It was seventh heaven

  • Written by Tim Hadac


More than a thousand runners started the seventh First Midwest Bank half marathon Sunday in Palos Heights, Palos Park and Palos Hills. Photos by Jeff Vorva.Seventh half marathon low on numbers but was high on energy

 Like a long-distance runner who lags early but

Page-1-color-2-1-2-col-meeksChicago Ridge’s Tyrone Meeks,top photo, flashes a peace sign while Oak Lawn’s Donna Marie Ivers, below, is all smiles after crossing the finish line in the seventh First Midwest Bank Half Marathon event Sunday in Palos Heights and Palos Park. For more stories and photos the sports finishes with a burst to win a race, the First Midwest Bank Half Marathon overcame challenges and hit the tape in triumph last Sunday.

  The seventh annual event, which bills itself as the premier athletic event in the southwest suburbs, struggled in recent months with financial uncertainty, concerns about security, a slow start in attracting volunteers, and an unseasonably cold winter that severely limited training opportunities for runners throughout the Midwest.
  Yet as predicted repeatedly by event co-founder and co-director Jeff Prestinario, of Palos Heights, all the right elements gelled by race day and resulted in success.
  “I hope this race goes on and on for years to come,” said Palos Park resident Beth Ann Mayhugh, one of hundreds of people who lined College Drive to cheer on family, friends and neighbors competing. “It promotes the sport, it promotes physical activity, and it’s held in my back yard. I hope they expand it next year and add a fun run for kids.”
  Palos Heights Mayor Robert Straz, who helped welcome runners and just over an hour later helped hold the tape hit by Half Marathon winner Ryan Giuliano, of Oakwood Hills, agreed with the upbeat assessment.
  “This has been a great day and a successful event,” he said. “A lot of people who otherwise might not come out this way got to see the beauty of this area.”

So long, suckers

  • Written by Bob Rakow

Beloved train-themed restaurant that gave out

free lollipops to kids to close Saturday

An iconic Evergreen Park restaurant is expected to closePage-3-2-col-junction-signhThe iconic Snackville Junction sign displays the bad news about the restaurant closing on Saturday. Photo by Jeff Vorva. its doors for the last time on Saturday, bringing an end to much-loved tradition in the village.
  Snackville Junction, the 1950s style diner, 9144 S. Kedzie Ave., was best known for delivering hamburgers on an electric train that ran along tracks on the lunch counter and for the tradition of handing out suckers to kids.
  The Perez-Rogers family, which has owned the restaurant for past seven years, announced on Facebook that they “lost their struggle against foreclosure of Snackville Junction.”
  The restaurant got its start in Chicago’s Beverly community more than 60 years ago and moved to Evergreen Park in the 1970s. The Perez-Rogers purchased the restaurant from the original owner and reopened it in 2008.
  The owners said in a Facebook posting that they did everything possible to keep the restaurant open.
  “We have worked very hard the last seven years to continue with this beloved tradition. We’ve done everything in our power to comply with our initial agreement with the bank that financed our mortgage. We were diligent and prompt with our monthly payments, insurance and everything else that a business owner is expected to do.”
  The family said the bank that holds the mortgage demanded the entire outstanding loan balance when it came time to renew the loan.
  “After a year-long attempt to negotiate, there is no longer anything we can do. We are broken hearted and felt the need to communicate this very unfortunate circumstance.”
  The owners also thanked their patrons for their support and well wishes.
  “Thank you so much for sharing all of your wonderful memories with us.
  We will miss all the adorable children and their families. We were so fortunate to have been a part of this historical and iconic institution. We hope that somewhere somehow the Snackville Junction choo-choo will return to deliver those anticipated suckers.”
  Patrons turned to Facebook to express their love of the diner.
  “So sad to hear that you will be leaving. The kids enjoyed going there to get their food delivered on the train and the lollipops too. Everyone had a smile on their face and the food was great,” one person posted.
  The wrong business is closing. A family tradition for 60 years and a place where 16-year-old kids can learn what it’s like to have a job. This is so wrong, another patron posted.

