Evergreen Park resident focused on sending holiday help to Puerto Rico

  • Written by Joe Boyle

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Submitted photo

Evergreen Park Mayor James Sexton greets Myriam Morales (left) and Linda Kay, the owner of the Mongan Dance Academy in the village. Morales, Kay and volunteers collected supplies that included food, water and clothing for the victims of Hurricane Maria that ravaged Puerto Rico on Sept. 20.

Myriam Morales was shaken when she learned that Hurricane Maria ravaged Puerto Rico on Sept. 20. The Evergreen Park resident was relieved when a week later she was able to contact her parents, who live on the island.

But she would not rest until she was able to contact other relatives, like her aunt, Orquidea Guzman, and her grandmother, Benedicta Burgos, who turned 100 years old this year. Morales wanted to help other people who have families in Puerto Rico, where many cities and towns were without power and roads were damaged preventing vehicles from getting in.

Linda Kay, owner of Mongan Dance Academy in Evergreen Park, accepted Morales’ suggestion that her studio could be used to collect donations to help the victims of the hurricane. Morales, whose daughter, Abigail, 9, attends the dance academy, was thankful. “Southsiders for Puerto Rico” took place less than two weeks after the hurricane hit and residents came from all over, not just Evergreen Park, to donate and help.

“Yeah, we ended up with a 17-foot truck for supplies like toiletries, paper towels and cases of water,” Morales said. “We had to rent another van for all the clothing that was donated.”

The reason Morales decided to make the collections is that through the assistance of friends from Chicago’s North Side they were able to have the goods sent on a ship with transportation provided when it reached the island. Photographer Sylk Negron, event planner Ivy Linares and Alex Talbot were able to assist to send the donations to Puerto Rico.

But Morales admits the journey took longer than expected because most roads were impassable, along with the flooding and lack of power. But Morales, who is also an event planner, was not going to give up on future endeavors.

“We just got confirmation that the shipments just went through customs today (Friday, Nov. 10),” Morales said. “I sent my mother a box and it was supposed to take three days but took 10 days. We are just crossing our fingers. You know we are hoping for the best.”

With news that a power outage in San Juan resulted in nearly 80 percent loss of electricity last Thursday, Morales knows this is a long-term crusade. After sending supplies to her parents, who shared some of the items with neighbors, it occurred to Morales that this is best way to approach this tragedy.

“I know people have said not to just send items to the island because it will never get there,” Morales said. “But if you can get the supplies to someone who can distribute it to others in a certain area, then that is progress. “

While people who live in the mountains have little access to roads or power, some areas like San German, where her parents live, does have some power, Morales said. Her next project is to make the holidays a little brighter for some of her relatives and other residents of Puerto Rico.

She is working on a “Holiday in a Box” idea. Morales said that she is using her experience as a certified wedding and events planner to send goods to the island. She is basing the idea on her “Party in a Box” business that allows her to create affordable designs for people who don’t have time to do the leg work.

“The new business venture inspired me to be able to create a Holiday in a Box for some of the families affected in my grandmother's home town of Toa Alta,” Morales said. “The box would include a table setting and decor for eight. I would personally provide the table setting and decor included in the box. I then wanted to create a free online fundraising platform via You Caring ( to provide an avenue for people in the community who want to help and donate to this cause.”

Donations received would go to purchasing canned good to add to the Holiday Box. Morales said the box will be designed to bring some families much needed holiday cheer and resources to some of the families of Puerto Rico

“These are people who have lost it all and continue to uplift one another despite lack of resources, water and power,” Morales said. “I would then send these boxes to my parents in San German, Puerto Rico and they will personally drive the boxes and distribute them and take photos with the families we have reached.”

Morales reiterated that three-day priority mail will take about 10 days. The goal, Morales said, is to raise just over $2,322 (includes shipping cost and $25 of canned goods and tax) and reach 50 families. Morales said that not everybody can donate at the same time. She is considering setting up a GoFundMe page to send the boxes to Puerto Rico directly.

“This way we can keep contact with relatives in their towns,” Morales said. “It’s almost like adopting a town.”

Morales said it is difficult to remain optimistic after seeing photos of the devastation. Her parents will continue to live in Puerto Rico for now. However, her aunt and her grandmother plan to stay with a nephew of the aunt in Florida for several months while the slow process of repairs take place.

“My parents have water and power back most of the time,” Morales said. “The say it’s a little spooky. The power goes on and off. But they want to stay and help their neighbors. As far as my aunt and grandmother, God bless them. My grandma is used to that kind of life because of her past. She was used to not having running water. But it’s still hard. And that’s nothing to what people are going through in the mountains.”

She admits that it is frustrating that is has taken so long for power to be restored. And that’s why she wants to provide for people in small ways because that will lead to progress.

