Police suspect foul play in death of Rice teacher

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

  An icon from Brother Rice High School was found dead in his Orland Park home on Tuesday and police are investigating the possibility of foul play.
  Al Filan, 62, a longtime business teacher at the school and soccer coach in the area, was found dead at his Orland Park home in the 9400 block of Georgetown Square and multiple media reports say that the Orland Park Police Department is handing it off to the South Suburban Major Crimes Task Force for further investigation.
  “We don’t want to leave any stone unturned if there is any possibility [of] foul play,” Orland Park Commander John Keating told Sun-Times Media. I can’t confirm [it is a homicide]. It’s still classified as a death investigation at this point…’’
  An autopsy was scheduled for Wednesday, after The Regional Publishing deadline.
  A statement from Brother Rice said that Filan taught at the school for more than 39 years and “touched the lives of thousands of students.”
  Filan was also a veteran soccer coach and was a former head coach and assistant at Andrew High School in Tinley Park.
  Orland Hills’ Tim Neighbors, who was a goalie coach for Filan at Andrew for a couple of years, was shocked to hear the news.
  “One of my sons called us,” Neighbors said. “We were like ‘holy cow!’ You know people get up in age could have a heart attack or something like that. He was in his 60s. But to find out if it was foul play, I can’t believe it.’’
  Neighbors’ sons, Greg and Tim, played for Andrew in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
  “Al was more of a quiet coach — but like all of us he had him moments when he got loud,” Neighbors said. “And I’ll tell you what — he always faced the stiffest competition. He never backed down from a challenge and the teams we played were loaded.’’
  Marist High School held a moment of silence for Filan before the boys basketball game between the RedHawks and Brother Rice on Tuesday night.

St. Bernadette needs $500,000 to stay open

  • Written by Bob Rakow

  St. Bernadette Catholic Academy 2-col-St.-BThe doors at St. Bernadette Catholic Academy likely will be closed next school year, but Evergreen Park Mayor Jim Sexton and school officials are talking about a financial plan to save the school. Photo by Bob Rakow.officials and Evergreen Park Mayor Jim Sexton are examining a series of options designed to prevent the school from closing its doors at the end of the year.

  Sexton, principal Arlene Baumann and the Rev. Benedykt Pazdan, St. Bernadette’s pastor, met Thursday to discuss ways in which $500,000 could be raised to keep the school open.
  “I’m really not at liberty to discuss the options,” Sexton said.
  Sexton called for the meeting after parents were informed on Jan. 10 by the Archdiocese of Chicago that the 64-year-old school would be closed due to struggling finances. The news was delivered by Sr. Mary Paul McCaughey, superintendent of Catholic schools for the archdiocese, at a parents-only meeting in the school hall. Sexton attended the meeting at a parent’s request.
  Sexton said the school, which has experienced declining enrollment over the past few years, needs $500,000 to remain open for the next three years. The school currently has less than 100 students.
  The school, 9311 S. Francisco Ave., must look to large donations rather than fundraising within the parish community in order to achieve the goal, he said.
  “We’re looking to get some partnerships with some people,” said Sexton, who would not identify potential business partners. “You’ve got to come up with a couple big donors.”
  Sexton admitted that raising a significant amount of money in a short period of time will be difficult, but is not ready to give up on the school’s future.
  “Never say never,” he said.
  Archdiocesan officials said that financial plans must be submitted by Friday.
  Pazdan could not be reached for comment, and Baumann was hesitant to discuss the meeting.
  “We’ll see what happens,” she said.
  She added that raising money to keep the doors open for another year is not sufficient and likely would not be approved by the diocese, which she described as “cautious” about plans to save schools slated for closure.
  “To come up with money for one year is not enough. We’ve got to wait and see.”
  She added that the school would require long-term marketing and financial plans to keep it sustainable for several years.
  “If something happens, I’ll be dancing down 95th Street,” Baumann quipped.

