Fire damage causes Evergreen Park Barraco’s restaurant to close

  • Written by Joe Boyle

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Photo by Joe Boyle

The windows are boarded up at Barraco’s restaurant in Evergreen Park along 95th Street following an early morning fire Saturday that began in the kitchen.



Barraco’s restaurant in Evergreen Park will be closed indefinitely after a fire broke early Saturday morning that caused extensive damage to the kitchen.

Patrons dropped by throughout the day Sunday to offer encouragement and support to ownership after they learned about the blaze that began in the kitchen at about 5:40 a.m. Saturday. Evergreen Park Fire Chief Ron Kleinhaus said that the fire began when an oven caught fire in the kitchen. Flames spread to the ceiling and vents, he said.

Barraco’s, which is at 3701 W. 95th St., was evacuated when the fire began to spread. A portion of the kitchen roof collapsed. Cooks and employees were able to leave without incident. However, two firefighters did suffer injuries and were taken to a nearby hospital. One Evergreen Park firefighter suffered a concussion while another reportedly had an arm injury. Both firefighters have since been released.

“They are OK,” said Evergreen Park Mayor James Sexton. “There is damage to the building but the most important part is everyone is all right.”

Naples Bakery, which is right next door at 3705 W. 95th St., was closed this weekend due to water damage as a result of the fire. It reopened today (Thursday).

“”Naples had a little water damage but nothing serious,” said Sexton. “They were in there Sunday morning moving some of the cakes out. They will be fine.”

Sexton also stopped by Sunday to see what he can do for ownership. The Evergreen Park mayor and fire chief said that the restaurant, also known for their pizzas, is very popular in the neighborhood.

“I visited them and they had a table set up outside and they were discussing what they are going to do,” said Sexton. “So they will be back and I think they will be back soon.”

In the meantime, loyal customers approached some of the owners on Sunday and said they will continue to go to Barraco’s. For them time being, that means they will visit some of their other locations in Burbank, Crestwood, Orland Park, Orland Hills and Chicago’s Mount Greenwood neighborhood.

“They will continue to operate at other locations, and some of the catering will be handled by the restaurant in Chicago’s Mount Greenwood neighborhood,” said Sexton. “These guys have been pretty good for this town. They have been generous and people really like them.”

Remnants of the fire are visible. The facade above the kitchen is burned. The kitchen door and windows along 95th Street are boarded up. The owners had little to say Sunday other than they are discussing their options. But customers who visited, along with the mayor, have no doubt they will reopen.

Sexton also added that he was proud of the response of firefighters from Evergreen Park and several other neighboring towns. Over 100 firefighters were on the scene from communities such as Bridgeview, Burbank and Oak Lawn. Evergreen Park is now part of the mutual aid response system that works closely with other local municipalities to react to major emergencies. The mayor was impressed with how well the system worked during the fire at Barraco’s.

“They were unbelievable,” said Sexton. “It’s an amazing system. They do this all the time but to see them communicate with each other was amazing. We thank them all.”

MVCC transitions to online course catalog

  • Written by Kelly White

Moraine Valley Community College is going greener this school year by having a predominately online-only course catalog.

According to Moraine Valley officials, the online course catalog available at looks like a typical website and is user-friendly to all college students. The catalog can be downloaded to a desktop computer, saved as a PDF file and is also mobile friendly.

This transition is beneficial because a lot of students review courses through their cellphones and other mobile devices now, preferring the flexibility of convenience over a paper catalog, Moraine Valley officials said.

The college made the decision prior to the start of the 2016 school year to move to a one-year online course catalog from a two-year print catalog. Planning and creating the website began during last school year.

The print version of the catalog will only be available inside the college from now on, with paper copies available for students to browse through in the bookstore located in the campus’ D Building at 9000 College Parkway in Palos Hills.

Past course catalogs that were only available in the print version are now also available through the online catalog website.

Keeping the catalog online will also help to provide more accurate class information, according to Moraine Valley President Dr. Sylvia Jenkins.

“I think the college is calling themselves short by calling this online version just an online course catalog, because it offers so much more than class descriptions,” said Joseph Murphy, chairperson for the Moraine Valley Board.

The online course catalog provides a variety of information, including programs of study, course descriptions, required prerequisites for classes, an academic calendar, requirements for graduation, Moraine’s career and transfer programs, grading, admission and registration, financial aid, student services, international student affairs, a message from the college president, student life programs and instructional programs.

