Former Green Hills director was strong force in library’s expansion

  • Written by Kelly White


One woman has helped transform a tiny local library that could not stay open seven days a week into a two-story, state-of-the-art building. 

                Annette Armstrong recently retired from her position at Green Hills library director after 18 years. Her farewell celebration, which included guest appearances from former Hickory Hills City Clerk Joann Jackson and Executive Director of the Hickory Hills Park District Jennifer Fullerton was hosted by colleagues and took place on her last day on June 30 at the library.

Taking over Armstrong’s position was former Green Hills Assistant Director, Jane Jenkins on July 1. Jenkins is coming to Green Hills from Oak Lawn Library, where she was hired on in 2014 as the director of youth services.

“She is a good hire for us,” Armstrong said, “She has a wonderful personality and will be a recognizable face for our patrons.”

                With a passion for books and libraries, Armstrong took on a position at Green Hills Library after working as the assistant director of the Palatine Public Library and a youth librarian at Schaumburg Township Public Library. Residing in Elmhurst, she admits the commute to the Palos Hills library was not an easy one at first.

                “When I first started here in 1997, I got lost over a million times,” she said. “But I absolutely love working in the Southwest suburbs. South Siders are very hardworking and honest people.”

                The library, located at 8611 W 103rd Street in Palos Hills, has undergone some major changes thanks to a tax referendum pushed through by Armstrong in 2004. The increase was 12 cents on top of the existing lowest legal rate of 15 cents for Hickory Hills and Palos Hills residents allotted for a $5 million re-construction project to the library. It was open for business in 2008.

                “We were really just a small, little one-story hill-front library,” Library Board President, Rick Kelleher said, “Thanks to Annette’s visions and ideas, we have become a two-story modern building that is eco-friendly, overlooks the beautiful Moraine Valley landscaping and is up-to-date with technology.”

                Prior to the renovation project, the library was closed on Sundays and closed early every Tuesday and Thursday, according to Kelleher.  Now with a 12,000-square-foot renovated property, the library remains open seven days a week,  year round.  

                “Every organization has to keep evolving and that applies to individuals as well,” Armstrong said. “My inspiration comes from keeping current with changes in technology, managing space, services, how people communicate, learn, entertain themselves, and staying connected to changes happening in the private sector as well as what’s going on in other libraries.”

                The renovation project added many new aspects to the library, including: a youth center, a teen area with a 70-inch flat screen television where teen can watch movies or play Xbox, a media center, a screened-in garden patio for outdoor reading, an adult reading room with a fireplace, multiple independent study rooms and a full media lab comprised with green screens.

                “The outdoor patio is beautiful,” Kelleher said, “You would not believe the spectacular sunset overlooking the greenery.”

                Kelleher was recruited by Armstrong for his position as library board member.

                “Annette has a very fun, outgoing and bubbly personality,” he said. “She takes the time to get out there and get to know her patrons. I was just a patron that would visit the library regularly with my children and Annette approached me and said we could really use someone like you on our library board.”

                Armstrong said diversity is always a key among her library board members.

                “On our board we have had a lot of diversity including homemakers, senior citizens, parents and people who have moved here that want to make the community better,” she said.

                Kelleher said to be very happy he said yes to the role as library board member seven years ago, because three years after, he became the board president. The staff, colleagues, Illinois State Legislators, library trustees, community members and many of the library’s vendors including Studio GC – the library’s architectural firm, their auditor, and insurance broker is who Armstrong says she will miss the most. 

“It’s the people that you miss and the experiences,” she said, “I’ve learned so much from all of them but I’m not sure if I will miss them because I plan to stay in touch.”

Listen up – New D218 super plans on lending an ear to concerns

  • Written by Dermot Connolly


Having presided over his first Community School District meeting 218 on Monday, Ty Harting,  the new superintendent, said he is looking forward to the school year starting.

For now, he may do more listening than talking.

“We’ve been doing some administrative hiring,’ he said if his first few weeks on the job, which started July 1. “I plan on going on a listening tour to find out what people want and need.”

He said the listening tour will initially mean visiting all the school buildings in the district to meet and consult with staff about what their wants and needs are. After the school year begins, he said, discussions will be held with community residents to discuss various issues as well.

Harting, the former assistant superintendent of human resources for the district, was hired in March to replace John Byrne, who had been superintendent for 10 years.

