Face of kindness

  • Written by Claudia Parker





 Photo by Jeff Vorva

Mary Cate Lynch, left, receives thumbs-up from Northeast Elementary School sixth-grader Pearl Opokue during an assembly in October urging students to Choose Kind when dealing with someone who looks a little different.







Mary Cate Lynch has become a real-life “Wonder.’

When she was born two years ago with a facial deformity, few knew that this face would become a face of kindness.

In October, Northeast Elementary, in Evergreen Park, hosted its former hometown resident, Kerry Ryan Lynch, now of Beverly, and her daughter, Mary Cate for its ‘Choose Kind’ presentation. 

Mary Cate, who turns 3 on Dec. 8, and her mother have made it a mission to get out and tell Mary Cate’s story to young school kids so that when they see someone who is a little different, they won’t be quick to heckle.

 Over the past year, the two have been schooling students on Apert Syndrome, a craniofacial condition effecting Mary Cate’s head, feet and hands. Lynch said, “We’ve been in about 60 schools so far and have another 50 scheduled for 2015.”

The stop in Evergreen Park was special for the school and the Ryan family because students at Northeast are reading “Wonder” by R.J. Palacio. This is a novel about a fifth grader with a facial deformity, whom after living life sheltered from the public, musters the courage to attend public school.

Jackie Janicke, Principal of Northeast said, “When I spoke with Kerry about her Choose Kind campaign, I learned it coincided with ‘Wonder.’ I purchased several copies and some of the upperclassmen have been reading the book to the lower grade levels during our lunch period.”

The lead character evokes an anti-bullying campaign that, in reality, is blurring the lines of fiction as Lynch and Mary Cate are collaborating in spreading the author’s precept of kind awareness.

“Reading the book, Wonder, is where my ‘Choose Kind’ slogan came from,” Lynch said. “There’s a chapter in the book titled ‘Choose Kind.’ ’’ Lynch said. “When given the choice between being right or being kind, choose kind.”

Northeast sixth graders Pearl Opokue and Alyssa Purvis eagerly their feedback after hearing the Choose Kind presentation. Opokue said, “Now if I saw a kid with Apert Syndrome, I would be excited to go say ‘hi.’ ”

“We shouldn’t judge,” Purvis said. “We should always be kind, most of the people you think are different, are usually just like you.”

Janicke said District 124 is focused on Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, which is a district wide approach to creating a positive and safe climate where students can learn and grow.

“Since becoming principal three years ago, I’ve seen a noticeable difference in how students treat one another,’’ she said. “Our PBIS system teaches and sets expectations for students while providing tools for them to make good choices.”

Northeast also has a Kindness Club.

“Our cap on enrollment was 20 students but my heart forced me to squeeze in a few extras,’’ Janicke said. “We had 50 students sign up.”

She said they narrowed their candidates by choosing the most compelling essays students wrote on how they would spread kindness within the school. 

The facility of Northeast put its motto of spreading kindness into action during the assembly with Mary Cate by wearing pink and white t-shirts that read, “Northeast School, Choose Kind.” Janicke credits her staff with the gesture saying, “I have an awesome team of people who have great ideas. They always make sure our events run smoothly.”   

Lynch expressed gratitude to Northeast in a posting on her My Mary Cate Facebook page. Lynch said she posts’ more regularly on FB than her blog.

“I created the blog to educate others about Mary Cate’s diagnosis,’’ Lynch said. “It became my therapy. I didn’t want pity, my husband, Chris, and I always find the positive side.”

Over time Lynch said her blog became a hub for families seeking information about Apert Syndrome.

With each school visit, this family’s crusade seems to gain momentum. Some consider them to be local celebrities. Their story has been printed in numerous publications as well as televised on ABC 7- Chicago, the Today Show-Australia, and just last month, they appeared on Windy City Live. 

During that interview, like a typical two-year old, Mary Cate wandered from the questioning of co-host Val Warner, slipped through the arms of her parents and climbed into the lap of her grandmother, Maun Ryan who was sitting smack in the middle of the audience. Maun and husband, Bob Ryan, are lifelong residents of Evergreen Park and still live in the family home where Lynch grew up.

Lynch is an alumni of Most Holy Redeemer and Mother McAuley, which inducted her into the McAuley Hall of Honor on October 25.


Lynch’s noticeably supportive parents were also in attendance at the Northeast presentation. They helped keep an eye on Mary Cate’s, one-year-old, little sister, Maggie.     

