Eighth wonder

  • Written by Tim Hadac

Streak of great weather for race continues

Mother Nature’s seven-year winning streak of mild weather at the First Midwest Bank Half Marathon looked like it would end last Sunday, as early-morning rain started to slap the pavement on the 13.1-mile course in Palos Heights and Palos Park.

But whether it was a 6:30 a.m. pre-race prayer service led in the beer tent by Harvest Bible Chapel Pastor Ryan Hall, or race co-founder Jeff Prestinario’s repeated insistence that the streak would not be broken, faith paid off. About 30 minutes before the starting horn sounded at 7:30 a.m., clouds rolled away to the northeast, and the sun bathed Route 83 in light and warmth.
That was fine with Palos Heights resident Kathy Becker, who bicycled from her home a mile away to cheer on her cousin, Marie Gagliano, at the starting line on Route 83 near Palos Heights City Hall.
“I didn’t bring my umbrella, but I was more worried about Marie. Wet pavement can be a hazard, or even anything slick on the ground,” Becker said, recalling the infamous incident at the 2006 LaSalle Bank Chicago Marathon, when winner Robert Cheruiyot slipped on an advertising mat, fell backwards and hit his head on the pavement just as he reached the finish line.
No such slip-ups occurred Sunday at the eighth annual Palos event, even though a shortage of volunteers weeks earlier had threatened to make logistics a bit difficult.
“In the end, it all came together, as it does every year,” said Mel Diab, race co-founder and owner of the popular Running for Kicks specialty running shoe store near 127th Street and Harlem Avenue. “The people who volunteer for this event really pull together, work together and make it all happen. I can’t thank them enough. They are as important as our sponsors and everyone else who made this day possible.”
Prestinario added that in its eight years, the event has raised more than $200,000 for charity. This year’s not-for-profit recipients were the American Cancer Society and the Alsip-based South West Special Recreation Association (SWSRA).
The morning was a mixture of grimaces, sweat and smiles, as competitors—in the big race, as well as a 10K and the Walk, Run or Roll race for athletes with disabilities—pushed themselves to their limits and then savored the sweet payoff of their efforts.
Finishing first overall in the half marathon was Kyle Brady, 26, of Warrenville, with a time of 1:11:31. Finishing first among women and 10th overall was Kristen Heckert, 28, of Bolingbrook, who hit the tape at the 1:18:36 mark.
Nearly 40 athletes with special needs participated in the event’s Run, Walk or Roll race, headed by the SWSRA, nearly doubling last year’s final total of 32 participants.
Results for the Half Marathon and 10K race are posted online at
The event, which bills itself as the premier athletic event in the Southwest Suburbs, also draws thousands of people to the area—some of whom patronize local restaurants and other businesses, giving a shot in the arm to the local economy.
“We had the best breakfast yesterday at Royalberry Restaurant,” said Oak Lawn resident Dawn Podlasek, there with her husband, Jim, and twin 8-year-old sons, Jason and Jon. “This evening, after we drop the boys at their grandma’s house, we’re coming back for dinner and drinks on Harlem. We go to Orland a lot when we dine out, but we didn’t know about these nice restaurants in Palos Heights. We had been passing them up, I guess, but not anymore.”
That kind of endorsement was music to the ears of Palos Heights Mayor Robert Straz.
“The whole idea behind this race—other than the race itself—is to get people into the Southwest Suburbs and appreciate what we have here,” Straz said in his pre-race remarks at the starting line. “All too often, everything south of Madison (Street) is thought of as being a vast wasteland of culture and civilization…but we do actually have things going on out here

“We’re fortunate to go through the forest preserves a bit west of here,” the mayor continued, pointing toward Palos Park. “Behind me, we’ve got Lake Katherine, which has an incredible amount of natural beauty and a bike path (the Cal-Sag Trail) under construction that will link Alsip with Lemont. So please, stick around and discover the Palos area.”
The 2015 First Midwest Half Marathon’s organizing committee will meet next week to share observations and discuss ways to improve the event for 2016. Those with feedback to offer may visit and click on the “Contact” tab.

Expect another red-hot meeting about insurance in the Ridge on Tuesday

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

 The controversial issue of lifetimeTed - X cropped health insurance benefits for part-time Chicago Ridge trustees will be discussed  at Tuesday’s village board meeting, and a large audience is likely judging by the standing-room only crowd when it was first brought up at the April 21 meeting.

“It is definitely going to be on the board’s agenda. What is decided will be up to those six people,” Mayor Charles Tokar said of the trustees earlier this week. He had received some criticism for not putting it the agenda to be voted on at the April 21 meeting, as Trustee Sally Durkin had asked.