“Just like the meeting, the last couple of weeks have been have gone very well,” said Harting following the meeting at the Delta Learning Center, 3940 W. Midlothian Turnpike in Robbins.

Harting has been employed in the district since 1989.

“It has been an exciting time,’’ he said. “I’m looking forward to the school year getting started and meeting everyone now.”

Harting, an Eisenhower High School graduate who grew up in Blue Island and now lives in Palos Heights, spent most of his life within the boundaries of SD 218. His three daughters also graduated from district schools. “I was only away for five years, when I got my first job in education in Champaign,” he said.

His academic qualifications include a bachelor’s degree from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; a master’s degree in English from the University of Illinois at Chicago, and another master’s of education in school administration and evaluation research, also from UIC. His doctorate of education in educational leadership is from Lewis University. He also has certificate of advanced study with a superintendent endorsement from Lewis University.

The new superintendent began his tenure at SD 218 in 1989 at Richards High School in Oak Lawn, first as a teacher, coach and then dean of students. He went on to become assistant principal at Eisenhower, and principal at Shepard High School in Palos Heights before becoming assistant superintendent.

One issue, which may be the topic of future discussions, is the plan by Alsip officials to make some adjustments to a village TIF district that was addressed at Monday’s meeting.

Kent Oliven, the Alsip finance director, discussed that village’s plans to make adjustments to the tax-increment financing zone  located on the west side of Cicero Avenue and north of the Interstate 294 ramp.  

Oliven said that the TIF created several years ago is made up of seven parcels of land, and the village plans to take the two pieces closest to the expressway and turn them into a separate TIF district.

He explained that the village is negotiating with a developer to build a 90-room mid- to higher-level hotel with a banquet facilities on the site. By splitting the TIF into two parts, and resetting the clock, developers would have the full 23-year lifespan of the TIF to partake of the tax benefits. Tax levies within TIF districts are set at a certain level, and any taxes generated above that level for the 23-year life of the TIF can be reinvested in it rather than being shared with schools and other taxing bodies.

Oliven said the site is difficult to access due to the close proximity to the toll-road, but would be ideal for a hotel due to easy access for motorists.

This re-designation would mean a loss of annual revenue for the Oak Lawn-based school district amounting to a few hundred thousand dollars, but the five board members present voted to give their approval because of future benefits from taxes generated by the hotel complex. Member Johnnie Holmes was not present.

“I’m generally in favor of TIFs, and it would be good for the district in the long-run,” said Vice President Randy Heuser.

Harting noted that although village officials could make the changes without the approval of the school districts, “they ask for our consent as a courtesy.”

“It makes for a friendlier working environment if all the taxing bodies are on board,” he said.


'Huge shock' in Palos Hills: Longtime pastor dies hours before Sunday's service

  • Written by Jeff Vorva


Pastor Roger Disque gave a 47-minute sermon on July 12 at the First Baptist Church in Palos Hills about the evil in the world.

In the middle of the sermon he spoke of constant change faced by people every day.

“You know, when you look at our world, it is on shaky ground,” Disque told the congregation. “There is nothing stable in this world today. For the minute you think you found something, it changes. There is change all around us.’’’

One week later, members of First Baptist Church found his words to ring true an a tragic way as the man who served as pastor of their church for 27 years died Sunday, hours before he was set to deliver another message at the 11 a.m. service. For some members, he was the only pastor they knew.

Pastor Disque, 72, arrived at the church early to turn the air conditioning on for the 9:45 a.m. Sunday school class.

“It was hot and humid and he just collapsed in the parking lot,” his daughter, Erica Neff,  said. “This was a huge shock. We’re still not sure what caused it. He’s had some minor medical issues but we weren’t expecting this. He was not one to slow down.’’

A wake service arranged by Schmaedeke Funeral Home of Worth will be held at First Baptist Church, 11015 S. Eastwood Dr., in Palos Hills from 5 to 9 p.m. today, Thursday.

The funeral service with be held at 11 a.m. Friday at and the church will be open at 10 a.m. for viewing.

The burial service will immediately follow the funeral at Chapel Hill Gardens South Cemetery, 11333 South Central Ave. in Oak Lawn.The funeral dinner will be at the Garden Chalet, 11000 South Ridgeland Ave. in Worth.

