Home sales are up in Worth, and Chicago Ridge welcomes medical facility and ‘Survivor’

  • Written by By Dermot Connolly

Worth is experiencing a resurgence in home sales, and Chicago Ridge is looking forward to welcoming the band Survivor back to Ridgefest this summer, just two of the tidbits of information revealed by the mayors of both villages during talks at the Chicago Ridge Worth Chamber of Commerce luncheon on March 23.

Both mayors highlighted growth and development plans in their respective communities.

“We’re enjoying a resurgence in home sales,” said Werner. “There are three or four home sales every week, and many have been empty for over two years.

”We have absolutely surpassed number of building permit fees for this fiscal year too. It’s looking really good. Our neighborhoods are improving,” added Werner

Addressing chamber members at Jenny’s Steakhouse in Chicago Ridge, Werner added that, “the growth in population of the village has resulted both elementary schools in the village, and Worth Junior High School, are rapidly inching toward maximum capacity. “

In other positive economic news, Werner also said Worth is now part of the Cal-Sag Enterprise Zone, a state-supported program aimed at encouraging development. Toward that end, developers working within the zone are entitled to property tax rebates for five years.

“Work permit fees have also be cut in half for developers,” she said.                           

Werner said the village has also embarked on a transit-oriented development plan, taking a long-range look at ways to improve the area within a half-mile radius of the Metra train station at 110th and Depot Road. The mayor noted that the January opening of the Windy City Cannabis medical marijuana dispensary at 11425 S. Harlem Ave. was also good for the village.

“It opened with very little fanfare and no problems,” she said, adding that the only concern now is that it might not stay open. “There are not enough customers to support it,” she said, because of state restrictions on the types of illnesses that qualify for medical marijuana prescriptions.

“Only 5,000 people are signed up for medical marijuana and the dispensary developers were hoping for 100,000 people,” she said, pointing out that the dispensaries were opened as a four-year experiment, which might fail without enough clients.

The mayor said she recently contacted Gov. Bruce Rauner, seeking his support for expanding the number of conditions that qualify for medical marijuana in Illinois, but had not heard back from him.

When his turn came to talk, Tokar pointed to another type of medical facility, a cancer center that is being built in Chicago Ridge this year.

Six cancer specialists are partnering in the new two-story development going up at 10604 Southwest Highway. The mayor, who recently participated in a groundbreaking ceremony on the site, said there will be office space for 25-30 doctors in the two-story building. It is scheduled to be completed in May 2017.

“This kind of economic development builds on itself,” he said.

Other village developments include a Miller’s Ale House, which is being built on the site of the Tilted Kilt restaurant that closed last fall, outside Chicago Ridge Mall. Tokar said this will be only the third Miller’s in Illinois. He expects the casual restaurant to be more successful than the Tilted Kilt, which he said was the wrong fit for the location.

Tokar also discussed the Chicago Ridge Fire Department’s successful reopening of a long-empty firehouse last spring at 107th and Lombard Avenue. The building is now manned by part-time firefighters, and the mayor said it has resulted in a two-minute reduction in response times.

He credited Fire Chief George Sheets with starting the part-time firefighter program, in which the part-timers are trained exactly the same as the full-time staff. Chicago Ridge also has paid on-call firefighters.

“It is saving the town a bundle while providing the same protection,” said the mayor, noting that the village received an award from the Illinois Public Employee Labor Relations Board for being able to successfully combine full-time and part-time firefighters,

He also thanked Oak Lawn Mayor Sandra Bury, who was at the luncheon, for sharing Sheets, who splits his time between the two communities.

He said that arrangement also has saved Chicago Ridge $80,000 annually.

Regarding Ridgefest, the popular summer festival, held the last weekend in July, Tokar revealed that Survivor will be playing on the Saturday date of the festival.

This signals a return to big-name entertainment that the fest used to be known for. Last year, when local acts were featured, the fest netted a profit of more than $18,000, after losing money the year before. But Tokar pointed out that over the fest’s 25-year history; it has generated about $1.25 million for local charities.

“We expect it to be a great success again this year, although I just heard we are competing with Lollapalooza,” he said.

