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Getting ready for a fun ride in six Reporter cities

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

 

COLOR--1-colJeffV There is a new sheriff in town.
  OK, that’s overstating it, but it’s something I always wanted to say.
  I am the new editor of the Reporter, taking over for Jason Maholy, who had this seat for the last decade. He leaves big shoes to fill but I have some really big feet.
  I have some ties and memories to each of the six communities:
  Oak Lawn: My dear wife Maggie (maiden name Fearon) and her family is from Oak Lawn and she and her sisters attended St. Linus and Mother McAuley. We just celebrated out 20th anniversary Wednesday. No need to send gifts. Her father, Tom Fearon, was an optometrist in town and his office was located across from the library.
  Chicago Ridge: My son T.J. and daughter Lauren played many school and travel basketball games and volleyball matches at Frontier Park. There were a lot of triumphs and a few disappointments on those courts for our family and teams the kids were on.
 Hickory Hills: I grew up watching Bob Luce Wrestling on Channel 26 and one of the first rasslers I saw was the “Golden Boy” Paul Christy back in the days when Dick the Bruiser, Moose Cholak and Baron Von Raschke were kings. Christy hailed from Hickory Hills when I was able to interview him in the 1980s.
 Evergreen Park: I was able to cover Evergreen Park’s softball team, coached by Marilyn Wax, when the team finished fourth in the Class A State Tournament in 1986. Michelle Stine was the top pitcher for the Mustangs.
  Palos Hills: In the late 1970s, I was in high school and had to cover Lincoln-Way-Stagg boys basketball game for the Joliet Herald-News. It was the first time I ever had to go to the school and I got lost. I made it right at tipoff and didn’t have my jacket off. I was in no way prepared or had my bearings but God bless the Chargers for pulling a stall in the entire first quarter and there were only like one or two shots in the first eight minutes of the game. Some fans shouted “boring, boring” but I was most grateful.
  Worth: A few months ago, I got to know Worth’s Mike Recchia who has gone from the minor leagues to the independents leagues to the minor leagues to the independent leagues and it now back in the minor leagues again with the White Sox. He’s a kid worth rooting for. I also got to know a gymnast from town, Skylor Hilger, who could be one of the best in the state in coming years. She’s also a pretty good softball player, too.
  So this is going to be fun.
  A little bit about myself — I was born and raised in Joliet. I have had bylines in or worked for just about every paper in the Chicago area. I have a strong sportswriting background. For 10 years I covered the Chicago Cubs and was in the visiting clubhouse in Houston the night the White Sox won the World Series and got my shirt and hair sprayed with champagne. I am proud to say I have a Hall of Fame vote.
  For the past 10 months, I was the reporter for the Regional covering Palos Heights, Palos Park and Orland Park. I had some opportunities to go north of the canal to cover an event or two including the touching Oak Lawn tribute to the Sandy Hook victims in December.
  As the so-called new sheriff in town, I’ll try to make a few changes to help out our readers. We turned the masthead blue last week. In future weeks, I hope we can take some of the library and senior notes and a few others things and package them city by city. In sports, Ken Karrson, Anthony Nasella and I will be making weekly football picks and are inviting readers to join in on the fun.
  Jason always did a nice job making the front page lively and exciting and I hope to follow in his footsteps. I hope our stories and headlines can grab your attention and make you want to read on. Granted, there might be a board or council meeting or two that are dry and sleep-inducing, but we’ll try.
  Each week, I’ll try to have some fun with this column, similar to what I’ve done for the Regional in which I wrote about everything from meeting the Soup Nazi from Seinfeld to the evils of roundabouts.
  The bottom line is that we’re your paper and we’re here for you. If you need to get a hold of us, the best way is via e-mail at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Facebook/website update
  During the transition between Jason and myself and the invaluable assistance from Brett Rush that I received during this time, we neglected our website (thereportneronline.net) and Facebook page. We ask that you take a look at them again and we’ll try to keep them updated. Please “LIKE” us on Facebook and come back often to the website.

Apologies ahead of time
  Also during the transition, there may have been something sent to us from a school or organization that we didn’t get in, let me apologize ahead of time if it fell through the cracks. The best way to get us your information is to email us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . If you get it to us the previous Friday, you should be golden. If you get it to us by Monday, you should be OK. Tuesday? Well, that’s a crapshoot and we can’t make any guarantees.
 Let’s all have some fun.

 

Could Oak Lawn become the next Detroit?

  • Written by Tim Hadac

Village’s financial health nearly on life-support; officials have recovery plans 

  Like bone-weary contestants at the end of a Depression-era dance marathon, Oak Lawn officials and several stalwart citizens staggered out of Village Hall and into the midnight air Wednesday.