“With these holiday boxes, I have my parents to help me out,” Morales said. “I want people to feel empowered. I want people to keep giving. It touches me to see that no small idea is dumb. Everybody can help.”

Students get Veterans Day lessons on freedom

  • Written by Joe Boyle

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Photo by Joe Boyle

A Finley Junior High School student presents a poppy to Vietnam Marine Corps veteran Harry Ehmpke, a native of Evergreen Park, during a Veterans Day ceremony held Friday at the Chicago Ridge school. Looking on is Vietnam veteran Rodger Bale.


They shared stories about their years of service. And they also joked and discussed their childhood and what they are doing now.

Veterans of former conflicts and wars were the invited guests at the Finley Junior High School Veterans Day observance that was held at the Chicago Ridge school on Friday morning. Veterans shared their stories during a breakfast held at the school before the ceremony. Listening in to the conversations were parents, students, teachers and public officials.

Harry Ehmpke, a U.S. Marine veteran and an Evergreen Park native, discussed his years of service from 1965 through 1969. This included a tour of duty in Vietnam from 1966 through 1968.

“We had to dig ditches and lay down ready to fire,” recalled Ehmpke of his stint in Vietnam. “We had things crawling on us but you didn’t bother to look. A lot of the time, we just had to wait.”

A large crowd that included students, teachers and members of the community attended the ceremony that followed the breakfast. Laura Grachan, principal at Finley Junior High School, told the audience that “once again it is popular to express patriotism for our country. Many events that have happened make us realize what we have.”

Grachan pointed out that it is through the courage of U.S. veterans that that the nation has remained free.

“We know without them, there would be no land of the free,” Grachan said. “And without the veterans fighting the war on terrorism, we would not be free.”

Chicago Ridge Mayor Chuck Tokar also spoke to the crowd and mentioned that he just returned from his honeymoon in Hawaii and joked that “don’t let the white hair fool you; you can fall in love at any time.”

The mayor added that while they were there, they visited Pearl Harbor and the impact of many American servicemen killed hit him.

“There is still oil leaking from the ship Arizona,” Tokar said. “Over 2,000 people were killed after the Japanese sneak attack on Dec. 7, 1941. We were then fighting in World War II. Without our veterans, we would not be free. We would not have a democracy.”

The ceremony included the call to order by Commander Rich Coluzzi, of the U.S. Army and the Glen Maker Memorial American Legion. The Richards High School JROTC took part in presenting and retiring the colors. The Richards JROTC also took part in the placing of the POW/MIA flag. The Finley Junior High School Band, directed by Brian Goodman, performed the “Star Spangled Banner.”

The Finley Junior High School Choir performed “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” and the “Song for the Unsung Hero.” Eighth-grade students Sara Abdulrab, Maryam Kargar and Matt Gunderson recited their Patriot’s Pen essays on “America’s Gift to my Generation.” Lily Reinhart, a seventh-grade student, recited a Veterans Day poem.

A poppy presentation speech was given by student Rowa Alia. That was followed by Finley Junior High School students presenting poppies to veterans who attended the ceremony, including Ehmpke.

“We honor those who paid the ultimate price for freedom,” Coluzzi said. “For the men and women who serve today, they have our respect.”

Grachan added that this a valuable lesson for students to learn.

“We must tell future generations the importance of freedom,” she said.

Marist spikes and kills the script en route to state title

  • Written by Jeff Vorva




Photo by Jeff Vorva

Marist players start to form a pile after winning the IHSA Class 4A State Girls Volleyball title on Saturday night.



NORMAL – This was supposed to be Minooka’s year in girls volleyball.

That was in the script.

Minutes after Minooka dropped a wild 25-19, 19-25, 25-19 decision to Mother McAuley in the Class 4A state championship in 2016, Minooka was scheduled to return some heavy-duty weapons and was anointed as the state and national power.

So this was Minooka’s year.

The problem is, no one told Marist that. Or if they did, they weren’t listening.  

Marist never got the memo and never paid attention to the hype.

Even on Aug. 26, when Minooka was ranked No. 2 in the nation by Max Preps, and the Indians beat the RedHawks 25-20 in the first set of the semifinals at the Plainfield North Tournament, Marist just didn’t get it. The Redhawks came back and won 25-15, 25-18.

Well, that was then.

On Saturday night, the two teams went to war again and after splitting the first two sets, Minooka was ready to grab that state championship after taking an 8-4 lead in the third game.

Once again, Marist couldn’t follow the script.

The RedHawks went on an amazing 18-4 blitz to top the Indians 22-25, 25-22, 25-15 to win the first girls state volleyball title in school history.

