Jeff Vorva's Im-PRESS-ions: Half marathon flying high with more than 900 early birds

  • Written by Jeff Vorva


Jeffs Col Impressions

Jeff Prestinario probably wanted to turn a couple of cartwheels and execute a backflip or two but he’s not as spry as he used to be.

The co-founder of the annual half marathon that runs mainly through Palos Heights and features runners from all over the area, was trying to keep a happy face last Friday when the race’s committee members got together for their first meeting at the Recreation Center in Palos Heights.

But there was a lot to be glum about.

Before the meeting, he admitted that for the second year in a row, there existed a possibility that the race would be shut down.

During the meeting, he told the committee heads that last year’s race lost money and drew less than 1,500 runners despite hosting two races – the half marathon and a 10K race – for the first time. At its peak, Prestinario said, the half marathon on its own drew 2,100. In 2014, he said the half marathon portion drew about 1,100 runners, which was the lowest in the history of the event.

Oh, and to make life a little tougher for Prestinario and co-founder Mel Diab, the town of Frankfort decided to get into the half marathon game. 

The first half-marathon in that community will take place April 25 and run through the historic downtown area and Old Plank Trail – eight days before the eighth running of the First Midwest Bank event in Palos in May 3.

That news was bound to take away a chunk of runners from Frankfort, New Lenox and Mokena from the Palos event. It was also going to threaten to grab away runners from Orland Park and Tinley Park as well.

On paper, things were not looking all that great.

But he had 922 reasons to brighten his day.

Jennifer Griffin, a member of the Chicago Special Events Management group that runs the half marathon on race day, gave the committee the report that 922 people had already signed up for the 2015 races – many taking advantage of an online early bird sign-up special.

It was met with applause and a few hoots.

“I was excited to hear that!” an obviously excited Prestinario after the meeting. “When I heard that number, I was extremely excited. Last year, we had less than 1,500 for both races. Now we’re at [922]? And it’s January? That’s amazing.’’

And 23 of the early entrants are from Frankfort.

There are also runners who signed up from Minnesota, Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana, Iowa and New Jersey.

A few months ago, Diab, who was in Florida running in a race and not at Friday’s meeting, and Prestinario mulled shutting down the race because of the setbacks. But all is well, now.

“There’s always that question mark but when you get everyone on board, things can work out and things fall into place,” Prestinario said. “Everybody is excited about the race. Good things are happening and we need more good things. There are a lot of bad things going on in the world and we need more good things.’’

Interestingly, people like Prestinario and Diab are goodwill ambassadors for running and the previous success of the half marathon in Palos has had other communities – including Frankfort – trying to take runners away for their own races.

While I would suggest something outlandish and goofy as having people run in Santa suits in the spring or even their birthday suits to drum up interest as a novelty, that’s not going to happen. Prestinario said he is hoping that the open roads on the course and thousands of fans who come out and cheer the runners will make athletes want to come back to the Palos race.

“More and more races are popping up all the time,” Prestinario said. “You have to do something to promote and market the race. We will have to work a little harder to bring the runners to our race. I think we’re going to be all right. We’re back to shooting for 2,000 again.’’



Sexton wants to be on winning end of Plaza deal

  • Written by Bob Rakow

Evergreen Park Mayor Jim Sexton doesn’t like to lose—not even when he plays board games with his grandchildren, he joked recently.

“I don’t like to lose,” Sexton said. “I typically win.”

That’s the approach the mayor is taking as he aggressively negotiates some sort of development deal for the Plaza.

“I’m right in the middle of the game. I’m right in the midst of things,” he said.

The game clock is ticking in the Plaza negotiations, as the village’s memorandum of understanding regarding a redevelopment plan with UP Development, a real estate firm based in Nashville, expires at the end of January.

Under the terms of the memo, the village said it would consider providing UP with around $10 million in funds raised through a new bonding district on the property, provide a sale-tax reimbursement to the firm and issue other incentives, Crain’s reported.

If the memo expires, the village could agree to another one with UP Development or putting the project out to bid again, Sexton said.

The mayor said he’s involved almost daily in efforts to get a deal for the shuttered mall accomplished before the memo of understanding expires on Jan. 31.

“It’s a daily fight,” Sexton said. “I’ve been working on it. I’m still very confident that something will happen.”

He added that all of the players involved must understand that nothing gets accomplished without a partnership with the village.

The battle to breath new life into the iconic shopping center at 95th Street and Western Avenue has been a prolonged one.

