Rush joins President Obama on trip to Cuba

  • Written by By Dermot Connolly

Cong. Bobby Rush (D-1st) was among the congressional contingent who accompanied President Obama on his historic trip to Cuba in March.

The three-day trip was possible after the two countries began the process in 2014 of normalizing the relationship that was severed following the 1959 communist revolution led by Fidel Castro.

Obama is the first sitting president to visit Cuba since Calvin Coolidge

“Since my most recent official visit to Cuba in April 2009, I have seen the vibrancy of the Cuban people and, by lifting this embargo, the United States will be in a better position to ensure their human rights are protected,” said Rush in a statement.

For that 2009 trip, Rush joined six other members of the Congressional Black Caucus on a mission to seek expanded trade opportunities for American businesses. Rush was a cosponsor of H. R. 874, “The Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act of 2009,” that would end the ban on travel by Americans to Cuba.

Rush was one of three U.S. officials to meet with former Cuban President Fidel Castro and current President Raúl Castro.

About two dozen congressmen, including five Republicans, accompanied Obama on the trip in March. Others including retired New York Yankee baseball player Derek Jeter also made the trip, in which Obama met with Raul Castro. The two leaders and their families also watched a baseball game between the Cuban national team and the Tampa Bay Rays.

“I applaud President Obama for his decision to begin the process of restoring full diplomatic relations with Cuba. This process has been a long time coming and I look forward to its successful completion,” said Rush.

The congressman said he has introduced legislation several times to normalize relations with Cuba.

“I look forward to working with the president and my colleagues to ensure that whatever legislative changes are necessary can be accomplished,” said Rush.

“I would also like to note the significance of the State Department review of Cuba’s designation as a state sponsor of terrorism. It has long been my belief that this designation should be removed and I applaud the president helping bring this to fruition,” he continued.

“Ensuring the maintenance of human rights in Cuba, as in the rest of the world, is of the utmost importance to me and, as I said before, the normalization of relations between the United States and Cuba will not only simplify the maintenance of these standards on a bilateral basis but will allow us to work with our international partners to expand them.

“Once again, I congratulate President Obama and the American and Cuban peoples on the blossoming of a new, stronger, relationship.”

Celebrating Alan B. Shepard’s launch into space 55 years ago

  • Written by By Kelly White

On May 5, 1961, Alan Shepard became the first American in space. He flew on a Mercury spacecraft with just enough room for one person. He named his capsule Freedom 7.

Honoring the 55th anniversary of this memorial event, Shepard High School Junior Reserve Officer's Training Corps (JROTC) and art club students worked together to create a mural depicting Shepard’s historic flight. The high school is named in honor of the astronaut.

“Shepard’s first flight only lasted 15 minutes, but it put on display the traits that made him a legend. As he trained for his flight, he saw countless rockets blow up on the launch pad,” said Major Daniel Johnson, of Shepard’s JROTC. “There was no guarantee that he would safely return from this mission, but he set aside any fears he had, and bravely stepped into the capsule that day. He put his confidence in the team of professionals who held his life in their hands, and they delivered as promised.”

“Working on this project as a group has brought us together and built lasting memories and friendships forever,” said Worth resident Emily Seman, an art club member.

The two organizations have been working on the mural, which stands 80 feet high and 12 feet long, for a year and a half. The mural’s unveiling was held at the high school, 13049 S Ridgeland Ave., Palos Heights, last Thursday afternoon, the anniversary of Shepard’s flight.

The huge mural has consumed a lot of time and effort, but the students have learned a great deal about collaborative efforts,” said Brenda Rentfro, Shepard’s art club sponsor. “This is the most important part of art club. Since creating art is often a solitary activity, it is vital for young artists to understand how to support and learn from each other.”

There are 25 students making up Shepard’s art club and 125 JROTC students. The JROTC aided in the design process and supplied painting materials.

“This has been a long process, but it has been very rewarding,” said Johnson. “I've received many positive comments from staff and students who appreciate the work of art. It really has taken away the sterile, institutional feel of this part of the school.”

JROTC is a military regulated high school program whose purpose is to educate high school students in leadership roles while making them aware of the benefits of citizenship. The mission of JROTC is to motivate young people to become better American citizens.

