Family awaits news on missing relative

  • Written by Joe Boyle

MaryAnn Bielski waits every day for the phone to ring for news about her missing son.

Jim Vasquez has not been seen since Sept. 16, according to family members. Bielski is anxious and worried about Vasquez, 39, who is homeless and described as a paranoid schizophrenic.

Vasquez has been living for the past couple of years on the streets of Chicago Ridge. He and other homeless men have been living under a bridge near 107th and Harlem Avenue near the shuttered Aldi’s store and White Castle.

BIelski now lives in Georgetown, Texas, which is just outside Austin. Her 33-year-old daughter also lives nearby and they wait to hear from relatives or the police about any news. So far, there has been no word.

“I hope and pray every day that he calls,” said Bielski.

Vasquez lived in Burbank for his first 18 years before his family moved to Indiana. His parents divorced when he was 8 and Bielski believes this had a great impact on him as he grew older. As a child he had friends but would soon drift away from them.

“He was very quiet,” said Bielski. “He was a loner. He would have friends for a while and then he just did not want to see them anymore.”

Bielski began to believe that his son’s anti-social behavior was not normal. She asked a grade school teacher if there was anything wrong with her son. The teacher’s response surprised her. She told BIelski that her son was quiet and was no problem in the classroom. But problems began to arise in high school.

“He wasn’t able to hide anymore in high school,” Bielski said.

The family moved to Indiana but Vasquez preferred to stay with his father, who now lived in Chicago’s Bridgeport neighborhood. But when the father and his girlfriend moved to Las Vegas, Vasquez was not asked to tag along. While staying briefly with his father after that, he came back for a while to Indiana.

Bielski said his condition continued to worsen. In one fit of range, he attacked his stepfather. Bielski said it was unlike him to do that. She has been married to her second husband for 26 years and he used to take Vasquez to Boy Scouts and ballgames.

“I think a lot of what has happened to Jimmy is because of the breakup of my marriage,” said Bielski.

Since then, Vasquez’s life has been a roller coaster. After attacking his stepfather, he served some time in prison. He was also incarcerated in Cook County Jail for various offenses.

His mental health and time in prison resulted in Vasquez becoming increasingly paranoid. BIelski said he would engage in conversations where he made no sense. She brought him too many doctors and institutions, pleading for help.

She gets angry when people say that the parents of mentally ill children are their responsibility and their fault when they become homeless.

“I went to psychiatrists every week,” said Bielski. “I’ve been to hospitals everywhere. No one wants to do anything for him. They give him some medication and in two weeks, they let him go.”

Compounding her frustration, BIelski said that Vasquez often refuses to take his medication. He may take it for a two-week span and then stops, thinking he no longer needs to, she said

And for the past couple of years, Vasquez has been seen walking the streets of Chicago Ridge. A niece and other relatives have dropped off food, water and occasionally clothing for him.

BIelski and her daughter saw Vasquez over the summer. Vasquez’s sister bought him some new clothing. Bielski then pleaded with Vasquez to get help and telling him this is no way to live.

“He just laughed at me,” said BIelski. “But I noticed there were tears in his eyes.”

Chicago Ridge Det. Anthony Layman said the family reported him missing Sept. 21. Layman has checked with local PADS shelters to see if had been there. The detective has also supplied information on Vasquez with various national data bases. Information includes his fingerprint and dental records.

“We don’t have a lot of leads right now, but nothing seems to be suspicious,” said Layman, who believes maybe that Vasquez may have checked himself in somewhere. “It’s not unusual for transients to move around. We have even checked with a data base in Indiana, in case he went back there.”

Vasquez has moved around several states over the years and has been on disability when not serving time in jail. Layman said that if anyone sees Vasquez, he said people should not approach him.

“With his history and being a schizophrenic, you don’t know what he can do,” added Layman.

Vasquez is about 6”0 and weighs between 150 to 180 pounds. He often wears a hat and sunglasses, day or night.

Anyone who has seen him should call 911 or Layman at (708) 425-7831.

