St. Laurence's Murphy ending an "absolutely unbelieveable" career

  • Written by Jeff Vorva


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Photo by Jeff Vorva

Decades ago, St. Laurence officials wanted Terry Murphy to be the track and field coach after he helped turn the cross country team into a local power.

He came into the job in 1983 with about as much confidence as a sumo wrestler ready to run the high hurdles.

“It was very difficult and it was very confusing,” Murphy said. “I never coached track before and they asked me to be the track coach and I had no idea what a track coach did. After a couple of years of doing it, I learned on the job. The kids were so great, that I learned along with them.

“It’s wasn’t like baseball or basketball where there were a lot of egos out there. They were kids who were having fun and interested in the sport and they basically got me interested in it because of the way they approached the sport.’’

After 40 years of coaching five sports at the Burbank school – mostly track and cross country – the 65-year-old Murphy is stepping down. He still has a few weeks to go in his final track season but he coached his final home meet on April 26 and a reception was held for him after the meet.

Athletic director Tim Chandler announced that the school was going to erect a new record board in the gym in Murphy’s honor.

“We’ll get all of those records updated on a more modern board that fits better in that gym,’’ Chandler said. “When you look at it, spending 40 years at the same school is something you are not going to see in high school athletics any more, sadly. But think about that. Look at how much of his life he has dedicated to St. Laurence.

“That’s absolutely unbelievable.’’

Senior Antonio Elizondo presented the coach with a baton autographed by the athlete on Murphy’s final team.

“I don’t think we could express just how grateful we are to have you as our coach,’’ Elizondo said. “It’s a great honor to be a part of your final year. I can’t really think of a better motivator and a better coach or a better man. We all take to heart everything that you say and everything that you do.

“This year is all for you. We will strive so hard to make this your best year. We just want to thank you very much from the bottom of our hearts.’’

Murphy’s teams have had moderate success over the years – mostly sending individuals to state in the running sports. In cross country, the team won seven Chicago Catholic League titles. In track, the Vikings finished 17th  in the Illinois High School Association Class 2A state meet in 2013.

“One of the things that kept me coming back year after year was the type of kids who participated,” Murphy said. “They are wonderful kids. There was never any ‘me,’ it was all ‘us.’ They have a great attitude toward sports. They know what’s important and what life is all about.’’

Murphy grew up in the Wrightwood neighborhood in Chicago and graduated from St. Thomas More in 1964 and St. Laurence in 1968. He is in the Vikings’ Hall of Fame and plans to work at least one more year at the school as a history teacher. 


Budget stalemate continues but legislators approve funding for state colleges

  • Written by By Joe Boyle

State lawmakers settled their differences to agree on providing $600 million on Friday for colleges and universities that will allow them to keep their doors open through the summer.

Legislators were feeling the heat from constituents and college and university officials to get something done. Gov. Rauner was expected to sign the bill to provide for the funding. However, State Comptroller Leslie Munger said she will not even wait for the governor’s signature to provide funding to institutions, especially for students from low-income families who applied for Monetary Award Programs, or MAP grants.

The state budget crisis is in its 10th month and local college and university officials were becoming increasingly concerned. Officials at Trinity Christian College in Palos Heights, St. Xavier University in Chicago and Moraine Valley Community College in Palos Hills have managed to get through this year by budgeting the funds they have carefully.

House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-22nd) was pleased that funding is being provided for state colleges, even if it is only through the summer. However, he said more should be done to assist human service programs that he said the governor refuses to address.

“Gov. Rauner has said that crisis creates opportunity and leverage, and that government may have to be shut down for a while. Now, he has forced a situation where some universities are on the verge of closing,” said Madigan. “The plan the House passed delivers emergency relief for the state’s colleges, universities and students as we continue pushing for a more comprehensive budget and full fiscal year funding.

“While the governor approved this small portion of funding for higher education, it’s unfortunate he was unwilling to approve any further funding for human services,” added Madigan “If he continues his unwillingness to assist our human service providers, he will be successful in destroying the safety net for those most in need and for critical state services, including services for women who need breast cancer screenings, victims of child abuse and victims of sexual assault.”

