Saturday night's all right at mall despite social media threats

  • Written by Bob Rakow

It was not a normal day at Chicago Ridge Mall on Saturday but there was no melee either.


Police from Chicago Ridge and several surrounding communities joined mall security to create a significant law enforcement presence in response to social media posts that called for a flash mob at the mall.


“They had a great presence,” Mayor Chuck Tokar said.


The increased security came one week after a serious fight broke out in the mall’s food court and rumors quickly spread that shots had been fired.


Indeed, there was no gunfire and police said the brawl was not the result of a flash mob. Police from several jurisdictions descended on the shopping center and the mall was closed a few hours early.


The incident was serious enough that mall officials want to implement a youth escort policy.


The policy would be similar to one North Riverside Mall adopted in 2013.

Under that policy, after 6 p.m. on Friday and Saturday nights, anyone under 17 years old is required to be accompanied by a parent or supervising adult, age 21 or over.

Chicago Ridge Mall officials have not yet ironed out the details of their proposed policy, but the goal is to eliminate unsupervised teens from wandering the shopping center, Chicago Ridge Police Chief Robert Pyznarski said.

Police on Saturday were stationed at all mall entrances as well as the parking lot, keeping an eye out for anyone who planned to respond to a social media post that called for stores to be robbed.


Tokar said a high-level of security would continue in the coming weeks.


“I don’t think you can do it last Saturday and forget it,” the mayor said.


While law enforcement made its presence felt at the mall, those who support police took a stand on Friday, tying blue ribbons to every light pole from Harlem Avenue to Pulaski Road on 95th Street.


Residents in Chicago Ridge and Worth also took part in the initiative last week.


“It was very important to me,” said Oak Lawn resident Jennifer Childs, who headed up the initiative.


Childs said only a handful of supporters responded when she first pitched the idea to some local Facebook groups. But more than 40 people turned out on Friday to help the cause.


“I was amazed,” Childs said. “It was a warm feeling. People brought their kids out. Couples came out.”


Each volunteer was given 16 ribbons, which were made from blue, plastics table clothes, and assigned a one block to place them on street poles. The four-mile stretch was completed within an hour, Childs said.


Childs said she promoted the “Tie One On” effort to support Oak Lawn police and let people know that residents support law enforcement.


“It’s important to me,” she said, adding that the incident at the mall demonstrated the lack of respect many people have for police.


“It’s just wrong,” she said. “We need to have someone to have our backs when something is wrong. We know the police department has our backs.”


Childs also dismissed criticism from some that politicians such as Mayor Sandra Bury and Trustees Tim Desmond and Terry Vorderer politicized the effort by getting involved.


“I couldn’t have done it without them,” she said, adding that Bury donated 50 table clothes to the cause.



CR board not toying around with Spencer’s

  • Written by Bob Rakow

Chicago Ridge trustees Tuesday took a hard line stance with Spencer’s, agreeing to fine the Chicago Ridge Mall novelty store if it does not remove adult sex toys and videos from its shelves by the end of the week.


Spencer’s attorney Kevin Mahoney said the store would abide by the board’s edict, which trustees agreed to following a lengthy conversation about the issue.


Trustees in November unanimously approved an amendment to the village’s ordinance regarding adult book and video stores that required stores such as Spencer’s to place adult toys and videos in a section of the store restricted by doors or walls.


But village officials recently discovered that Spencer’s had not made the appropriate changes, continuing instead to display sex toys and other adult merchandise in the rear of the store in plain view of all customers.


Village officials are especially angry that the merchandise remains in view of teenagers who frequent the store.


Trustee John Lind said the display was inappropriate.


“The back wall (of Spencer’s) is embarrassing. You know it and I know it,” Lind told Mahoney. “I’m not prude. I’m far from it. To me, it’s real embarrassing. When I walked to the back of the store, I was amazed.”


Mahoney said the store did not immediately take steps to comply with the ordinance because he was not aware of the new regulations until Dec. 9, several weeks after the ordinance was passed.


“It’s not a matter that we’ve been ignoring it,” he said.


He said Spencer’s has devised a plan for the store that would include segregating the adult merchandise and monitoring the area to make sure children do not enter.


Trustees were willing to look at the plan, which Mahoney said would be ready by next week.


