Jeff Vorva's Im-PRESS-ions: Against my better judgement, I am ready for some football

  • Written by Jeff Vorva



Jeffs Col Impressions

I never learn.

This is the time of year I get geeked up for football.

Really geeked up.

We are just a day away from the 2015 area high school season. In seasons past, this was the time of year that I couldn’t wait for things to start.

And it’s not just because of the football itself.

I enjoy seeing and sniffing the thick smoke from the grills as some parents or teachers are making brats or burgers for the concession stands.

It’s cool to smell the fresh-cut grass although with the new artificial turf at many stadiums, that pleasure is waning.

I like hearing the bands even though some of them can hit a few sour notes now and again.

Hearing the bellowing of crazed first-year assistant and sophomore coaches who treat the sport as if their mother’s life depends on it always amuses me the first week.  Sooner or later, they mellow out – a little.

Seeing old and familiar faces on the sidelines is always a treat. Some guys have been following their teams forever and they still have the passion to do it another season.

And then there is that final huddle before the game starts. Whether a team is a state championship contender or a sub-.500 team, that huddle features a bunch of dudes screaming until their lungs give way. They are pumped up and ready to go into a season in which they have no idea what’s going to happen in the next nine weeks.  

That moment is golden.

And then the game starts.

For me, that’s when reality hits.

Penalties. Fumbles. Bad football.

And I stand there thinking “I got all geeked up for THIS?”

And I vow that next year, I won’t get so amped up.

But I never learn.

One year, I remember making a long trip to about five or six different towns in order to get special preseason football sections so that I could be up on as many teams as possible. I even made the trip to Palos Heights to pick up the Reporter/Regional’s section even though I didn’t know at the time that I would be someday be working here.

With the exception of a 10-year gap in which I covered the Cubs, I have covered a bunch of season openers. A few were classic games. Many others were dogs.

Two years ago, when I took over as editor of the Reporter, a part of my job was to go out and cover two games on a Friday night as a photographer.

Wow! I got to experience two openers in one night! I hit the jackpot.

But I never learn.

The first night of football in 2013 was so bad with rain and lighting that eventually most of the area games were postponed. I drove to Burbank, Oak Lawn, Palos Heights, back to Oak Lawn back to Burbank waiting for a game to start and couldn’t find one. Long after I got home, I found out that Oak Lawn High School indeed got its game going hours before the scheduled kickoff and played deep into the night.

That was a lousy weekend and last year, the weather played some games with the games as well.

Usually the play gets crisper and better in the third or fourth week. Then the storylines start kicking into gear. That’s when I should be getting excited.

But I never learn.

So it’s 2015. I have been covering sports since 1977. After all of these years, I finally vowed not to get excited for this season. During the summer, when the teams were playing 7-on-7 games, I mostly ignored it.

I took a mild interest when the schedules came out, but that was about it.

Then this month, it started to hit me.  Lincoln-Way North is closing and two of our teams – Richards and Sandburg – will face the Phoenix in non-conference games in the first two weeks.

I started talking to people about Marist playing Mt. Carmel on Friday at Soldier Field. That game should be pretty cool.

Uh, oh.

My interest was getting bigger.

There is one of the best programs in the history of Michigan football named Brother Rice and that team is coming to Chicago on Saturday to play our Brother Rice.

And then, just to mess with me, fate took over. After dropping my son, T.J. off to college, we made a side trip through a small town called Arcola and it is football crazy. A bunch of the light poles had drawings of the Arcola players and we passed the high school field and a youth game was going on. I heard the whistles of the refs, the roar of the crowd and the clunk of pads hitting pads.

That hooked me.

So no matter if there is a tornado Friday night or 200 yards of penalties in the first quarter of a game I am at, I am geeked up for the season.

I never learn.



Palos Park, Lemont go to battle over land

  • Written by Dermot Connolly




Lemont Mayor Brian Reaves promised an overflow crowd at its village board meeting on Monday that he would work to prevent Palos Park from annexing four properties totaling 1,400 acres of unincorporated Cook County land.

“I will do everything in my power to fight this,” he promised the crowd, encouraging them to do the same by contacting officials in Palos Park and Cook County to express their own displeasure. “I will do whatever I can to stop this.”