The Senate did pass a measure that would provide $450 million in temporary aid for human service programs. The bill was sent to the House, which has adjourned until Tuesday, May 3.

During a Southwest Conference of Mayors meeting on April 20 at the Alsip Village Hall, local officials admitted they were frustrated on the length of the budget stalemate and Rauner in general.

Palos Hills Mayor Gerald Bennett, who also serves as president of the Southwest Conference of Mayors, is frustrated with Rauner’s demands and logic surrounding his Turnaround Agenda that calls for restrictions on collective bargaining and unions.

“I see other states that believe that by cutting taxes will create business growth,” said Bennett. “It just isn’t going to work. The economics aren’t there. This governor is working under that theory and it’s just wrong.”

The aid for colleges and universities almost fell apart last Thursday as some Democratic lawmakers opposed the proposal because there was no funding being provided for social service programs. However, these Democrats came on board the next day to assure that funding would continue through the summer for college students.

State Sen. Bill Cunningham (D-18th) had been attempting to come up with a bill acceptable to the governor to provide MAP grants funding to college students. State Rep. Kelly Burke (D-36th) had previously come up with two proposals to provide funding for college students only to have the governor veto her bill twice.

Both Cunningham and Burke have spent time visiting local restaurants for morning coffee with constituents to discuss legislation and listen to their concerns. Most of those concerns were about the budget crisis and the MAP grants.

Cunningham joined many of his colleagues in supporting Senate Bill 2059 to send needed money to state universities and colleges.

The legislation would help schools like Chicago State University and Eastern Illinois University in ensuring they can continue to operate, said Cunningham. It would also fund the first semester of MAP grants that many schools, including St. Xavier University and Moraine Valley Community College, floated to students without any guarantee of the money coming through.

“Today, we took a vote to ensure that schools can continue to function and educate our students,” Cunningham said. “This is not enough, but it opens the door to continue to work in a bipartisan manner.”

Chicago Ridge officials suggest ways to put lid on rats

  • Written by By Dermot Connolly

As the weather improves, Chicago Ridge officials are tackling the problem of rats, a frequent topic of discussion and complaints in the village.

Trustee William McFarland said he was taking the lead on the issue, because he has a strong aversion to the rodents.

“I’ll admit it. I hate them and I’m scared of them. I just don’t want to see them around,” he said at the April 19 village board meeting.

Several months ago, the village sent brochures to residences listing various ways that residents could do to lessen the chances of rats taking up residence in the village. But several residents took issue with the wording, complaining at a village board meeting that the village seemed to be making residents responsible for solving the problem.

But village trustees and Mayor Chuck Tokar said that while the village is responsible for baiting, there are ways residents can keep the problem to a minimum.

McFarland said he would be recommending at the May 3 meeting that the board approve an agreement with Guardian Pest Control, which is the same service used by Oak Lawn.

“We’re currently baiting 45 locations, and Guardian will bait the 45 traps twice a week, for $1,600 per month,” he said.

He said the village has been paying $9,000 for a less intensive baiting program.

“Baiting only takes care of 25 percent of the problem,” said McFarland, stressing the importance of removing food sources by cleaning up dog waste and keeping garbage bins covered.

Mayor Charles Tokar said that he has spoken to residents in his own block when he has seen their garbage containers open, and code enforcement officers have issued warnings.

“I’ve put their garbage bags in my container when I see them sitting outside the containers,” he said.

“We know that sometimes the wind blows the lids off, but just cover them when you see that,” said McFarland, adding that uncovered or overflowing dumpsters outside commercial or multi-unit buildings are a big issue.

“I’m going to be recommending increasing fees for dumpster violations,” he said.

“It is not about the money. We would rather that the problem be fixed and no one was fined,” McFarland said, suggesting that hikes are needed because some companies currently see fines as the cost of doing business.

McFarland said that to limit the problem of rats leaving disturbed construction sites and moving into residential areas, developers must follow EPA requirements mandating that bait boxes be placed around the perimeter of such sites.

“Otherwise, it is an EPA violation,” he said.

Proponents of Worth’s Lucas-Berg preservation site are worried about future

  • Written by By Sharon L. Filkins

Some Worth residents and community leaders who have worked tirelessly to turn the Lucas-Berg site into a nature preserve are concerned that the land on the western end of the village could become a landfill once again.