Prostitute sentenced to 15 years for killing Brother Rice teacher

  • Written by By Dermot Connolly

A prostitute was sentenced last Thursday to 15 years in prison for the second-degree murder of Brother Rice High School teacher Al Filan in his Orland Park home.

Alisha Walker, 23, was convicted of the crime Jan. 14 in the same Bridgeview courtroom of Judge James Obbish. At most, she could have been sentenced to 20 years.

Filan, 61, taught at Brother Rice for nearly 40 years, heading the school's business studies department, and coaching basketball and soccer. He also had coached soccer at Andrew High School for more than 10 years.

Following the sentencing, people posting on a Facebook page entitled Remembering Al Filan, argued that she got off easy. She will be credited with the two years she has already served since being arrested in a Fort Wayne, Ind., motel soon after Filan’s body was found in his home on Jan. 18, 2014.

Walker will also be entitled to day-for-day credit toward her sentence.

“Only 15 years for murdering another person. Where is the justice in this? She will be out in six to seven years. Our justice system does not value life anymore,” commented Bill Dekker.

According to testimony given at her trial, Walker stabbed Filan 14 times after they argued inside his home in the 9400 block of Georgetown Square. She and Filan met through the website, and had previous sexual encounters.

They had allegedly arranged for Walker to bring another prostitute with her, which she did. Prosecutors maintained that Filan agreed to pay the women $150 each for a half-hour of sex.

But according to reports, Filan argued because the woman did not look like the person advertised in

Walker’s attorney, Patrick O’Byrne, asserted that Walker acted in self-defense after Filan’s request for a threesome and unprotected sex was denied.

Walker said in a taped statement to police that was played at her trial that Filan physically attacked her, and she wrestled the knife from him.

But prosecutors said there were no defensive wounds on her when she was interviewed five days later.

Filan's family asked that Obbish impose the maximum sentence.

Addressing the family, Walker is quoted as saying in her only statement from the stand, "I never intended for this to happen. All I can do is apologize to you.”


Oak Lawn officials approve plans to create monthly newspaper

  • Written by By Dermot Connolly

Oak Lawn officials have followed through on a proposal made at a Village Board meeting in February to create a monthly newspaper to keep residents up to date with all the goings-on in town.

The idea of having a village newspaper printed and mailed to every household was first brought up at the Feb. 23 Village Board meeting, where John Fanning, of Fanning Communications, explained how his company produces a monthly publication for the village of Crestwood.

Fanning proposed having a 20-page paper, with 80 percent of any advertising revenue generated by the publication would go to the village, with 20 percent going to his company.

Mayor Sandra Bury and most of the trustees spoke favorably about the idea, saying the newspaper would be a good way to provide information about what is going on the village, with the government, park district and library providing content. Local schools could also provide stories, too.

Bury and Village Manager Larry Deetjen said that many people, especially those without access to the Internet, are not receiving information about projects and activities going in Oak Lawn.

The plan is to have Fanning solicit advertising for the publication, which proponents say will soon pay for itself and even provide a profit for the village. But at the March 22 meeting, the board voted 5-1 to adjust the village budget to make about $35,000 available to cover start-up costs the first year.

“We’re counting on that advertising revenue to start coming in, (and cover any costs),” said Bury.

Village Attorney Patrick Connelly explained that the village still must solicit bids for the printing of the newspaper, and the first issue might come out in May.

Trustee Bob Streit (3rd) was the only dissenting vote, asserting that there is no need for a village newspaper.

But Bury said the village newspaper will not be competing with existing newspapers that cover breaking news. Instead, it will focus on providing informational items and features about the “good news” that happens locally.

The supporters of the newspaper say an official news source from the village without a political slant is needed to counteract various Internet blogs that do have a political agenda.

Fanning had said that everything from municipal bond ratings and real estate values can be affected by wrong information posted in blogs, and publications such as his would counter that.

The newspaper would supplement the “Village Matters” blog, which is only available to people with Internet access who sign up for it through the Everbridge application.

“It is not going to be my newspaper. It is going to be the village’s newspaper,” said Bury, denying Streit’s contention that the newspaper will just be a mouthpiece for the mayor and her allies.

