Local youths make cards at Evergreen Park Library for hospitalized children

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

claire cushing photo 9-15

Photo by Kelly White

Claire Cushing, 3, of Evergreen Park, is working hard on her handmade cards for hospitalized children at the Evergreen Park Public Library.

Evergreen Park Public Library’s youth patrons have extended their hearts in a project geared toward hospitalized children.

On Sept. 7, 20 library patrons, consisting of young children and their parents, gathered at Evergreen Park Public Library, 9400 S. Troy Ave., to make handmade cards for hospitalized children.

The cards were created out of construction paper with markers, colored pencils and crayons – each with an uplifting and encouraging message written inside and a drawing on the front.

“This was a great event to get the kids actively involved in something important,” said Evergreen Park resident Colleen Cushing.

Cushing attended the event with her two children, Charlie, 5, and Claire, 3.

“This is a lot of fun,” Claire Cushing said as she sprinkled her card with glitter.

The event was free and open to the general public. It was organized and guided by Laura Meyer, the children's librarian.

“Kids love to make cards and be creative so it's fun for them to make cards for someone else,” Meyer said. “It also gives them a chance to brighten the day of another child.”

Meyer contacted Cards for Hospitalized Kids, a non-for-profit organization based out of Chicago. She said that the organization is an internationally recognized charitable organization that spreads hope, joy and magic to hospitalized kids across America through uplifting, handmade cards. The program has been running for five years and at the discretion of the organization, over 100,000 children in hospitals in all 50 states have received a personalized card through the organization thanks to volunteers like those at Evergreen Park Public Library.

Meyer personally sent the 100 handmade cards to Cards for Hospitalized Kids. The cards did not need to be in individual envelopes and will be delivered from volunteers of the organization to hospitalized children.

“The cards were made on our fanciest construction paper cards that you’ve ever seen,” Meyer said. “This is the first time we held this event, but we are going to continue it once a month through December.”

Participants were not instructed by library staff on what to write inside of the cards; instead the staff encouraged them to be creative and unique, keeping each card happy and positive, according to Meyer.

“We just wanted to send uplifting messages that focused on the whole child, rather than their illness,” Meyer said. “The project was unique because it gave anyone in the community an opportunity to volunteer, be crafty and do something kind for someone else.”  

The cards held a variety of messages including, “You are awesome” and “Never forget how amazing you are.”

Writing a card with the message, “You are awesome” on the cover was Asiyah Arasheed, 11, of Evergreen Park.

“I chose this message because I truly believe that everyone is awesome in their own way,” Arasheed said. “I’m having a lot of fun here today making cards for hospitalized children. I really enjoy making people happy.”

The library will hold more card-making days from 4 to 6 p.m. Oct. 5, Nov. 2 and Dec. 7 on the first Wednesday of the month.

Hickory Hills approves small tax hike for homeowners

  • Written by Sharon L. Filkins

Hickory Hills homeowners will see only an 0.7 percent increase in their property tax bill next year following the city council’s approval of an ordinance levying taxes for fiscal year May 1, 2016 ending April 30, 2017.

A recent report from the Cook County Clerk’s Office stated the 0.7 percent increase is the lowest increase since the Tax Cap Law began over 20 years ago.

City Attorney Vince Cainkar stated that traditionally homeowners would see a 4.9 percent increase in their real estate Taxes but the Property Tax Extension Limitation Law (PTELL), also known as the Tax Cap Law, limits the increase in revenue that districts may collect to the rate of inflation.

According to a June 13 press release from the Cook County Clerk’s office, a tax bill is based on the amount of money sought from taxing districts (the levy), the property’s assessed value, the state equalization factor and the applicable tax rate.

It stated further that in most cases, districts this year were limited to an increase equal to the 2015 Consumer Price Index (CPI) of 0.8 percent. Home Rule districts, debit obligations, other special purpose funds, and value derived from new property and terminated Tax Increment Financing (TIFs) Districts are exempt from this limitation.

In other action, the council voted unanimously to change the Hickory Hills Employee Health Insurance provider from Blue Cross/Blue Shield to Aetna. The action came following a lengthy discussion in a specially called meeting of the Committee of the Whole, held just prior to the regularly scheduled council meeting.