This despite the fact Cong. Dan Lipinski (D-3rd) said last fall that the final step had been taken to protect the Lucas-Berg Preserve from becoming a dumping site.

The Lucas-Berg Preserve site is bordered by 111th Street on the north, Southwest Highway on the west, Oketo Avenue on the east and Palos Hills on the south.

Concerns began when the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District, which owned the Lucas-Berg site, leased it to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The USACE intended to use the site as a place to deposit material dredged from the bottom of the Cal-Sag Canal when work was begun to widen the canal.

The USACE even went as far as reconfiguring the property in preparation for their future work, but the work on the canal never materialized. The property was neglected for 30 years, through the ‘80s, ‘90s and into the 2000s.

Lipinski had inserted language into the Water Resources Reform and Development Act in 2014, preventing the Army Corps from dumping the materials from the Cal-Sag into the 78-acre property. The result of that action meant that the site has officially been transferred from the Army Corps back to the MWRD.

Ed Guzdziol was elected mayor of the village in 2001. Guzdziol, who served as mayor until 2009, believed the 78-acre property had potential primarily for commercial development. He also participated in the efforts of the COTE, working with members who included community activist Adele Benck.

COTE had worked during the 30 previous years to protect the fragile ecosystem of flora and fauna developed on the Lucas-Berg site. In 1985, Gene and Larie Jo Meyers had been instrumental in overseeing the planting of seedlings and trees on the site, getting scouting organizations involved and enlisting the help of students from Moraine Valley Community College in annual clean-ups.

In 2005, Guzdziol reached out to the USACE because he was interested in the economic development potential of the property. In response, he received a lengthy report on the Corps plans to deposit dredging material on the property.

This began the David and Goliath battle, pitting Worth against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to prevent any deposit of dredging material on the property, which had been transformed by COTE into a nature reserve.

Mike McElroy joined forces with COTE due to his experience with waterways and wetlands. He is the director of the Marine Operations along the Chicago River.

“We basically fell in love with the beauty and possibility of the property and envisioned it becoming a wonderful nature reserve where people could hike the trails, kayak on the water and fish,” said McElroy.

“To that end we met with Rep. Lipinski and his chief of staff, repeatedly banging on the doors of the government to prevent the Army Corps of Engineers from dumping contaminated dredge material on this now beautiful spot,” added McElroy. “Our group immersed ourselves in the techniques of water analysis, hydrology, the impact of contaminants on our water supplies, and we called in experts to testify about the danger involved for the community. The issue was not just to develop a commercial strip of land on 111th to increase tax revenue for the village. It was to protect our children from the dangers of the potential contaminants.”

Benck also credits Lipinski and his office for his support in protecting the property.

“He is big part of this success. He has been good to us and I don’t think this could have happened without him,” she said.

McElroy said that this is a “false victory” and that “we won the battle but may have lost the war.” McElroy is concerned because there is a huge debate in Worth as to what the land should be used for.

“Who is to say what the MWRD will do? Their stand at this time is that the site will either be used for corporate purposes, or be sold to the highest bidder,” said McElroy.

“If the property is sold to the highest bidder, which could effectively prevent the village from purchasing it, how do we know they won’t sell it to another land fill developer? And, if that were to happen, would the village be willing to start all over again to prevent that from happening? We are in limbo now, and it could be years before MWRD does anything,” added McElroy.

Benck said she thinks it will remain much the same and she does not believe that the MWRD will ever give up the property. “Anything could happen over a span of 10 or 15 years. Corporations change, staff members change, etc. No one knows the future,” she said.

Guzdziol still believes it should be used for commercial development to increase tax revenue and lower taxes for the residents. “We have plenty of recreational space now in the village, with our parks, bike trails and the boat launch. We need economic development.”

Taking the middle road on the debate was Gene Meyers, who said he thinks there could be a nice balance on the site, with a mixed use of commercial development and a nature site.

“But, whatever happens will take a lot of time and planning and, of course, capital,” said Meyers. “I do believe this is a gem for our area and we need to be vigilant about a long term plan that would integrate the natural beauty and an appropriate development,”

For further information on the Lucas-Berg site, visit the website at

Worth Fire Department volunteers reminisce as they prepare for 90th reunion

  • Written by By Kelly White

The Worth Fire Department opened its doors as a volunteer department in 1925.

