Tears for peers: Worth mayor gets emotional in speech when talking about her fellow residents

  • Written by Bob Rakow



Photo by Jeff Vorva


Here is something you don't usually don't see from a mayor at a state-of-the-village address.


When it comes to talking about the residents of Worth, Mayor Mary Werner can't help it.

Werner choked up briefly during her state of the village address March 9 at Jenny’s Steakhouse as she talked about the folks who live the town she’s led for the past two years.

“We have a great community filled with caring residents,” Werner said during her speech, which was given at the Worth Chicago Ridge Chamber of Commerce luncheon.

The willingness of residents to support one another and their community is one of the first things Werner noticed after being elected, she said.

“As I speak about the residents of this village, it’s very emotional,” Werner said about her speech. “It was very difficult to talk about the residents of this community without getting emotional.”

Specifically, Werner has been impressed with the way residents respond to fundraisers and others efforts for neighbors who are in need. Additionally, she said, residents wholeheartedly supported the village’s yearlong centennial celebration.

“It’s just amazing,” she said.

Werner’s emotions impressed Chicago Ridge Mayor Chuck Tokar, who also gave his state of the village address at the chamber luncheon.

“I loved your passion at the end,” Tokar told Werner.

Werner’s had plenty else to stay during her remarks, including the economic boost the village is likely to receive when a medical marijuana dispensary opens on Harlem Avenue.

The village board in September unanimously approved the Windy City Cannabis Club’s request for a special-use permit and location for a marijuana dispensary at 11425 S. Harlem Ave.

The WCCC in February was granted a medical marijuana dispensary license.

The Harlem Avenue location is one of only a few in Worth that meets the state’s zoning requirements that prohibits clinics from locating within 1,000 feet of a school or daycare center.

WCCC’s Worth clinic would be the sole dispensary for a region of the state that includes Worth, Calumet and Stickney townships.

“You would have hundreds or thousands of people who’ve never had to come to the village before,” Werner said. “Anything we can do to draw more people to the village has got to be a good thing.”

The clinic isn’t expected to open for several months, but WCCC is already paying rent on the Harlem Avenue property in order to secure the space, Werner said.

“It’s many months away,” Werner said.

The state’s medical cannabis act took effect on Jan. 1. The law allows the use of marijuana by individuals who have a medical need and a permit.

Qualifying patients must be diagnosed by a physician as having a debilitating medical condition. A qualifying patient with a state card can purchase 2.5 ounces of marijuana every two weeks.

Steve Weisman, head of the WCCC ownership group, detailed the dispensary’s security plan, which will include 38 cameras and a two-door entry system. Cashiers will sit behind secure teller window and delivery of the medical marijuana and the transport of cash will be handled by an armored truck.

Werner described her state of the village address as “a chance to brag.”

She gave a recap of the centennial celebration and said the village is looking forward to the May 17 unveiling of the centennial memorial, a 4-by-8 foot mural created by local artist Mark Vancura that will be located at village hall.

Werner also touched on the village’s new website, which she described as “a better and more convenient way to communicate with residents.”

The past year featured the approval of a contract between the village the union representing the police officers. Additionally, the village named a a new police chief--Mark Micetich—following the retirement of Martin Knolmayer, who stepped down in October.


Finally, the village is working to extend its agreement with the North Palos Fire Protection District, spent $500,000 on streets and sidewalks, purchased two police squad cars and a bucket truck for the public works department, Werner said.




EP mayor says new Plaza deal is a 'grand slam'

  • Written by Bob Rakow

The wrecking ball is finally ready to swing at the Plaza.


After several failed attempts, plans to raze and rebuild the iconic Evergreen Park mall are in motion after the village trustees Monday approved a development agreement for the shopping center.


“It’s finally right at our fingertips,” Evergreen Park Mayor Jim Sexton said. “We’re a huge step closer to getting the Plaza done. It will be a grand slam, not a home run.”


Despite an ongoing series of setbacks, the mayor expressed confidence that a deal eventually would be struck to redevelop the Plaza, which has largely been vacant since 2013.


“Sometimes you got to put on the full court press,” Sexton said. “All the stars aligned on this.”


Trustees unanimously approved a 45-day memo of understanding with Evergreen Park Developers, a partnership between DeBartolo Development and Lormax Stern Development Co. of Bloomfield Hills, Mich., which has a contract to purchase the mall.


“We think now it’s finally time,” said Daniel Stern, owner of Lormax Stern, a firm with a history of redeveloping failed shopping malls. “We think this project is more exciting than any of the others (we’ve done).”