“This is awesome how it all played out.” said senior hitter Savannah Thompson, who had six of her 14 kills in that 18-4 explosion. “When we were down 8-4, honestly I thought we needed to keep pushing and play like Marist volleyball and win like Marist volleyball.’’

After years of having strong teams only to make the state tournament once (a fourth-place finish in 2011), this win was huge. The RedHawks finished 40-1 and were 11-0 in three-set decisions. They won 32 in a row after a 25-20, 25-17 loss to Mother McAuley on Sept. 12.

The players enjoyed the moment and soaked in the adulation from the several hundred fans who made the trip.

“Honestly, this is a moment that every player wishes for,” Thompson said. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime dream come true.’’

“I seriously feel like I’m not even in real life right now – it feels like I’m in a dream,” setter Molly Murrihy said. “This is one of the greatest feelings someone in my position could ever have.’’

Maggie Meyer added nine kills and Camryn Hannah six. Thompson and Grace Green each had 13 digs and Natalie Davidson and Murrihy each had eight. Kate Hogan had six blocks. Murrihy had 32 assists. The match had 19 ties and nine lead changes. 

Second-year coach Jordan Vidovic said his team has been playing with grit all season.

“We didn’t waver too high or too low,’’ the coach said. “There were points in the match when we didn’t play our best. Minooka’s block is one of the biggest out there. We were able to stay even keel and grind it out. We’ve been in those situations before and our senior leadership carried us through.’’

If there were any concerns Marist would hit Redbird Arena with a hangover-effect from beating defending state and national champ Mother McAuley in supersectional play in an intense match in front of 2,500 fans on McAuley’s court on Nov. 3, those concerns were stifled right away.

The RedHawks stormed out and whipped Crystal Lane Central in the first set of the semifinals 25-14 and owned a 20-13 lead in the second set Friday night before the Tigers furiously rallied. The RedHawks had to sweat out a 25-23 win in the final set.

Thompson had nine kills, Meyer added seven and Murrihy had 20 assists. Green recorded 11 digs.



Off again, on again. Palos Twp. board sets Nov. 20 meeting date

  • Written by Anthony Caciopo

Following three consecutive postponements as Palos Township government struggled to find a new meeting space large enough to handle recent overflow crowds, a new meeting date has been established: Nov. 20.

The location? The Palos Township administrative offices, 10802 S. Roberts Rd. in Palos Hills, the same place that has been unable to accommodate the large number of people who have attempted to attend meetings since July.

“We’re moving ahead and getting back to the township (headquarters),” said Collen Schumann, the township supervisor.

“All other (potential) meeting places are exhausted,” she said. “There is no place that is able to let us have a meeting. I got a little hopeful with the Hickory Hills Country Club. They said we were good to go, gave us a price and everything, but within 24 hours they were cancelling.”

The country club was the latest foiled effort by Palos Township to secure a spot able to accommodate at least 100 people. By law, the meeting must be held within the township borders. The home office has public seating for 42 people.

Palos Township covers all or parts of Bridgeview, Hickory Hills, Orland Park, Palos Heights, Palos Hills, Palos Park, Willow Springs and Worth.

Crowds numbering 100-plus people have been coming to township meetings since July 10 to protest Trustee Sharon Brannigan, who made now-deleted comments on social media that some find offensive to Muslims and people of Middle Eastern descent.

Protestors are calling for Brannigan to resign, which she says she will not do. She issued a written apology in September, but many who oppose her have not accepted her apology.

The October meeting, scheduled for the 9th of the month was postponed until the 16th. The meeting was again postponed until the 23rd, then cancelled outright while a search for a new venue was underway until Supervisor Schumann announced the Nov. 20 date. As of The Regional’s deadline yesterday, the township website has not yet been updated with the new information.

The Illinois Open Meetings Act provides “If the public body is aware that a controversial meeting or meeting with significant public interest is going to take place and suspects that the usual space is too small to accommodate the number of citizens who wish to attend a meeting, the public body must find an alternative location. If an alternative, larger venue is available and the public body refuses to change location, a violation of the Act has occurred based on the public’s inability to attend the meeting.”

Schumann says that’s the problem: she’s found no alternative location within township borders able, and willing, to take on the meeting. She suspects that it’s because potential venues are already aware, or learn about, the protest factor that has been part of recent meetings.

Last month Schumann told The Regional News she was “trying my darndest” to secure a meeting place and had even been turned down by Moraine Valley Community College. Green Hills Library in Palos Hills was a possibility, she said this week, but the only available dates were the day before Thanksgiving and the day after, two dates that might be considered unworkable by township trustees and members of the public.

Schumann says that like the September meeting on the 11th of that month, the Nov. 20 meeting will employ a loudspeaker outside the meeting room and a wireless microphone that will make it easier for people in attendance to make comments.