The four unincorporated properties in dispute are Cog Hill Golf & Country Club, a public golf course that was home to the PGA’s Western Open from 1991 to 2006; The Gleneagles Country Club; Mid-Iron Golf Course and Ludwigs Feed Store Corp., known locally as Ludwig Farm. Because the properties are adjacent to the village of Lemont, and completely separate from Palos Park, Reaves and everyone who spoke during public comment agreed that it makes no sense to allow the annexation. Lemont had future development plans for the properties, but Palos Park made the first move.

“It is a true misappropriation of what belongs to Lemont. (These properties) have been a part of Lemont forever,” said the mayor.

He pointed out that allowing Palos Park to annex the disconnected properties would split up his own village. “Can you imagine coming to Route 83 and Main Street, and seeing “Welcome to Lemont, and then welcome to Palos Park, and back to Lemont again? It is ridiculous.”

Responding to an audience question, he said the annexation would also break the area into separate ZIP codes.

Palos Park is surrounded by forest preserve district property, and in order for the annexation to work, the village needs to obtain a piece of Cook County Forest Preserve District property that now separates it from the Mid-Iron driving range, at 126th Street and Bell Road. This would meet the requirement that a municipality be contiguous to property it annexes.

Palos Park would provide Lake Michigan water free of charge to a nearby Forest Preserve District police station, and give zoning rights back to the forest preserve district because the village doesn’t want to develop the land.

Reaves said the water issue should be “taken off the table,” because it would be much easier for Lemont to provide the water mains needed for access to Lake Michigan water than Palos Park. “If they really want to pay for Lake Michigan water, we can give it to them,” he said.

Palos Park Mayor John Mahoney has said that the Mid-Iron Golf Course, which did not open this year, could be part of a commercial development in the future. And to officials at the Lemont meeting said there is enough space on the Lundy Farm piece to build about 200 homes, and 400 more on the Gleneagles property.

“(Because the properties would still be within the boundaries of Lemont school districts) It could have a huge impact on our schools,” said Reaves, answering a question from a Boy Scout in his junior year at Lemont High School.

Reaves and others at the meeting said the annexation issue, which has been in discussion since at least 2009, stems from the property owners being “disgruntled” with Lemont, for one reason or another. All the property owners have applied to Palos Park for annexation.

“Whatever has upset these individuals, this shouldn’t be allowed,” said the mayor.

When asked if the deal could go through without support from Lemont residents, Reaves said, “unfortunately, we don’t have any official say in the matter.” Officials  acknowledged that what Palos Park is trying to do is legal.

State Sen. Christine Radogno (R-), who lives in Lemont, was at the meeting to hear from residents, and afterward expressed her displeasure with the annexation moves being made by Palos Park and the “wealthy disgruntled landowners”.

“This is terrible public policy, to have a community eight miles away making decisions that will affect this community. It is clear that Palos Park is using the Forest Preserve Board to get around the legislation (against municipalities annexing property not connected to them).

If the Forest Preserve Board of Cook County approves the deal with Palos Park to take ownership of the piece of Forest Preserve property, the annexation can go ahead with the approval of the Palos Park Board. The Forest Preserve Board is made up of the same people as the Cook County Board, and since Cook County Commissioner Sean Morrison (R-17th) lives in Palos Park and supports the annexation, many people expressed resignation about the whole process.

However, residents such as Kathy Hendrickson suggested forming a community group to lobby against it, saying residents might have more influence than officials.

“That is your right to do,” said Reaves, noting that the next meeting of the Cook county Forest Preserve Board is Sept. 8.

Other residents said they will begin attending Palos Park Village Board meetings, which are held at the same time as those in Lemont.

  “This has been going on for a long time. Follow the money trail,” said Hendrickson. “I’m saying this because I want you to get fired up. I want you all to fight this,” she said, appealing to residents to lobby against the annexation.

The Rev. Glenn Bergmark, a resident of Lemont since 1965 and chairman of the Environmental Advisory Commission, described the action being taken by Palos Park as “very selfish and self-centered.”

