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'Forget Michael Jordan' -- OL biz owner says his statue is best in the nation

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

When it comes to that 30-foot Indian that stands outside his store, Jim Sharizi pulls no punches.

After a week of having his prized statue painted by Oak Lawn resident Dave Ithal, the Cardinal Liquor Barn owner let the bragging begin. And he pulled no punches.

 “It’s probably the most beautiful statue out there,” Sharizi said Friday afternoon. “I would like to see if someone could say there is a better statue. They can’t. I have the best statue in the United States. It’s iconic.’’

Better than the Michael Jordan statue at the United Center in Chicago?

“Forget Michael Jordan!” he said. “Who is Michael Jordan?  This statue is better than Michael Jordan’s. His statue is only popular because of his sporting career. More people know about him.’’

Sharizi said bought the statue in 1998 when the Cook County Tobacco Warehouse closed its doors. Roadside America.com said that Big Chief was built in the 1970s by Creative Display, which is the same outfit that erected the world’s largest fish in Hayward, Wisc.

Big Chief is believed to be the largest cigar store Indian in the world.

In an age of political correctness with sports teams with Indian names and logos being asked to cease and switch, Sharizi said he has not heard a peep about Big Chief.

“No one has ever protested,” he said. “We treat this statue with respect. We are not using him to sell anything.’’

Ithal, the one-man painting machine on this project, is a longtime Oak Lawn resident who is not really a painter by trade. He is a carpet cleaner.

But he has enough painting chops to convince Sharizi he was the man for the job.

“He’s a customer of mine,” Sharizi said. “We talked. I told him I would pick the colors and I did a lot of research online. The last painter (15 years ago) made it very basic. I didn’t like that. This is brighter and more colorful.’’

Ithal said he was happy to take on this project. He had some hot, but dry weather to work with last week and at one point on Friday, he stepped back and took a look at the work he had completed, smiled and said “It looks great.’’

All week people have been stopping by 9630 Southwest Highway,to talk with Ithal and Sharizi about the painting project. Many others honked horns, seemingly in approval of Ithal’s work.

“I been driving by this Indian for years and I always wanted to paint it,” Itha said. “I’ve done a few other things --- I like doing art, but I’ve never done anything this big.’’

Jeff Vorva's Im-PRESS-ions: Not sure was to think of 30 songs in 30 minutes

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

Jeffs Col Impressions

The Band 7th Heaven has been around 30 years, rocking fans from all over the Chicago area.

In their 30th year, the fellas have on their schedule everything from the lighting of Buckingham Fountain in Chicago to Cheese-A-Palooza in Kenosha.

I caught their act at Taste of Orland for the first time on Aug. 1 and during their first set, they played 30 songs in 30 minutes. In recent years, it’s one of the tricks they have been known for.

There were snippets of tunes by Billy Idol, Elton John, Pink Floyd, A-Ha, Hall and Oates, Tom Petty, John Mellancamp, Rush and many others. They closed it with a couple of Queen songs.

I liked it and hated it at the same time.

I liked it because the set flew by – it didn’t even feel like a half an hour. With the exception of the Rush song “Spirit of the Radio” morphing into an Eagles tune, the transitions of songs flowed nicely.

I liked it because if there was a song or two in the bunch I didn’t like, I didn’t have to listen to the whole tune and the next thing you know, another song is up.

Then I realized I hated liking it.

The old geezer in me thinks that this is a tool to placate the younger generation which has a pretty short attention span.

It was almost like allowing my kids the control of radio or iPods in the car – song change after song change after song change…

My daughter Lauren will usually latch onto a song, sing with it for about a minute and then move on. I am not sure these kids ever listened to a full song unless it was at a concert.

Not that I long for the days of Led Zeppelin’s “Moby Dick” (which is one drum solo that occasionally took up to almost 30 minutes when played live) but I hope in the future that 30 songs in 30 minutes will continue to be a novelty and not the norm.

SUBHEAD – Lolla-Paul-Looza

Well, Paul McCartney played Lollapalooza on July 31 and didn’t take much of my input from my column in early April, suggesting his setlist.

I thought he should be as cutting edge as possible since this was supposed to be a cutting edge festival.

My set list was “Revolution,” “Back in the U.S.S.R.,” “Another Day,” “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey,” “Helter Skelter,” “I’m Down,” “Ballroom Dancing,” “Transpiritual Stomp.” “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away,” “Rock Show,’’ “Live and Let Die, “Hi, Hi, Hi” and “I Saw Her Standing There” with an encore of “Hey Jude.’’

But nooooooo…

He waited until his 21st song into the night to take one of my suggestions when he played “Back in the U.S.S.R.” He closed the regular part of the show with “Hey Jude,’’ opened the encore with “Hi, Hi, Hi” and also had “Helter Skelter” in the encore.

He had some good songs in his 31-song set (why didn’t I think of “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da”?) but played it pretty safe with hits such as “Magical Mystery Tour,” “Got to Get You into My Life,” “Blackbird,” “Lady Madonna,” “Eleanor Rigby,” “Something” and others.