Jeff Vorva's Extra Point: Reinsdorf says Sox championship was bigger than Bears Super Bowl

  • Written by Jeff Vorva




Monday will mark the 10th anniversary of the White Sox winning the World Series and Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf said that celebration was bigger than any other sports celebration in Chicago sports history, including the Bears’ Super Bowl title in 1986.

Reinsdorf, the boss of the Sox and the six-time NBA champion Bulls, brought seven top trophies to town and he is not bashful about stating the importance of the White Sox sweep of Houston, which concluded on Oct. 26, 2005.

“The impact on the community of winning a World Series was far greater than winning a basketball championship,” he said. “It was far greater than winning a Super Bowl. Baseball is the one sport that spans generations. Everybody remembers their first baseball game he or she went to and who they went with and who was playing. You ask people about basketball or football, they don’t really remember their first game. Everybody remembers their first baseball game.

“And if the Cubs win a World Series, it will be even a bigger effect on the community because there are apparently more Cub fans. But our fans are better baseball fans.’’

Reinsdorf sat down with this newspaper at a lunch at Schaller’s Pump in Chicago brokered by Oak Lawn legend Ed McElroy. I am on the wrong side of 50 and was the pacifier sucker at a table featuring Reinsdorf  (age 79), McElroy (90) and restaurant owner Jack Schaller (91). That’s 260 years between this trio.

 I covered the playoffs and World Series in 2005 and have my own stories about getting drenched by champagne in the winning locker room in Houston, a sportswriters’ postgame meal at 4 a.m. at a Denny’s after the 14-inning Game 3 and other amusing tales.

But when McElroy offered a sitdown with Reinsdorf, I figured he would have better stories to tell and he didn’t fail to deliver.

After the clincher, Reinsdorf said he finally got to bed at the team hotel at 4 a.m.

At about 6:30 a.m. the phone rang.

“Some woman said ‘hold for the President of the United States,’ ” Reinsdorf said. “[George W. Bush] got on the phone and apologized for waking me up so early but he said he and Laura were going someplace. He told me what a remarkable achievement it was to win a world championship in two sports.’’

A couple of days later, Reindsdorf and some of the players were supposed to appear on the “Oprah Winfrey Show.’’

The players made it.

But not the Chairman.

“I overslept,” Reinsdorf said. “I didn’t wake up until noon.”

As soon as the final out was made and I witnessed the clinching of the first Chicago World Series championship in my lifetime and in 88 years, I turned to whoever would listen and said “Well, the coyote finally caught the Road Runner.’’

Reinsdorf said that immediately after the game, things were hectic with the trophy presentations and celebration. It took a little while to sink in.

“Obviously I was excited and happy,” he said. “But it didn’t hit me and I didn’t realize the enormity of it until the parade. There were two million people on that parade route. And there wasn’t one arrest.

“The other thing was that you could have gone to any cemetery the next day and the graves were decorated with White Sox stuff – including Mayor (Richard J.) Daley’s. That’s when it hit me. It was surreal. It was hard to believe.’’

Like him or hate him, Reinsdorf brought championships to a city that had been starving for the sports title for years.

He has no plans on stepping down anytime soon.

“I want to do this until I reach his age,” Reinsdof said, pointing to the 90-year-old McElroy. “The business of the Bulls is pretty much run by my son, Michael. I have that off my plate. I’m still active day-to-day with the White Sox. But I don’t see any reason to stop unless I die or get feeble. I have a lot of time before I retire.’’

This year’s Cubs team is having a magic year so far and despite biting a rotten apple in New York this weekend, has a chance to win a World Series of its own in the near or distant future and if that happens, it will push the Sox’s accomplishment further in the backs of the minds of a lot of Chicago sports fans.

“Look, if the Cubs win the World Series, it would be a great thing for the city of Chicago,” Reinsdorf said. “But most White Sox fans don’t look at it that way and my allegiance is to the White Sox fans.’’


With demolition of The Plaza comes promise of better things

  • Written by Dermot Connolly


Evergreen Plaza Shopping Center’s walls started tumbling down last week, when demolition of the largely vacant landmark at 9500 S. Western Ave. began, in order to make way for a new retail development now in the planning stages.