Jeff Vorva's Editor's Notebook: ‘Wicked winter’ puts a cold front on half marathon entries


jeff columnThis past winter is still giving people headaches even though the snow is gone and the temperatures are bearable.
Mel Diab calls it “the wicked winter” and it’s eating into the participation numbers of Sunday’s seventh annual First Midwest Bank Half Marathon.
Race organizers in the past were comfortable with the numbers being in the 1,800-to-2,000 range. This year they added a 10K race to try to bolster the attendance.
As of Friday, the numbers for the races, which take place in Palos Heights and slivers of Palos Park and Palos Hills, were at about 1,300. Diab doubts there will be a huge walkup in the final days. Diab, the co-organizer of the race along with Jeff Prestinario, said maybe 50 to 100 more runners will be signing up.
So what about this wicked winter? What did the freezing DR-Page-3-2-col-with-jv-colThe lousy cold and snowy weather from the winter (top photo) likely has kept the numbers down for Sunday’s First Midwest Bank Half Marathon and 10K races. In the bottom photo, Worth’s Liz Werner and Kevin Werner cross the finish line in last year’s race. File photos.DR-Page-3-2-col-with-JV-COLUMNtemperatures and huge snowfall have to do with an event that takes place in May, usually under ideal running conditions?
“Not as many runners were able to train in December, January and February,” Diab said. “There are some hard-core runners who were able to still train and prepare for events such as the Boston Marathon. But it was tough for most people to train.’’
The local race isn’t the only victim to the wicked winter.
“The numbers are down for all the races,” Diab said. “The Shamrock Shuffle in Chicago usually gets 35,000 runners and this year they got 30,000. They had a 5K in town last week [the Chocolate Chase Rabbit Race 5K in Palos Heights] usually get about 500 or 600 runners and had 300 this year.’’
Diab is not thrilled with the numbers, but he is looking forward to the race.
“As a runner and a businessman, you always want to do better every year,” Diab said. “But I’m staying positive. The glass is half full.’’
There will be 80 runners from out of state this year including two runners from Brazil.
Opening ceremonies are at 7:05 p.m. near Palos Heights’ Village Hall. The half-marathon starts at 7:30 a.m. and the 10K race starts at 10:40 a.m.

Go to college, coach
The goofy, twisty story of girls basketball coach Anthony Smith took another turn last week when the Illinois High School Association lifted its ban on him and he is free to coach at any high school in the state if he wants.
Smith was wildly successful at Bolingbrook and there were whispers back then about the questionable transfers from within the state and some from out of Illinois who came to that school to help the Raiders win four Class 4A state titles. Locally, Stagg and Sandburg have taken a few Southwest Suburban Conference lumps at the hand of the Raiders and Vikings over the years while he was boss.
But when he was hired at Homewood-Flossmoor and several players from the Bolingbrook-Plainfield area transfered, it caused an unnamed teammate to file a lawsuit and that opened up a Pandora’s Box that ultimately cost the powerhouse a chance to compete in the postseason.
Smith was suspended by the IHSA and also fired by his school district by 4-3 vote two weeks ago.
Now that the suspension is over, does H-F have a change of heart? Does he move on? Will he get another job at a high school in Illinois?
I say the guy will be poison for a high school program but he should be looking into coaching in college.
Whether he recruited illegally or if everything was above board at Bolingbrook and H-F, talented kids wanted to play for the man. That’s a good thing in college.
Not only could he coach talented players to win the ultimate prize – which is not as easy as it sounds – he was adamant about keeping their grades up and insisted that they project a good public image.
He’s flirted with the college scene in the past so folks out there have him on their radar screen.
Hopefully the next time Anthony Smith’s name surfaces it will be to announce he’s a college coach somewhere.


The home stretch

  • Written by Tim Hadac


DR-PAGE-1-COLOR-4-col-stretchScott Franklin of Lemont stretches his limbs before last year’s half marathon. The seventh running of the First Midwest Bank Half Marathon and 10K Run starts at 7:30 a.m. near Village Hall in Palos Heights and goes through portions of Palos Park and Palos Hills.

First Midwest’s seventh half marathon just days away

While Mother Nature has been cruel to the 2014 First Midwest Bank Half Marathon in recent months, she is expected to smile on the popular annual event this Sunday, May 4.