Students do not have the option to make a class schedule directly through the online catalog website – just as they did not with the print version – and the online catalog does not tell specific course times.

However, the online version is also saving the college a lot of green while going green. The cost to print the catalog every two years was costing the college $37,000. Moraine officials point out that the online catalog is only $9 a year.

“This is a very nice catalog that is easily accessible to all of our students,” Jenkins said. “Quite a number of people worked really hard on this project, and they plan to help to continue to build it semester by semester with available courses and a continuous number of features that are obtainable here at the college.”

“This is great for students to have everyday access right at their fingertips,” Murphy said.

School District 117 joins Hickory Hills Council in sponsoring Howl Through Hills Run/Walk

  • Written by Sharon L. Filkins

The Hickory Hills City Council approved an Intergovernmental agreement with North Palos School District 117 at their meeting last Thursday, affirming the school district will join the city as a co-sponsor for the third annual Howl Through the Hills 5K Run/Walk scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 22.

The event will begin at 9 a.m. at the Hickory Hills City Hall, 8652 W. 95th St. Registration will open at 7:30 a.m. Information packets for the 5K can be picked up at the City Hall beginning Saturday, Oct. 1. More information is available on the organization website,

Mayor Mike Howley said proceeds from the run/walk will benefit the Hickory Hills Lions Club.

“We urge everyone to come out and join us for this day of fun. It is something all ages can enjoy,” he said.

Other approvals included an annual Intergovernmental agreement with the Cook County Health Inspectional Services. Fees will remain at $100 per inspection.

Two invoices in the total amount of $108,754 were approved as the final payments to Hasse Construction for drainage improvements in 2015. Village Engineer Mike Spolar said the total project had been budgeted for $2 million, but the final numbers came in at a total of $1,898, 667.

Also, a final invoice in the amount of $39,033 for Motor Fuel Tax Servicing projects was approved for D Construction.

On other matters, Public Works Director Larry Boettcher announced that city was starting its fall tree planting program.

“We will be planting 100 trees across the city. The trees will be diversified for a variety in the various areas of barren parkways,” he said. He added that any homeowners interested in having trees replaced in their parkways for the spring planting in 2017 should contact the Public Works Department.

He also informed the council that he had met with representatives of the Cook County Forest Preserve District and the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District to discuss water issues at the intersection of 91st Place and Keane Avenue where water drains from the west side of the road to the center of the road after a heavy rain fall, causing traffic backups with the road reduced to a single lane.

“I am afraid it is going to be an uphill battle because the Forest Preserve District thinks the city should submit a request to the Army Corp of Engineers for assistance with the problem,” added Boettcher.

“That is not the case,” Boettcher informed Howley. “This was just our first meeting, so it will be a long haul.”

Howley thanked him for his efforts and for keeping the council informed.

District 218 believes comic books have a place in the classrooms

  • Written by Kelly White

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Photo by Kelly White

District 218 teachers believe that reading comic books in a classroom-setting has value due to its visual impact.

Comic books may appear to have no use in the classroom, but some School District 218 teachers tend to disagree.

Members of the Comics Education Offensive, consisting of some District 218 officials, presented Teaching with Comics Symposium recently at the Oak Lawn Public Library, 9427 S. Raymond Ave. The symposium featured panels and workshops focused on integrating comics and graphic novels into science, math and English curriculum for grades 6-12.

The symposium was an all-day conference opened to all teachers from grades 6-12 that focused on the use of comics and graphic novels in the classroom. However, the day also included panels such as creating safe spaces and utilizing gaming in the classroom.

“We hope that teachers were inspired to integrate comics into their curriculum, while also engaging in discussions about the inclusion of gamification and safe spaces in education,” said Izabel Gronski, the Oak Lawn Library’s Young Adult Librarian.

Gronski joined The Comics Education Offensive -- a group of teachers from the Midwest and east coast dedicated to spreading the word about the educational potential of comics – during presentations at the symposium. One of the group’s main organizers is Shepard High School English teacher Eric Kallenborn.

“I have been interested in comic books since I was a kid,” Kallenborn said. “I consider comics to be my passion and connecting with educators about comics and graphic novels in the classroom is what I do. When it comics to comics, I feel that the conversations with students are rich. It’s a different type of conversation than they are normally having in classrooms. And let’s face it, we are a visual society.”

