RidgeFest’s dropping of national acts has mixed reaction

  • Written by Dermot Connolly


Ted - X cropped

No Terrible Ted.


No Joan Jett.

No Eddie Money.

Speaking of money, admission prices have been slashed in half for Ridge Fest 2015, the Chicago Ridge summer festival now in its 26th year, but the lack of big-name musicians is getting decidedly mixed reviews from regular fest-goers.

 “We were trying to bring down the price of admission,” said Chicago Ridge Mayor Charles Tokar recently, when asked about the event being held Thursday, July 23, through Sunday, July 26, at Freedom Park, 6252 Birmingham Ave. “These bands  we’re having may not be nationally known, but they are very good bands.”

The price of admission is $5 this year, and Chicago Ridge residents with IDs will be admitted free on Sunday, which is billed as Super Sunday Family Fun Day. In past years, admission cost $10 or $12, depending on the day, but performers such as Ted Nugent, Eddie Money, Peter Frampton, Bret Michaels and REO Speedwagon have headlined the festival traditionally held the last week of July.

Nugent has performed three times in recent years—2007, 2011 and 2013. But he won’t be there this time around. And that omission rankled some of the people posting on the Ridge Fest Facebook page.

Among the disgruntled commenters was a poster identified as Ronald George, who wrote, No Ted = no me. (And no 5,000 other people).”

Another poster identified as Judy Lachky said, “I look forward to the bigger names. Last year was a bust, and this year seems the same. I don’t mind paying a little extra to walk a block and see people like the Nuge, Bret Michaels, etc.”

But the page also had people happy about the changes.

“About time. The price was a turnoff the last few years and kept people away,” wrote one woman identified as Tiffany Ann.

 “Much better prices,” said a poster identified as  Dawn Laurenkus, while someone under the name  Wrayanne Simon Kolarik added it was  “a step in the right direction.”

 Even last year, Warrant was the only big-name band on stage at the fest, and some people said that was why the fest didn’t draw crowds as big as past years. Others said chilly weather was to blame.

This year, the Thursday night performers include Headbangers Ball and Infinity, both popular local cover bands that play regularly throughout the southwest suburbs. Hairbangers Ball is an ‘80s hair-rock tribute band, while Infinity is known for playing music made famous by Journey, REO Speedwagon and other well-known bands from the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s.

Two bands known for playing dance music, Recycle the Day and Wedding Banned, featuring hits from the Motown era up to today, will be featured on Friday night.

Tokar said that on July 25, usually the night the top headliners play, two New Jersey-based cover bands will take the stage. Slippery When Wet describes itself as the “ultimate Bon Jovi tribute band,” while The B-Street Band is the "original Bruce Springsteen tribute band.”

“They might not be well-known here, but they are really good bands,” the mayor said.

Ryan Pelton, who plays Elvis music, and American English, one of the most accomplished Beatles acts, will be on stage Sunday. In addition to the usual fireworks show to close the event on Sunday, new this year is a laser-light show on Saturday night.

For those who do went to catch national acts at a local event, Warrant and Eddie Money will play at the third WeishFest July 18 at Standard Bank Stadium in Crestwood.


'Really incredible'

  • Written by Kelly White


Photo by Kelly White

             “Move out of the way, we have a hero coming through!”

                This announcement rang through the halls of Advocate  Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn last month, from Patient Care Assistant, Susan Schnoor, as 15-year-old Bobby Sianis visited his father. The Palos Hills resident and freshman at Stagg High School had learned CPR only one week prior to saving his father’s life on May 6.

                “He’s a hero,” Schnoor said, “You don’t hear cardiopulmonary resuscitation success stories every day and especially because he is so young, it is really incredible.”

                Bobby was paying his respects to his grandmother at Lack & Sons Funeral Home in Hickory Hills when his father, George Sianis collapsed and stopped breathing. As Bobby administered compressions on his dad's chest, he coached his mom on how to tilt George's head back and blow air into his lungs. Upon arrival, paramedics from Christ praised Bobby's courage and resourcefulness.

                “I didn’t even know that he knew CPR,” George said, “I am very proud that he took charge. Usually Bobby is shy, but that day he really stood up and took action.”