  Well over four hours after the Village Board meeting was gaveled open at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, elected officials were admittedly exhausted. “We’re getting a little punchy here,” chuckled Mayor Sandra Bury as she explained a couple of minor procedural lapses on her part while trustees rushed towards the finish line by voting to postpone consideration of several matters.
  There was nothing humorous, however, in the main focus of the meeting: a stark assessment of Oak Lawn’s financial health, delivered by new Village Treasurer Pat O’Donnell in the wake of last week’s downgrading of the village’s general obligation bonds by Moody’s Investors Service.
  Figures provided by O’Donnell in his “Preliminary 5-Year Budget and Pension Impact’’ document show that while the current village budget of $49.6 million appears balanced on paper, the village is in fact running nearly $4.8 million in the red, thanks to underfunding of pensions and retiree medical plans.
  That annual shortfall, he stated, will balloon in the years to come, to as much as a projected $9.5 million in 2018.
  O’Donnell criticized past fiscal analyses conducted by the village, saying officials offered unfounded hope based on “rosy” revenue predictions and severely outdated actuarial tables that failed to take into account that as people continue to live longer, pension obligations increase.
  He said that Oak Lawn is in better fiscal shape than most other Illinois municipalities, yet he strongly cautioned trustees against “kicking the can down the road.” Inaction on funding pensions, he warned, will have a negative snowball effect and could result in financial catastrophe for the village.
  As a chilling example, he briefly discussed the fiscal crisis in Detroit and implied the same thing could definitely occur in municipalities across the nation—Oak Lawn included—if nothing is done.
  As a first step towards a remedy, O’Donnell proposed five steps for village government:
  • Obtain Village Board approval for the 2014 budget to include 90 percent of the actuarial-recommended pension payment, “which means we’re going to have to find an additional $5 million from somewhere,” he said.
  • Implement an immediate hiring freeze.
  • Freeze spending for 90 days on all new projects.
  • Put a freeze on any new loans for 90 days.
  • Declare a 90-day pay freeze for all non-union employees.
  He added that his analysis will be available online soon.
  Grim as it was, the analysis was praised by Village Manager Larry Deetjen, who called it “…adult talk, tough talk. It’s real.”
  Bury agreed, thanking O’Donnell and his team
  “I want to tell the residents of Oak Lawn…that I and several trustees on this board are committed to finding a way through this without raising property taxes,” Bury said, adding that pension underfunding “is the big gorilla in the room. We just can’t ignore it.”
  She said she plans to arrange a special meeting with local state legislators to enlist their aid.
  While there appeared to be consensus about the reality of the threat to the village budget, trustees battled their way though consideration of several cost-cutting ideas, including:
  • Outsourcing 911 services.
  • Switching from Blue Cross/Blue Shield to United Health Care Insurance.
  • Outsourcing senior citizen services to the Park District .
  • Eliminating specified vacancies in the current budget.
  • Abolishing the village’s Department of Business Operations, a move strongly objected to by Trustees Carol Quinlan and Bob Streit, who decried it as political payback against an employee who supported for Mayor Dave Heilmann is his losing re-election bid last spring.

In other board news:
  Bury announced that a new agreement with Advocate Christ Hospital and Medical Center—so new there was still no press release ready—will add $3.2 million to village coffers over the next several years.
  Developers Todd Berlingoff and Paul Sheridan of Hamilton Partners announced that plans for a new Mariano’s grocery store at 111th and Cicero are on track, with the store set to be constructed next spring. Other retailers and restaurants are expected to be a part of the landscaped development.
  Eagle Scouts J.P. Murphy and Jim Spoto were honored by the board for their service projects and earning the prestigious rank.
  Spoto collected over 700 pairs of used eyeglasses for the Evergreen Park Lions Club—a group that normally collects about a thousand in an entire year. The glasses are refurbished by the Lions’ Recycle for Sight Program and typically distributed to men, women and children in developing nations.
  Murphy’s project raised public awareness of the emerald ash borer, its devastating effect on ash trees, and practical steps people can take to eliminate the invasive insect and protect their trees.

 

A white-knuckle ride for Worth Days in ’03 and ’04

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

 

  The headline was ominous.PG4 WORTHDAYS12 2COLChloe and Trent Steffel of Frankfort take a white-knuckle ride at the 2012 Worth Days festival. In 2003 and 2004 village officials had a similar wild ride to keep the festival going.