“From the JROTC standpoint, I enjoy being able to point out specific planes as we talk about them in the classroom,” Johnson said.

“The mural looks really cool,” said JROTC member Andrew Kuntz, of Palos Heights. “I like how you can see aviation throughout the history.”

The mural is a depiction of the history of aviation, beginning with the Wright Flyer (December 1903) up to the F-22 Raptor (current top of the line fighter plane). The mural also includes Eugene Bullard, the first African American pilot from World War I; Bessie Coleman, a legendary Chicago aviatrix and the first African American woman to fly a plane; and Major Richard Bong’s P-38 Lightning from World War II. Bong was the Ace of Aces in WWII, with 40 confirmed Japanese airplanes shot down.

The red-tailed P-51s of the Tuskegee Airmen, escorting a B-17 during World War II; the F-86, a legend during the Korean War; Shepard’s rocket and capsule; A U-2 aircraft that played a pivotal role in averting the Cuban Missile Crisis and is still in use today; and the B-52 Bomber, from Vietnam to present day, still a mainstayof the Air Force are included in the mural.

As the two organizations were putting the mural together they realized that from their standpoint (112 years after the Wright Brothers), Shepard's first space flight would fall right in the middle of that timeline. After this realization, students then, in the center of the mural, depicted the Redstone Rocket going up and Shepard's capsule returning to Earth. The rest of the planes depict various eras and famous pilots or aircraft from history, according to Rentfro.

Located outside of the JROTC classrooms, in a common hallway in the high school, Rentfro said strategic design was very important when deciding how to paint.

“What makes this particular mural unique is that it is physically huge,” she said. “It is also in an athletic area, where various equipment will bump and scrape the wall sometimes. We tried to make the lower half complex enough to make any damage hard to notice.”

The art club was supplied with paint, critiques, and moral support by the JROTC staff and students, Rentfro said.

“All of the unavoidable frustrations were made smaller by their interest in the project,” Rentfro said. “It is rare for non-artists to understand the amount of time and effort we put into our work. A formal dedication is an honor as large as the project itself.”

“Working on the mural allowed me to expand my art experience, make great friends, and have memories to look back on,” said Crestwood resident Lily Fisher, an art club member. “It also gave me the chance to leave a part of me for the school.”

Chicago Ridge officials toast arrival of Miller’s Ale House

  • Written by By Joe Boyle

The skies were overcast Monday morning but Hans Bengyel, the general manager of the new Miller’s Ale House in Chicago Ridge, said it was a “great day.”

Bengyel’s excitement was due to the fact the restaurant was going to open its doors.

“Everything has gone well,” said Bengyel. “The village (Chicago Ridge) has been great and I believe we are going to do real well.”

Chicago Ridge Mayor Chuck Tokar wholeheartedly agrees and could not wait for this day to occur. The ribbon-cutting ceremonies took place a few minutes before the business opened at 11 a.m. Miller’s Ale House is located at 6401 W. 95th St., near Sear’s at the Chicago Ridge Mall.

“I’m pretty excited about this,” said Tokar, minutes after village officials and restaurant employees concluded the ribbon-cutting ceremony. “We are just excited to have them here. This is a family-oriented restaurant that will draw more customers from Chicago Ridge Mall.”

Tokar could not say the same for Tilted Kilt, which occupied the space that Miller’s Ale House is at now. The Chicago Ridge mayor said that restaurant did not draw from Chicago Ridge Mall and proved to be more problems than they were worth.

“They (Tilted Kilt) just had limited appeal,” said Tokar

But fate intervened when officials from the Florida-based Miller’s Ale House contacted the mayor. Chicago Ridge Village Clerk George Schleyer said that after Miller’s Ale House officials made it known that they wanted to move into corner at 95th and Ridgeland, it was only a matter of time for Tilted Kilt. Schleyer said that he told their owners that their contract would not be renewed. Tilted Kilt closed suddenly last fall.

“This is a real jewel to have right here,” said Schleyer. “We have a Buffalo Wild Wings in the Mall that has been doing great. Miller’s Ale House will just bring in more of those customers.”

