Marist staff member wins 2016 Rose of Tralee title

  • Written by Sharon L. Filkins

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Submitted photo

Maggie McEldowney was the winner of the 2016 Rose of Tralee in the annual Irish International Festival held in County Kerry, Ireland in August.

Maggie McEldowney admitted being stunned when she heard her name called.

“Never in a million years did I think I was going to win and hear my name called,” said McEldowney, a Marist High School staff member who was named the 2016 Rose of Tralee in the annual Irish International Festival held in County Kerry, Ireland in August.

Representing Chicago, McEldowney, 26, a former resident of Chicago’s Beverly neighborhood, was selected from 65 participants from across the globe. She is the first Chicago entry to win in 29 years and is only the third Chicago entry to win in the 57-year history of the International Irish Festival.

McEldowney is a 2007 graduate of Marist High School where she now serves as director of development. She is also a graduate of the University of Illinois where she earned a degree in media studies/communications.

“We are extremely proud of Maggie and of the honor she has brought to our school with this accomplishment,” said Larry Tucker, principal at Marist. “We are 100 percent in support of her activities with the International Irish Festival in the coming year. She is an exceptionally bright, energetic person and is passionate about her role in the Irish community.”

Tucker said he first met her when she was in eighth grade.

“She sang the national anthem at a game between Marist and Brother Rice. Even at that age, she was obviously very talented and confident. I knew she was someone special and I was really happy to have her as a student at Marist. She will be an excellent ambassador for the Festival,” he said.

McEldowney said she first learned about the Irish International Festival during a 2012 visit to her family in Ireland. She was visiting her great-grandmother, Rose O’Neill, who is 100 years old and lives in County Kerry.

“I learned about the International Irish Rose Foundation, the annual Festival and all the wonderful things it does through various charities, such as Chernobyl Children’s Fund, March for Meg, Andrew Weishar Foundation and the Young Irish Foundation. I got involved and the more involved I became, the more I loved it. I have been involved now with the Rose Foundation for three years,” she said. “I am not a ‘pageant person’ and this is not about just winning the position. It is about being part of something bigger. It is a celebration of young Irish women and the Irish community. It is more about being an ambassador. There is a great camaraderie among the Roses; it is not a competitive thing like the Miss America Beauty Pageant. We all work together for the cause, which is to represent the best of the Irish community in our respective countries.”

As part of her duties in the coming year, she will be traveling to Ireland at least once a month to participate in fundraisers and meet political officials. Her first duties are to establish the calendar for the year and to select the foundations, which will be supported through funds raised at various events throughout the year, such as Forever Green, scheduled for St. Patrick’s Day.

“The Irish are fun people and these events are all so much fun. Celebrating the Irish is going to be an exciting year,” she said.

When asked how it felt to return to work after winning the title and spending an event-filled two weeks in Ireland, she said it was like an out- of- body experience. “It was a beautiful dream-like experience…it was very humbling after all the fanfare,” she said.

“Being the 2016 Rose of Tralee is a huge adjustment. I am really just a nobody thrown into the limelight. I have to adjust to being interviewed, and learn to speak carefully. I hope that what I do will emulate the phrase that ‘actions speak louder than words.’ “

McEldowney also serves on the Board of the Young Irish Fellowship Club of Chicago and is passionate about sharing the culture of the Irish community and encouraging the advancement of upcoming bright, promising young Irish women.

As for her plans after she finishes her year as the Rose of Tralee, she will continue her involvement with the Chicago Rose Foundation and the International Festival.

“I am looking forward to a life-long commitment,” she said.

Oak Lawn installs stop sign on Meade after traffic fatality

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

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Photo by Dermot Connolly

A vehicle stops at one of the new four-way signs installed at the intersection of 98th Street and Meade Avenue in Oak Lawn last month. The intersection one block south of Southwest Highway was made a four-way stop at the request of residents following a fatal accident that occurred there on Memorial Day, May 30.


Four-way stop signs were recently installed at the intersection of 98th Street and Meade Avenue following a fatal collision on Memorial Day, and at least one trustee would like to see such signage at every intersection.

The stop signs requested by neighborhood residents were installed in August at 98th and Meade, after 34-year old Jacqueline L. Chavez-Ruiz, of the 9800 block of Moody Avenue, suffered fatal injuries in a crash there on May 30. The mother of four died at Advocate Christ Medical Center six days after the accident, in which the GMC Suburban she was a passenger in was struck by a Honda Odyssey.

