Hundreds wait hours for old man who needs the money

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

  Bears legend Mike Ditka was scheduled topage-4-3-col-ditka-signingWith several bottles of his brand of wine on the table, Mike Ditka signs for fans at Binny’s in Evergreen Park last Wednesday as a part of a grand opening celebration. Photo by Jeff Vorva. be at Binny’s Beverage Depot in Evergreen Park at 6 p.m. last Wednesday for a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

  Long before the man some call “Da Coach” walked through the doors, Binny’s officials had the rough task of turning people away after the store reached its limit of 300 people who snaked through the aisles of booze to wait for his signature. Some waited six hours.

  Ditka, who coached the Bears to the Super Bowl title in 1985, still appreciates being able to draw a big crowd.

  “Am I surprised? I’m absolutely surprised and humbled,” Ditka said. “I don’t understand it, but, hey, I’m an old man and I need the money. We have to sell this [Ditka brand] wine.’’
  When it was pointed out to him that not many old men could generate a crowd like that, Ditka retorted “Oh yeah — Bill Clinton can.”

  Oak Lawn resident Liz O’Neill stood in line for a couple of hours to get Ditka’s autograph five days before the Bears retired his number in a ceremony at Soldier Field.
  “Growing up, he was like a national hero at our house,” O’Neill said. “He’s an institution in Chicago. He’s the real deal. He was telling us in line ‘come on guys, pick it up.’ I thought that was real cute.”
  O’Neill had Ditka sign a huge Bear head that she had to bring in a suitcase.
  “I bought it at a garage sale about 10 years ago,’’ she said. ‘’It cost about $30. My old boss was trying to get rid of her husband’s man-cave stuff and asked me if I wanted it and I said ‘yeah — this would be great for my dad.’ ’’

  Her father, Pete, has passed on and she kept the Bears head and has autographs from Ditka on one side and Bears Hall of Famer Dan Hampton on the other side of it.

  And who would have guessed that the first guy in line for Ditka’s scribbles would be a man from Green Bay Packer country?

  Milwaukee’s Dave Allen waited six hours to have Ditka sign several canvas prints of Ditka flipping off a photographer.

  “I’m a football fan, I don’t care who it is,” Allen said. “I like Ditka because he’s a classy guy and a class act. I’ve met many [celebrities] before — baseball players, football players — and there is no one like him. I don’t want to name names but [Packers QB] Aaron Rodgers was cool when he was a backup quarterback. Now he’s got the big head and the big money.”

  Speaking of big money, Ditka’s appearance raised close to $15,000 for the Christmas Without Cancer charity. For more information on the charity, see Page 3.

Ready for the handoff

  • Written by Bob Rakow

Worth Days could be in park district’s hands Jan. 7

The village of Worth is close to handing off PAGE 3 3 col worth daysA woman hands out balloons during the 2013 Worth Days parade. The village is expected to hand the festival’s responsibilities to the park district in January. Photo by Jeff Vorva.control of the annual Worth Days fest to the park district.
  Village and park district officials are fine tuning an intergovernmental agreement that has been in the works for several months.
  “There are a lot of legalities,” Mayor Mary Werner said. “There’s a lot of details to be worked out.”
  Werner said issues regarding insurance, liquor licenses and control of the fest grounds have to be ironed out before the park district can take over. The village board is expected to approve the agreement at its Jan. 7 meeting, she said.
  The village ran the fest for several years after a non-profit committee turned over control of the event. But much of the planning and execution fell to the village clerk, public works department and other employees.
  “Doing it ourselves is very taxing on the employees,” Werner said.
  Trustees in October agreed that the park district is better suited to sponsor the annual festival.
  “It just seemed to make sense,” Werner said.
  Planning for the August fest begins in February with the booking of entertainment and vendors as well as garnering volunteers the top priorities, Werner said.
  Park District Director Carlo Capalbo said he’ll serve as the point man for the organization of the fest with park district department heads taking on specific roles.
  “This is in our realm,” Capalbo said, adding that the district is accustomed to planning and hosting events.
  The park district is no stranger to the annual festival, as it has run the children’s attractions for the past few years.
  Park district funds will not be used to fund any portion of the fest, he said. Instead, fundraising and money generated at the fest are used to pay for the event.
  Capalbo said the district will rely on the village pull off a successful fest. He added that the district is not interested “recreating” what is already a successful event.
  “We’re still going to rely very heavily, as the village did, on volunteers,” Capalbo said.
  Turning the festival over to the park district does not mean the village won’t stay involved. Instead, village officials and employees will continue to volunteer at the event, Werner said.
  The 2014 edition of the festival will be especially significant as it will be part of the village’s 100th anniversary celebration, Werner said.
  The village is planning a series of events throughout the year to celebrate its centennial, similar to neighboring Chicago Ridge, which is also celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2014.