This is the third Miller’s Ale House to be built in Illinois. When the weather consistently warms up, customers can go outside in the “Florida Room” for dining and adults can select from a wide variety of beers. The menu includes steaks, original pasta dishes, salads, signature sandwiches, homemade desserts and appetizers. They also have a full bar, over 75 beers and sports viewing with surround HD TVs.

The restaurant also features 49 craft beers. Over 70 employees have been hired and trained at the other existing restaurants. The business did not ask for a video gaming license, which went over well with the Chicago Ridge Village Board.

“We’re not putting in video gambling,” said Bengyel. “We’re a family restaurant with a sports theme.”





Local mayors aren't buying Rauner's plan

  • Written by By Joe Boyle

Gov. Bruce Rauner appeared to be extending an olive branch in an effort to end the budget impasse in Springfield, which is now entering its 11th month.

However, suburban mayors are not buying it and can’t understand the logic behind Rauner’s insistence on every aspect of his turnaround agenda.

“I’ve seen other states that have been cutting taxes in an attempt to create jobs that they think will create business growth,” said Palos Hills Mayor Gerald Bennett during a recent Southwest Conference of Mayors meeting. “It just isn’t going to work and other states have found this out, like Kansas. The economics just don’t add up. This governor is working under the impression that this will work. It just won’t work.”

Bennett, who serves as the president of the Southwest Conference of Mayors, was in Springfield this week, hopefully to get some answers and see if some ideas are being considered to end the budget stalemate. The Southwest Conference of Mayors held a luncheon on Wednesday in Springfield.

Rauner on Friday said that he is optimistic that due to a series of bipartisan meetings that have been held recently that negotiations may begin for emergency assistance to aid social service agencies. The governor compared it to the agreement on April 15 that provides $600 million for colleges and universities to keep their doors open throughout the summer.

However, despite the emergency funding, Chicago State University announced that they are laying off 300 employees, or 35 percent of administrative and non-faculty staff as of last Friday. At the end of the summer, more faculty members at CSU may join the unemployment line. Chicago State and representatives at local colleges and universities were grateful to receive the emergency funding. In the case of Chicago State, it was too little, too late.

Rauner has said that he understands the anguish of Chicago State University students. The governor added that he is confidents that further negotiations can help many of the social agencies that are either nearly broke or have ceased operating.

The governor said that he believes a compromise can be reached on redistricting maps and create term limits for legislators. House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-22nd) has said the voters already have the power to vote incumbents out at the polls.

Democrats are also cautious about the governor’s tone. If he insists on restricting collective bargaining and diminishing the power of unions, then negotiations are not going to budge.

State Rep. Kelly Burke (D-36th), whose district includes Evergreen Park and portions of Oak Lawn, and state Sen. Bill Cunningham (D-18th), have been holding a series of morning meetings with constituents over coffee. Burke said the major obstacle has been restrictions on collective bargaining and major concessions by union leaders that Rauner has insisted upon as part of his turnaround agenda.

“There are things we can work with,” said Burke. “The governor wants term limits. I personally don’t agree but we can look at that. But calling for the end of collective bargaining is not going to happen.”

Cunningham, whose district includes portions of Worth, Palos and Orland townships, agreed and added that it does not help that the governor makes these demands instead of negotiating.

“The governor had talked about shutting everything down if he doesn’t get what he wants,” said Cunningham, “But when you say the government, it also means Misericordia and Catholic Charities.”

“We will not talk about collective bargaining,” said Burke. “But we will talk about other issues.”

While Democrats and Republicans are talking about some compromises, southwest suburban mayors are still frustrated with the governor. Chicago Ridge Mayor Chuck Tokar still could not believe that the governor held back motor fuel tax funds that he said should not be part of any budget in the first place.

Lemont Mayor Brian Reaves said that he voted for Rauner but admits that he is disappointed in his approach during this budget deadlock.

“He just doesn’t understand how things are done,” said a frustrated Reaves during a Southwest Conference of Mayors meeting. “He said he gave in on the MFT funds. He didn’t give us anything. We should not have had to negotiate over MFT funds.

“Illinois State, Northern Illinois, Western Illinois, (they) don’t know if they are going to open in the fall,” added Reaves. “We need to stay on our legislators to get something done.”

Bennett believes something will occur soon.