The discussion became heated when Streit argued that the newspaper could end up costing the village $100,000, the amount of money he asserted Crestwood has lost on its newspaper.

“That is a scare tactic,” said Trustee Alex Olejniczak (2nd). Pointing at his shoes, he said, “I have a pair of Florscheims here that I promise to eat right here if we end up paying any more than $20,000 for this,” he said.

“Anything that is good for Oak Lawn, Trustee Streit is against it,” said Trustee Tim Desmond (1st). “So if he is against it, it must be good for the village,” before casting his vote in favor of the budget adjustment.

Former Evergreen Park official celebrates 99th birthday and active life

  • Written by By Sharon L. Filkins

Evergreen Park resident Anthony “Tony” Yukich celebrated his 99th birthday on March 17. How does one celebrate the passage of 99 years? If you do it Tony’s way, you have a week of parties and sometimes two in one day.

“We have had so much cake, we don’t know what to do with it,” his longtime companion, Virginia Wrobel, said with a smile.

Mayor James Sexton started the birthday ball rolling at the March 7 village board meeting where he honored Yukich for his 57 years of service to the Village. “He is a political “Godfather” to me, a mentor and a friend,” he said.

Yukich began his political journey when he joined the United Home Owners in 1959. Early on, he served as president and is currently still a member. In 1964, he was appointed to the Village’s Zoning Board where he served until 1967. He has served under three mayors: Henry Klein, Anthony Vacco and Sexton.

“Klein and I didn’t get along, said Yukich. “In one meeting, he called me a young punk because I questioned one of his decisions. When I questioned him again in another meeting, he addressed me the same way. I told him if he called me that again, he wouldn’t be sitting in the mayor’s chair at the next election.”

True to his word, Yukich worked the campaign to get Vacco elected mayor, a position he held for more than 30 years until he retired due to poor health. During those years, Yukich ran Vacco’s campaigns in each election year.

When Sexton ran for mayor in 2000, Yukich campaigned for him. “I had known Jim’s dad for many, many years and I was happy to help in his campaign. He’s a great mayor and very proactive in bringing economic development to our village.”

Elected a village trustee in 1967, Yukich served three full terms until 1979. In 1995, he responded to a request from Vacco to run for trustee again, and he served a second term of office, from 1995 to 2001.

On his 95th birthday in 2012, the village honored him with a proclamation for his five decades of service throughout the majority of the 20th century, and into the 21st century.

The proclamation reflected a deep affection for Yukich. It read in part, “We refer to our friend Tony lovingly as ‘the Godfather’ and as ‘The Dean Martin of Evergreen Park.’ He has been a friend, colleague, strategist, and mediator and has always done so with a twinkle in his eye, a smile on his face and an outstretched hand to help anyone in need.”

Yukich still attends every board meeting where a specially designed chair is reserved for him on the first row. Prior to each meeting, there is a steady stream of staff, trustees and residents greeting him with hugs, handshakes, and sometimes a kiss.

In the year 2001, the village honored Yukich by naming one of the largest parks in the community in honor of him and his wife, Fran, who died in 2000. The 20-acre property, now known as Yukich Field, is located at 8900 S. Kedzie Ave. It includes two ball fields, three soccer/football fields, a walking trail, ponds, two concession stands and the Daniel A. Capuano ice rink.

On the day of the dedication, Yukich, who was not told ahead of time about the naming of the field, said he got a call from the mayor (Sexton) who told him to get over to the field that day. “He told me to hurry, there is something going on.

“The mayor made it sound urgent, so I just grabbed an old jacket and ran over there,” recalls Yukich. “When I got there, I saw there were a lot of people and I wondered what was happening. One of the trustees saw my old jacket and said, ‘Tony, why are you wearing that old rag. Here take my jacket.’ So I put it on. The trustee wasn’t satisfied and went home and got a newer jacket, came back and gave me that one instead. I didn’t know what he was so worried about.”

Then Yukich said he saw all his family there and the mayor called out to him to come and see something. “When I got up to him, he unveiled the Yukich Field sign and I was just bowled over. I had no idea they were going to do that.”