“We do take the matter very seriously,” said Mahoney, who added that sex toys make up 5 to 10 percent of the store’s total merchandise.


Mayor Chuck Tokar said he was not convinced that Spencer’s plan would meet the expectations outlined in the ordinance.


The decision to segregate the adult section came after a small group of residents told trustees that Spencer’s had a large number of sex toys displayed.



Jeff Vorva's Im-PRESS-ions: The top 10 cool people I met in 2014

  • Written by Jeff Vorva


Jeffs Col Impressions


Some people in our business love year-end lists.

Some hate them.

Me? I’m in between.

They are a pain in the neck to compile but sometimes when you are compiling them, you forget about some interesting things that happened in a calendar year. It’s a nice look back.

This is the second time, I’ve compiled a top 10 list of people I met over the past year and seeing these names and remembering them once again is a unique experience.

 The criteria is simple. I had to meet them in 2014 and it had to be related to my job with the Reporter or any Southwest Regional Newspaper. Thus, if I was walking down the street and bumped into the President and we had a quick chat, he would not make the list.

But these 10 – in alphabetical order – did make it:

Kate Bradley

For months, I kept reading library press releases about this woman named Kate Bradley teaching cooking classes at virus libraries. She seemed to be everywhere.

In my mind, I pictured her to be like low-key kindly Kate Bradley on “Petticoat Junction,” an older heavy woman with three daughters who had the middle names of Jo who swam in the Hooterville public water supply.


This Evergreen Park resident is a younger, energetic skinny woman who can not only captivate an audience of adults, she has a way of making students of various ages and backgrounds pay attention. 

Ella Chaffee

Oak Lawn’s wheelchair basketball pioneer was named to the National Wheelchair Basketball Hall of Fame in April. “Back in 1980, the WNBAS didn’t have a women’s team, so I started my own,” she said. “When we first started, we had six players, just enough to have a sub. Let me tell ya, I played a lot of minutes.’’

When she was six, she contracted polio but never let it get in the way of what she calls her “tomboy” activities. She has also been a top swimmer and marathoner.


Rona Cox

The 90-year-old former Evergreen Park resident was in the Air Force before it was called the Air Force, was a roller skater until she was 83 and volunteered for various veterans’ organizations for 63 years. 

When she was married, her dress was made out of parachute material.

She even has a wicked sense of humor about her own death, saying “It’s a far drive from Evergreen Park to my cemetery and I don’t want people hungry. So I told the funeral director to serve lunch first.”

Kendall Coyne

It’s not the fact that she is one of the best female hockey players in the world that impresses me.

It’s not the fact that she brought home a silver medal from the Olympics that impresses me.

What impressed me is that she made countless appearances when she got back from Russia and each time, she remained upbeat and gave feel-good speeches day after day and never seemed to get tired of making them.

Bonnie Cruickshank

OK, you know her as Bonnie Blair.

The Olympic hero was at Stagg High School in January and after the speed skater was done giving a speech, I had a chance to interview her and had a lot of fun talking not only about her past triumphs but her present adventures. She’s a hockey mom from Wisconsin who wears bells and blows horns at her son’s game.

“You have to come with your toys,” she said. 

Jack Dematteo

The 11-year-old Oak Lawn student who is battling Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy is beloved so much by his peers and members of the St. Catherine Alexandria School and Parish in Oak Lawn that an elevator at his school was built for him and other students with physical needs.

As a side note, since we went to a new website in spring, 2013, Jack’s tale ranks fifth on Reporter stories with the most hits.  

Sarah Dynia

Another young Oak Lawn treasure, this Mother McAuley student started the “Stuffed Love” organization which helps bring comfort to people of all ages.

She makes stuffed hearts plus animals, flowers, stars and even some stuffed monsters. “If it can be sewn and stuffed, I can make it!” she said.

Her efforts have not gone unnoticed. She has received letters from Governor Pat Quinn and President Barack Obama recognizing her efforts.

Theresa Rebersky

Even though she and I have had e-mail exchanges in 2013, I technically didn’t meet this Worth woman in person until spring at a – what else? – Worth event. She loves that town.

She and her husband, George, have had a lot of fun with our WHATIZIT? game over the years and this year she was asked to throw out the first pitch before a White Sox game in June to “some guy named Chris” which turned out to be ace pitcher Chris Sale.