Her vehicle, which east on 98th Street, flipped over, when the Honda traveling south on Meade struck it. Chavez-Ruiz was not wearing a seatbelt, and was ejected and pinned underneath the Suburban.

Since the tragedy occurred, Trustee Bob Streit (3rd) has been lobbying to get at least some signage at all the uncontrolled intersections in the village. But his idea has not received much support from Police Chief Michael Murray or other members of the administration.

“Unfortunately, it took a tragedy to get the signs up at that intersection but I am glad they are there now,” said Streit. “It’s really sad. The same woman (Rose Berry) who circulated the petition asking the Traffic Review Committee for the signs did the same thing in 2003 and was turned down.”

Streit said that for safety reasons, at least a “yield” sign should be erected in one direction of every uncontrolled intersection, preferably on the least traveled of the two streets.

But he said Murray told him more signage isn’t needed because motorists will stop paying attention to signs if there are too many, and the rules of the road familiar to all drivers already indicate which car would have the right of way.

“Knowing who has the right-of-way doesn’t matter in a lot of these cases,” said Streit. “Without a stop or yield sign, drivers unfamiliar with the area might just assume the driver coming the other direction has a stop sign.”

Streit recalled being a victim of a two-car crash that occurred in 1964, when he was 9, and walking with three friends near the intersection of 107th and Kilbourn. “It was an uncontrolled intersection then, but not anymore,” he noted. He said two cars collided and one went off the road, striking all four boys and putting him in the hospital for two weeks.

“We all lived but like (the Memorial Day collision), it didn’t have to happen. A sign would have at least slowed them down.”

He said the cost of the signs would be minimal because they are made by the Public Works Department’s sign shop.

However, Mayor Sandra Bury is among those who agree with Murray that more signs are not the answer. She said that while the cost of making the signs might be minimal, the real cost would come from “taking people away from other work to hang signs everywhere.”

“The trustee has a solution without a problem. He is just generating issues,” she said.

“I am for anything if it enhances safety. But I rely on my police chief and the Traffic Review Committee and they are very capable of determining when signs are necessary, or if there was an issue,” said Bury.

She said she agrees with Murray’s opinion that more signage would lead to the signs being ignored and diminish their effect.

“I’ve had residents tell me that they don’t want any more signs. ‘Leave us alone,’ they say.”

She said she tends to agree with that sentiment. “It is too much government intrusion,” she said. After talking to police, firefighters and dispatchers, there is no need for more signs.

“More signs are not the answer. Respecting the rules we already have on the books and being mindful of the children playing would be good,” she said, urging drivers to “slow down and follow the rules of the road.”

District 230 approves three-year teacher contract

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

The District 230 began the new school year by approving a three-year labor contract with the 550-member Teachers Association last week, and is looking forward to approving a balanced budget for the 13th consecutive year later this month.

The new contract approved at the Aug. 25 board meeting includes a 3.19 percent average annual salary increase for each of the next three years, the cost of which will be offset by savings from 17 known retirements at the end of the current school year. Coaches and sponsors of extra-curricular activities at the three high schools in the district --Stagg, Sandburg and Andrew -- will also receive a 0.75 percent increase in stipends for each of the three years of the agreement.

The Teachers Association voted to ratify the contract on Aug. 24, and both board members and teachers’ representatives credited the good working relationship of both negotiating teams for the success.

“We are trying to be fair to our taxpayers and recognize the outstanding job that our teachers do every day in our schools,” said Board President Rick Nogal at the meeting, who called the contract “a solid agreement.”

In addition to pay raises, the contract also includes changes to health insurance policies aimed at curbing rising costs. These include limiting insurance choices for new hires to the district to the more affordable HMO or health saving account plans. Teachers will also share in any future increased costs through a greater contribution toward insurance. New wellness initiatives are expected to reduce future health insurance costs.

“The contract fits our long-range fiscal plans and is supportive of providing an outstanding education for our students,” said Nogal.

“We are really happy to have this contract,” said Teachers’ Association President Michelle Etchason, who led the applause at the school board meeting when it was approved. “The District 230 Teachers' Association is vastly appreciative of its collaborative relationship with the administration and the board, an especially respectful and trustful partnership in light of the current political climate regarding unions.”