  Over the past five years, the Chicago Archdiocese has contributed more than $100 million to operate its school system over and above what local parishes contributed. Continued support at that level is unsustainable, the diocese said in a statement.

  The families of the 775 children affected by the closures of St. Bernadette and five other elementary schools will be encouraged to transfer their children to nearby Catholic schools and offered tuition discounts to offset any inconvenience, the diocese said.

Palos Heights man charged with abduction in Oak Lawn

  • Written by Bob Rakow

  A Palos Heights man was charged Jan. 13 with child abductionLoftus-Terrence-Child-Abduc-attempt-pick-upTerrence Loftus after he tried to convince a high school girl to enter his car, Oak Lawn police said.
  Terrence P. Loftus, 59, drove alongside a 17-year-old girl who was walking home from school near 92nd Street and Kilpatrick Avenue and asked if she needed a ride, reports said.
  The girl declined the ride, but Loftus continued to follow her and was persistent in his attempt to continue a conversation, police said. He also motioned for her to get into the car, they said.
  The girl reached her home and locked herself inside, according to reports. She memorized the license plate number of the Chrysler that Loftus was driving. The car was registered to an 86-year-old-woman, reports said.
  Last Friday, Oak Lawn police picked up Loftus, who is the son of the woman who owned the car, police said. Loftus matched the composite drawing provided by the student. He was identified by the student in a lineup the next day.
  The Cook County State’s attorney approved one count of child abduction because the offender intentionally attempted to lure a child, traveling from secondary school, into a car without the consent of a parent for other than a lawful purpose, police said.

Jeff Vorva's Editor's Notebook: Even this Olympic-sized grump will have an interest in games

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

jeff columnThe sports fan in me has no use for the Olympics.
  If I don’t care about sports such as figure skating, skiing and sports where they shoot guns while they are on skis for three years and 11 months, why should I get all excited about them during the Olympics?
  Call me a grump and a grouch but I really don’t feel better about myself as an American because our ice dancers outpointed the ice dancers from Japan. Someone’s triple axel will not solve the unemployment problem or pension crisis going in our country and state.
  Don’t even get me started on the politics and the cesspool of corruption over the years from Olympic officials, and word is that the coming Olympics in Sochi could be the most corrupt in history.
  The writer/editor in me thinks the Olympics are wonderful. I am a guy who prides himself on trying to tell great stories about people and the Olympics certainly provide more than enough great stories. Emotions run high. The triumphs are great. The disappointments are monumental.DR-Page-3-2-col-bonnie-now-for-JV-COLOlympics legend Bonnie Blair talks to Stagg students Friday afternoon. Photo by Jeff Vorva.
  Just to get to the Olympics, there are plenty of cheers and tears. An athlete has to work hard to reach that elite level. Even the people on snowshoes shooting guns have fascinating tales to tell.
  Another drama to getting to the big games is timing. You have to be at your top form at just the right time because this event takes place every four years. If an athlete peaks in 2013 or 2015? Oh well. You are out of luck, pal.
  Legendary Olympic speed skater Bonnie Blair was in Palos Hills last Friday to give a motivational talk to students at Stagg High School and it was a very cool assignment. I was able to chat with her afterward and I didn’t feel like I was interviewing an ex-athlete. I felt like I was talking to a historic figure.
  The sports fan in me wouldn’t watch speed skating. The reporter in me was honored to be able to spend a few minutes talking to Bonnie Blair, who these days goes by Bonnie Cruikshank.
  One of the things she told the Stagg kids was about working as hard as you can and then work a little harder. She talked about the 5 a.m. wakeup calls for practice. She talked about the heartbreak of races she lost.
  All good stuff. Great stories abound from Blair and the Olympic athletes in the past and many more are waiting to be written.
  So as the 2014 Olympics approach in a couple of weeks, the sports fan in me is ready for another long yawn while the editor/reporter in me has a couple of reasons to pay close attention.
  First, there is former Sandburg student and Palos Heights resident Kendall Coyne. She is on the United States women’s hockey team. The fact that she is a local star is great. The fact that her brother, Kevin, is a freelance reporter for us here at Regional Publishing makes it that more special.
  We’re hoping that if Kevin gets to make the trip to Sochi, he will be able to write some columns and stories for us. Now, there is a chance that he will have an undying sense of duty to stay home and cover Chicago Ridge and Moraine Valley meetings instead of watching his sister try to win a gold medal…just kidding.
  Second, I was able to interview figure skater Jason Brown of Highland Park before he qualified for the Olympics and he couldn’t have been nicer to talk to. If this kid medals, he will be a huge international celebrity. It’s always fun for some writers to brag to anyone who will listen that “I knew so-and-so before he was a big star.’’ So I may, gulp, actually watch some figure skating with interest.
  I was hoping Palos Hills’ Katie Eberling would get a shot to be on the U.S. bobsled team. Some speculated that she would be a lock to make the team but this weekend she was passed over in favor of, among others, former track star Lolo Jones.
  So I won’t shout from the mountaintops “BRING ON THE GAMES!!!” but when they get here, I’ll give it a couple of looks.