“I’ve seen a lot of annexation attempts over the years, but this is the most egregious.”

Ray Lehner, a resident of the Equestrian Estates subdivision, was more direct. Noting that after much deliberation, residents of his subdivision rejected annexation overtures from Palos Park several years ago. He referred to the neighboring community as  a  “political predatory parasite.”


Jeff Vorva's imPRESSions: Reporter newspaper was on C.M. Punk bandwagon way back when

  • Written by Jeff Vorva


Jeffs Col Impressions


Whilst I was researching through the old Reporter newspapers from 1998, something caught my eye on page 5 in the April 9 edition.

It was a picture of a pro wrestler with a skull on his t-shirt leaping from the top rope, ready to do some skullduggery on an opponent’s skull.

Although I am not as big of a pro wrestling fan as I used to be, I wondered who this high flyer was and I read the caption that he was none other than Phil Brooks.

Most know him by his ring name: C.M. Punk.

Punk has gone on to huge things in the World Wrestling Entertainment in recent years. His ability to throw his body around and top microphone skills made him a heel and then an antihero crowd favorite. He held the WWE title for 434 days, which makes him the longest-reigning champeen in the modern era. That reign ended Jan. 27, 2013.

A few times, however, he ticked off the big bosses by deviating from scripted storylines to get into some of the real warts of the inner workings of the WWE. But he was getting such heat from the audiences that owner Vince McMahon and his people had to suck it up. Finally, the two parted ways in 2014 and Punk is now trying to make it as an ultimate fighter.

But way back in ’98, Punk, who hails from Lockport, was a featured star in the Lunatic Wrestling Federation and picked up the biggest break of his career when he and the LWF were featured in the Reporter. He was 21 at the time and the LWF got started in a dude named Larry Satkus’s back yard in Mokena.

After Satkus, C.M. Punk and a few other goofs watched a pay-per-view event, Satkus had an idea that only the rarest of great minds could come up with.

“I said ‘hey, let’s go in the back yard and beat the crap out of each other,’ ’’ he said. “We were jumping around like a bunch of jerks.’’

And so, that’s where it started for Mr. Punk.

The LWF started to grow and they were attracting a couple of hundred people to their shows.

Punk talked about his love for the sport.

“As far as I’m concerned, it’s the ultimate stage,” he said. “A lot of kids play baseball, stickball or soccer. They grew up watching that and they want to emulate it. I grew up watching wrestling.  It’s a love of the sport, the theater and the stage it provides.’’
Even back in the old days, he would take chair shots to the head. On one night, one of the Obnoxious Frat Boys snuck up behind him and BAM!

“It’s like playing a game of chicken,” Punk said. “You know it’s coming, your body wants to react. You’ve really got to work at overcoming that. It’s really getting over that natural reflex.’’

Punk went on to become a huge star. The rest of the LWF? Well…

The group still has a Twitter account and it appears it hasn’t hosted matches in a while but one of the founding fathers of the group wrote a book about the organization.

There was one report that in September, 1998, Punk closed the LWF because his brother allegedly embezzled thousands of dollars so the inner workings of the group was not without its drama.

While people are predicting and celebrating the demise of newspapers, I steadfastly maintain there is a great need for them. I know of some places where Internet archives have been wiped out and the only place you could still read certain stories is the hard copy of the newspaper.

We provide an important service to society. Where else are you going to find out C.M. Punk got hit start jumping around with a bunch of jerks?



Seven-year 'war' over thanks to OL church

  • Written by Claudia Parker

At first, pursuing the American dream was a nightmare for former Nigerian immigrant Emmanuel Ajide.

He said it was like being “in a war.”

He won the Green Card Lottery at the expense of being separated from his family.   

For seven long years.

But the story has a happy and tearful ending as the Trinity Evangelical Covenant Church at 9230 S. Pulaski in Oak Lawn, rallied to help Ajide reunite with his family after being separated from them for all that time.

Rev. James R. Sandberg, known by his congregation as Pastor Jim said: “I promised Emmanuel I would help him. Our entire congregation pulled funds together to answer the call.”

That was a good call. It rang to the tune of $3,400 and change to help him reunite with his family.