Mayor Mike Howley said the decision involved considerable input from the employees.

“We believe this change will provide a significant saving for our employees. We have asked them to document their experience with this new company during this first year so that we can evaluate its performance at the end of the year.”

On another matter, Police Chief Al Vodicka presided over a swearing-in of Glenn Tienstra to the position of sergeant.

Vodicka said Tienstra, who started with the department in 2001, worked as an undercover agent for 11 years.

“During those years, he worked on assignments with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms Bureau and the Immigration/Customs Enforcement. Working with the FBI and ATF, he helped coordinate one of the largest drug busts and confiscations in the county. With his background and experience, we are very happy to have him in this new role in our department.”

Tienstra replaces Sgt. Gary Kolnar, who retired after 26 years and served as Juvenile Specialist, teaching the DARE program for 15 years.

“Sgt. Kolnar has been a valuable asset to our department and dedicated to serving our community,” said Vodicka. “I believe I can safely say that he took the most pleasure out of serving as DARE officer through the years. We are going to miss him.”

Kolnar was present and received a standing ovation from the council and the audience.

Worth salon owner celebrates 50th year running business

  • Written by Sharon L. Filkins

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Photo by Sharon J. Filkins

Lois Byrne, owner of Lady J’s Salon in Worth, hold up her memory book that captures images of her business from the past 50 years.

Lady J’s Salon, 6633 W. 111th St., Worth, celebrated its 50th year in business on Monday, and what a celebration it was. It was standing room only as more than 80 people gathered in the salon for a surprise open house to honor owner Lois Kluck Byrne.

The unsuspecting Byrne arrived in the company of one of her employees, Linda Kara, who used the pretext of stopping by the salon, which is closed on Mondays, to pick up something. Byrne thought they were just going to a quiet dinner to celebrate the anniversary.

She was greeted by a lifetime of customers, friends, family and elected officials. The scene was reminiscent of the movie “Steel Magnolia’s” in which Sally Field and Dolly Parton starred as owners of a small town beauty shop that was the cultural and social center of the town.

A resident of Worth since the age of 5, Byrne, 68, has raised six children, two of her own and six of her brother’s children. She has 22 grandchildren and two great grandchildren. She became a widow in 1997 but continued her salon business.

“Our salon has had three locations, but always in Worth,” she said. The two previous locations were within three blocks of the current site, where she has been for 28 years.

Loyalty of her customers was evident as many of those attending have been her clients for the entire 50 years she has been in business. It is a generational thing as the children and grandchildren of her early clients are now customers.

Debbie Muldowney, 49, said her mother, Jean Hummel, brought her to Lady J’s in her stroller to get her very first haircut. “The baby curls went into my baby book,” she said. Muldowney said her mother still comes to the salon.

Also on hand were Ashley Szeszychi, 39, and her mother, Sharon DeGenova. Szeszychi.

“My mother brought me here as a baby, and we are both still clients, as well as my grandmother, Kay DeGenova, who has been a client for 50 years,” said Szeszychi.

Worth Mayor Mary Werner and Village Clerk Bonnie Price were in attendance and presented a proclamation to Byrne acknowledging her dedication and commitment to the Worth business community.

“You have been a good friend to the Village of Worth and our business community. We are happy to congratulate you on this 50th anniversary,” said Werner.”

Byrne opened Lady J’s on Sept. 12, 1966. One of her early certifications as a registered beauty culturist was issued by Gov. Otto Kerner in 1967. Subsequent certifications during the 50 years of business were issued by former governors Sam Shapiro and Richard Ogilvie.

The salon, named after a previous owner, Josephine Gentile, currently has six hairdressers, in addition to Byrne and her sister, Julia Vales.

Two longtime employees, Adrianne Lajeunesse, who has been with Byrne for 46 years, and Marlene Black, who has logged 17 years at the salon reminisced about happy times at the salon.

“Lady J’s is not a typical beauty shop,” said Black. “We are the last of the last hairdressers, the last of an era. Today’s shops are all about blow drys, haircuts and curling irons. There are no more rollers, curlers, perms and hair dryers. But Lady J’s is different.”