Maggie has become increasingly visible at Choose Kind events. Lynch laughed, “I’m in favor of starting the conversation of acceptance early.”

“During one school presentation, a child asked, ‘Why does Mary Cate have Apert Syndrome but not Maggie?’ ’’ Lynch said. “I told her the same thing I tell everyone else -- because God decided to make Mary Cate look a little bit different.

“And that’s ok, we’re all different.” 




New 911 hire brings up alarms and arguments in Oak Lawn

  • Written by Bob Rakow


The hiring of former Oak Lawn Police Chief Bill Villanova to oversee the village’s emergency dispatch center is the latest move in an ongoing saga that has evolved since the service was outsourced late last year.

Villanova retired in April 2013 after a 36-year career with the Oak Lawn police department. He replaces Roger Bessette, who decided to step down. Villanova assumed control of the dispatch center on Monday.

Trustee Robert Streit said the appointment of the former chief signals discord within the dispatch center.

“It demonstrates how serious the problems really are,” Streit said.

Streit voted against the privatization of the dispatch center and has continually railed against the performance of the dispatchers, who work for Norcomm Public Safety Communications. He maintains that they are not well trained or familiar with the village.

The appointment of Villanova comes just days after the village released more than 40 complaints about the 911 dispatchers submitted by Oak Lawn firefighters.

Many of the complaints are serious and prove that dispatchers are putting residents’ lives in jeopardy, Streit said.

Mayor Sandra Bury and Village Manager Larry Deetjen maintain that the complaints are not nearly as severe as Streit portrays.

“This is not something new,” Deetjen said. “Would we like to be perfect? Yes. We’re dealing with humans.”

Trustee Alex Olejniczak said Streit’s opposition to privatization of the dispatch center is politically motivated.

“Is it really an issue? Did these things exist prior to the (dispatch center) change over? Absolutely they did,” Olejniczak said. “He’s trying to get elected.”

Streit, the veteran member of the board, is up for re-election in 2015 and faces a challenge from political newcomer Scott Hollis. Streit retain his seat in a surprisingly close election four years ago. Some political observers believe he’s beatable this time around.

Olejniczak added that the village would receive complaints from residents or face lawsuits if the dispatch center was performing ineffectively.

“He’s making Oak Lawn look bad,” Olejniczak said. “If you listen to Bob Streit, Oak Lawn is going to hell in a handbasket.”

Streit said the firefighters’ complaints highlight some serious problems within the dispatch center. Complaints about firefighters or paramedics being sent to the wrong address, delays in dispatch, failure to dispatch the correct units and the wrong codes used during dispatch are among the grievances.

“I’m disappointed that the administration is trying to downplay the seriousness,” Streit said.

Perhaps the most serious complaint is outlined in an email to Assistant Fire Chief Scott Bowman from Battalion Chief Michael Jensen regarding the Oct. 5 fatal accident at 95th Street and Cicero Avenue that led to the death of three people, including two Little Company of Mary sisters.

The email asks why there was six-minute delay between the first call being received by dispatch and first responders being sent to the scene.

Bury criticized Streit for using the tragedy to further his campaign against the dispatch center.

Streit said he had no choice but to point out the complaint.

“For me, it’s an unfortunate incident that had to be addressed,” Streit said. “It happened. The facts speak for themselves. Address the issue. Address the delays. These are serious matters.”

Deetjen said the accident remains under investigation. He added that experienced dispatchers were working in the 911 center the afternoon of the accident.

“Our Oak Lawn regional dispatch had two veterans manning phones and both undertaking the critical functions of emergency call taking and emergency dispatching in addition to support from Nordcomm that Sunday afternoon,” Deetjen said.

At the Oct. 28 village board meeting, Streit distributed a packet that summarized firefighters’ concerns about dispatch dating back to February. But the packet did not include that emails that detailed the complaints.

Village Clerk Jane Quinlan chastised Streit for not including that documentation.

“If you’re going to get half of the information, why not get all of the information?” said Quinlan, who provided the emails to the media the following day.

“Now you know the details of things,” Quinlan said. “I wanted you to see the explanation. I’m not holding anything back.”

Streit believes otherwise.

“(Mayor Bury) was aware that problems existed,” he said.

He said he requested the firefighters’ complaints several months ago, but his Freedom of Information requests were denied.

Bury and Deetjen, he said, were instrumental in denying the requests. They were released only after Streit filed a complaint with the Illinois Attorney General’s office, he said.

Quinlan said neither the mayor nor the manager are involved in processing FOIA requests. She added that no one was aware of the complaints until Fire Chief George Sheets brought them to her on Oct. 24. The complaints were sent to the attorney’s general’s office on Oct. 27.