“It’s a sad day but a happy day too. We had to move forward with the project,”” said Evergreen Park Mayor James Sexton, who watched as demolition equipment started tearing down the walls of the former Montgomery Ward department store Oct. 7. He and a few of the DeBartolo development team actually put the first few dents in the walls by swinging sledgehammers at the bricks before the heavy machinery moved in.

“Do I need a (union) card to do this?” Sexton joked.

Evergreen Plaza opened in 1952 as an open-air plaza, and was enclosed in 1966, making it one of the first suburban shopping malls. Like many of the people who gathered to watch the demolition start, Sexton grew up in the village and recalled spending a lot of time there growing up.

He described real estate developer Arthur Rubloff as a genius for designing and building the shopping center. During its heyday in the 1960s and ’70s, Evergreen Plaza had more than 120 stores, as well as a movie theater, but vacancies led to the main mall being shuttered in 2013.

Carson’s department store, which was an anchor of the shopping center since it opened, has remained open and will remain open throughout the construction process. The existing building will only be razed after the business relocates to a new site within the new development, to be called Evergreen Park Marketplace, which will include 30-40 stores.

Applebee’s restaurant which is also located on the site, will also remain open. Sexton said that because negotiations are ongoing, he could not say exactly which stores would be coming, but some big names are under discussion. He and other village officials said earlier this year that a movie theater will not be included.

“I think it is good for the whole area, not just Evergreen Park. It is big for the Southland, from our neighbors in (Chicago neighborhoods), Ashburn, Mt. Greenwood and Beverly, to Oak Lawn and all the southwest suburbs,” said Sexton.

The redevelopment is expected to take about two years to complete. Jay Adams, a representative of DeBartolo, said the demolition will be done carefully because of asbestos and other hazardous materials must be handled in an environmentally correct manner.

“We’re going to miss it, but we’re looking forward to what is coming next,” said Evergreen Park resident Carol Simpson, who was watching the demolition with her longtime friend, Shirley Hudson. Both said they have many happy memories of shopping at the mall, particularly during the holiday season.

“It’s been closed for a while. New is always good, and it will bring positive changes to the area,” said Simpson.

Hudson noted that she belongs to a group that used to walk the mall for exercise every morning, and still continues to walk outside, weather permitting, since the interior mall was closed.

“Carson’s is very welcoming to us when the weather is bad,” she said.

“I’m sad to see it go. This was always my favorite mall,” said Bianca Jones, as she came out of Carson’s and saw the machinery at work. “If something new is being built, that is good too.”
          Shanita Hester-Morgan, who said she shopped at the mall for more than 20 years, was among a group of laborers and tradespeople who came seeking jobs with demolition and construction crews. “I’m so glad that something new is coming here. I am trying to get a job with the demolition company,” she said.

“We’re trying to put the (job-seekers) in touch with the right people, so everyone can benefit,” said Sexton.

Job applications are online for Worth medical marijuana dispensary

  • Written by Joe Boyle

Residents who are seeking employment at the future site of a medicinal marijuana dispensary in Worth can fill out forms that are available on the Windy City Cannabis website.

Worth Mayor Mary Werner said that residents can register through the website, Steve Weisman, chief operating officer of Windy City Cannabis, mentioned at a town hall meeting last month at the Worth Village Hall that residents can visit the website and forms can be filled out.

However, the mayor said that formal interviews will not take place any earlier than November.

“The dispensary will not open until December at the earliest,” said Werner.

Werner said the process to have a medicinal marijuana dispensary in the village took a lot of conversations to sway some skeptical residents who viewed the new facility as drawing drug addicts. The mayor said the marijuana would not be cultivated at the location. Advise on treatments and payments would take place at the dispensary.

The dispensary will be located at 11425 S. Harlem Ave., which was most recently a children’s clothing store. A reporter visited the site on Oct. 8. The building is empty but work is being done. A note on the window indicates that this will be the future site of the medicinal marijuana dispensary in Worth.