The Diversity Immigrant Visa program, also known as the Green Card Lottery is administered annually. It’s meant to diversify the immigrant population in the United States by selecting applicants, mostly from countries with low rates of immigration to the United States.

“I wanted the opportunity to live a better life,” Ajide said. “I didn’t know I’d have to fight for it like I was in a war.”

Ajide said when he entered the lottery in Nigeria, his paperwork reflected a single status.

“When you’re selected, it’s a long process. By the time I was approved to come to America, I had married my fiancé, Olayemi, and had a daughter named Ayomide, whom was only six month’s old.”

What does one do in this situation?

Ajide chose to keep quiet about his family status.

“I thought it would be an easier process for my family to come to America once I got here. I was wrong.” Ajide said, “The strain of being apart nearly broke us.”

There was a war raging alright, most of the time, over the phone.

“Olayemi didn’t understand,’’ Ajide said. “She felt abandoned. Every day on the phone she cried, some days from sadness and others out of anger. She cussed me out-a lot!”

Due to the expense, Ajide said he could only visit his family once a year, staying only two or three weeks each time, which he said made the separation even more agonizing. During one of those trips back, Olayemi conceived their second child, a son named, Olawale.

“I didn’t meet my son until he was 14 months old.” Ajide said, “When we met, he looked at me like, ‘Who is this man?’”

The church sat across the street from Ajide’s apartment.

“I’m slow about getting around to things. I lived there three years before I visited.” Ajide said, “Pastor Jim became like a father to me. He helped me cope with what I was going through. My marriage gained strength again when I met him. He helped me to recognize my wife as my partner and told me if I stayed committed to our partnership, we’d make it through any situation.”

Sandberg and his wife, Charlene, have been married 39 years. “I wasn’t trying to give Emmanuel marriage advice,” Sandberg said. “I just counseled to his need.”    

Ajide left Nigeria in June 2008, his family arrived in the United States in June.

To support himself and his family while here in the states, he worked as a certified nursing assistant while he completed a Master of Business Administration degree from the University of Phoenix. He is now a case manager for a nursing home.

“The first time I arrived home from work to my family, the kids pounced on me,” said Ajide. He teared up. “My son screamed, ‘My Daddy! My Daddy!’ They truly are my happiness and my joy.”

Olayemi said the time away from her husband was especially difficult on the kids.

“It was hard explaining to the kids why their dad was away. But now, we’re all happy. There are no words to describe what it feels like to lay down and see my husband beside me.”

Olayemi’s sentiments were equally pleasing toward the Oak Lawn church.

“We are forever grateful to Pastor Jim and this church for the love they’ve shown us,” she said. “Not even in Africa have we experienced this kind of love.”  

Goodbye Lexington House

  • Written by Sharon L. Filkins


Memories, memories and more memories came flooding back to Mike Herman, lighting the corners of his mind, as he recalled the way it was at the Lexington House for the past 44 years.

Open since 1968, the Lexington House will close its doors for the final time as it hosts two events on Saturday. The property has been sold to DriveTime Car Sales Company, LLC and it will be used as a used car showroom.

Many people have memories of the place, but Herman may have more than anyone.

This is a place that Barack Obama threw a party long before he became president and Ray Charles performed. Members of the Super Bowl champion Chicago Bears held a fashion show there. Former governor Jim Thompson's helicopter touched down in the parking lot right next to the hall.

And Herman was there to see it all.

Herman, 61, started working at the iconic banquet facility in Hickory Hills during his junior year of high school, helping out his Dad, John, who worked there part-time doing maintenance and often serving as a Maitre d and bartender.

“My dad was good friends with the owner, Jack McGann and worked here a lot in addition to being a firefighter. I learned a lot from him.”

Of the 44 years he has been there, he has spent 35 of them as the chief bartender for the many large events held there. However, bartending didn’t sit well with him in the beginning. Working alongside his dad one day during a fashion show with more than 500 women attending, he was trying to keep up with the waitresses returning with trays full of ten or so glasses to be refilled.

“The orders were all blended drinks, apricot stone sours, pink ladies, etc., I threw my hands up finally and said, that’s it, I’m done, I can’t do this,” he said.