Jeff Vorva's Editor's Notebook: Neylon stocking up on donations for Christmas Without Cancer

  • Written by Jeff Vorva


jeff column  No one was there to ask Gerri Neylon for her autograph.
  They weren’t waiting in line for hours to say “hello’’ or “great job’’ to her.
  There were no TV cameras pointed at her or media types asking her if she thinks she is bigger than the Beatles.
  No, on this Dec. 4 night on the opposite side of the room, all of that attention and adulation went to Bears legend Mike Ditka. The former tight end and coach was at Binny’s Beverage Depot in Evergreen Park to sign autographs for a couple of hours after he and EP Mayor Jim Sexton sliced a red ribbon with a pair of hedge clippers during the store’s grand opening.
  Ditka was the man of the hour and there was no doubt about that aspage-3-2-col-jv-colGerri Neylon’s group, Christmas Without Cancer, can ring bells of joy as it benefitted from Bears legend Mike Ditka’s appearance at Binny’s Beverage Depot’s grand opening in Evergreen Park on Dec. 4. The event raised close to $15,000 for her charity. Photo by Jeff Vorva. approximately 300 people got to meet him and several people were turned away.
  But I think Neylon was the woman of the hour at Binny’s even though it’s doubtful that anyone in line even knew who she was.
  Not that she’s complaining. The founder of the Evergreen Park-based Christmas Without Cancer charity was thrilled that Ditka’s appearance at Binny’s benefitted her organization. Between a $10,000 check from Binny’s and $4,695 raised in signatures, Christmas Without Cancer came away with close to a $15,000 payday.
  The charity is in its 10th year. It will help seven families during the 2013 holiday season including families from Evergreen Park, Hickory Hills and Oak Lawn, giving them gift cards for gas, groceries and medications and provides emotional support, home repairs and car repairs.
  “Never in a million years did I ever think this would take off like this,” Neylon said.
  Neylon is a longtime Oncology nurse at Christ Hospital who had her heart aching and breaking in 2003 from one woman’s plight.
  “I had a young patient in her 20s who was married and expecting her first baby and she was diagnosed with a lung sarcoma, and right before the holidays she found that the cancer was going to her brain,” Neylon said. “She was very devastated. So was her husband.
  “I just felt like I had to do something for her. I called a few friends and in a matter of days we had two or three vans full of stuff for the family. She passed away that June. The following months, her family called and said ‘let’s keep this up.’ We would help a family a year but then it caught on. This community is awesome. I’ve had many gifts from God. It has taken on a life of its own.”
  The group had several fundraisers throughout the year netting more than $20,000.
  The Ditka/Binny’s bonanza was a surprise treat for the organization.
  “This is a first,” Neylon said. “We’re so honored that Binny’s partnered with us and that Mike Ditka is here. But the community’s outpouring and generosity is what impresses me the most.
  “It inspires me to help even more people. It really does.’’

10K race added in Palos Heights
  As if hosting a half marathon isn’t enough, officials in Palos Heights have doubled their pleasure and have added another race on May 4.