There was no effort to hide things,” said Quinlan, who said she was “shocked” when the complaints turned up.

Quinlan added that Streit has incorrectly portrayed the relationship between the village and the attorney general’s office.

“We never get nervous when we get something from the attorney general’s office,” she said.


Baseball? Boring? For me World Series is still must-see TV

  • Written by Bob Rakow

Baseball is boring.


I’d rather listen to Chicago Bears coach Marc Trestman address the media than watch a baseball game. The game takes forever.


So much standing around, too little action.


These are not my sentiments. I love baseball. I took in as much of the World Series as I could. But I was surprised at how many callers to a local sports radio show said they completed ignored the Fall Classic.


I’ll admit, I didn’t watch the MLB playoffs, but I was all over the World Series. So were my wife and daughter. We cheered for the Kansas City Royals and their fantastic David versus Goliath journey through the playoffs.


Unfortunately, the Royals fell just a little short. Two outs in the bottom of the 9th inning of Game 7 and a man on third base. The next batter popped out and the Giants won their third World Series in the past five years.  That’s a pretty impressive accomplishment. The Royals magic ran out. As a Cubs fan, the Royals give me hope.


I don’t remember ever missing a World Series. But many people, fans who enjoy a variety of college and professional sports, have little or no interest.


There was a time, during baseball’s heyday, that no one missed the Series. It was must-see TV. Oh, how times have changed.


Of course, baseball was a different game then. Some players stayed with one team their entire career and the stars were more recognizable. Performance enhancing drugs had yet to poison the game, and the marketing machines that propelled the NBA and NHL into the stratosphere were not around.


Kids played baseball—lots of baseball. Not in organized leagues or on travel teams, but in parks and on street corners. If there weren’t enough people around to field team, a game of fast pitch was always an option. Boys mimicked the windups of their favorite pitchers and batting stances of the sluggers they idolized.


Back then, Cincinnati’s Big Red Machine was as dangerous as they came. Pete Rose, Joe Morgan, Johnny Bench and George Foster were fearsome. Charlie Finley’s Oakland A’s were equally good during that era, winning the AL West five times in a row as well and the World Series in 1972, ’73 and ’74. The Yankees, it seems, were always competitive.


Today, football and basketball dominate the sports landscape. Pro football is available Thursdays, Sundays and Mondays and is hyped seven days a week. It’s action-packed, it’s violent, we bet on the games. An NFL Sunday starts with pregame shows around breakfast time and ends with a night game 12 hours later. College football doesn’t lag far behind, and in some parts of the country, the college game is king.


The NBA is a star-driven league. The top players don’t need a last name. Kobe, LeBron, Michael, KG, Magic. The game is fast-paced—a combination of thrilling slam dunks and three-point shots. Fans love the high-flying athletic feats of the players. Former Commissioner David Stern was a genius by linking the league with popular music, fashion and celebrities.


But the NBA also is a playoff-driven league. It’s a fair assumption that the Chicago Bulls will at least make the playoffs. How they do when they get there is another matter. For the most part, though, the top teams win championships. That’s not always the case in baseball.


Knock baseball all you want, but there’s no better game, especially during the playoffs and World Series. I enjoy football and basketball and love hockey, but nothing is quiet like baseball.


Want proof? Try following a team during a playoff push in the late summer.


Every game matters. Basketball and hockey can’t say that. You begin to scoreboard watch, hoping the team immediately ahead or behind yours drops in the standings. The race teeters and totters until the big weekend series between the top two teams. Something is on the line every game.


The playoffs, of course, are even more intense. The wild card teams play a single game for the right to move on. The next series is best-of-five, which leaves little margin for error. Hockey playoffs are more of a grind—winning four, best-of-seven series are needed to hoist the Stanley Cup.


But baseball is pure drama. There are games within the game. The strategies played out by the managers. Pinch hitting, pinch running, changing pitchers. A team like the Royals found success by getting a lead by the sixth inning and then turning the game over to the best bullpen in the major leagues. It’s a strategy that took them to the World Series.


Of course, that bullpen played no role in Game 7 of the World Series because the Giants pitcher, a starter who was used in spot relief duty, was nearly unhittable.


The Giants lost Game 6 of the Series, 10-0, and won the Game 7, 3-2. That’s the beauty of the baseball.