                Bobby received the Citizen Hero Award from the Roberts Park Fire Department last  Tuesday night from Fire Chief Jeff Ketchen who thanked Bobby for his calm and collective actions. Bobby also received a plaque from the American Red Cross for extraordinary personal action.

                “We want to recognize Bobby for the astonishing actions he took that were necessary to save his father,” Theresa Rees, territory aquatics specialist for American Red Cross said.

                George has diabetes but until that day, he did not know he had heart issues. The Sianis’ youngest son, Demetri, 11, was born with a heart condition and has already undergone open-heart surgery.

                “It’s a very scary thing,” George said, “However, even with everything that has happened to our family, I couldn’t have asked for better kids.”

                His kids were on his mind when he awoke from cardiac arrest in Christ Hospital, according to one of the nurses caring for George, Heidi Hall.

                “When he woke up the first thing he did was ask for his son,” Hall said, “He was repeating ‘Where’s my son? Where’s my son?’.”

                When Hall first heard of George’s story prior to taking on treatment, she assumed Bobby was an adult.

                “When I realized Bobby was just a 15-year-old boy, I was absolutely floored,” she said.

                Bobby’s grandmother, Mary Athanasiou, of Burbank, describes the event as a miracle.

                “Everything happens for a reason and if this would have happened any other day and Bobby not had been there, he wouldn’t be with us today,” she said.

                George also suffered a broken ankle during the incident and at the hospital; a defibrillator was implanted to monitor his heart. Often patients who survive such an ordeal experience subsequent breathing issues or brain damage; however, because of Bobby's CPR, George was saved from those side effects as well, Bobby’s mother, Bessie, said.

                “I am just so proud of Bobby,” Bessie said. “As it happened, I just kept thinking, please don’t die like this. Don’t leave us.”

                Thanks to Bobby, his father is still here and reportedly doing much better.

                “Bobby has been helping me a lot around the house,” George said. “Since he’s out of school for the summer now, he has even been cooking for me. Anything I need, he’s always there. He’s my son and I couldn’t be prouder.”

                Bobby is hoping to take his compassionate nature to a whole new level and aspires to become a paramedic.

                “Even if it isn’t on the South Side, I know now that I want to become a paramedic and help save lives,” he said.

                Being called a hero from nurses at Christ Hospital may have made the timid teenager blush, but he admits it was "really kind of cool."

Jeff Vorva's Im-PRESS-ions: With a horse in the race, this high school season was special

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

Jeffs Col Impressions



Photo by Jeff Vorva 

T.J. Vorva holds up the fourth-place trophy that Sandburg's volleyball team won on June 6.


The 2014-15 high school sports season officially ended in our area on Saturday, with Marist’s softball team bringing back a state championship trophy back to the Chicago school.

Also, a handful of Orland Park kids who play for Providence brought a first-place trophy in baseball to New Lenox.

For me, it was one of the most emotional seasons I ever encountered. At times, I was at the top of the world. Other times I felt like I was in a sewer in Hell.

The first sporting event I ever covered as a professional reporter was in November, 1977 and it was a boys basketball game between Lemont and Bolingbrook. I was a senior in high school.

Since then, I’ve been to thousands of high school, college and professional events as a reporter. I’ve covered kids and their kids and possibly their kids’ kids. I’ve always maintained a reporter’s detachment. I never rooted for anything but a good story.

This year – and the last couple of weeks – has been surreal.

My son, T.J. was a key cog on Sandburg’s boys volleyball team. Now I am at these games as a parent, not as a reporter.

After decades of covering others kids in a multitude of sports, it was a little shock to my system to see T.J. and my daughter, Lauren, the first time they donned high school basketball or volleyball uniforms for their first game.

I don’t care if your kid is a star or a benchwarmer, the accomplishment of making even a freshman team is still rare and not to be taken lightly. There are thousands of kids who go to some of our area’s bigger schools and a tiny percentage who make it on a high school team.

It’s even rarer to be on a state power.

I’m not going to take you on a trip through Sandburg’s volleyball season but after an 8-4 start, the Eagles looked like a good, but not great team. Then they piled up a 28-match winning streak that took us frazzled parents to the state’s final four.

As a writer and photographer, I’ve always enjoyed covering state tournaments.

The drama.

The triumphs.

The disappointments.

It’s all good stuff. Emotions run high and even for a detached writer, I get pumped up.