Tokar, who was village clerk when the insurance benefits were originally approved by the board more than 15 years ago, said he intends to form a committee to discuss the details of the program at the committee meeting prior to the main board meeting.

The mayor said he would like have a couple of the trustees, as well as legal counsel and an insurance expert together to look at the history and facts surrounding the policy, and the legality of making changes to it.

Originally, the life, health, vision and dental insurance benefits were offered to trustees who had served two four-year terms, but when they were last updated in 2000 under Mayor Eugene Siegel, they were extended to those who had served four years and been elected to a second four-year term.

The village picks up 80 percent of the insurance costs for trustees who have other employment, and 100 percent if they do not. It is available after they leave the board, and can be passed on to their spouses when they die.

Tokar said at the April 21 meeting that when the original legislation was approved, insurance only cost the village $25 or $50 per month per person, but prices have skyrocketed since then. According to published reports, it will cost the village about $134,460 this year, about 1 percent of the annual budget.

Trustees Amanda Cardin and Durkin have said that they do not take the health insurance benefit, and newly elected trustees William McFarland and Fran Coglianese said they will not accept the insurance either.

 McFarland and Coglianese, along with newly re-elected Trustee John “Jack” Lind, are due to be sworn in at Tuesday’s meeting.

Many residents apparently were not aware of the insurance program until it became a campaign issue during the April election.  A few people said that the controversy unfairly cost longtime Trustee Daniel Badon his seat. A trustee since 1997, Badon was the only member of the current board who was serving when the insurance benefits were introduced.

He said at the April 21 meeting that he would not have a problem with giving up the insurance, because he has other options.

Tokar, who said solving the insurance issue was a priority, admitted this week that he was surprised to see so many people at the April 21 meeting.

“I knew there would be a lot of people there, because it was being talked about on social media. But I don’t think I’ve ever seen the auditorium that crowded,” said the mayor.

There are questions about the legality of getting rid of the program entirely, especially for those currently on it. But there was general agreement between the mayor and board members at the April 21 meeting that at minimum, some changes needed to be made.


Dapper Williams leaves Palos Hills council during emotional meeting

  • Written by Michael Gilbert




Alderman Frank Williams shares a laugh with the council while saying his farewells.

(Photo by Michael Gilbert)

Palos Hills Alderman Mary Ann Schultz proclaimed "I'm not going to cry."


That was a promise she couldn't keep.

Palos Hills officials said their goodbyes to Alderman Frank Williams during the April 16 meeting. He is a man they praised for his hard work, knowledge, dedication and even his unrivaled fashion during his 16 years on the council.
But it was their long-standing friendship with the always-dapper Williams that caused the meeting to take a rather emotional turn.

A few city officials got a bit misty-eyed as they bid farewell to the 5th Ward alderman, who was defeated by challenger Dawn Nowak 207-197 in the April 7 consolidated election. Williams’ counterpart, Schultz, prefaced her comments by saying “I’m not going to cry,” but was then unable to hold back the tears.
“It’s been 14 years [we have served together as the 5th Ward aldermen] and you’ve taught me so much,” Schultz said. “I will miss you and thank you for being my partner.”
Williams had been the fourth longest-tenured member of the council behind Pauline Stratton (2nd Ward), Marty Kleefisch (1st Ward) and A.J. Pasek (3rd Ward). Originally appointed by Mayor Gerald Bennett in 1999 to fill the vacancy caused when the now late John Jones had to resign due to health reasons, Williams was seeking re-election to his fourth term earlier this month.
“I had a good run while it lasted,” Williams told his colleagues. “I enjoyed working with all of you.”
Williams, a retired foreman for the Illinois Department of Transportation, said he was most proud of the growth of the public works department while under his watch. Williams was the chairman of the Public Works, Sewer & Water Committee and was a member of the Economic Development Committee.
“I think we have one of the most efficient and courteous public works departments in the south suburbs,” Williams said. “They provide a great service to our residents.” 
Bennett called Williams an “asset” to Palos Hills and said he appreciated “all the time and effort” he put into his job.
“Frank, I want to thank you for all your years of service to the city of Palos Hills,” Bennett said. “I can’t say enough about your dedication to your work here as an alderman and as the chairman of public works. You’ve taken on a leadership role in the activities and events that have taken place through public works. Thanks again on behalf of the city council and myself.”
Alderman Joe Marrotta (4th Ward) called Williams “a mentor” and thanked him for the guidance when he joined the board in 2007 at the age of 28.
“You were one of the guys that took me under your wing when I first started [on the board eight years ago],” Marrotta said. “I appreciate everything you’ve done for me. I won’t be a stranger.”
Pasek made a motion – which was later unanimously approved – for the council to retire Williams’ aldermanic badge. Stratton also suggested he take his name plate, which he did at the conclusion of the meeting.
“Frank and I didn’t always agree but then again I don’t always agree with most people, but we did agree more than enough times,” Pasek said. “I’ve known Frank for more than the 16 years he’s been on this board and he is a good man. He’s very down to earth. He’s been an asset to the city.”
Kleefisch said that although he and Williams “took different approaches on some issues” he never doubted his dedication to serving the residents.
“I never questioned your sincerity with regards to providing for the residents that are represented in the 5th Ward and I never questioned your concern for the well-being of our city,” Kleefisch said. “I respect the service you’ve provided. It has been a pleasure and honor to serve with you.”
Williams credited friend and former 4th Ward Alderman Joel Thomas for convincing him to apply for the vacant seat on the council back in 1999.
“He encouraged me to apply so I decided to give it a try,” Williams said. “After meeting with the mayor I ended up getting the appointment.
“I’ve enjoyed working for the residents.”
Bennett closed out the meeting by offering one final compliment, which drew laughs from the council and the handful of residents in attendance.
“I going to miss your colorful outfits you wore all the time,” Bennett said, paying homage to the bright and vibrant colored shirts Williams routinely wore to the meetings.





