Resale shops seek donations

Neat Repeats Resale is accepting donations of women's, men's, children's clothes and housewares, books and other items.

New and gently used items are accepted during business hours at Neat Repeats stores in Orland Park, 9028 W. 159th St. (364-7605) and Worth, 7026 W. 111th St. (361-6860).

Neat Repeats Resale benefits the clients served by the Crisis Center for South Suburbia, a nonprofit organization that provides emergency shelter and other services for individuals and families victimized by domestic violence.

Cal-Sag Trail gets state funds

By Jeff Vorva

After an eight-year wait to start construction, bulldozers may be visible in the area in 2013 to start the second phase of the 28.6-mile Calumet-Sag Trail that is to begin in Chicago, end in Lemont.

In the middle will be area towns such as Palos Heights, Palos Park and Worth enjoying some of the trail's amenities.

The state announced in late January it would invest close to $50 million in community transportation projects, including bike trails and walking paths throughout the state. Approximately $3.6 million will go to the Cook Country Forest Preserve District to help cover costs to complete the west phase of the project.

"This major investment in community transportation projects throughout Illinois will help improve the quality of life for everyone," Gov. Pat Quinn said in a news release. "These projects will create hundreds of jobs while preserving our heritage, beautifying communities and creating new transportation options across our state for pedestrians, bicyclists, and others."

Locally, the announcement was met with enthusiasm.

"This is good news for us," Palos Heights Parks and Recreation Director Mike Leonard said. "I believe it will drive economic development, which is huge. I promise you this will be the most used trail outside of the Lakefront trail because of the population density. It is unbelievably great that this trail will be under construction by the end of the year. This is cool stuff."

Leonard hoped the bids and contracts will be completed by the summer and construction will begin shortly after that.

The project was started eight years ago with a group called Friends for the Cal-Sag Trail doing the heavy lifting to get the project started. Eight years seems like a long wait, but in the world of trails, this is considered swift.

"It took about 25 years to get the Old Plank Road trail completed," Trails for Illinois Executive Director Steve Buchtel said, referring to a 22-mile trail from Chicago Heights to Joliet. "It takes a long time for trails to get done especially when many municipalities are involved.

"To have all of these towns working together and getting it done this quickly is almost a miracle. It's unheard of. But with all the cooperation we received, this is the fastest developed trail of its size in the country. That's how the Southland rolls."

For the most part, riders, runners and walkers will roll without interruption as most of the trail will be designed to not interfere with major thoroughfares by going under the bridge areas.

In recent weeks, Palos Heights City Council members have been kicking around the idea of a new indoor fitness center. Leonard said that this trail will give the city an outdoor fitness center.

"If you think of everything you can do on a trial - the health and wellness related stuff you can do on a trail - I think doctors should start writing prescriptions that say 'walk along the Cal-Sag Trail 'x' amount of miles," he said. "That will get the patients healthier."

Forest Preserve officials are expecting the project to be completed in 2014.

In a previous phase of construction in 2008, a portion of the trail has been completed from Ridgeland Avenue to the east side of the Lake Katherine Nature Center and Botanic Garden property. The continuation of the project will run into more of the center's property but Lake Katherine officials are embracing the trail.

"It's going to be good for Palos Heights and it's going to be good for Lake Katherine," Operations Manager Gareth Blakesley said. "We're not sure when the construction will start but from what we were told, this will be done in a sensitive way. While we may have to work around a few things, I don't think the construction will have much impact on our dayto- day operations."

Teachers Strike In Evergreen Park

(From Oct. 4, 2012)

The nearly 2,000 students who attend classes in Evergreen Park School District 124 had the day off Tuesday after their teachers went on strike.

Teachers with the Illinois Federation of Teachers Union Local 943 went on strike after a six-hour contract negotiation session that began at 5 p.m. Monday failed to result in a new collective bargaining agreement. Union spokesman Dan Comerford said the district and union are "far apart" on their wants and needs, and no more meetings between the two parties have been scheduled. The district and union have been negotiating since April.