He took a brief break from the bartending aspect of the job, but after a year or so, he took it up again and has been at it ever since.

Many events at the Lexington were annual affairs, often with 500 to 600 people attending.

And when the parties got swanky, Herman was more than happy to put on a tie.

“People may not have always remembered my name each year, but they remembered me as the 'bartender with the Three Stooges tie' because I always wore it when I was working the bar,'' Herman said. "I would tell them I wore it because the owners said I had to dress up for the party.”

After a few  years, the tie became a little ragged and one of the owners came out and said, ”It’s time for a new tie, here’s a few bucks, go out and buy a new one.”

Herman said he has been through a number of the black and white ties over the years. He still has one very crisp, clean tie for the last events planned at the Lexington. He said he has been offered money for the Stooges tie, but it is not for sale.

Herman said working at the Lexington has always been exciting with the parade of big names that have come through the doors.

“When Barack Obama was running for the Senate, he held a meeting here,’ said Herman. He added that every Illinois governor since the 1970s has been to the facility.

Herman said one of his biggest thrills was when Thompson was there for the ribbon-cutting of the southbound exit on the I-294 Tollway, which is just down the street from the Lexington. Thompson’s helicopter landed in the parking lot of the banquet hall. While it was sitting there waiting for the governor, the pilot asked Herman if he wanted to sit in the governors seat in the cockpit.

“I said sure, so I climbed up and sat there in the cockpit. I thought it was pretty cool.” Herman said.

Governor Rod Blagojevich also visited in 2005, the year the White Sox won the World Series.

“I may not have made the best impression on him,” said Herman who said he is a dyed-in-the-wool White Sox fan. He said Blagojevich, who was known as a staunch Cubs fan, strolled into the kitchen and Herman greeted him with “Go Cubs!”

“I don’t think it set well with him” Herman said, laughing.

Other well-known visitors have included both Mayor Daleys and Cardinals Joseph Bernadin and Francis George.

Herman said his favorite sports celebrities who showed up were the Chicago Bears, after they won the Super Bowl in  1985. “They came to a lot of special events and they were just great guys. I remember Gary Fencik and Michael Singletary being here a number of times.”

Big name entertainers also have a place in his memories. Ray Charles, Roy Clark, Mel Tillis, all appeared at the Lexington. Also a local popular group, Big Twist and the Mellow Fellows performed there.

“The night they were here, in the 80’s, it was a very, very cold night in January and 800 people came out to see them in spite of the weather.” Herman said.

For many years, New Year’s Eve saw parties of 1,000 people being held at the Lexington. “It would be pretty wild,” said Herman. “It would be so crowded we would have people seated at small tables in the balcony area.”

Other large parties with more than 500 guests were held annually at the facility for more than 20 years, including the Polish Prince Charming Ball and the Hispanic Rodeo Club.

Hundreds of weddings, anniversaries retirement parties, baby showers, high school proms, and company parties have been held at the Lexington House. Herman said, couples who have held their wedding receptions there, often return for their children’s wedding receptions. He himself was married there as was his sister, his step-daughter and many of his friends.

Herman said the big draws of the Lexington House were its convenient location, the fact that it had one ballroom, so there would be no overflow from other parties, and it had a huge dance floor. 

But, times change, the economy changed, companies no longer hold large holiday parties and  many people choose to hold house parties on New Year’s Eve instead of going out.  Herman said things began declining in the late 90’s. 

There was a time when the Lexington could not book a party without a minimum of 400 people. Then it dropped to 300, then 200, he said.

Since word has spread that the Lexington House is closing, people have been stopping by just to take a last look around or to show their grandchildren where their own wedding or senior prom was held, Herman said.

“It has been a good run and I am going to miss the people I got to know through the years and the people I have worked with,” he said. On a personal note, he added that he wanted to thank the McGann family, founders of the Lexington House, for all they have done for him and his family through the years.

Asked what his future plans were, he laughed and said, “If anyone is looking for a mature, experienced, loyal bartender, I’m available.”  He said he can be contacted through the Beverly Woods Restaurant in Beverly, which is also owned by the McGann family.