I still get goosebumps when I shoot photos of a state football championship celebration when all these big macho guys are screaming and hollering and jumping up and down like little school girls.

And now, there is my kid on the floor for a state tournament game.

The sportswriter in me doesn’t allow me to yell and scream too much during these game. I try to stay cool.

But inside, I am dying after every error and ready to have my head explode after every kill or block. My wife, Maggie said the stress was getting to her so much, she joked about it feeling like having a heart attack, especially in the last four or five matches.

Friends and family came to Hoffman Estates to watch the action – some of whom may have not been to a volleyball match in a while – if ever. We hoped hard that he would play well in front of them.

This postseason was the weirdest and most pressure-filled because we had a horse in the race.

During sectional play, the fellas beat Eisenhower in a wild first match at the Shepard Sectional and then breathed a sigh of relief as I broke out the camera to cover another fun battle between Marist and Brother Rice.

“Now I’ve gone from (deleted) father back to unbiased reporter,” I told a couple of my peers. “The pressure is off.”

The volleyball season ended with a fourth-place finish on June 6 and I figured that would be the end of that. It’s over.

But three days later, the Marist softball team won a come-from-behind 5-4 victory over Downers Grove South at the Benedictine University Class 4A Supersectional and I was caught in the middle of the mob-scene celebration.

More goose bumps.

Yeah, the players went nuts and that was to be expected.

But after the wild celebration and posing for photos was over, I watched the Marist parents as they excitedly talked about the game and their travel plans for the state tournament. For them, all was right in the world.  

I knew how they felt.

So after what has turned out to be an unusual sports season for me, I am never going to be able to cover a high school postseason event without a little smile.

Oak Lawn-based Park Lawn among protesters at Rauner’s speech

  • Written by Dermot Connolly


Photo by Dermot Connolly

Park Lawn clients and officials protest Governor Bruce Rauner’s proposed cut before he gave a speech in Oak Forest on June 15. 




Union members and other protesters, including Oak Lawn special needs provider Park Lawn, who waited in driving rain for him to arrive at Gaelic Park in Oak Forest on Monday before he spoke to the Chicago Southland Chamber of Commerce.


Park Lawn, an organization that has been serving people with developmental disabilities for 60 years, was there to protest Rauner’s budget cuts that are expected hit social services hard.

“We wanted to show him that we matter,” said Kelly Ewing, a case manager in charge of enrichment programs at the facility, located at 5040 W. 111th St. in Oak Lawn.

Dozens of Park Lawn clients were present picketing.

“Social services are underfunded anyway. There hasn’t been any increased funding at Park Lawn for more than seven years,” said Ewing. “It is reflective of who is valued in society and who is not.”

She couldn’t say whether funding cuts would result in Park Lawn programs being cut.

Ewing said that the agency already depends heavily on fundraising, and that will have to increase to make up for any more cuts. 

“The state is already slow to pay. It is a bad situation that is not getting any better,” she said.

From a worker standpoint, hundreds of union employees were on hand to give the governor a piece of their mine.

“We’re just here to let him know we don’t like what he is trying to do to the unions,” said Brian Hickey, president of the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 399.

Hickey was referring to Rauner’s efforts to revamp workers compensation laws, among other things. Electricians, carpenters, sheet metal workers, pipefitter, sprinkler fitters and others were also there.

“The union provided me with a living, a very good living, for 40 years, and the powers-that-be want to take that away. There is a movement to destroy all these unions,” said Ken Purse, a retired pipefitter from Chicago’s Ashburn neighborhood.

Rauner proposed eliminating the requirement that employees pay union dues.

While outside of the building was hostile, inside, chamber members gave Rauner a warm welcome. He spoke at length about his turnaround plan.

Rauner didn’t dwell on the protesters in his speech but said: “Change isn’t easy. If you’re not upsetting somebody, you’re not making changes.”

Keloryn Putnam, executive director of the Orland Park Chamber of Commerce, described Rauner’s speech as “pretty impressive.”

“I wasn’t surprised by what I heard him say, because I am familiar with the turnaround plan. But I was surprised by all the protesters.

“As citizens, we have to make sure that our voices are heard. They certainly heard the group outside,” she said, referring to the chanting of protesters  that could be heard while Rauner was speaking inside the banquet hall.