Just another hockey mom?

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

Look and listen closer — this one has a heavy medal background

 A hockey mom from Wisconsin named DR-page-3-2-col-bonnie-colOrland Park’s Christine Collins, from left, Bonnie Blair, Shannon Collins and Amanda Collins pose for a photo with one of Blair’s gold medals after Blair’s speech in Palos Hills. Blair is Christine’s aunt and Shannon and Amanda’s great aunt. Photo by Jeff Vorva.Bonnie Cruikshank was in the area for most of the weekend.
  She spent some time at the Arctic Ice Arena in Orland Park with her husband, Dave, cheering on their son, Grant, in a hockey tournament.
  She wore bells.
  She had horns.
  “You have to come with your toys,” she said.
  For the most part, she was able to roam around without people knowing that she was more than just a hockey mom.
  Her maiden name is Blair. Bonnie Blair.
  Yes, that Bonnie Blair.
  Blair is a former Olympic speedskater who is one of the most decorated athletes in United States history with five gold medals and one bronze in her collection. She competed in four Olympics with her last one coming 20 years ago.
  For a span of a decade, fans of the Olympics seemingly watched her grow up before their eyes and then she was gone from the public eye for 20 years, save for winning awards, bring named to various Halls-of-Fame and giving motivational speeches.
  Blair took some time on Friday to stop by in Palos Hills and give a speech to Stagg High School students, hours after watching her son play. She is a couple of months shy of 50 and many people walk by her without knowing they were in the presence of a legend.
  But she said some do recognize her.
  “There are some people who do know who I am and people are very good to me,” she said. “They will come up and either congratulate me for representing the country or compliment me about my son.
  “I’m pretty approachable and I didn’t do anything bad. But there are a lot of people who walk by me and they don’t know. It has been awhile. But the funny thing is that my voice can sometimes be a dead giveaway. People will say ‘I know that voice from somewhere.’ ”
  Around the Orland and Palos area, she is known as Aunt Bonnie to some.
  Blair’s niece is Christine Collins of Orland Park. Her great nieces are Shannon Collins, a former Stagg student now attending St. Xavier University, and Amanda Collins, a junior at Stagg who helped bring her famous aunt to the school to speak to some of her classmates in the school’s auditorium.
  Although Shannon and Amanda never took to ice sports, they are both proud of their aunt’s accomplishments, even though all of her history was made before they were born.
  “It is very cool because you go to her house and she has this huge coffee table with all of her gold medals,” Amanda said.
  Blair also has a daughter named Blair.
  “Don’t worry — she is Blair Cruikshank not Blair Blair,” Blair said.
  Blair Cruikshank is a gymnast and Blair said “It’s different being involved in a sport where you are being judged,” she said.
  And being a hockey/gymnastics mom is a learning experience.
  “There are so many emotions you go through sitting there and you can’t control anything,” Blair said. “Now I know what my mother has gone through all of those years.”