Etchason added that the new contract is one of many reasons why teachers have come back to school in such good moods. She said the rollout of the one-one technology program, with freshmen and sophomores receiving Chromebooks for use in class and at home has been a big hit with students and staff.

“Although we don’t always agree, we get things done in a collaborative way,” said the board’s education committee chair Denis O’Sullivan.

“I appreciate the professionalism and work completed by the negotiation teams,” said Supt. Dr. James Gay, who said he was “in the background” during the negotiations. “This is a reflection of the strong relationships that the school board and the administration have with our staff. The end result is a fair contract that is respectful of our staff and of the community we serve.”

The District 230 board’s next goal will be to approve its 2017 budget at the next board meeting being held on Thursday, Sept. 29 at Andrew High School, 9001 W. 171st St., Tinley Park.

The proposed $128,289,627 budget represents a 2.5 percent increase over last year. It would leave the district with $72,951 surplus at the end of the year, up from $46,652 last year.

Residents are invited to attend the required public hearing set for 7 p.m., followed by the regular monthly meeting. Because it is a balanced budget, the budget is likely to be approved at the meeting, meeting state law requirements that school budgets be approved during the first quarter of the school year.

Gay noted at the meeting the state Legislature is now into its second year without a balanced budget, although a temporary measure approved during the summer is providing funding for education through November. He said legislators are going to wait until after the Nov. 8 election to tackle the budget impasse again.

Local students participate in Golden Apple seminars at St. Xavier University

  • Written by Kelly White

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Submitted photo

Three local students participated in the Golden Apple Scholars of Illinois this summer at St. Xavier University. Local students who took part were (from left) Sarah Gregory, 19, of Palos Heights; Halee Barker, 20, of Chicago Ridge; and Gabriella Ramirez, 19, of Worth.

Local students have had the golden touch at St. Xavier University.

The Golden Apple Scholars of Illinois took over St. Xavier University this summer with 99 scholars from universities across the country participating in the program at the campus, 3700 W. 103rd St., Chicago.

The Golden Apple Scholars of Illinois is a scholarship program that identifies talented high school seniors and college freshman who have the promise and drive to be excellent teachers in high-need schools. All 99 members enrolled in the St. Xavier summer program were college students who just finished their first year. During the program, students are prepared for immediate and lasting success in the most challenging teaching environments.

“The program launched in 1989 to increase the numbers of resilient, effective, and underrepresented teachers for students in Illinois schools of need serving a lowincome population or at a school with belowaverage test scores,” said Jim Sorensen, program director for the Golden Apple Scholars. “The program strengthens university teacher preparation programs with extensive advanced teacher preparation and mentoring for Scholars, both during and beyond their undergraduate years.”

Every year as part of the Golden Apple Scholars of Illinois program, aspiring teachers attend a five week long summer institute session, where they receive 700 hours of classroom experience before college graduation -- three times more classroom experience than traditionally prepared teachers receive.

“Golden Apple has consistently shown me the positive sides of teaching. I am extremely grateful for all of the support from my peers, reflective leaders, liaisons, and cooperating teachers,” said Gabriella Ramirez, 19, of Worth, said. “Golden Apple pushes me to be the best teacher I can be. They truly want me to succeed and to change lives. The summer institutes rejuvenate my love for teaching because I am surrounded by positive and like-minded peers. I am forever grateful for this opportunity."

The program at St. Xavier was held in classrooms throughout the campus where the scholars were placed in educational training sessions and reflective seminars. The reflective seminars focused on special education, bilingual education and music education. The courses are taught by Golden Apple Fellows, Golden Apple Teachers of Distinction and Golden Apple Teaching Scholars and not St. Xavier teachers.

"My favorite part about Golden Apple is being a part of the classrooms,” said Sarah Gregory, 19, of Palos Heights. “I enjoy the experiences of watching expert teachers model what effective teaching is. I love the mentorships that the program offers throughout our journey."

“We look for individuals who exhibit a passion for teaching and potential to succeed in college,” Sorensen said. “Potential scholars must submit four well-written essays, transcripts reflecting academic effort, strong letters of reference, and must interview at the finalist stage. Additionally, we look for individuals who have shown an interest in community outreach and extracurricular activities.”

