western edge of the village, and having the second firehouse open 24 hours a day has been the long-term goal.

The mayor informed the village board at a meeting in December that everything was on schedule to have the building open 24-hours a day by March.

“Public safety is my number one priority, and this station opening for 24-hour coverage will enable our combination fire department, which includes career and part-time firefighter/paramedics, to better serve the main population center of our community,” said the mayor in a statement released Tuesday. “In the past 2.5 years, since we embarked on an innovative ‘shared’ fire chief concept, Fire Chief George Sheets has initiated numerous creative, cost-effective and efficient methods of providing fire and paramedical services. Since April of 2015, when the station was opened, it has been staffed only 12 hours a day. The availability of having this station open 24 hours per day will result in response times being reduced by two minutes, which in an emergency, can be a window of time wide enough to save lives,” he continued.

In December, Tokar also stressed the importance of opening the second station, noting that is located in the residential center of the village. He pointed out that when the Lombard firehouse is not open, ambulances have to come from the industrial park, where they could be blocked by trains, or neighboring communities such as Bridgeview, Oak Lawn and Alsip.

Sheets said that Tokar, along with the board of trustees, have provided the necessary funds to equip the fire department with state-of-the-art tools, training and technology. The fire chief told the board in December that keeping the station open 24/7 would not cost the village any additional money in salaries because the part-time firefighters are already on 24-hour shifts. They currently split their time between the two firehouses.

Tokar pointed to the recent acquisition of a new ambulance and quint fire apparatus, which encompasses five units in one. “By selling and consolidating outdated fire apparatus, we were able to save village taxpayers over $2 million in replacement fire apparatus costs,” he said.

“We are immensely appreciative of the continued support of all the firefighters within the department. The opening of the Lombard station for 24 hour service is a great investment in our community, a landmark and presence that our firefighters are here to answer the call quickly when there’s an emergency. I couldn’t be happier,” Fire Department Liaison Amanda Cardin said.