As recently as November, Sexton hinted that plans for a lifestyle center at the site of the Plaza were “inching closer” to reality. He brought it up at the State of the Village Address at the village’s Community Center.

But news hit the mayor and the village hard as Crains Chicago business reported a few days later that a potential deal with the Tampa-based DeBartelo group collapsed and the foreclosure process has restarted.

That news didn’t deter Sexton, who insisted a deal is still in the works.

“The story is not factual. You can’t believe everything you read,” Sexton told the Reporter in November.

He also chided Crain’s for not speaking to him before publishing the story.

“They didn’t really want to hear the truth so they wrote what they wanted,” he said. “It’s not dead. That’s from me,” Sexton said at the time.

The Plaza closed the doors on the interior mall in May 2013 after 60 of years of business in the community. It fell into foreclosure in 2011.


Warm someone’s day during this cold spell with donations to shelters

  • Written by Bob Rakow

The young girl’s words were prophetic; I just wasn’t paying much attention at the time.


The time was nearly 20 years ago when my wife, Annette, and I were taking a look at what would become our first house.


As we toured the basement, one of the owner’s two young daughters told me, “This is where we spend most of our time because it’s coolest in the summer and warmest in the winter.”


It was a telling remark, but, as I said, I wasn’t paying too much attention. Instead, I was wrapped up in the overall appearance of the Oak Lawn home: brick, three bedrooms, two bath, full basement with a ton of potential, nice backyard, two–car garage.


And, most importantly, it was in our price range. Six thousand dollars was all that stood between the initial asking and offering prices. We met in the middle and closed the deal around this time of year. We rented to the owner until spring so she could finish student teaching and we could honor our apartment lease.


We’ve done a lot of work to the house over the years, and I can’t imagine moving, but as I write this column from my home—in the midst of the year’s first cold snap—I sure am cold.


It’s nothing new. Happens any time the temperatures sink into the single digits. The reason is simple: the house is poorly insulated. I know this because when our bathrooms were remodeled, I got a first-hand look at what passed for “insulation” in the late 1940s, the era when my home was built.


Newspaper. Lots and lots of newspaper. Today, every new home is protected from the cold with thick layers of fiberglass insulation. It’s tough to imagine that builders once stuffed newspaper between the studs.


Over the years, we’ve installed a new boiler (we have hot water heat) and replaced the doors and windows, but the house remains less than toasty. I can still hear my father mumble, “It’s chilly in here” during time he lived with us.


The ultimate solution, I suppose, is to have insulation blown into the walls, but that seems expensive. And once the winter’s frigid weather passes, we sort of forget the fact that you could hang meat in our home.


It’s like anything else that’s not a life-threatening problem. You make the best of it. We plug in a space heater, add a blanket to the bed, keep out of the coldest parts of the house and try to be grateful for what we have.


That’s what I’ve been thinking about the past few days as I curse my drafty old house, to borrow a line from Jimmy Stewart in “It’s a Wonderful Life.’’


Cold or not, I do have a home to live in, two cars parked at the curb, a fridge full of food and a closet full of clothes. I go to work every day and even enjoy what I do for a living. No one in my immediate family suffers from serious illness. That’s plenty to help me realize that a cold house in not the end of the world.


After all, some folks live in unheated homes, dependent on space heaters, loads of blankets and winter clothing to get them through the night. Others don’t have a home and must live in their cars or make their way on the streets, risking frostbite or worse when the brutal Chicago winter kicks in.


PADS and other homeless shelters in our area do their best to help. Together We Cope, an excellent social service agency in Tinley Park, also serves in endless ways, including a foot pantry, financial assistance, clothing, back-to-school assistance and the adopt-a-child holiday program.


But what more could you and I be doing? Now’s the real time to ask. The fashionable time for these stories to appear is during the holidays, as various agencies, churches and community organizations strive to help the needy with meals, Christmas presents and other necessities.


But the need didn’t go away the day you took down your Christmas tree. People are still without work, struggling to make ends meet, in danger of losing their homes and so on.


It’s not that hard to lend a hand. There are plenty of food pantries in our area, including one run by the Evergreen Park, which provided Thanksgiving and Christmas meals to more than 160 families in the community. Call the pantry at 708-422-8776 for information of how to help.