District 124 Superintendent Robert Machak agreed that both sides have "made very little progress" toward a new deal. The two sides are about $1.9 million apart on their final contract offers, according to Machak.

The three primary issues behind the impasse are salaries, health insurance and retirement benefits. Comerford said the union is hoping to come to an agreement on a three-year contract that will include cost of living increases plus raises of less than 1 percent for the first year and 2 percent for the second and third years.

"Our proposals aren't close, but this can be bridged quickly," Comerford said. "It should have never gotten to this point."

The union in April rejected a proposed four-year deal that would have increased teachers' health insurance premiums. The district has a $16.1 million surplus in its budget, money Comerford believes should be put toward teachers and paraprofessionals.

Machak, meanwhile, said the district will need the surplus funds for future building projects and that reaching a new deal is about balance. If more money was put toward salaries less can be allocated for health insurance, and if more was put toward retirement less could be allocated toward insurance, he explained.

At a rally Monday evening, the district's 135 teachers and 70 paraprofessionals, along with several Chicago Public School teachers from Chicago's Beverly and Mount Greenwood neighborhoods, marched and carried signs in support of a strike. The teachers exited Central Junior High School, 9400 S. Sawyer Ave., at about 4 p.m. chanting "We are one" and shouting the need for a fair contract and their support for the union. Several District 124 students and their parents were among those rallying in support of the teachers, and some said they would join the picket line.

Ray Richter, an Evergreen Park resident who has six children in the district, said he supports the strike but wishes his children could stay in school. Richter stood in the bed of a pickup truck and voiced his support through a megaphone.

"This should not be happening to the teachers," Richter said. "If this was the private sector and they tried to cut retirement benefits, someone would go to jail. I don't understand why we're fighting over this. Who else will the district give their money to? That's what it's for - the teachers."

Richter ran for the District 124 school board two years ago, and said that if he were on the board he would have found another way to work out the contract that did not take the students out of school.

"If it were up to me, we'd be negotiating nights, weekends, whatever it takes," he said.

Richter's son, Anthony, 10, is a fifth-grader at Northeast Elementary School.

"I want to still be in school," Anthony said. "If the teachers don't go on strike, we will still get to learn and don't miss our summer break."

Sheila O'Neill, a retired teacher who taught at Northeast Elementary School, said she thinks both sides should do their best for students."

"I think the board has to understand they have excellent teachers," O'Neill said. "We've never gone on strike before. I think they are fighting for what they have, and this is a shame. It's too bad we can't solve this in a friendly way. If there's money there, the teachers and the paraprofessionals deserve it."

Teachers in the district handed out blue ribbons to students, their families and other teachers at the rally. The ribbons will be used to wrap trees in support of the teachers.

Cianna Valdez, 12, was at the rally holding a sign that read "solidarity." A student at Central Junior High, she said she and her mother, Jennifer, will be walking the picket line with their teachers.

"The teachers do fabulous things for their students here, and shouldn't be ignored," Valdez said. "Our teachers - they're really something else."

The district posted a list of family resources Tuesday for community and educational activities and childcare options at Options include the Evergreen Park Library, which has copies of the textbooks for students at all five of the district's schools; as well as the Beverly Arts Center, the Lake Katherine Nature Center and Botanic Garden in Palos Heights, and the Oak Lawn Children's Museum, the latter which is offering discounted admission. The website lists learning resources for children in English and Spanish, and printable worksheets and activities for each grade level from kindergarten through eighth grade.

Hot and fresh from the oven for 25 years

Jullianni's Pizzeria endures in Heights

By Jeff Vorva

The "glorified bus boy" at Jullianni's Pizzeria and Pub in Palos Heights has prepared food for royalty, historical figures and celebrities.

At one time, he used to cook breakfast for Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. He helped prepare a feast for actor Alan Alda's daughter's wedding.