I once heard a pitcher who had a significant amount of playoff and World Series experience explain that in those high-intensity games, every pitch is important. Imagine the pressure. Games can turn on a single pitch. Basketball and hockey games have shifts in momentum, which can play a role on the outcome.


That’s not same as a game changing on a single pitch, a single swing of the bat. Just ask Bill Mazerowski and Joe Carter.


If you don’t know who they are, you probably think baseball is boring, too.

Chicago helps Cunningham knock off Murphy

  • Written by Bob Rakow


State Sen. Bill Cunningham has Chicago voters to thank for returning him to Springfield.




The 18th District Democrat unofficially defeated challenger Shaun Murphy on Tuesday, 37,398 votes to 27,145 votes, with all but five precincts reporting.




Cunningham, however, found himself in a tight race in the suburban portion of the district.




Murphy, the Worth Township Republican committee, did well in the suburbs, garnering 21,932 votes, or 51.2 percent, to Cunningham’s 20,877, or 48.8 percent, according to unofficial results.




But the district’s heavily Democratic wards carried the day for Cunningham, where he collected more than 76 percent of the nearly 22,000 votes cast, according to unofficial results.




Murphy collected only 5,213 votes in the Chicago portion of the district, which includes the Mt. Greenwood, Beverly, Morgan Park and Auburn-Gresham neighborhoods.


Cunningham is a Beverly resident, while Murphy hails from Evergreen Park.


The suburban portion of the 18th District includes sections of Orland, Worth and Palos townships.




Neither Cunningham nor Murphy could be reached for comment on Tuesday night.




Cunningham has spent the past four years in Springfield—two as a state representative and past two as a state senator.




During the campaign he touted his experience and efforts to end “business as usual” as a reason to be re-elected.




He added that the state’s pension crisis is one of the biggest challenges legislators face when they return to Springfield after the election




Murphy, who described himself as an independent-minded Republican, said the race would be an uphill battle. But he expressed confidence in his campaign, saying it was a grassroots effort that started several months ago.




A focus of his campaign was attacking Cunningham for not being his own man and instead taking his marching orders from House Speaker Michael Madigan and other party leaders when it comes to key votes.




Hurley enjoys Windy City windfall in victory

  • Written by Bob Rakow


State Rep. Fran Hurley won her first bid for re-election to the state legislature Tuesday, by unofficially defeating challenger Victor Horne by a 2-1 margin in the 35th District race.




With all but four precincts reporting, Hurley received 23,087 votes to 11,708 garnered by Horne.




Hurley, who first won election in 2012, ran a neck-and-neck race with Horne in the suburban portion of the district, where she beat the conservative Republican by less than 200 votes.




Hurley captured 8,523 votes, or 50.6 percent, to 8,324 ballots cast for Horne, or 49.4 percent, according to unofficial results.




The trend was similar for state Sen. Bill Cunningham, whose 18th District includes the 35th District.




Cunningham defeated challenger Republican Shaun Murphy by more than 10,000 votes, but narrowly lost the race in the suburbs.




Hurley, like Cunningham, lives in the city, and she has Chicago voters to thank for returning her to Springfield.




Chicago voters turned out overwhelmingly for Hurley, a former 19th Ward aldermanic aide, casting 14,566 votes, or 81 percent, in her favor. Horne managed only 3,384 votes, or 19 percent in the city.




The 35th District includes the Chicago neighborhoods of Beverly, Mount Greenwood and Morgan Park. The suburban portion of the district includes all or parts of Alsip, Merrionette Park, Oak Lawn, Orland Hills, Orland Park, Palos Heights, Palos Park and Worth.




Neither Hurley nor Horne could be reached for comment on Tuesday night.




Horne is a lifelong South Sider and a Beverly resident. He served in Vietnam and became an ordained minister following seminary education at Aenon Bible College and has done that for nearly 20 years.


A political newcomer, Horne is a volunteer Bible teacher at Cook County Jail and has worked for more than 15 years as a compliance investigator for the Illinois Department of Agriculture.


Horne said his first priority would be to advocate for economic growth, which he believes would lead to greater fiscal responsibility, a reduction in spending and a demand for integrity and accountability from state leaders. 




Additionally, Horne said, he would support for programs and support projects that strengthen marriages, build strong families and protect the sanctity of life.


Hurley, meanwhile, touted her record of accomplishments and her willingness to reach across the aisle in Springfield to advance legislation.




She stressed that focused on initiatives that benefitted the community such as backing a bill that closed a loophole in the criminal code by barring convicted sex offenders from privately owned play areas, such as the ones commonly found in McDonald’s or Burger King.