Worth’s David Riley poses with some of the donated presents in his living room. Submitted photo. Christmas was a joyous time of year for more than 200 inner-city children thanks to Worth resident David Riley. Riley, 18, collected toys for children of all ages during the holiday season, a project he undertook to become an Eagle Scout. The Shepard High School senior has not achieved the rank of Eagle Scout—a Boy Scout review board has yet to make that determination—but the project was about more than earning the Scouts highest rank, he said. “It seemed like the right thing to do,” Riley said. Riley’s living room was packed with the toys that he along with friends, scout leaders and family collected over a two-week period. His sister, Emily, a Shepard freshman, created the poster to promote the toy drive and decorated the collection boxes. The boxes were placed in several Worth businesses, and residents did the rest by donating toys to children who otherwise would not receive a Christmas gift, Riley said. Worth Mayor Mary Werner helped get the ball rolling by donating 30 toys, he said. Riley, who collected twice as many toys as expected, and his family loaded up a van the weekend before Christmas and delivered the presents to Christ the King Lutheran Church in Chicago. Church volunteers wrapped and distributed the gifts to the children, who often are more concerned with where their filling their bellies than opening a present, Riley said. “The pastor was pretty excited,” said Riley, who wants to study aviation in college. Riley’s holiday mission made his mother beam. “I’m very proud of him,” said Tina Riley. “He did a lot of hard work.” She added that she’s proud of Worth residents, who responded to a good cause during the holiday season. Riley has submitted a project report to the Boy Scouts, who will let him know if was sufficient to earn Scouting’s top honor. “Now he just has to wait for them to call,” Tina Riley said. “We’re very excited.” Riley is no stranger to volunteer work as a long-time Scout. A graduate of Worth Elementary School and Worth Junior High School, Riley entered Scouts when he was 6 years old as a Tiger Cub. He designed three fishing derby patches, each which won the patch design contest at the Scout’s annual fishing derby at Tampier Lake. The patches were given to every Scout who entered the derby. Riley and Troop 668 have participated in the annual ton of food drive in Worth, Veterans’ ceremonies, visited the veterans’ home in Manteno, painted fire hydrants in Worth, marched in the annual Worth Days Parade and volunteered in the Lucas Berg Ditch cleanup. Riley also enjoys going to Owassippe in Michigan for the annual week long camping trip. Riley works as a bus boy at Worth the American Legion and as a merchandiser for a company that provides flowers to Home Depot stores. He currently works at McDonald’s in Oak Lawn.
One of the rewards of this racket we call journalism is the people we meet. I could never be able to accurately count how many people I’ve met through the job of being a writer, photographer and editor since I started in the business as a high school kid in 1977 in Joliet. If it’s not in the 10,000 range, it has to be darn close. It could be a lot more. I’ve met the famous — Michael Jordan, Muhammad Ali, Walter Payton, Sammy Sosa, Shaq and Eddie Vedder to name a few — and I have met the infamous — Rod Blagojevich, Barry Bonds, Dennis Rodman and Joe Paterno to name a few. Jessie Jackson Sr. once slapped me on the back on a Father’s Day. The hated professional wrestler known as the Iron Sheik told me he helped coach United States Olympic wrestlers. This is the same guy whose gimmick was to spit on the American flag and sing the Iranian National Anthem and insult our country. I once had to give directions to hard-hitting TV journalist Walter Jacobsen where a washroom was located. If not for me, he might have wet his pants that night! I once cursed at then-WSCR reporter Mike Greenberg to pipe down when he was bellowing into the phone in the Packers press box in Green Bay. I guess my profane admonishment didn’t derail his career as he is one of the Mikes in the nationally syndicated “Mike and Mike in the Morning” radio show on ESPN and has written a couple of books, to boot. He’s a big success, but hopefully, he’s not yelling into phones anymore. The coolest celebrity I met was Mel Blanc — the voice of hundreds, including Bugs Bunny and the subject of last week’s WHATIZIT? photo. Although I didn’t formerly meet them, I’ve shared the same breathing space with George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Donald Trump, Tiger Woods, Cyndi Lauper, Barbara Eden (Jeannie!), Jerry Mathers (the Beaver!) Rob Reiner (the Meathead!), Jesse Ventura, Jeff Gordon, A.J. Foyt, Bobby Knight, Kobe Bryant and Hector “Macho” Camacho. This is not name-dropping or bragging — it’s more of an appreciation for the wide range of people I’ve been able to get close to for even a few minutes. And that doesn’t even scratch the surface of all the athletes, politicians, cops, firemen, teachers, students and just plain everyday folks with wonderful stories whom I’ve met on the local level. With that long preamble out of the way, I would like to say that next week, the Reporter will unveil its top 10 news stories of 2013 and the Reporter/Regional will run its top 10 sports stories of the year. For those who need their year-end list fix, I offer this one for ya. I submit the 10 people I’ve enjoyed meeting the most through my seven months as the Regional reporter and five as Reporter editor in 2013. In alphabetical order, they are:
Kent Carson This Oak Lawn resident lost his left arm and both of his legs after he was diagnosed with Legionnaires Disease in August, 2012. He lost some pretty important limbs but didn’t lose his optimism for life. “I came to the conclusion that this is not going to change so I need to make the most of what I’ve got,” he said.