Disque was the sixth pastor in the church’s history and he owned the longest tenure. Before coming to Palos Hills, he served 17 years as the youth director and assistant pastor at Bethany Church in Chicago’s inner city.

Those who knew him as a serious orator at the Palos Hills church might be surprised at his demeanor early in his career.

“He was goofy and crazy,” Neff said. “I know people might find that hard to believe. He would build haunted houses and enjoyed having fun with the kids.’’

Neff said Pastor Disque loved God, his family and his country. Disque was a Navy veteran who looked forward to helping put together a float to honor the military for the Independence Day parade in Palos Heights each year.

“To sum it up in one word, he was a ‘servent’,’’ Neff said. “He was the silent, strong type who served God, his family and other people. He tried to meet the needs of everyone.’’

Brother Dave Horner, a youth director and music/choir director at the church said he worked with Pastor Disque for 12 years.

“This is such a surprise and very hard to grasp,” he said. “This was a man who was never too busy for anyone. He was always visiting members of the church, even if they were having minor surgery. He was available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. He was always shepherding his flock.’’

Horner said the church has between 75-120 members and is close-knit because many members are related to each other. He said there is a large Filipino representation among the members.

Survivors include his wife, Judy (nee Anderson) along with children Rachel (Jim) Garrison, Nathan (Meredith) Disque and Neff, who is married to Robert Neff. Also surviving is his sister Nancy (Fred) Shepper and 13 grandchildren.

He was born in Tarrytown New York and attended Bob Jones University in 1971 before coming to the Chicago area.

“He loved his people and loved his Lord,” Horner said. “He gave of his life in abundance to everyone. I enjoyed working with him for 12 years. He was a wonderful man.’’


Jeff Vorva's Im-PRESS-ions: The six degrees of separation -- Ed McElroy style

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

Jeffs Col Impressions


The Six Degrees of Separation game started gaining steam when people figured out that busy actor Kevin Bacon could be linked with tons of other great actors or actresses.

So, in one example, Bacon appeared with Edward Asner in the film “JFK.” Asner was once in “Change of Habit” with Elvis Presley. You can go on four more times with the connections, but I’ve given a little too much space to Kevin Bacon.

In the real world, this game could be played based on people that we have either met or shook hands with. Even if you haven’t met anyone famous, if you met or shook hands with someone who did, you are golden.

Even if you just met me and I am your first degree, you are in good shape. I’ve met a bunch of folks who will ratchet up your list.

For instance, I’ve met Sammy Sosa. He met Billy Williams. Billy met Leo Durocher, who met Babe Ruth who met a young college kid named George H.W. Bush, who met Dwight Eisenhower.

See, if you shake my hand, I can get you to the best baseball player ever and a president.

I’ve also met Jesse Jackson, who met Martin Luther King, who met India’s Prime Minister Nehru, who met Mahatma Gandhi, who met Charlie Chaplin who met Helen Keller.

So there you go.

Me and Helen. Who would have guessed that?

And if you want a president for your second degree, meet our reporter, Dermot Connolly. He met Barack Obama back in the day.

That brings me to Oak Lawn’s Ed McElroy.

The longtime radio and TV personality/public relations guru just turned 90 on Monday. There was a big bash celebrating the birthday on Sunday at the Beverly Country Club and some of the folks who were there included Alderman Ed Burke, House Speaker Michael Madigan, Blackhawks announcer Pat Foley, former Illinois Attorney General and former Lieutenant Governor Neil Hartigan, Jesse White and other local big shots.

I haven’t known McElroy for decades like many have, but I’ve known him since late 2012, when he was a young pup in his late 80s.

The most impressive thing about the guy, in my warped opinion, is that he had wrestler Yukon Moose Cholak over at his house.

But that might not impress the masses as much as it does me.

What should impress the masses is that his first degree of separation is about as majestic as other people’s fourth, fifth or sixth.

McElroy has been photographed with nine presidents -- Harry Truman, Eisenhower, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Lyndon Johnson, John F. Kennedy, Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford.

Just so you know, McElroy called Truman a “helluva guy.’’

Edward also met Pope John XXIII in the 1960s.

McElroy, a military veteran, never said that the pontiff was a “helluva guy’’ but said the Pope told him “Have your veterans pray that there will be no new veterans.’’