However, unlike the Sept. 11 meeting, the microphone will not be passed around the room.

“Anybody who wants to speak will be given that opportunity, but they will need to sign in in order to speak,” she said.” This is to make sure no one is missed. The clerk will call off from the list to the people who signed up. Each speaker will get three minutes.”

As for the 42-person seating capacity, which left most of the people in the 100-plus crowds either outside the meeting room or outside the building entirely, Schumann says she’s hoping “People would give up their seat and let someone else take that seat.

“Knowing that’s how we’re going to have to operate going forward, I would hope it would be something out of common courtesy that they will do,” she said.

The Nov. 20 meeting is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. Township administration can be reached via












Local authors share their stories and ideas at Oak Lawn Library

  • Written by Kelly White

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Photo by Kelly White

Paranormal fiction author Laura Hawks, of Worth, showcased her novels at Oak Lawn Public Library's Local Author Fair on Sunday afternoon.

Growing up, Laura Hawks was always interested in the paranormal -- anything from ghosts to Ouija boards would capture her attention.

Now, as an adult, Hawks has turned her interest into words by publishing eight books in print and having two e-books, geared primarily in the paranormal fiction genre.

“As an only child, I always had an active imagination,” said Hawks, a Worth resident. “I would often use my creativity to keep myself entertained.”

Hawks’ creativity eventually turned into a passion for writing. Prior to publishing her novels, she was involved with, then ran a Star Trek Interactive Writing Group. She is currently a member of the Oak Lawn Writer’s Group and attends bi-monthly meetings.

She was joined by 12 other local authors at the Oak Lawn Public Library, 9427 Raymond Ave., on Sunday afternoon to meet with fans and discuss their novels.

“This is really nice to be a part of because it is made up of all local area authors,” Hawks said.

"This is my first time taking part in an event such as this,” said Farrell McNulty, author of “A Cracked Egg.” “I'm very excited about it and happy to be a part of it. Here's to all the other authors, and to a fun, successful afternoon."

McNulty, the youngest of four children, was raised on the South Side of Chicago, where he still resides.

The list of authors in attendance also included Evelyn Cullet, Ralph Horner, Cleo Lampos, Michael Martin, Paul McAllister, Lesleigh Nahay, Gaile Sprissler, Sue Meyers, Helen Osterman and Shari Scarpaci.

The authors represented genres of mystery, biography, historical and women’s fiction, paranormal fiction, fantasy fiction and health.

The event was the second of its kind, with the first fair held in 2015. The event organized by Melissa Apple, programming librarian, and the Oak Lawn Writer’s Group.

“The Writer’s Group wanted an opportunity to let the Oak Lawn and surrounding communities learn about the local authors in their area, and promote the Writer’s Group to aspiring writers,” Apple said. “The group has a large group of dedicated members who are extremely enthusiastic about writing and sharing their knowledge with others. This event is unique because there will be so many talented writers available to provide a one-stop visit for our library community.”

During the event, each author had their own table for patrons to stop by and chat, as well as purchase signed copies of their books. The authors participated in panel presentations for aspiring writers.

“As an author, participating in local author fairs is wonderful, as you get to actually meet the people who will later read your book,” said Lesleigh Nahay, author of “Hero Lost: Mysteries of Death and Life.” “That's a pretty magical thing that doesn't happen when your book is bought from a store or online. For both readers and writers, a library is almost a second home, so it's a perfect venue for this convergence. It's a great set-up for aspiring writers as well, to meet people in the time-point they're hoping to get to themselves, to network and get advice and guidance, and possibly join their local writers' group.”

Nahay, who travels from Dyer, Ind. to attend the bi-monthly meetings of the Oak Lawn Writer’s Club, wasn’t the only author pleased with the turnout of the fair, which gathered more than 50 patrons.

“A library that values the local authors is an institution that believes in literacy on many levels,” said Cleo Lampos, author of “A Mother’s Song,” “Teaching Diamonds in the Tough: Mining the Potential in Every Child,” “Second Chances,” ”Miss Bee and the Do Bees” and “Cultivating Wildflowers.”

Lampos’ compassion for children who experience poverty, broken homes or foster care is based on her own experiences as a child. Her father died when she was 3, and her step-family moved often. Born in Colorado but raised in Iowa and Wisconsin, Lampos attended nine schools before beginning high school.

Library staff said patrons had the opportunity to connect and relate with authors like Lampos in a casual environment.

“Those interested in writing or becoming published enjoyed the opportunity to sit down and talk to so many authors who have been in their position and can answer their questions,” Apple said. “Book lovers also enjoyed browsing unique books for sale and finding a book they might not know even existed. It was a great chance to start holiday shopping for the book enthusiast.