  “End of Worth Days near?” was the headline in the Aug. 28, 2003 version of the Reporter.
  “Worth Days may only be a memory after this year’s celebration,” then-Reporter writer Jason Maholy wrote. “…unless a group is organized to raise money for the fest. The Worth Day Committee, which raises 98 percent of the funds for Worth Days, will be disbanded later this year because of a lack of volunteers…”
  Money was also an issue. The fest has been going on since the late 1940s and it appeared to be on its last gasp in 2003.
  As organizers get ready for the 2013 version, we all know the end did not happen. It was a white-knuckle ride for a little while but the fest survived.
  At the time, though, things didn’t look promising.
  “As it stands now, it’s no more Worth Days after Sept. 7,” committee member Betty Witte said in an editorial in the Aug. 28 edition of the paper.
  Worth Day Committee Treasurer James Kennelly, sensing the end was near, said the 2003 fest “should be the best, yet. We’ll go out with a bang.”
  All of this talk about the end of the Worth Days event did not sit well with then-Mayor Edward Guzdziol, who was determined to save the fest. He called a special meeting in late August and proclaimed “There will be a Worth Days in 2004.”
  Others weren’t so sure.
  “It’s not going to happen next year,” Worth Days Committee member Dean Cashman told the Reporter. “Unless you can just magically come up with 70 grand you can’t have the kind of fest you’re going to see this year. None of them have any idea on how to fund it.”
  The 2003 version of the fest did go out with a bang, but not the type Kennelly was talking about. A car crashed into the Worth Park District Terrace Center before the bingo event was to take place but no one was injured.
  In late September, Guzdziol, former mayor Dan Kumingo and 20 worth residents got together for another special meeting. Marrs-Meyer American Legion Post 991 officials said they would oversee the fest, which was scheduled to go through some changes, including change of dates and venue.
  Cashman remained unconvinced and said he didn’t think there would be a Worth Day festival in 2004.
  Eventually a new Worth Days Festival Commission was formed to replace the Worth Days Committee.
  On Sept. 9, 2004, Worth Days kicked off at the 115th Street and Beloit Ave. There was a charge for the carnival for the first time in the history of the fest to help defray some of the cost.
  “We wish we could have free rides but with our budget, it just wasn’t a possibility,” Guzdziol said.
  High school acts and smaller acts volunteered to entertain for free to help save more money. Approximately 150 people volunteered to help with the event.
  After it was over, Guzdziol called it a “perfect” weekend.
  The white-knuckle ride was over and the fest has lived on.

 

Saying bye-bye to Bleekers

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

 

REPORTER-COLOR-3-col-Bleek Hilary, Tim and Meggan Sterk pose in front of the iconic Bleekers Bowl and Liquor sign at 3447 W. 95th St. during the facility’s last day on Saturday. REPORTER-3-col-BenChicago’s Ben Sherpetis, who once had a 200-plus bowling average, rolled the worst game of his life on Saturday because he said there wasn’t enough oil on the lanes during the final day at Bleekers in Evergreen Park. He said he still had fun knowing he was bowling on a historic day.The Evergreen Park institution, which had opened in the 1940s, will be the future home of a Binny’s Beverage Depot according to Tim Sterk, Bleeker’s owner.
  The facility held its Last Blast event Saturday and into the early hours of Sunday and more people were there at the bar and outdoor patio area than in the bowling alley. “It was more of a celebration.” Meggan said.
  “It’s a great community and people have been very, very good to us,” Tim added.
  “I’ve been here pretty much all my life,” Hilary said. “There are a lot of great memories here. It will be interesting to see where we go from here.”Reporter-3-col-outsidePatrons enjoyed the outdoor gathering area Saturday night at the Last Bash during Bleekers final day.

Tennessee man allegedly boasts of .40 breath tests from previous arrest

  • Written by Brett Rush

 

  A Nashville, Tenn., man arrested for driving under the influence Aug. 4 allegedly bragged to Oak Lawn police of a higher blood-alcohol content during a previous alcohol-related arrest while he was “running moonshine” in his home state, according to police reports.

  Jay A. Ultsch, 54, and a companion, Scott L. Fitzgerald, 43, of Gary, Ind., were arrested around 1:15 a.m. after a traffic stop in front of a car dealership near 114th Street and Pulaski Road, according to reports.
  Police reportedly witnessed the red 1992 Ford F-150 pickup truck Ultsch was driving swerve into the left lane several times while heading south on Pulaski Road between 109th and 111th Streets.
  After police activated their squad car’s emergency lights, Ultsch stuck his hand out the window before driving up and over the curb while stopping the truck, according to reports.
  Police reportedly noticed a strong odor of alcohol and saw that Ultsch’s eyes were bloodshot and glassy while speaking with him. When asked where he lived, Ultsch reportedly told police his address was 1006 Cahal Avenue, despite his driver’s license showing an address of 1024 Cahal Avenue. When police asked Ultsch twice where he was coming from, Ultsch responded “that little market,” according to reports.
  Ultsch, who reportedly told police he drank two-and-a-half beers, dropped his foot several times during a roadside sobriety test before saying he thought he would “blow probably a six” during administration of the preliminary breath test, according to reports. Ultsch was reportedly unsuccessful in giving a sample for the preliminary breath test.
  As police arrested Ultsch and Fitzgerald — who had an outstanding warrant for a traffic offense — Fitzgerald allegedly struggled with police, shouting “get your hands off me before I pop you in your [expletive] mouth!”
  Police also found a 12-ounce bottle of Icehouse beer on the floor of the truck near the front seat, according to reports.
  During processing at the Oak Lawn police station, Ultsch and Fitzgerald reportedly discussed which officers they would like to fight before Ultsch took a preliminary breath test a second time. When told he registered a blood-alcohol level of .218, Ultsch reportedly said, “Is that all? I was a ‘four’ when I was running moonshine in Tennessee.”