Plans call for the Plaza, located at 95th Street and Western Avenue, to be razed, possibly as soon as this summer, Stern said. The new mall—Evergreen Park Marketplace—could open within 18 months, Sexton said.


Demolition costs are estimated at $10 million.


Planet Fitness and Applebee’s will remain at the new mall, Stern said. Carson’s has expressed an interest in locating in the new mall, he said.


The new outdoor mall will feature between 30 and 40 stores, the majority of them national retailers, Stern said.


He said interest in the mall is already very high.


“People want to come into your village,” said Stern, adding that a gourmet grocery store such as Whole Foods could be in the mix. “There’s more tenants than there is space.”


Stern added that the region’s demographic, the amount of traffic and the lack of major retailers in area will make the mall a success. He said the mall would draw most of its customers from a three-mile radius, which would include the Evergreen Park, Oak Lawn and Chicago’s Beverly, Morgan Park, Mt. Greenwood and Wrightwood communities.


Monday’s announcement is a significant achievement for Sexton, who’s made the Plaza’s rebirth a primary goal.


At his December State of the Village address, Sexton hinted at plans to redevelop the mall. But days later, reality hit the mayor and the village hard as Crains Chicago business reported that a potential deal with the Tampa-based DeBartelo group collapsed and the foreclosure process has restarted.

That news didn’t deter Sexton, who insisted a deal was still in the works and Crain’s report was inaccurate.

“This isn’t an Evergreen Park thing, it’s a South Side thing,” Sexton said.

He added that the success of Wal-Mart, Meijer, Menard’s and other retailers on Western Avenue coupled with Mariano’s decision to bring a store to Evergreen Park, made the village an appealing location for other major retailers.

Built in 1952, the Plaza was identified as one of the first modern American shopping malls and was a template for others built around the country. It features 1.2 million square feet of retail floor area and at one time had approximately 120 stores and a food court.



– D’oh – Finally a contested election in EP

  • Written by Bob Rakow



There’s a contested election for three seats on the Evergreen Park Village Board—an event that has not occurred in nearly 30 years.


Three incumbent trustees—Mark Marzullo, James McQuillan and Mary Keane—are seeking re-election to the six-member board. Together, the trio has almost four decades of experience on the board and hope to retain their positions on April 7.


Meanwhile, Chris Trzeciak, a lifetime resident of Evergreen Park and the president of Evergreen Park Community High School District 231 board said he is in the race to give voters a choice, he says.

Having a choice is something new for EP voters.

The same month that “The Simpsons” cartoon debuted on the “Tracey Ullman Show” Cutting Crew’s “(I Just) Died In Your Arms Tonight” was a monster hit, the Cubs traded Dennis Eckersley to Oakland for three minor leaguers and Texaco filed for bankruptcy was the last time there was contested Trustee race in EP until this year.

The novelty is being welcomed in some circles.

“I think it’s great to have [contested] elections,” Mayor Jim Sexton said. “It gives us a chance to get the candidates out to talk to the people. They get to go door to door and find out from people what they might have missed. It gets us up and gets us going.

“I go back to the sports angle. You have to practice every day. You can’t just show up for game day.’’

The last contested race in Evergreen Park took place in April 1987 when six candidates ran for three seats on the board.

Sexton, John McGivern and John Murphy easily defeated challengers Jean Kruppiak, Robert Simutis and Elizabeth Angele by two-to-one margins.

Kruppiak, an incumbent, was elected in 1979. She ran unsuccessfully for mayor against Tony Vacco in 1985.

Murphy was later elected Worth Township Supervisor, a position he held until 2013.

Ruth Donahue defeated Harold Wierenga for a two-year term as village clerk.


Walter White is BACK

  • Written by Jeff Vorva




Photo by Jeff Vorva

Oak Lawn’s Dave Janet, also known as Walter White, is back to winning races after back surgeries in 2013 and 2014.


Walter White has returned.

No, there isn’t a “Breaking Bad II” television show where the cult hero rises from the dead to cook more meth.

This Walter White has a real name of Dave Janet.

Janet is an Oak Lawn native who, as a joke, entered his name as Walter White in the 2013 Tinley Park Stars and Stripes 5K Run and finished second to his North Central College track teammate, Mitch Gilbert in the race.

Janet smiled when Walter White’s name was called during the award ceremony and anyone calling up that race on will see that Walter White finished second with a time of 15 minutes, 41 seconds.

What has happened to Walter White, er, Dave Janet since then is not so funny.

The Brother Rice graduate had back surgery to repair a herniated disc the following December and in June had a laminectomy performed. His senior track season at North Central was wiped out and his summer was spent recovering from the pain after being treated by MetroSouth Medical Center Orthopaedic Surgeon William Payne.