The salon has six stations and the walls are lined with hair dryers. “You don’t see hair dryers like that in today’s salons,” Black said.

She added that her clients come to spend the day.

“They bring their lunch and socialize with each other, catching up on kids, grandkids, family, etc. I often have to remind them my chair is empty and I am ready to do their comb out,” Black said, laughing.

Lajeunesse agreed that the hair industry has changed.

“I guess we are the dinosaurs of the industry, we still do perms for our customers. But that is what many of them want and they have been coming here for so many years. It is a real family atmosphere here,” she said.

Lajeunesse recalled one time that the power had gone out in the shop and they resorted to completing a perm on a client, by the light of a car’s headlights pulled up to the front window of the salon. “We have had some wonderful times here, many warm memories,” she said.

Byrne was happily surprised with the open house and was thrilled with the turnout of so many friends and family.

Asked about her outlook on life and reaching this milestone, Byrne said, “Things happen in life and you learn to just go with the flow.”

Questioned about her other interests or hobbies, she laughed. “My hobbies have definitely become outgrown. My interests now, with all these grandchildren, are primarily kids and my family.” She has cut back to working three days at the salon.

As for her future plans, she smiled and said, “I am just going with the flow.”

Oak Lawn Park District celebrates development of nature preserve

  • Written by Joe Boyle

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Photo by Joe Boyle

Louis Mule, principal ecologist for Tallgrass Associates, discusses the development of the Chicago Ridge Prairie at 105th and Menard during a tour of the area on Monday night.

In a battle that dates back to the 1970s, the Chicago Ridge Prairie defeated the odds and became a reality as a nature preserve that borders Oak Lawn and Chicago Ridge.

The ribbon-cutting ceremonies took place Monday evening at the Chicago Ridge Prairie location at 105th and Menard Avenue. The nature preserve is actually located in Chicago Ridge but was purchased by the Oak Lawn Park District with the intention of developing the land.

Louis Mule, the principal ecologist with Tallgrass Associates in Orland Park, said it was a long time coming and took a lot of hard work to accomplish.

“The Oak Lawn Park District deserves a lot of credit,” said Mule. “They have stuck with us. This is a real success story.”

Maddie Kelly, director of the Oak Lawn Park District, said plans to develop this land into a nature preserve prairie have been a long process. She said that the owner of a nearby apartment complex had been using the prairie as a dumping site. Soil and other materials from the construction of the apartment were dumped into the prairie. Kelly said that he had repeatedly been asked to clean up the area. Kelly said that he continually said he would but never did.

“We have been trying to stop the dumping since the 1970s,” said Kelly. “We finally went to the DNR (Department of Natural Resources) and they saved us. Specialized equipment had to be used to clean up the land.”

Kelly said that $400,000 overall was used to develop the land into a prairie, with $200,000 coming from the Department of Natural Resources. The department was able to clean up the fill and restore 4.5 acres that were destroyed.

While plans were stalled in the courts for years, the actual construction began about four years ago. A gravel pathway just less than a mile has been developed to allow youth groups from the Oak Lawn Park District and residents to walk along and see rare plants and insects. The Chicago Ridge Prairie is one of only two remaining gravel prairies surviving on the old lake bottom (the other is the Santa Fe Prairie in Hodgkins).

A 15 minute tour of the Chicago Ridge Prairie took place after the ribbon-cutting ceremonies. Members of the Oak Lawn Park District Board of Commissioners, Oak Lawn Trustee Terry Vorderer (4th) and Village Clerk Jane Quinlan were also on hand. During the tour, Mule mentioned that 43 specialized insects are present in the prairie. Three species of native snakes – the plans garter, DeKay’s brown and the smooth green snakes – can be found in the prairie.

Mule added that high quality “burning” takes place at the prairie as a means to stimulate plants and act as fertilizer. About 50 percent of the site is carefully burned each year, conditions permitting. Grasses such as the Big Blue Stem and Prairie Dropseed grow more vigorously and most other maintain species diversity. Several signs are posted along the path to describe what can be found in the prairie.