“Using comics in the classroom gives people an appreciation for visual storytelling,” said Shepard student Natalie Escobedo, 17.

Kallenborn has been teaching at Shepard for nine years. He has taught every English level possible at the school located at 13049 S Ridgeland Ave. This school year, he is teaching Advanced Placement (AP) Language and Composition, film and literature and graphic novels.

A graphic novel is a book made up of comic book content that moves at the pace of the reader and connects wording with imagery. Kallenborn reports positive feedback from this course. He has been incorporating comics in the classroom for the past four years and plans to keep doing so.

“In the graphic novel course that I teach, I may use the occasional short story in that class, but all of my complete books will be graphic novels,” Kallenborn said. “We will read about six to eight as a class, and the students will read another two to five on their own. There are other teachers, however, that have begun using the graphic novels and comics, even in other disciplines. I can say that comic books will be used more than they ever have this year. There is no doubt that 21st century students have a deep connection to the visual.”

Students have reflected positive feedback from the incorporation of comics in the classroom.

“Comics are great to use in class because some students are intimidated by large amounts of words. However, pictures with great writing help more students learn,” said Shepard student Hassaan Harris, 17.

“The pictures add whole new dimensions to reading. No longer do I have to imagine,” said Shepard student, Matt Bird, 17. “Comics effortlessly immerse you in a new universe.”

The symposium also featured Shepard High School English teacher Jeff Vazzana and Jason Nisavic, along with Richards High School English teacher Ronell Witaker.

The event highlighted the integration of comics into middle school and secondary education curriculum through many presentations, including: Comics and STEM Workshop, Intro to Comics in the Classroom, Diversity through Comics, Working with your Local Comic Shop, Comics in Your Language Arts Classroom, Creating Safe Places, Power-Up Your Teaching, Comics in the STEM Classroom, Teaching Comics and Book Pairing with Comics and Non-Fiction Comic Workshops.

No longer an underground movement appealing to a small following of enthusiasts, graphic novels have emerged as a growing segment of book publishing, and have become accepted by librarians and educators as mainstream literature for children and young adults, according to Kallenborn.

“A comic is like a sub-titled film that moves at the pace of the reader,” Kallenborn said. “This is great because it mixes language with image, and studies have shown that learning happens quicker when these items are paired. They are also much quicker reads, and with classic adaptations, they are much quicker reads with similar assessment results when used in the classroom.”

Evergeen Park baseball official sues Little League International

  • Written by Joe Boylw

Chris Janes, the vice president of the Evergreen Park Athletic Association Little League who was the first to blow the whistle on boundary violations of players of the Jackie Robinson West Little League in 2014, has filed a lawsuit against Little League Baseball International stating that he has suffered from severe emotional distress following the incident.

Janes, an Evergreen Park resident, had voiced concerns during the summer of 2014 after hearing complaints from other people. He also noted that some of the players were honored by several south suburban villages where they lived after they had initially won the Little League World Series in 2014.

According to Janes’ lawsuit, he had had death threats and has been humiliated after he first began suggesting that several players on the Jackie Robinson team, that plays their home games at Jackie Robinson Park at 105th and Morgan in Chicago, did not live within the boundaries of the league.

Janes had made his complaints known that fall to The Reporter. However, Little League Baseball International originally dismissed Janes’ complaints and said the players were all eligible. Janes’ Evergreen Park team lost to Jackie Robinson West in the sectionals. Jackie Robinson later advanced to the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa. and then became the U.S. champs.

According to the lawsuit, Janes also suffers from “anxiety, loss of sleep and weight loss.” He also said he is suffering from depression. He is seeking $75,000 in damages. Little League Baseball International had no comment about the lawsuit.

Janes said after Little League Baseball International first dismissed his complaints, they started to discredit him. But due to increasing evidence that the Janes complaints were valid, the organization eventually censured the Jackie Robinson West, according to the lawsuit. The team was stripped of their U.S title.

After Jackie Robinson West won the U.S. title, they were feted in a rally in Chicago’s Grant Park and visited the White House and met President Obama and had pictures taken with him. They also attended a World Series game in San Francisco.

In a separate case, the parents of Jackie Robinson West players filed a lawsuit against Little League International. They claimed that there was a cover-up.