“If residents became more informed about tort reform, I think they would become more involved. The turnout at elections is apathetic, and we get what we get.”



Evergreen Park and Oak Lawn official preach caution after deadly virus found in local mosquitoes

  • Written by Dermot Connolly


Evergreen Park Mayor James Sexton

(Photo by Jeff Vorva)


Evergreen Park Mayor James Sexton lost 60 pounds the hard way.

And he nearly lost his life.

So when there is even a hint that the West Nile virus can be found in his village, he takes it seriously.

Sexton, who has battled and survived the West Nile virus, and Oak Lawn officials said the Illinois Department of Public Health reported last week that mosquitoes testing positive for West Nile virus were found in Oak Lawn and Evergreen Park in May—one in each village.

Sexton said it serves as a reminder to residents to take precautions.

Sexton, who survived a serious bout with West Nile virus in 2012, said his village had been at the forefront of the battle against West Nile virus since 2002.

“I take a serious, hard look at (reports of positive tests). But we were leading the way on this, even before I got sick,” said Sexton. “We’ve always taken a very aggressive approach (to mosquito abatement), since 2002. We’re going to continue on this same path.’’

Sexton contracted the virus in 2012 right around the time another mayor, Lombard’s Bill Mueller, died of West Nile virus. The story was huge in the Chicago area.

“I certainly wasn’t looking for the PR that Evergreen Park received,’’ Sexton said. “But in a strange way it was good if it helped others by shedding light on the seriousness of the situation. I spent 45 days in Christ Hospital, including two in intensive care.

“I lost 60 pounds, but I wouldn’t recommend that diet to anyone,” he added wryly.

A single mosquito with West Nile doesn’t sound like big news, but Sexton has some warnings.

 “I am not sure how seriously people take it, but we all must be diligent in covering up and applying repellant when mosquitoes are active,” he said.  

Sexton encouraged residents to be diligent about checking their property for standing water, and disperse it.

“The village will abate it,” said Sexton, explaining that anyone needing help to get rid of water can get assistance from the village.

The IDPH statement said employees collected a positive mosquito batch on May 21 in Oak Lawn, and another one on May 26, in Evergreen Park.  These were the first positive batches in northern Illinois this year, according to a statement. No human cases were involved, and none have been reported so far this year.

Last year, 50 counties in Illinois reported a West Nile virus positive mosquito batch, bird and/or human case.  IDPH reported 44 human cases in 2014, including four deaths. 
Douglas Wright, general manager of the South Cook County Mosquito Abatement District, explained that finding by the IDPH of one or two mosquitoes that tested positive will not require any additional action to be taken beyond what is being done already.

“We have treated catch basins in Evergreen Park (and Oak Lawn) with larvicidal briquettes, slow-acting over 45 days. We are constantly clearing standing water (where mosquitoes lay eggs) and checking traps. We are monitoring, and if we see repetitive tests coming back positive, we will take further action,” he said.

Oak Lawn Village Manager Larry Deetjen also stressed people should take this seriously. “West Nile is a serious virus and residents should take precautions,” he said, noting that there is information about prevention provided on the village website (under Latest News) at and on Channel 4.

“We proactively treat the storm sewers with larvicide. This time of year we will get more aggressive in enforcing village ordinances, such as keeping grass cut,” he said.

In addition to tall grass, the village manager added that outdoor wood piles are also not permitted, because they often retain water and attract mosquitoes.

He encouraged residents to be aware of any stagnant water, in pools and gutters or elsewhere, and contact the village if they need help getting rid of it.

Surveillance for West Nile virus in Illinois includes laboratory tests on mosquito batches, dead crows, blue jays, robins and other perching birds, as well as testing sick horses and humans with West Nile virus-like symptoms.  People who observe a sick or dying crow, blue jay, robin or other perching bird should contact their local health department, which will determine if the bird will be picked up for testing.
West Nile virus is transmitted through the bite of a mosquito that has picked up the virus by feeding on an infected bird.  Common symptoms include fever, nausea, headache and muscle aches.  Symptoms may last from a few days to a few weeks.  However, four out of five people infected with West Nile virus will not show any symptoms.  In rare cases, severe illness including meningitis or encephalitis, or even death, can occur.