Naming the park after Yukich was significant because in 1996, as a trustee, he was instrumental in guiding the village to purchase the land where the park now exists.

The property was owned by the cemetery, just north of 87th Street. When they put 33 acres up for sale, at a cost of $3.3 million, Yukich told then Mayor Vacco that the village should buy the property.

“The mayor thought I had lost my mind,” said Yukich, laughing. He said “Where do you think we will get that kind of money. We can’t do that.”

But Yukich convinced him it would be valuable to the village and that it could be done. “So we purchased the property and later we were able to sell part of it for commercial development and then were able to build the park on the remaining acreage. It was a good deal, and it did benefit the village,” he said.

Attending all the birthday celebrations with Yukich was his beloved companion, Wrobel. They have been together for 14 years. “She is a great lady. I don’t know what I would do without her,” said Yukich. “Let me tell you how I won her, he said, with a twinkle in his eye.

A few years after his wife had died, Yukich decided to attend a Senior’s New Year’s Eve party at the Martinique Club in Evergreen Park. “As I pulled into the parking lot, the Lord told me who I should look for,” he said.

He entered the party and began looking around all the tables. As he searched, a friend stopped him and tried to introduce him to a lady, but Yukich kept moving. “I knew who I was looking for.”

He finally spotted Virginia across the room and walked over to her table. Not wanting to appear too anxious, he first asked the woman sitting next to her to dance. “Fortunately, the lady said she couldn’t dance as she had an injured foot. So I turned to Virginia and asked her to dance. She said yes, and that was the beginning. Before the evening was over, I asked her if I could see her again, and to my surprise she said yes again.”

At this point, Virginia said “I was as surprised as he was. I went home thinking, oh my, what have I done? She had been widowed for a number of years and had had no thought of dating again.

Their first date was at the former House of Hughes restaurant. “We sat and talked for so long, the staff kicked us out because they were trying to close,” Virginia said. “It was the first time I had ever been thrown out of a place.”

Yukich asked to see her again and she responded with “Only if I can drive.” She laughed and said “he is a terrible driver.”

Wrobel and Yukich had known each other for years before they both lost their spouses. She had worked at the Village Hall as director of services and was instrumental in starting the Senior Council. “I would see him there often as he was in and out all the time as a trustee, but we never really socialized.”

While they maintain separate homes, they go everywhere together.

Yukich said that when they first started dating they didn’t go public with their relationship. “But one day, a village event was coming up and I went into the mayor’s office and told Jim that I was planning on bringing a date to the event. He said he was glad that I was moving on and that I should enjoy life. I didn’t tell him who I was seeing, so when Virginia and I walked in together, it was a big surprise. But everyone was really happy for us.”

They lead an active social life, attending all the senior activities and the board meetings. And, every Friday morning, Yukich meets a group of his fellow Croation buddies at the Jedi’s Garden Restaurant in Oak Lawn.

Yukich raised three sons: Bill, who lives in Mokena; Jim, who lives in California; and Bob, who died at a young age in an industrial accident. He has five grandsons, one granddaughter and 11 great-grandchildren. One of his great grandsons came in from California to surprise him at the family birthday celebration.

Wrobel said the reference to Dean Martin originated years ago because Tony looked a lot like Dean Martin when he was young, and he also had many connections in Hollywood and Las Vegas.

At 99 years of age, Yukich is in good health, does not even need glasses, and is very mobile. Asked to what he attributes his longevity, he laughed and said “Wine, lots of good wine.”

But then he turned to Wrobel and said “it is because of this wonderful lady who makes me eat right and makes sure I exercise,” he said with a smile.

Encourage women to get tested for chronic pain in abdominal region

  • Written by By Janelle Frost

A lot of women may experience menstrual cramps right before and during their menstrual periods, but for some women there might be more to the pain than mere discomfort.

One in 10 women of reproductive age is affected by a chronic disease called endometriosis, a disorder in which the type of tissue that forms the lining of the uterus, the endometrium, is found outside the uterus, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

With endometriosis, the tissue can be found on the ovaries, fallopian tubes or other organs in the pelvis. The misplaced tissue responds each month to the hormonal changes of the menstrual cycle. It builds up, breaks down and bleeds. But the blood has nowhere to go, according to Advocate Health Care officials. This causes surrounding tissue to become inflamed or swollen, and it can also cause scar tissue. Some of the symptoms include unusually severe menstrual cramping, serious cyclic pelvic pain and painful intercourse.