  The First Midwest Bank Half Marathon will now be known as the First Midwest Bank Half Marathon and 10K. Race directors Jeff Prestinario and Mel Diab said they consulted with their committees and think the new race will attract more runners to the event. Last year, it drew about 2,000 athletes — many from around the area.
  Committee meetings start in January for the race and we will bring readers updates on the plans for the race as they unfold in the coming months.

Toyota needs turf
  Last week, I wrote about Toyota Park in Bridgeview falling short on a bid to host the Illinois High School Association and, instead, it went to Huskie Stadium in DeKalb for every odd year until 2021. It will continue to be held at Memorial Stadium in Champaign through 2020.
  IHSA Official Matt Troha said a criteria the state was looking for in a hosting stadium was artificial turf and Toyota Park still has natural grass.
  The Bridgeview facility still has a few years to make itself fake if it wants to get in on the action.

Don it, it was the wrong Pratlpage4-1-col-with-jv-colThis is the real Don Pratl.
  Haste makes waste and last week the Reporter editor, whomever that is, needed to find a quick photo for a page 3 story as deadline was drawing dangerously close. So, he found a photo that said “Pratl” on it and ran it, identifying the man as Don Pratl.
  It was the wrong Pratl. It was actually his brother, Rob, in that photo.
The correct photo of Don Pratl is here.
  The kicker is that the editor, whomever that is, went to Lewis University with Don. Even then, Don was looking to get involved and make changes as he was the school’s student government president back in the early 80s.


Stagg evacuated after smell in math class doesn’t add up

  • Written by Kelly White

  District officials are still Page-2-3-col-photoStagg High School was evacuated last week after a reported gas leak. Photo by Kelly White.puzzled over a leak that evacuated Stagg High School last week.

  Stagg resumed classes last Thursday morning after a natural gas leak was reported on Wednesday afternoon. Six students and one staff members became sick, prompting an evacuation of the high school in Palos Hills, after they reported a smell within their math class and were transferred to local hospitals, according to officials.
  But it’s not clear what actually was leaking.
  “The source of the unusual smell is still under investigation,” District 230 official Carla Erdey said Monday. “The North Palos Fire Protection District completed testing when the smell was reported that evening and again the next morning and has not detected anything unusual.
  “The district also completed air testing on Friday throughout the weekend and has not pinpointed a source for the smell. The District continues to work with local authorities to investigate the source of the smell. Following thorough inspections and testing by North Palos Fire Protection District and area first responders as well as Nicor Gas, safety officials are confident that the Stagg High School building is safe.”
  Stagg, located at 8015 W. 111th St., was evacuated as a precautionary measure around 1 p.m. last Wednesday afternoon.
  District 230 officials responded swiftly to the strange odor discovered in the mathematics classroom, and all of the students were escorted to three nearby churches — New Beginnings, Sacred Heart Church and Saints Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Church until being dismissed at 3 p.m.
  First responders arrived on the scene shortly after the 1 p.m. emergency phone call was made, and the Palos Hills Police Department had blocked off Roberts Road, south of 111th St., with the school being on the southwest corner of that intersection.
  Aside from the North Palos Fire Department, several surrounding area first responders arrived on site including: Orland Park, Evergreen Park, Hometown and a HAZMAT team from Bedford Park. EMS first responders also arrived on site from surrounding areas, including: North Palos, Roberts Park, Bridgeview, Chicago Ridge and Palos Heights. Three Nicor trucks also responded to the call, according to Stagg school officials. The emergency vehicles began leaving the school grounds shortly after 2 p.m., according to school officials.
  Seven people were transported by ambulance from the school — six students and one staff member. These individuals were transported as a precaution.
  “I would like to commend the Stagg High School administration, staff and students for working together in order to maintain a safe environment during this situation,” said District Superintendent James Gay in a statement.
  Officials are still uncertain what caused the odor was, but they have determined that it was not natural gas.
  • In other Palos Hills news, police officer Corey Quiroz was recognized for the off-duty actions he performed in another suburb. He stopped a road rage incident in October while off-duty in Lemont. The officer was just passing through the area on Oct. 13, when witnessing the incident involving two subjects.
  “The aggression (in the incident) was beating the victim with the baseball bat,” Alderman Martin Kleefisch (1st Ward) said at last Thursday’s city council meeting.
  Quiroz immediately stopped and identified himself as a police officer and was able to stop the attack. He held the offender until the Lemont Police Department arrived on the scene, to prevent further injury to the victim.
  “As a result of his actions, the offender was taken into custody, and the victim was safe from any life-threatening injuries,” Kleefisch added.
  Lemont Police Chief Kevin Shaughnessy addressed a thank-you letter, on behalf of the Lemont Police Department, to Officer Quiroz and Chief Paul Madigan stating officer Quiroz represented himself and the Palos Hills Police Department to the highest of standards.
  “Please extend our thanks for his prompt and professional actions at this matter,” Shaughnessy said, “It is to be commended.”