To relive the volunteering days and mingle with former volunteers, the Worth Fire Department will be hosting its first-ever reunion from 2 to 6 p.m. Sunday, May 22 at Chieftain Irish Pub, 6906 W. 111th St., in Worth. A tour of the North Palos Fire House, formally the Worth Fire House, is planned for 1 p.m. to mark the 90th anniversary of the original fire department in Worth. This year would have marked the 91st year of the volunteer fire department.

The event is open to all former Worth Fire Department volunteers, current members of the North Palos Fire Protection District and to the general public. Residents and former volunteers are asked to bring an appetizer to share along with photos and memories.

Defined as a person who freely offers to take part in an enterprise or undertake a task, these volunteers helped to build up the original Worth community, and even the fire department itself, up until 1986. Volunteer was not a term coined lightly, as the men and woman of the Worth Fire Department took their jobs very seriously.

“Worth was known for having one of the best fire departments in the area during the 1970s and 1980s, crews worked non-stop, day and night shifts and weekend crews,” said Ed Palenik, a former Worth firefighter. “Worth is not a big city. It is a small town community with a great neighborhood, and people living here have always, and still want, what is best for their town.”

Palenik volunteered for the department from 1978 to 1981, a decision that was strongly influenced by his brother, Ken Palenik, who began his volunteer days at the Worth Fire Department in 1977 and is now the battalion chief at the Des Plaines Fire Department.

“Ken is my hero,” Palenik said. “He has always been a down to earth guy and you need that in a fire department – to stay humble. He always has and since then he has taken his career very far.”

The decision to volunteer at the department also led to Palenik meeting his now wife, Maggie Palenik, who volunteered at the department from 197 to 1980.

Maggie was the third female volunteer who stepped foot into the department but says that did not intimidate her.

“It was a little hard being a female among all other male volunteers,” Maggie said. “There were two other women who volunteered prior to me coming on to the department. However, they were gone before I started. Some men disapproved of a woman on staff at first but I never let that discourage me. I came from a family of first responders and I knew this was my calling. I truly believe I opened the door for other females to get in.”

While working at the department, Maggie broke her cardinal rule to never date anyone she worked with when she was invited to a wedding for another volunteer in the department in 1978. Not having a date, she decided to ask her now husband, Ed, to join her for the evening. The two were married in 1980. They have six children, still reside in Worth and will be celebrating their 36th wedding anniversary on June 7.

Ed continued his passion for firefighting after his volunteer days, taking a full-time position with the North Palos Fire Department in 1981, then working with the Bedford Park Fire Department in 1987 before he went on to the Naperville Fire Department, where he retired. He still works part-time as the EMS coordinator for the Evergreen Park Fire Department, a position he began in 1987 while still at the Bedford Park Fire Department.

The Paleniks are far from the only ones who are more than grateful for their days as volunteers on the Worth Fire Department.

“The Worth Fire Department will always hold a soft spot in my heart,” said Jack Lawton, a volunteer from 1975 to 2001.

Lawton decided to become a volunteer to help his community.

“I started on as a volunteer at the age of 18,” he said. “The options then were to get involved in a trade or get involved in the volunteer firefighting experience. A lot of the volunteers were young and living in town.”

The Worth Fire Department ceased operations at midnight on New Year’s Eve 2008, turning village fire protection over to the North Palos Fire Protection District.

The North Palos Fire Protection District absorbed the Worth Fire Department station, equipment and personnel. All three North Palos fire stations, located at 10629 S. Roberts Road in Palos Hills, 8913 W. 95th St. in Palos Hills and 7116 W. 111th St., in Worth, now serve and protects Worth, as well as Palos Hills and the district in its entirety.

Upon the absorption, some Worth Fire Department volunteers were taken on as full-time firefighters.

“When you are called in to serve, you play a very important role in the community,” said Colleen McElroy, Economic Development Liaison and trustee for the Village of Worth. “Even though they were only volunteers back then instead of paid employees, nothing has changed. It is all about commitment to your community.”