Endometriosis Awareness has been taking place across the world during the month of March to raise awareness about the disease that affects about 176 million women worldwide, according to the website Many women remain undiagnosed however, and are therefore not treated.

“I see patients everyday with pain where it might be endometriosis,” said Dr. Denise Elser, a urogynecologist at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn. “I see a lot with urinating pain and painful bowel movements where if they don’t get better with a muscle relaxer and physical therapy, I expect it’s endometriosis.”

Elser saw such a patient about a couple of weeks ago -- a 20-year-old college student who was athletic, but couldn’t work out or run for several months. She was treated for burning urination and pain with sex, but it wouldn’t get any better with antibiotics. She was diagnosed with endometriosis.

Elser said when there’s severe cramping that causes women to lose their quality of life – they miss school or work - then they should seek treatment.

“There are a lot of ways to treat (endometriosis),” said Elser, who has said most women with endometriosis tend to experience symptoms in their 20’s, but cases can appear during the teenage years or into the 30’s. “If it’s not treated it can lead to chronic pain and infertility. We want to catch it and prevent suffering from happening.”

She said the first line of treatments is hormone therapy, which may be an injection or oral birth control. And there’s also surgical treatment.

“You treat it like you would cancer,” Elser said. That would include hormone, surgery and chemotherapy. The ultimate treatment is to remove the ovaries, but “we don’t want to on young women unless there is no other option,” she said.

A new treatment is a hormone called letrozole, which Elser said shows great promise of treating endometriosis without side effects doctors have seen with other hormones.

“There are always new things on the horizon,” she said. “Scientists are always working on testing.”

There is no cure for endometriosis, but treatment can help reduce pain and infertility risk as well as improve overall quality of life, according to Advocate officials.

The cause of endometriosis is not clear, though genes may have something to do with it.

“It can run in families. There’s definitely a heredity trait,” said Elser, whose 20-year-old patient’s mom and aunt also have endometriosis. “Women might think that’s how the family is and don’t think to get it treated. I’ve seen women who’ve been to a gynecologist, complained about cramps, and told to take birth control pills and that was it. It was not explored further.”

Holly Brenza, Oak Lawn’s Advocate Christ Medical Center and Advocate Children's Hospital public affairs and marketing specialist, said she thinks she would not have explored her severe cramping any further and learned she had endometriosis if it wasn’t for a cyst growing on her ovary, which was causing a lot of pain.

Prior to that, she always had severe cramps, the same problem her mom had. Her mom told her that’s “what it is, what we go through as women.” But when Brenza, who was always in tears and couldn’t walk or stand up at one point, started complaining about the pain in her lower abdominal area to her mom, her mom realized that maybe it wasn’t normal. Brenza went to see her primary doctor and learned she had a large cyst on her ovary.

“I was 18 when I found out so I didn’t know too much about (endometriosis) at that point,” said Brenza, who was diagnosed with the illness in 2012, following her surgery. At the time, she was a freshman in college and worked part-time during the summer for Advocate Christ Medical Center physicians at their private practice.

She had surgery to remove the growth and was then started on birth control. She later had a second surgery in 2013 to remove the endometriosis growth as it had returned. Now she’s on a birth control that suppresses her menstrual cycle to four times a year.

“That’s what has been working best for me,” Brenza, 23, said. “Luckily I didn’t have to have any more surgeries. I’m having periods less, which means I have less pain. There is definitely an improvement with frequency of pain.”

Brenza sees her doctor every year. She and Elser encourage other women with endometriosis to be seen by their gynecologist on a regular basis.

“The most important thing is to stay on top of it,” Brenza said. “If you let it go, it’s going to get worst and come back. Make sure you are keeping your appointments and at least your annual checkups with a gynecologist. Be honest about the symptoms you are having, keeping a log with what happens helps. You’re in control. Don’t let it ruin your life.”