Maybe next time he comes to an edgy fest, he should play more daring music and pick 30 of his hit songs and play them in 30 minutes.

Cup to make its way to Marist, Standard Bank Stadium and Bourbon Street

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

The Cup is coming back again.

Chicago Blackhawks fans will have a chance to celebrate their team’s third Stanley Cup championship in six years with the Stanley Cup itself when the southwest Chicago area gets its day with the Stanley Cup today, Thursday.

According to Chicago Blackhawks trainer and Oak Lawn resident, Mike Gapski, the first public appearance in the area for Lord Stanley’s Cup will be Marist High School,  4200 W. 115th St., from about 10 to 11:45 a.m.

The cost to see the cup is$10 and those tickets will be sold today. Only cash will be accepted; no checks or credit cards. 

All visitors who enter the building must pay for a group or individual ticket. The viewing includes professional photos with the cup courtesy of Quality Plus Photography located in Worth. Each group can pick up a single, free 4 x 6 photo at the Worth location.  Additional prints and custom gifts will be available for purchase at the store as well.  

The viewing will be held in the school’s main gym. Fans will line up at the east end of the campus. Parking is free, but limited. St. Terrence Parish, 4300 West 119th Place, will also allow visitors to park during the viewing. Visitors should be aware of parking restrictions throughout Alsip. No one is allowed on the premises and the parking lots will be closed until 7 am.

According to school officials, the time that the cup will be at the school is limited and a large crowd is expected.  Marist hopes to have as many people see the cup as possible, however, the school cannot guarantee everyone in line will be able to see the cup. Those who do not see the cup will not be charged.

From there, he said, the Cup will proceed to Standard Bank Stadium, where it will be on display from about noon to 2 p.m. at the home of the Windy City Thunderbolts baseball team, 14011 S. Kenton Ave., in Crestwood.

T-Bolts officials said there will also be a $10 fee, cash only, today. Photos will be taken by Quality Plus Photos in Worth.

In the evening, following a private party in the afternoon, the cup will spend a few hours at 115 Bourbon Street, the restaurant and entertainment complex at 3359 W. 115th Street in Merrionette Park. That venue is a favorite place to watch Blackhawks games for many hockey fans, especially during the playoffs. Following a private party there for family and friends from 6 to 9 p.m., patrons will be invited in to see the Cup from 9 to 11 p.m.

Gapski said that although a fee, usually $10 is charged to people who want to get a photo with the cup, the money is donated to good causes.

“Any funds generated goes to charity,” he said. “It is a way of raising money for non-profit organizations. That is what it is for.”

Gapski said that with the last two Stanley Cup championships appearances, in 2010 and 2013 raised a lot of money for organizations like Special Olympics and Make-a-Wish Foundation.



Midway expansion ready to take off

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

Recently announced plans for a $248 million expansion of Midway International Airport will mean speedier trips through the security lines, and a wider choice of concessions for local travelers using the airport on Chicago’s Southwest Side.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced the wide-ranging plans last Thursday, explaining that the project will take several years to complete. This is the largest investment made in the airport in nearly 10 years, The mayor said the project will include an expansion of the concession facilities, the terminal parking garage, and security checkpoints, addressing several concerns commonly raised by travelers. 

            “Midway is more than an airport. It is an important economic engine for the city of Chicago so with this modernization we are making an essential investment in the future of Midway but also the future of Chicago. This modernization allows and ensures that Midway will remain a world-class airport in a world-class city,” said the mayor at the airport.  “These enhancements will create jobs for Chicago’s residents, provide an improved experience for travelers from the garage to the gate, and ensure that our world-class city has two world-class airports.”

            According to city officials, Midway generates approximately $7 billion in economic activity each year and 90,000 jobs for the region. Southwest Airlines is the biggest carrier at Midway, which serves 75 airports, including eight international locations. It is considered to be one of the fastest growing airports in the United States. 

            The project, which will not expected to be completed until 2019, is slated to begin with the city issuing a request for proposal for a single-entity concessions operator in September. Studies have found that travelers passing through Midway spend less on concessions than at other airports, and the stated aim of the improvements is to “enhance the experience for travelers, create good-paying jobs for residents and help achieve higher Airport Concessions Disadvantaged Business Enterprise participation goals.”

Following the issue of the RFP, bids would be received through mid-December, and evaluated in the first quarter of 2016. Then, if all goes according to plan, the proposal would be brought before the City Council in the second quarter of  2016.

            Plans call for renovations to be made to concessions areas, stores, and restaurants, and shopping, dining, lounge facilities, spa services, and medical services will be added. Officials said the added 20,000 sq, ft, of concession space will feature iconic Chicago brands and concepts while providing opportunities for local businesses and residents.