'Boom, boom, boom...go, go, go'

  • Written by TIm Hadac




Photo by Jeff Vorva

More than a thousand runners started last year's race.


As the 2015 First Midwest Bank Half Marathon heads to the starting line Sunday for the eighth time, the long months of planning will result in a frantic morning.

“When we get to race day, it’s boom boom boom and then go go go, and then it’s all over,” race co-founder Jeff Prestinario said. “That’s how quickly it goes, so we need to be on our toes.”

Organizers are happy the numbers are looking better this year.

“It looks like we are headed towards yet another successful run,” said race director and co-founder Mel Diab, owner of the popular Running for Kicks athletic shoe store in Palos Heights. “Registration is up over last year, and things seem to be on track.”

Diab made his observations at an event organizing committee meeting held last Friday at the Palos Heights Recreation Center.

According to committee chairman and race co-founder Jeff Prestinario, about 1,400 runners are signed up for the 13.1-mile race, with another 330 runners set to compete in a 10K race at the same time—numbers that are better than last year’s tally, but still below 2013, when 1,800-plus runners competed in the half marathon.

Numbers are down for the Walk, Run or Roll race, according to Lori Chesna, executive director of the South West Special Recreation Association (SWSRA). About three dozen athletes with disabilities are registered, down from 52 in 2014.

All numbers may rise slightly between now and Sunday, as late registrants are expected.

The course that starts and ends near Palos Heights City Hall, 7607 W. College Drive, and runs west along Route 83. The half marathon starts at 7:30 a.m., the event’s second running of the 10K race begins at 7:40, and the “Walk, Run or Roll” half-mile race (for people with disabilities) is set to start at 7:45.

The race officially ends at 10:30 a.m., and an awards ceremony is set for 11 a.m.

As always, parking is at a premium at the event, and spectators driving to the site are advised to arrive early and use local parking lots along the north side of Route 83.

Both Diab and Prestinario thanked their corporate sponsors and volunteers in advance for handling the inevitably hectic pace of race day with aplomb.

 “Things can get a little confusing, so have patience and keep a smile on your face,” Prestanario said.

Mother Nature has been kind to the event every year, although the forecast for Sunday morning is warm and possibly wet, with a daytime high of 76 degrees and a 50 percent chance of thunderstorms.

“God has blessed us with good weather over the years, except one year when it rained before the race, but sun came out by start time,” Prestinario recalled. “We’re hoping for the same this year.”

Sunday’s race will feature a festival-like atmosphere, with local businesses exhibiting in the parking lot of City Hall, popular music provided by a radio station party van, and a handful of high school mascots working the crowd and mugging for photographs.

Adding to the buzz is a health and community expo set for 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday at Moraine Valley Church, 6300 W. 127th St., Palos Heights.

Sponsored by the Palos Area Chamber of Commerce, the annual event typically attracts several thousand people and offers information and free services from 50 local health care providers and other businesses, as well as government agencies.

Maintaining the success of past expositions, this year’s business-related event is “not a whole lot different” than last year, said Mary Kay Spindler executive director of the chamber.