These days Bill Malliaras is happy meeting and greeting regular folks as owner of Jullianni's, which will be celebrating its 25th anniversary July 13.

"I have a love for this place and the hospitality business," Malliaras said. "It's in my blood. People ask me how I get up and do the same thing over and over and over. I say that it's like coming to a party every day. I couldn't imagine doing anything else right now.

"We're hands-on people," he added. "Very often the customers will see me bussing tables. I always crack a joke that I'm a glorified bus boy."

Malliaras was well travelled before settling down in Orland Park and helping to run the show in Palos Heights. He was born in Chicago, grew up in Oak Lawn and attended Richards High School for one year and then moved to Glenview. He worked as a chef for five years at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Boston before coming back to the Southwest Suburbs in 1995 to co-own the restaurant with his younger brother, Perry.

He said that kings, queens, sheiks and presidents of other countries used to stay at the Ritz. When Onassis came to town, she would order a four-minute boiled egg and dry toast that Malliaras would prepare, but he never met her. He did get to meet Alda.

"I was a part of the catering team that created his menu for this daughter's wedding," Malliaras said. "There was a rule at the Ritz-Carlton that we were never allowed to speak to any of these people unless spoken to by them. He spoke to us. He shook our hands. We got his autograph."

He moved back in 1995 to co-own the restaurant, which was a Giordano's franchise at the time.

The Malliaras brothers split with Giordano's in 2000. They wanted to name the restaurant Juliano's, which sounded like Giordano's but there was a copyright on that name. So they tossed in an extra "l" and "n" and changed the "o" to an 'I' and were ready to roll.

Their customers, however, weren't.

Bill said they lost 30 percent business because of the name change.

"Some people would walk into the restaurant and say, 'Oh, you're not Giordano's anymore?'" he said. "Then they would walk out."

In 2006, Perry sold his share of the place to Bill, who compared the next three years as like "being in a war" with the economy starting to dramatically dip. In 2009, Bill said he was broke but wanted one more chance to revive the restaurant and gambled by giving the place a $150,000 facelift.

"I came to the conclusion that our food was good - it always has been - and our service is good and it always has been," he said. "But there was something about the place. It was old. It needed to be revamped and upgraded. I was the only restaurant without a bar. So in May or June of 2009 I decided we needed the change but we had to do the construction and still stay open because we couldn't afford to close."

He credited the bank then known as Palos Bank and Trust and Loan Officer Bill Paetow for giving him a loan to pay for part of the new look. Malliaras said the new look led to a "complete turnaround in our business."

"If it wasn't for him giving me the loan, this would have never happened," he said. "The crazy thing is that three months after I got the loan, the banks stopped lending money. The timing was just right. God was looking over me. If we didn't remodel the restaurant we would have never made it."

He also praised his staff of 25 for making the place a success including Michelle Fallon, of Dyer, Ind., who has been a server for 19 years and Bridget Lorenz, of Alsip, who has been a server for 15 years and Christina Livigni, of Palos Hills has been a server for 12 years.

"Some of my workers love this place more than I do," he said.

Malliaras said his wife, Ellen, was supportive during the lean times.

He doesn't have a game plan for how he will celebrate the anniversary but he said he will have various food specials and perhaps an outdoor cookout. He is trying to locate a menu from 1988 and would like to have a day in which he offers food for prices from that era.

The restaurant is located at 7239 W. College Drive and is open Monday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 9 p.m.

Aside from pizza, the eatery serves sandwiches, pastas, appetizers and various other foods. Catering is also available.

Malliaras is also mulling opening takeout restaurant in the south suburbs in the future.

He has served kings, queens and celebrities but he can't say enough about his current crop of customers.

"I have the deepest appreciation for the people of this community and the surrounding communities," he said. "If it wasn't for them, we still wouldn't be here. I can't thank them enough. I want to say 'thank you, thank you, thank you' to every one of them. And for every pizza I ever screwed up, I'm sorry. But we always try to make it up to them."