No Christmas Carol for Bury

  • Written by Bob Rakow

Mayor and her blog blasted
at fiery OL board meeting

  Blogs and ballot initiatives led to some angry outbursts Tuesday night between Oak Lawn Mayor Sandra Bury and her political opponents on the village board.

  Early in the meeting, Trustee Carol Quinlan said that Bury’s blog, which formally launched in October, should not include village hall’s address and phone number.
  “It’s not a village blog. It’s political,” Quinlan said.
  Quinlan said she thought the mayor’s blog would report village news, but instead it includes personal and political attacks.
  “It’s is not an Oak Lawn blog,” she said.
  Bury previously has said that the village hall contact information is on the blog so residents know how to reach her. She also defended the content of her blog.
  “Everything on there is factual. My name is on it, and people have a right to know what their mayor’s position is,” Bury said. “I will state my feelings on issues.”
  Bury asked Quinlan if she was specifically concerned about a recent blog post that reported on the trustee’s proposal at the Nov. 26 board meeting to delay a vote on spending for the senior center.
  “(Quinlan) proposed turning the day-to-day operations of the senior center over to senior volunteers, senior employees who ‘wouldn’t cost that much’ and reducing the services that Genesis currently provides seniors,” according to the blog.
  Quinlan would not respond to Bury’s inquiry, saying only that she wanted the village hall contact information removed.
  “So even though you make allegations, you have nothing to substantiate them,” Bury said.
  At the Nov. 26 meeting, Quinlan said members of the village’s senior commission are seeking more responsibility and relying on them would reduce the $85,000 paid to Genesis, the organization the currently provides senior services.
  Bury disagreed.
  “I really think $85,000 for seniors is not enough,” Bury said. “I would like to see more for them not less.”
  Tuesday’s brief exchange between Bury and Quinlan paled in comparison to the one between the mayor and Trustee Bob Streit, which came as the trustee made remarks in opposition to term limits.
  The board voted 4-2 in favor of placing on the March ballot a referendum asking voters to decide if the village should adopt term limits for mayor, village clerk and trustees.
  Streit and Quinlan voted against the measure, which would limit village board members to three consecutive terms in a single office beginning with those elected or re-elected in 2015.
  Streit said he opposed term limits and added that the village should seek residents’ input via referenda on other public policy questions such as outsourcing 911 dispatchers.
  Trustees voted at the Nov. 26 meeting to outsource the 911 emergency communications services to Norcomm, a private dispatch center located in Franklin Park.
  Bury chastised Streit for straying from the issue of term limits during his remarks, which angered the trustee.

  “Please stop interrupting,” Streit told the mayor. “My points are very much to the point, very much to the issue before us.”
  “Do your comments pertain to term limits?” said Bury, who added that she wanted Streit to stay on topic.
  Streit said an elected official can make his or her own pledge to serve a limited number of terms.
  “The voters can decide whether they want to keep you or not,” he added.

  He then asked if voters should be asked via referendum about the level of fire department staffing.
  “Trustee Streit, you are out of order,” Bury said.

  “How about if we ask if we should have mayoral recall? We know the answer to that. That would pass overwhelmingly,” Streit replied.