The Oak Lawn legend has hobnobbed with tons of sports figures over his career with the most famous being Ted Williams. Not many may agree with this because of Williams’ sour reputation, but McElroy insists Williams is also a “helluva guy.’’

When I asked Ed on Sunday if he met any famous people in movies or famous singers, he said he couldn’t think of too many. But when pressed a little more, he remembered meeting Frank Sinatra. This dude knows so many people that it took him some prodding to come up with Sinatra. Somewhere Sinatra is weeping in his grave.

He also met Red Skelton, Ed Sullivan, Pat O’Brien and danced with Rosemary Clooney.

E-Mac also met bandleader Tommy Dorsey and said Dorsey would call his mother every night. Wikipedia claims Dorsey’s married life was “lurid” at times and he had a trio of marriages and some alleged affairs, possibly living up to his hits  “You Can’t Cheat a Cheater” and “Fluid Jive.’’

 But he called his mother every night, by gosh.

I don’t have time to research it, but I’m wondering that if you could trace McElroy’s sixth degree all the way to Jesus Christ. Naaah…maybe a ninth or 10th degree, though.

Anyway, a lot was said Sunday about how McElroy has made a lot of people’s lives better during his 90 years on this side of the soil. And even if he didn’t make their lives better, he certainly improved the quality of their Sixth-Degree game.



Oak Lawn opens StoryWalk near its lake

  • Written by Dermot Connolly


 Photo by Dermot Connolly

For the next few months, patrons can walk and read “The Watermelon Seed’’ in Oak Lawn's Lake Shore Park.


What is better than a walk in the park? Perhaps having a book to read along the way.

With the July 1 unveiling of StoryWalk in Oak Lawn’s Lake Shore Park, 96th Street and East Shore Drive, that is exactly what is available now for young children and families.  Brought to Oak Lawn through a partnership between Oak Lawn Library and Park District, the StoryWalk™ Project was created by Anne Ferguson in Montpelier, Vt., and developed in collaboration with the Vermont Bicycle & Pedestrian Coalition and the Kellogg Hubbard Library.

“The Watermelon Seed,” by Greg Pizzoli, was the first children’s book to go on display in the park on the banks of Oak Lawn Lake.

“Wonderful things happen when people work together,” said Mayor Sandra Bury at the official ribbon-cutting. Among those joining her and dozens of families for the opening were Village Clerk Jane Quinlan, Park District Director Maddie Kelly, Park District Board President Gary Callahan, Secretary Sue Murphy, and other and library and park district officials.

“July is Parks and Recreation Month, so this is a great time to launch this,” said Kelly, adding that the idea to bring StoryWalk to Oak Lawn after she and others saw a similar display in a park in Glenview a couple of years ago.

David MacDonald, recreation supervisor for the Oak Lawn Park District, said the Park District and Library have been working on completing the project for the past two years. The 19 metal and plastic displays were handmade by Public Works employees over the past winter, and have the appearance of large encased books on stands.

Following the ribbon-cutting, girls in the Park District’s IndepenDance team kicked off the entertainment, performing several fast-paced dances. But most of the boys and girls seemed more excited about “The Watermelon Seed.” As soon as the show was over, they led their parents through the book display, laid out page by page, at numbered stations on the path through the park on the banks of Oak Lawn Lake.

In keeping with the theme, librarians dished out fresh watermelon and watermelon ice cream, along with other refreshments during the event. Park District volunteers also handed out sidewalk chalk and bubbles for children who wanted them.

Chicago resident Jeniece Drake-Weatherall, walked the path with her son, Destin, 5, who was eager to read each page displayed along the way. “We like all the programs the  Park District and the Library have,” said Drake-Weatherall. “Destin gets involved in a lot of them. That is how we found out about this.”

Kristina and Daniel Kynaston were there with their daughter, Emma, 4. “She is learning to read, and anything to do with books is good with us,” said Kristina.

Oak Lawn resident Jamie Guardi, and her three daughters, Nora, 6, Maggie, 5, and Kate, 3, also enjoyed the walk, and reading along the way.  While the girls said they liked the book, Jamie said, “I like that it is beside the park, with the playground equipment, and the water. There is something for everyone, and it gives you something to look at along the way.”

The displays will change seasonally, and MacDonald said the next book scheduled to go up in September is “It’s Fall,” by Linda Glaser.

That leaves a lot of time to find out what happens with “The Watermelon Seed.”