“The driving force is education,” said Bennett. “Education will be the driving force to get them to the table. A lot of this is just posturing.”

Raindrops do not dampen spirits of Southwest Marathon, 10K runners

  • Written by By Dermot Connolly

The competitors weren’t complaining about the drizzle and cold temperatures on Sunday during the 9th annual Southwest Half Marathon and 10K run in Palos Heights.

“It was a great for runners, but not a great day for spectators,” said Mel Diab, co-founder and director of the up-and-back race run on Route 83 through Palos Heights and Palos Park.

While they may have been few in number, the chilly, wet weather didn’t dampen the spirits of those lining the railings to cheer on family and friends competing in all the races, including South West Special Recreation Association’s Walk, Run or Roll race for people with disabilities.

Jeff Prestinario, who co-founded the half marathon and 10K with Diab, was the emcee. He said that in addition to the chilly weather being preferable for the runners, there were no reports of exhaustion or dehydration as there were when the weather was warmer. So the four ambulances on standby were not needed.

Registration got off to a slow start this year, and the numbers were down a bit from previous years. But “thanks to a big rush in April,” Diab said more than 1,200 people ended up registering. This included 875 in the 13.1-mile half marathon and 355 in the 6.1-mile 10K. According to the final results, a total of 934 people finished both races.

Cong. Dan Lipinski (D-3rd) was grand marshal of the event. He offered a good excuse for not running in the half marathon as he often does.

“I ran my first marathon yesterday, the Illinois Marathon in Champaign. And I got dehydrated,” explained Lipinski.

State Sen. Bill Cunningham (D-18th) was among the half marathon runners. He also joined Lipinski, local leaders, organizers and sponsors on the reviewing stand before the races got underway. Mayor Bob Straz was there representing Palos Heights, along with Palos Park Mayor John Mahoney and Palos Hills Mayor Gerald Bennett, who welcomed the visitors as president of the Southwest Conference of Mayors.

“It’s very important that we keep this race going. It is a great event for the whole area,” said Lipinski, who expects to be back running in it next year.

Diab said the race wouldn’t have been possible without the principal sponsors, CNB Bank & Trust and Palos Community Hospital, and he singled out the Meijer grocery store in Orland Park for praise as well, thanking the store for its in-kind donation of bottled water, Gatorade, fruit and energy bars and other food made available to runners and watchers alike.

Diab and Prestinario also credited the 200 volunteers who set up everything and ran the refreshment tents for making the event a success for the ninth year in a row.

A faulty air horn used to start the races was the only snafu, but it didn’t bother the runners.

“Mel does a great job with this. I like to support his races,” said Wendy Jaehn, 41, who was the fastest woman in the half marathon. When told that the organizers were concerned that the wet road surface might be dangerous, she said it didn’t slow her down. “You just have to be careful,” she said.

“I like to run in this type of weather,” said Veronica Laureano, 31, a member of the Chicago Road Runners Club who was the fastest woman in the 10K.

Ryan Giuliano, of north suburban Oakwood Hills, won the men’s half marathon. He also won it two years ago. He said his time of 1 hour and 9 minutes was close to a personal best.

“It is a great course,” he said. “You get a lot of support from the other runners on the way back.”      

Joe Solek, of Orland Park, was watching from the sidelines with his two Cavalier King Charles spaniels, for his friend, John Cancialosi, who was the lone competitor in the wheelchair race.

“He is a great guy and very inspirational,” said Solek.

Cancialosi, who owns Tinley Park Kitchen & Bath Shoppe, is a quadriplegic and competes in a hand-cycle, or crank bike, which he pedals by hand in a reclining position.

The rain didn’t bother him either. “This is my kind of weather,” said a beaming Cancialosi after the race. He has raised more than $3,700 for SWSRA since he began wheelchair racing a few years ago.

Mary Cody, of Oak Lawn, who completed the half marathon with her running partner and neighbor, Brian Jordan, said she was happy to see the finish line and her husband, John, and daughter, Emma, waiting to greet her with hugs.

“I’ve run a few half marathons. But this is the first time doing this one,” said Cody. “It is a really nice run through the forest preserves, but I just want to go home and relax now,” she said with a weary grin.