She had her ups and downs this year, but every time I’ve seen her or corresponded with her, she was probably the most upbeat person I’ve met in a long time.

Linda Stearns

Like Chaffee, this woman proves that if you live in Oak Lawn and are in a wheelchair, you just don’t sit around and have people feel sorry for you.

Stearns has become a tireless volunteer whose door was falling off of her van and was awarded a new van after winning a national Local Heroes Award contest. 

My favorite part of the Linda Stearns biography is that she goes to funeral homes, snarfs up discarded flowers and gives them to people in hospitals. She told me people in the hospitals think she is full of money because she is always giving flowers away.

Viola Strupeck



The 92-year-old who is a regular at Curves Fitness in Hickory Hills puts most of us to shame with her work ethic in the gym.

OK, she’s not lifting 200 pounds over her head or running marathons, but she is energetic and inspires the other women at Curves.

Now, I’m not the type that ever asks permission to a story subject for a headline, but I wanted to make sure she wouldn’t balk at my idea of “At 92, she’s still using her Curves.’’ I didn’t want her to be embarrassed or to find it in bad taste.

She laughed and gave me her blessing.



It's a Happy New Year for Worth family

  • Written by Bob Rakow

DR-PAGE-5-FAMILYThere was a time when Josh and Alicia Cook wondered how everything could go so wrong.

“What did we do? Who did we make angry?” Alicia recalls thinking as her family faced one serious dilemma after another beginning in early 2012.

The Worth family’s world was shaken in February, 2012 when their son, Chase, now 16, was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Two years later, his father, Josh, was diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma and was unable to work.

Josh does not smoke or chew tobacco, so the diagnosis came as quite a surprise. It also came as Alicia’s husband of 17 years was about to start a new job.

While Josh underwent chemo and radiation treatment after tumors were removed from his tongue and cheek, Alicia lost her job as a schoolteacher.

The past two years were clearly challenging ones for the Cooks. They faced overwhelming financial struggles coupled with the anxiety that accompanies serious illnesses.

“It was a roller coaster of ‘Oh my gosh, what are we going to do now?’” Alicia said.

Still, the Cooks refused to buckle during trying times, and employed a one-day-at-a-time approach.

“Basically, it was ‘Today is Monday. What do we have to do to get through Monday,’” Alicia Cook said.

Alicia stood by Chase and later, Josh, 41, during their treatments at the University of Chicago Medical Center while at the same time taking care of her four other children: Zane, 14; Ariana, 12; Xavier, 9; and Blake, 6.

“They felt distracted, but I’d like to say they handled really well,” she said of her children.

But this story has a happy ending that has the Cooks entering the New Year in a more hopeful place than they were three years ago.

Chase’s cancer is in remission, and Josh’s latest cancer scan was clear. He continues to gain his strength, and has a lead on new job when he’s ready to go back to work.

Alicia, meanwhile, is back in the classroom, teaching high school students in Cicero.

To top it all off, the Cooks won’t have to make a mortgage payment in 2015.

Instead, Gradient, a Minnesota-based financial services company, and its Gradient Gives Back Foundation, will foot the bill.

Alicia Cook found out about the foundation after meeting with a social worker at the University of Chicago Medical Center about assistance for families facing drastic illnesses.

“That started me looking,” said Alicia, who learned about the Gradient Gives Back Foundation via a web search.

As part of the application process, she chronicled the family’s struggles, and outlined all the Cooks had done to give back to the community despite their own obstacles.

“We give back and that’s what they ask about, and they were touched by all that,” Alicia said.

Many families have fundraisers when a serious illness strikes and causes financial hardships. Not the Cooks.

Instead, they continued to help others.

The boys mowed the lawns of elderly relatives and neighbors.

Ariana accompanied her dad to chemo sessions.

Chase, while battling his own disease, organized a fundraiser at Worth Junior High with all the proceeds, going to cure it and the foundation his doctor started.

As part of the application process, Alicia went through a series of phone interviews with Gradient officials during the summer. In December, the family was invited to Mokena to meet with foundation representatives.

The Cooks were told they were one of five finalists for the annual award and the 30-minute, videotaped interview would help Gradient make a decision.

It was tough interview for Alicia.

“I started talking about Chase and my emotions came out and I started crying,” she recalled.