The restored section was seeded in late 2013 with species found in the original section. The rest of the prairie is natural and original – similar to what the first settlers in Worth Township found growing there, Mule said.

In the restored unit of the prairie, bio-swales were created and designed to collect and hold water for the wet-mesic plant species planted within them. The new trails in the restoration area include a shelter with lights powered by solar energy. The rain barrels also collect run-off from the roof of the shelter. This slows the run-off in the prairie and the water can be used as a controlled source of water as needed for restoration.

In 1994, all 12.9 acres of the Chicago Ridge Prairie was designated as an Illinois State Nature Preserve by the Illinois Preserves Commission to recognize and protect this unique native prairie wetland.

Mule also pointed out that the larger rock formations that can be found along the prairie date back to 10,000 years ago.

“This is a special place,” said Mule.

Shepard sisters decorate “acorn’ in memory of Oak Lawn girl

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

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Photo by Dermot Connolly

One of Oak Lawn’s Acorns On Parade, decorated by Shepard High School students Emily and Alissa Robinson as a memorial to Megan Hurckes, has found a permanent home among the flowers beside the Oak Lawn water tower, at the western entrance to the village on 95th Street near Harlem Avenue.

Palos Heights sisters Emily and Alissa Robinson spent a week this summer painting and decorating a four-foot long fiberglass acorn memorializing Megan Hurckes as part of Oak Lawn’s Acorns on Parade project.

Megan was 10 years old and a fifth-grader at Kolb School in Oak Lawn when she died Sept. 6, 2009, in an ATV accident while vacationing with her family over the Labor Day weekend in Wisconsin.

The Robinsons attend Shepard High School, where Emily is a senior and Alissa just started her freshman year. Emily said she was offered the chance to work on the project after getting involved with the Palos Heights Public Arts Commission last year.

“My art teacher suggested I get involved so I could do things like this outside of school,” she said. Emily then asked Alissa, who is also an artist, to help her finish it before the big unveiling of all the acorns. The project was modeled after the Cows on Parade exhibit in Chicago some years ago, as well as a more recent project featuring benches in Tinley Park. Local institutions such as Advocate Christ Medical Center and the Oak Lawn Children’s Museum commissioned acorns, but Emily said she liked the idea of doing one in honor of a local girl.  

Megan’s parents, Jerry and Mary Ann, and her sister, Jenna, contributed the $500 cost to commission the acorn, and the girls consulted with the family about how to decorate it.

“Since Megan’s passing, what we’ve tried to do is keep her memory and name alive and on the tip of the tongue. This seemed to fit right into that. Acorns on Parade is a great idea for Oak Lawn too, since the acorn is the village’s symbol,” he said on Monday, which was the seventh anniversary of Megan’s death.

Megan’s acorn is painted purple with an orange cap, which her father said were her favorite colors, and decorated with a softball and glove, surrounded by colorful butterflies and a banner stating “Always in our hearts, Megan Hurckes.”

“Butterflies were her symbol, and she and Jenna loved playing softball for Westside Baseball,” said Jerry Hurckes. Currently the chief of staff for Cong. Dan Lipinski (D-3rd), he was an Oak Lawn trustee when his daughter died in 2009.

The acorn was first displayed along with all the others around the Village Green in Oak Lawn, but has since been moved to its permanent location surrounded by flowers beside the water tower at the western entrance to the village of 95th Street.

“We really appreciate the village allowing us to put it there. We live around the corner so we can see it every day driving home,” he said. “We did borrow it on Sunday and brought it to the annual memorial Mass we had for Megan in Centennial Park. Everyone loved it,” he said.

Hurckes said about 150 people attended the Catholic Mass for family and friends. “We served food afterward, and released purple and orange balloons, and butterflies, in her memory. It is just an informal way to celebrate Megan’s life,” he said.

The family presented Emily Robinson with a $500 scholarship for her work on the project, from the Megan Hurckes Scholarship Fund established after she died.

“I wasn’t expecting to get a scholarship. That was really nice of them to do. I would have done it for nothing,” said Emily, who is considering becoming a graphic designer. Being only a freshman, Alissa said she just appreciated getting the experience. “It will look good on a resume,” she said.