If there is a weak link in the chain, it is a lack of volunteers to staff the race on Sunday. Organizers had hoped for about 200 men and women to step forward, but appear to have fallen short of the goal thus far.

Those interested in volunteering are encouraged to visit and click on “event details.”

Proceeds from the event benefit the American Cancer Society, and the South West Special Recreation Association. In its first seven years, the event has raised nearly $170,000 for charitable causes.


Jeff Vorva's Im-PRESS-ions: No longer cursing area's big running event

  • Written by Jeff Vorva


Jeffs Col Impressions


Before I started working for Editor Jack Murray at the Regional, my only thoughts about the annual half marathon in Palos Heights were dark.

I didn’t call it the First Midwest Bank Half Marathon.

It was known to me as the #$%-ing marathon because three years in a row, it screwed up my Sundays. I didn’t even know it was a half-marathon but I cursed the halfwits who would help made my life miserable by closing down streets I needed to use to get my kid to a basketball tournament in the north suburbs. Half marathons three, four and five will always be remembered for having long trips made even longer.

So I get the job in this company in the late summer of 2012 and sometime around December, Murray tells me he wants me to start covering committee meetings for the marathon.

Ok, fine, when do the meetings start?

He said the first Friday in January.


But the half-marathon isn’t until May! What in the heck could they be talking about in January?


I have a pretty extensive background in sports. Not to brag, but I have had the luck and honor of being in the White Sox locker room in Houston almost 10 years ago when they won the World Series and my clothes were drenched with champagne. I have covered the NBA Finals during the Bulls runs. I’ve covered several Indy 500 races and the historic inaugural Brickyard 500.

Not many can say this, but I shook Kerry Wood’s hand minutes after he struck out 20 Houston batters in 1998, I shook Sammy Sosa’s hand minutes after he hit his  500th home run when he was with the Cubs and shook his hand after he hit No. 600 with the Texas Rangers against the Cubs. I shook Greg Maddux’s hand after he won his 300th game.

But of all the cool events I’ve been blessed to cover and all the background stuff I’ve seen, I have usually only seen the finished product and not much of the hard work that goes behind it.

They say you never want to see how the sausage is made, but I learned a lot about the minutia of running a huge event by covering the half-marathon committee meetings.

The two guys running the show – Jeff Prestinario and Mel Diab – did plenty of legwork before the first January. But once the committee people all gathered for their first meeting in a meeting room at the Palos Heights Rec Center and saw the first agenda, I realized that we were at the stage where this was the clay and there were five months to mold it into something special.

Even though they had run a handful of half marathons before, so much planning and work had to be done.

The cops and firemen from various municipalities and the county had to be all on the same page.

The Palos Heights Public Works department was in charge of getting permits and in charge of the logistics and setting up and cleaning up.  Loyola University brought in the medical people for a tent that gets used quite a bit after people run 13 miles.

There are hundreds of volunteers needed and someone has to recruit them and have a game plan as to what they will do and when they will do it. Someone had to invite mascots from various schools in the area to have them run in a pre-race mascot race to entertain the kids.

Don’t forget the parking! You can’t have thousands of people show up for a race and not have a parking plan.

We’re not even close to being done, here. There are people behind the scenes working on hotel arrangements, public relations, putting out a race program, security, charities, vendors, refreshment tables, gear checks, goody bag stuffers and running the city’s business expo the day before the big race.

Last, but certainly not least, someone has to be in charge of the beer tent.

To put an added wrinkle on the 2013 race, there was the bombing at the Boston Marathon less than a month before Palos Heights event and there were the duties of adding extra security for the race.

I’m not going to lie, these monthly meetings could get dull. But as the months went by, you could see the mold take shape until April and there were still a few areas of concern that made me think “how in the heck are they going to pull this bad boy off?”

But they did.

When the 2013 race was over and the cleanup started and masterminds Diab and Prestinario looked like they just had all of the energy ripped right out of their bodies, I realized that I had followed this story from its infant stages until the end. I had never had the pleasure of covering something like that before.

By 2014, I was editor of the Reporter and Tim Hadac took over the monthly grind and I showed up for a few meetings for column material. It’s the same with this year.  It’s not quite the same, but I get to see bits and pieces of the process.

The race itself is fun to cover as there are thousands of runners and thousands of great stories out there.

I have a great appreciation for the half-marathon. It’s no longer the #$%-ing marathon to me.

So for those of you who will have your Sunday screwed up because some of the street will be closed, you have a right to blow off some steam.

But keep in mind that a lot of good people doing a lot of hard work have been busy making this a special event for the thousands who participate or watch.