On Oct. 18, Janet returned to running and since his return, he has won four out of five races he entered including Sunday’s 8K Running O’ the Green in Tinley Park. He clocked in at 26.15 to beat out Gilbert, who finished with a 26.43.

After graduating from North Central in Naperville, Janet, 23, is now in the Southern Illinois University Edwardsville dental school program and he has entered races in the southern part of the state. His next race will be the Alton Half Marathon on March 21.

“It’s a good way to get my mind off of dental school,” he said. “Once you are a runner, you do what you love. ‘’

Last summer, Gilbert won the Stars and Stripes event and wore a Brother Rice shirt during that race in his friend’s honor. For Sunday’s race, Gilbert wasn’t expecting to battle his pal.

“I haven’t seen Dave since last summer when we got to hang out,” Gilbert said. “He told me he wasn’t doing this race and out of the blue, I see him here. It was a great surprise and great to see someone who had so many low points come back and to do what he loves.’’

Other area standouts in the race were Chicago Ridge’s  Kristyn Rein (first in the 25-29 age group), Palos Hills’ Dariusz Lisowski (second in the men’s 35-39), Oak Lawn’s Brian Tornga (third in the men’s 25-29), Oak Lawn’s Steven Gelsomid  (third in the men’s 60-64).

By the way, the Walter White persona has not yet died for Janet.

“I still receive mail for the Tinley Park races addressed to ‘Walter White,’ ’’ Janet said. “It’s pretty funny to see that.’’



Oak Lawn tornado in '67 affecting Chicago Ridge today

  • Written by Bob Rakow

JUMP-page-TokarThe aftermath of the destruction from the 1967 tornado that wrecked havoc in Oak Lawn is still being felt in neighboring Chicago Ridge.


As Oak Lawn rebounded from the tornado’s damage, much of the debris was dumped on the Chicago Ridge property that later became the Yellow Truck Terminal.


“Oak Lawn didn’t have any place to put the debris from that tornado,” Chicago Ridge Mayor Chuck Tokar said Tuesday during a state of the village address at Jenny’s Steak House in Worth. “They put a portion of it, well, they put most of it, next to Stony Creek on the south end of theYellow Freight property.”


Tokar’s remarks followed a state of the village given by Worth Mayor Werner. Both speeches were given during a meeting of the Chicago Ridge-Worth Chamber of Commerce.


“It’s all well and good for Yellow Freight because they just had to pave it over and pave it over and put concrete and asphalt on top of it, and it’s been fine.” Tokar said. “But now that they’re looking to put a development on it.”


Only a portion of the property—perhaps 15 acres—was used for refuse dumping, but the ground condition is not appropriate for new construction, Tokar said.


“That ground is pretty soft. It’s got windows, it’s got door frames, it’s good wood, it’s got bricks, it’s concrete, it’s got all kinds of stuff,” he said. “Building on that type of property is extremely expensive.”


That section of the property might be better used for a driving range or another outdoor use rather than undergoing the expenses associated with prepping the ground for development, the mayor said.


“I kind of like the idea of a mini Ravinia myself, but I don’t think we’ll get to that,” Tokar said. “At this time I am cautiously optimistic that we will see a development on that property. It would be a great thing for Chicago Ridge. It would be a great thing for the entire area around here—all the surrounding towns. “If we can draw people to our area, I think it benefits all of us.”


That won’t happen, however, until market research and soil borings are completed, which will take several more months, Tokar said.


Ideally, the village would like to turn the vacant truck terminal along with some adjacent property near 103rd Street and the shuttered Aldi near Harlem Avenue and Southwest Highway into a mixed-use development.


Yellow Freight abandoned its truck terminal about five years ago. Since that time, redeveloping the Harlem Avenue terminal has been the village’s top priority.

To that end, the village recently partnered with Structured Development to create the Ridge Creek Joint Venture Partnership.

The village purchased the property from Yellow Roadway Corp. for $14 million. The purchase contract is contingent on the condition of the property, Tokar said.

The village board also approved an ordinance that designates the Yellow Freight property and the adjacent land as a tax increment financing district. The TIF district is bordered by Harlem Avenue, the Tri-State Tollway and Southwest Highway.


A mixed-use development that would feature family entertainment options, such as Dave & Buster’s; a multi-level, heated golf driving range similar to Top Golf in Wood Dale or an indoor skydiving facility similar to iFly in Naperville or Rosemont all are under consideration, Tokar has said.

The development also would feature shops, restaurants and condominiums or townhomes, Tokar said. Hotels, a conference center or a venue for entertainment also are under consideration, he said.