"I love the on-site experience but it's more than that. I've made a family here,” said Halee Barker, 20, of Chicago Ridge. “I've made so many fantastic professional connections that I would not have formed if I wasn't given this opportunity. Without Golden Apple going to college to further my educational career could not have been a possibility."

The program has been beneficial to future educators, according to Sorensen.

“Studies show that there is a shortage of qualified, enthusiastic teachers entering the profession, and a particular shortage of minority and bilingual teachers,” Sorensen said. “Students need teachers who have similar backgrounds and experiences to serve as role models and give them the hope of a promising future. Scholars gain essential exposure to the challenges and triumphs of high-needs classroom settings that is unrivaled by any other teacher preparation program. Through the program, Scholars build invaluable networks of support that guide them throughout their teaching years.”

They are diving in for Coach Stu

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

Photo by Jeff Vorva
Richards, Argo and Oak Forest swimmers had a massive group pose before their meet in Oak Lawn Tuesday. The meet honored Richards coach Joel Staszewski and his family. Staszewski is in a hospital in Chicago after nearly dying this summer.  
Richards hosted its first home girls swimming meet of the season late Tuesday afternoon in Oak Lawn.
But 20 miles away, in the heart of Chicago, the man who helped build this team was in a hospital bed at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago starting a journey where he will try to eat and talk again.
Longtime Richards swimming, diving and water polo coach Joel Staszewski , a.k.a. Coach Stu, had gastric bypass surgery performed in June and complications from a bacterial infection gave him stroke-like symptoms, robbing him of his ability to eat and speak. He nearly died because of those complications.
During Tuesday’s meet with Argo and Oak Forest, shirts designed by Bulldogs swimmer Sarah Coffman were sold, along with “The Stu Crew’s Lemonade Brew” and proceeds will go to the family. The coach’s wife, Jill, and children Emma (age 12), Timothy (4), Claire, Nora and Lillian (triplets who just turned 2 at the end of July) were the guests of honor.
Jill teared up when talking about the support the family has received during this trying summer.
“We don’t like being the center of attention, but we feel really blessed,” she said. “We may not be money-rich, but we are people-rich. The Richards community and the other teams have rallied around us. People are coming out of the woodwork who we never met to help us.  They’ve been sending cards to the hospital and cards to the house. We’ve had meals for months.’’
Some of those meals came from one Richards’ opponents – Argo.
Argo assistant coach Theresa Kelsey, a Shepard graduate who was coached by Stazewski on the age-group level, said her players donated money for food via Meal Train and has helped interim coach Cora Umecker by sending her some drills for practice.
“If you learn how to swim from Coach Stu, you learn a lot,” Kelsey said. “He’s always willing to help. He’s a nice guy and he’s been around our swimming community for so long that everybody is going to want to help him.’’
Oak Forest's team presented a check of $500 for the family.
Umecker, who said she had not coached in 13 years when she was an assistant at a high school in Georgia, expressed gratitude for the outpouring of love shown by opposing teams, but she also heaped praise on the Bulldog swimmers.
“Everyone wants to help out on this team because they love coach Stu,” she said. “They are trying to make things as easy as they can on me. This is a great group of girls.’’
The goal for just about everyone involved is for Staszewski to be healthy enough to make it to one of the meets late in the season.  Jill said “it’s a long road ahead.’’
She said the coach has lost between 65 and 70 pounds. He has spent his nights either at Little Company of Mary, the University of Chicago and, as of last Thursday, RIC.
He was not at his Mt. Greenwood home for his 41st birthday and missed Father’s Day, Timothy’s birthday and the triplets’ birthday.
Jill said he was in pretty good shape, was a ‘meat and potatoes kind of guy” and chose the surgery to relieve pain in his knees and ankles .
 “He was a heavy guy but he was very active,” she said. “He would swim and play water polo and come home and take our kids for bike rides every night and take family walks.’’
What figured to be a three-day stay in the hospital turned into three months at three different hospitals so far.
Jill is crossing her fingers that RIC is the best place for Joel.
“They’ve been voted No. 1 in the nation for 26 years in a row,” Jill said. “So we’re hoping for a miraculous improvement. He has a long way to go.’’
Jill added that prayers are welcome.
“We’ll take prayers for any religion – I think we have them all covered,” she said.