Expanding Midway’s security checkpoint area, with the creation of a new 80,000 sq. ft. security hall, is expected to resolve the bottleneck that frequently occurs in the current security area, frustrating travelers. Plans are also in the works to widen the existing 60-pedestrian bridge over Cicero Avenue from 60 feet to 300 feet, which is also inclined to get congested. 

“This is all about improving the customer experience at Midway. It is a lot more than adding concessions,” said Owen Kilmer, Chicago Department of Aviation deputy commissioner for communications. He said the airport authorities will be working the Transportation Safety Administration to coordinate the improvements to the security area.

            As for the terminal parking garage expansion, which Kilmer said is in the design phase, four levels and 1,400 parking spaces are expected to be added to the terminal garage. The added parking spaces are meant to —making it easier for travelers to get in and out of the airport. 

“Obviously, we will not do anything to infringe on flight paths,” said Kilmer, when asked about the feasibility of height being added to the parking garage.

“It is still in the design phase, but levels can be added horizontally. That is most likely how it will happen,” he said, explaining that the parking garage will be built out rather than up.

Emanuel said at the press conference that the expansion project is expected to create 1,000 construction and 700 permanent concession jobs, as well as a 50 percent increase in concession space. Revenue generated by concessions is expected to double by 2019.

“Our proposal will make Midway Airport more efficient and more customer friendly for years to come,” Aviation Commissioner Ginger S. Evans said, whom Kilmer said realized the need for improvements as soon as she was named commissioner in May. “In order for our airports, and our city, to thrive we need to remain competitive—and that’s what this plan will achieve,” she said.

New Queen of Peace boss is first male principal in school history

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

Hedi Belkaoui, the new principal of Queen of Peace High School, is too busy getting ready for the new school year to focus on the fact that he made history as the first man to lead the girls Catholic high school in Burbank, which was founded in 1962.

At 33, Belkaoui, a native of Chicago and graduate of St. Ignatius High School, is also among the youngest heads of the school.  He succeeds Mary Kay Nickels, who retired in June after five years at the helm.

Belkaoui has been busy working in the field of education for the past 11 years, since earning a bachelor of arts degree in social science from Benedictine University in River Forest. He also earned a masters of arts degree in education in 2009 from the university founded by the same order of nuns that sponsors Queen of Peace, the Sinsinawan Dominicans.

 “I would call them opportunities rather than challenges,” said Belkaoui, when asked about low enrollment and other issues faced by Queen of Peace. He said the school’s struggles with dwindling enrollment is a common problem for many area Catholic schools.

But he talks optimistically about turning that trend around.

“There were 325 students enrolled  at the school, last year, and we are expecting about that many this year,” he said, adding that registration is still open.

He doesn’t see being the first male principal as a challenge, and foresees no problems. Belkaoi said he was drawn to Queen of Peace, locted  at 7659 S. Linder Ave. in Burbank, because he has a strong attachment to the Sinsinawan Dominicans.

“My mother was a professor at Dominican University, and I basically grew up there. As a child, I roamed the campus, and the sisters got to be like second mothers, and aunts and grandmothers to me,” he explained.

“I have such profound respect for the Sinsinawan Dominicans. This is an opportunity to continue their mission of scholarship and social justice, providing young women with a diverse learning environment and challenging curriculum.”

 The new principal said Queen of Peace is differentiating itself by expanding its curriculum, particularly in the area of engineering. A few years ago, the school began providing all students with laptop computers, giving them access to software such as  AutoCAD, a drafting and design program.

The second year of implementing Project Lead the Way’s STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) program is also about to start. To include the ongoing “Arts Without Borders” program, Art has also been added, making it STEAM.

PLTW, a non-profit organization, provides “rigorous and innovative STEM education curricular programs used in middle and high schools across the United States,” according to information on the Queen of Peace website.

In “Arts Without Borders,” students participate in cultural and fine arts experiences offered throughout the Chicago area. They are exposed to different disciplines, and work on quarterly project incorporating all departments and technology.

Belkaoui said PLTW students get hands-on experience, with many participating in robotics teams that compete against other schools.

“We want these young women to be able to get scholarships and make use of the opportunities, going on to universities and high-paying careers using these technology skills,” he said.

Queen of Peace added two engineering electives, supplementing the traditional math and science classes this year. Belkaoui said the school focuses on integrating the STEAM courses throughout the curriculum.

The new principal’s work experience is as diverse as the curriculum he oversees. He began his career in 2004, teaching at Morton West High School, and then Providence St. Mel, a private K-12 school in Chicago where 100 percent of seniors usually attend four-year colleges and universities. From there, he was tapped to become a dean at Providence Englewood Charter School, also in Chicago.

He and his wife, Heidy, then spent two years in Cambodia, where he was principal of the Jay Pritzker Academy in Siem Reap. Most recently, he was director of Young Scholars Kenderton, a school in North Philadelphia, Pa.

As opening day approaches, he has been busy ensuring everything is in order. “I am looking forward to the year, meeting the students and seeing them take advantage of these opportunities. That is what I am excited about,” he said.