In neighboring Oak Lawn, Pilgrim Faith Church runs a food pantry that serves Oak Lawn, Hometown, Worth, Burbank, Chicago Ridge and Alsip. Check out all the details about the pantry at


South Suburban PADS is always in need of volunteers and donations. Plenty of information can be found at


There are plenty of other food pantries, social service agencies as well as churches and community organizations that pitch in to help the needy. Catholic Charities and Red Cross come to mind. Pick one. Find a way to help. Make it a 2015 goal. You’ll be glad that you did.

A lot of barking about parking

  • Written by Bob Rakow

Truckers hope for  answers in Hickory

Hickory Hills truck owners can weigh in next Thursday night on stricter enforcement of truck-parking restrictions when the city council debates the issue.

The discussion will be part of the council’s committee meeting, which is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. at City Hall, 8652 W. 95th St.
Truck owners are concerned that if the city begins to strictly enforce an existing ordinance governing weight limits for trucks, they no longer will be able to park their vehicles at home.
That’s a major inconvenience for many truck owners because they would have to park the vehicles elsewhere. Also, many truck owners keep expensive equipment in their vehicles and prefer the security of having them parked at home.
A handful of truck owners attended last Thursday’s meeting but were told to hold off until the committee meeting to voice their concerns.
The issue gained traction in November when the police issued tickets to several overweight trucks. The citations caught owners by surprise, as they had not previously received them.
The police department has placed a moratorium on ticketing truck owners for weight violations until the city council makes a decision on the matter, Police Chief Alan Vodicka said.
However, some of the truck owners who attended last Thursday’s meeting did so after receiving a letter from a truck owner saying the tickets for overweight trucks would be written beginning in January.
“A lot of the people (at the meeting) were thinking, ‘Hey, we’re going to get tickets,’” Howley said.
Currently, the city has an 8,000-pound limit for trucks parked on residential streets. The weight limit for trucks bearing “B” plates is 8,000 pounds. Trucks over that weight carry a “D” license.
While many larger pickups, including dually trucks (pickups with dual wheels on the rear axle), do not exceed the weight limit, box trucks typically do.
Box trucks often are used by companies that haul appliances or furniture. They also are used as moving trucks.

Palos Hills residents need prior permission to park overnight on the streets

  • Written by Michael Gilbert

By Michael Gilbert

Palos Hills has changed the way residents can obtain permission for overnight parking on city streets, and those not in compliance risk receiving an $80 ticket.
Budget cuts approximately five years ago prompted the Palos Hills Police Department to scale back from being open at all times to 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Friday, but since that time residents have been able to dial 911 after business hours to notify authorities they will have a car parked on the street overnight. The 911 calls were answered by operators from the Palos Heights-based Southwest Central Dispatch who would then send a log sheet over to Palos Hills police officers on duty overnight.
But just a few weeks ago, Palos Hills Police Chief Paul Madigan was notified by Southwest Central Dispatch that the task of fielding calls pertaining to overnight parking had become “too cumbersome” and was taking away from their other job duties.
“Since we don’t have the station open 24 hours anymore, Southwest Central Dispatch was doing us a courtesy and taking those calls,” Madigan said following the City Council meeting last Thursday. “But they told us it had become too cumbersome and they had to stop it. Southwest Central was just doing us a favor for a while but you can’t be taking them away from their 911 calls.”
Residents who do not notify the police department by the end of business hours that they intend to park a car on the street overnight are subject to an $80 ticket, Alderman AJ Pasek (3rd Ward) said. Pasek brought the issue of overnight parking up for discussion because in this month’s Palos Hills newsletter he wrote in his column space that residents should still dial 911 after hours. Unbeknownst to him - and just a few pages over from his column – Madigan wrote about the change in procedure and that 911 operators were no longer fielding calls for overnight parking.
“I’m writing one thing and the chief is writing another thing in the same newsletter,” Pasek said. “When I read that I was saying to myself ‘what the heck is going on here?’ It turns out the change had just happened so I just wanted to clarify the situation.”
Pasek said the overnight parking ban in Palos Hills dates back to at least the 1970s.
“The main reason for the ban is safety for emergency vehicles getting down the street,” Pasek said. “If there was a fire and a lot of fire trucks had to get into an area it could be tough. This way we know who is parking on the street and if there is a problem we can call and say ‘you’re going to have to move your car because we have an emergency situation.’”
Both Pasek and Alderman Joan Knox (1st Ward) brought up the idea of allowing people to leave a message of an answering machine if they intend to park a vehicle on the street overnight.
“If there name is on the answering machine and a ticket is issued then the police department just sends them a letter saying to disregard the ticket that was issued,” Pasek said.
The council did not make an official decision on whether or not to utilize an answering machine in the future.