Werner, despite the odds, knew that a dispensary for Worth was viable.

“Yes, it took a lot of work over a year ago,” said Werner. “The first thing we had to do was create an ordinance to allow a dispensary to come here. Back then it was illegal. The ordinance had to be passed. We talked to a lot of people who had concerns but we answered their questions. Our board approved it unanimously. The town hall meeting we had last month was held mainly to provide information.”

Weisman and Feliza Castro, founder of The Healing Clinic, were the guest speakers at the crowded town hall meeting. During that session, Weisman was concerned about the fact that Gov. Rauner’s administration had dismissed 11 illnesses that would be treated with medicinal marijuana.

“I can’t believe that these requests are being held up,” said Weisman at the town hall meeting. Both Weisman and Castro believed politics is what is holding up requests for patients with illnesses since the dispensaries were originally approved by former Gov. Pat Quinn.

However, an advisory board on Oct. 7 voted to add chronic pain syndrome and several other conditions that could be treated with marijuana in Illinois. Other conditions considered by the advisory board are autism, irritable bowel syndrome, osteoarthritis and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Dr. Leslie Mendoza Temple, chair of the advisory board, believes that Rauner will have a different opinion on dispensaries when they start selling the medicinal marijuana. The first Chicago-area dispensary has opened in Mundelein. Board members indicate that Illinois law establishes a 7 percent tax on marijuana sales.

Mendoza Temple adds that the dispensaries will provide a revenue stream that the governor will not be able to pass up.

Illinois law has 39 conditions and diseases that already qualify for medicinal marijuana use with a doctor’s signature. Cancer, glaucoma, HIV, hepatitis C and multiple sclerosis already qualifies.

Worth is one of four locations in the south and southwest suburbs that will have a medical cannabis facility. The other facilities will be in Homewood, Justice and Posen.

More information can also be obtained at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

'My heart is broken into a million pieces' -- St. Laurence QB leads team to win a day after his father died

  • Written by Jeff Vorva


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Photo by Jeff Vorva

St. Laurence quarterback Alex Martinez looks over a banner presented to him after Friday night’s win over Aurora Christian while coach Harold Blackmon looks on. Martinez’s father, Rich, died the day before.

Thursday morning started out pretty well for St. Laurence senior Alex Martinez.

The football team’s quarterback was a little more than 24 hours away from trying to lead his team to a fifth victory, which would likely put the Vikings into the playoffs. He was featured on the sports front page of a daily newspaper, sharing the page with the Cubs big win over Pittsburgh.

Life was really good for Martinez.

Then came the afternoon.

During practice, he found out his father, Rich, suddenly died at age 48 causing Alex to tweet “My heart is broken into a million pieces.”

On Friday, his friends, classmates and teammates tried to mend some of that broken heart.

Martinez said there was no doubt he was going to play Friday night and he threw for four touchdowns and ran for another as the Vikings beat Aurora Christian, 63-24 in Aurora.

After the game, coach Harold Blackmon gave a speech and had Martinez stand up. The signalcaller was presented with an autographed ‘W’ banner which was made popular by the Cubs.

“That was great for them to do that,” Martinez said.

Blackmon said the banner was one of the players’ ideas.

“Our kids really embrace family,” the coach said. “We all grieve with Alex. In the pregame speech we said for a few hours we wanted to get him to normalcy and doing something that’s fun. Alex’s dad loves the Cubs so they decided to give him a banner. We take care of our own.’’

Martinez said there was no doubt he was going to play in this game.

“As soon as I heard the news, I heard people say ‘you should be with your family’ and ‘you shouldn’t play.’ He would have not wanted that. If I would have even thought about not playing he would not have liked that at all.’’

Before the game, players formed a circle in the middle of the field and prayed for the Martinez family.

“That was a very class move by Aurora Christian,” Blackmon said.

Rich was a Chicago fireman and members of his house made the trip to Kane County to support the family.

Martinez said he learned a lot of perspective in a short amount of time.

“Football is just a game at the end of the day,” Martinez said. “It helped take my mind off of it for two hours. But the game is over and it goes right back to it.’’