The big race takes place the day after Saturday’s Community and Health Expo organized by the Palos Area Chamber of Commerce at Moraine Valley Church.
“This past winter has been wicked, and it has kept numbers down at races everywhere, as runners haven’t had chances to train,” said race co-founder and co-director Mel Diab, owner of the Running for Kicks specialty running shop, 7158 W. 127th St., Palos Heights. “But the forecast for race day is 63 degrees and only a 10 percent chance of rain. So we’re looking good.”
Diab made his observation at an organizing committee meeting held last Friday at the Palos Heights Recreation Center, 6601 W. 127th St.
Race registration numbers reflect the record-setting chill. Diab noted that between the half marathon and the newly added 10K race, “not quite 1,300” runners have signed up this year, well below the 1,800-plus runners who competed in the half marathon in 2013.
One bright spot is registration for the Run, Walk or Roll race, headed by the South West Special Recreation Association (SWSRA), which has hit an all-time high at 56, nearly doubling last year’s final total of 32 participants.
The ranks of volunteers have swelled, with more than 100 signed up and additional assistance expected this week. Last-minute volunteers are welcome and are encouraged to visit for details.
Both Diab and co-director Jeff Prestinario thanked committee members in advance for their race-day service. “As we come down the home stretch, it’s going to be hectic,” Prestinario said to the group. “Before you know it, it’s going to be boom, boom, boom—so much so that you can feel the electricity in the air. So let’s all remember that there are always curveballs that come into play, so thank you for remaining cool, calm and collected when that happens. Remember to smile and think safety, safety, safety.”

Chamber Expo

Adding to the buzz is a health and community expo set for 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday at Moraine Valley Church, 6300 W. 127th St., Palos Heights.
Sponsored by the Palos Area Chamber of Commerce, the annual event typically attracts several thousand people and offers information and free services from 50 local health care providers and other businesses, as well as government agencies.
“Everyone is invited to this fun and informative event,” said Chamber President Stephen Georgiou, owner of Computer Greeks, 12222 S. Harlem Ave., Palos Heights.
The expo will also feature a martial arts demonstration by students of T-USA Martial Arts and a public safety demonstration of the Cook County Sheriff’s Police bomb squad.

Start and finish

The half marathon itself starts and ends near Palos Heights City Hall, 7607 W. College Drive, and runs west along Route 83. The half marathon starts at 7:30 a.m., the event’s new 10K race begins at 7:40, and a “Run, Walk or Roll” half-mile race (for people with disabilities) is set to start at 7:45.
The race officially ends at 10:30 a.m., and an awards ceremony is set for 11 a.m.

As always, parking is at a premium at the event, and spectators driving to the site are advised to arrive early and use local parking lots along the north side of Route 83.

Proceeds from the event benefit the American Cancer Society, the South West Special Recreation Association, and Lake Katherine Nature Center and Botanic Gardens.


Case closed?

  • Written by Bob Rakow


Cops rule Brittany’s death accidental but her supporters vow ‘it’s not over’

Rebecca Tully has struggled with myriadpage-1color--2-col-BritA memorial for Brittany Wawrzyniak still stood in April in the parking lot in Worth close to where she died in November. Police last week ruled her death as accidental. Photo by Jeff Vorva. emotions during the six months since the death of her daughter, Britanny Wawrzyniak, but anger is not among them, she said.

Anger is the second of the five stages of loss grief outlined in Elisabeth Kübler-Ross 1969 book “On Death and Dying.”
“I still haven’t hit that anger part in any of this,” Tully said Tuesday as she talked about the Worth Police Department’s decision last week to close the investigation into her daughter’s death.
Tully has experienced a gamut of other emotions ranging from shock and sadness to disbelief and disappointment since Nov. 8, the day he daughter died after being ejected for a moving car near the Worth boat launch, near 115th Street and Beloit.
She’s come close to venting her rage at the police department and elected officials who she believes treated her daughter more like a criminal than victim.
She’s also upset that she and her family did not receive more respect during the investigation, although she understood that the details of the probe could not be shared.
But last week’s news, delivered to Tully at a meeting at the Worth police department, threw her for a loop.
Just a few weeks earlier, Worth Mayor Mary Werner said that it would be months before DNA results would be