What the Cooks did not know during their December interview was that they had already been chosen to receive the mortgage payment award.

“It was very exciting,” said Alicia, who said she knew something was up when WGN News cameras were on the scene along with some other photographers.

“It was kind of a dead giveaway with the news cameras,” she said.

The mortgage payments begin in January and for an entire year the Cooks can focus on regaining a financial foothold. Gone are the days when Alicia has to count every penny or decide which bill could be put off so another could be paid.

Josh is regaining his strength and his sense of taste, which he lost as a result of radiation treatment.

“He was able to enjoy Christmas dinner,” Alicia said.

It’s safe to say all of the Cooks enjoyed Christmas dinner.

And they hope that they will enjoy their outlook for 2015 even more.



Trustee's 'thanks' is more than welcome

  • Written by Bob Rakow

Last week, Reporter editor Jeff Vorva used his column, ImPRESSions, to write about his favorite moment of 2014. Not his favorite story, per se. Rather, he wrote about a behind-the-scenes moment he experienced while on a photo assignment for a story that ran on our front page.


Jeff suggested that I borrow the theme for the B-Side. It sounded like a good idea, but I couldn’t think of any particular moment or story during the year that was especially moving or touching.


The more I thought about it, however, there was one moment I experienced this year that was unique.


It happened several weeks ago during an Oak Lawn Village Board meeting, and it had nothing to do with the opposite sides of village government going at it again over an issue like the 911 dispatch center or some other point of contention.


Quite the opposite.


Trustee Tim Desmond (1st) used a portion of his report to thank all the reporters who cover the community.


Some simply attend village board meetings, others cover the village on a day-to-day basis, writing stories about the village, schools, park district, crime, break news and features. Either way, Desmond wanted to give us a moment of recognition.


He wanted everyone to know that we work hard at what we do, strive to write fair and balanced stories and sometimes face resistance in our effort to do our job.


It was a surprise, to be sure.


I’ve been in and out of the newspaper business since 1987. I covered Park Ridge in the late1980s, Roselle and Bloomingdale in the early 1990s, the LaGrange area for a brief period in 1998-99 and towns throughout the Southland as a freelancer for the SouthtownStar for many years.


I’ve sat in many a meeting, cultivated relationships with numerous public officials—even angered a few—but never has anyone taken a moment during a meeting to say, “Hey, you folks in the media. Thanks. You do a good job, work hard, strive to be objective, provide a service.”


But Tim Desmond did.


I suppose one could argue Desmond was trying to curry favor with reporters, but that’s not my sense. It wouldn’t work even if that were his goal.


Desmond’s been a trustee since 2013 and not long after he was elected, I wrote a story about his failure to file the required paperwork with the Illinois State Board of Elections before running for office.


I called Tim when I was writing the story and he responded to my questions. He didn’t put me off, avoid my calls or fall back on “no comment” when I asked about the misstep.


In the weeks and months after the story broke, I called Desmond for other stories and spoke to him at village board meetings. He never treated me differently or acted as though he was angry about the initial story.


That’s good. He gets it. If you choose to run for office or hold elective office, facing questions from the press is part of the deal.


It doesn’t always work that way. There are elected officials who harbor grudges and don’t forget about the bad press they receive. Those are the ones who typically don’t return phone calls or do so only if getting a quote in the paper serves their interests.


It’s all part of the game we play, I suppose. My stories are better if they include quotes from all parties involved. Conversely, local officials have much to gain from the media and getting their message across.


Desmond is up for re-election in the spring. He faces a challenge from Cindy Trautsch, who he defeated in 2013 for a two-year term on the board.


Trautsch was the one who filed the complaint with the state about Desmond’s missing paperwork. Clearly, she’s kept an eye on village politics and was aiming for rematch with Desmond.


Good luck to her. Good luck to him.


We’ll write stories about all three trustee races in Oak Lawn and give all the candidates a chance to complete surveys, be interviewed and explain their platforms.


Desmond might tout the jobs program he created or talk about the regular district meeting he’s hosted for residents. Look for Trautsch to tie Desmond to the Bury administration, bring up the ongoing 911dispatch center saga, among other issues. It will be interesting.


Rest assured, I’m not going to go easy on Desmond because he said “thanks” during a board meeting. But I do appreciate the gesture because we all like to be thanked or recognized now and then. It’s human nature.