Tim Cavanagh I’ve seen this comedian perform a few times over the years and heard his funny songs on the Dr. Demento radio show and enjoyed his work. I had no idea that he lived in Orland Park. But when I found out, I immediately set up an interview and spent some time laughing it up with Tim and his wife, Chris, one late afternoon in January. The former teacher at all-girls Maria High School started out writing serious songs but that changed. “My serious songs kind of sucked,” he said. “When I tried doing funny things, I was like ‘OK, that’s acceptable.’ Having people laugh at me — normally that’s something you don’t like but in my case, I do like it.’’
Mel Diab The Palos Heights running guru is a popular and likable guy who, along with former alderman Jeff Prestinario, has turned the area’s half marathon into a monster. Diab, who was running in the Boston Marathon and was miles away when explosions hit, killing and injuring athletes. He immediately went to work when he got back to town, hosting runs and selling shirts to benefit the victims.
Worth’s Courtney Jovorski triumphed over cancer and ran in an Ironman triathlon. Photo by Jeff Vorva.Courtney Javorski This Worth resident participated in the Ironman Triathlon in Louisville in late August. She did that not long after beating cancer that in the past five years forced her to go through 33 radiation treatments and six weeks of chemotherapy. She offers this great advice: “Don’t lie on the couch numbing your situation. Get moving. Keep going.”
Tom Mezyk I met this 60-year-old Orland Park resident a few minutes after he won the first Orland Township Senior American Idol competition in May. He had just brought the house down with his version of the Phillip Phillips hit “Home.’’ He was genuinely touched by the reception he received from the 900-plus in attendance at Georgio’s Banquets. But in June, he and his wife, Pam, took a trip with a group to the Holy Land. On the final day of the trip, he was at the Western Wall, had a major heart attack and died. Apparently he had no major health issues. It was a shock for those who were close to him, and I’ll admit I was pretty stunned when I heard about it and knew him for all of about five minutes.
Alex Muller The four-year-old from Palos Heights suffered a stroke on the plane ride home from Disney World. He had to go through five weeks of rehab at Advocate Children’s Hospital and wasn’t always the ideal patient but he was pretty popular and likened the kid to a super hero. “Alex’s great determination allowed us as therapists to obtain goals,” his therapist, Diana Daniak said. “With Super Alex and his super suit and his cape, he literally soared and accomplished any tasks that were set before him. This hospital became and an adventure of his imagination every day. “Despite the hair-pulling, biting, kicking and punching, Alex was the highlight of our day and always had a smile on his face,” she said. “And he always put a smile on our face.”
Gerri Neylon Ten years ago, the Evergreen Park resident and nurse at Christ Hospital felt bad for a young woman who had cancer and called some friends and loaded up three vans of stuff for the family for Christmas. That morphed into the Christmas Without Cancer charity and it has grown to help many families not just during Christmas but during the whole year as well. “I’ve had many gifts from God,” she said about the ten-year tenure of the organization. “It has taken on a life of its own.”
Mike Recchia The never-say-die professional pitcher from Worth had theLarry Thomas, known to many as the Soup Nazi from “Seinfeld,” was in Orland Park to promote a local independent film. Photo by Jeff Vorva. disappointment of being cut by the New York Yankees and Baltimore Orioles in the past couple of years he toiled for the independent Windy City Thunderbolts in between cuts and landed a spot in the White Sox organization and was 6-0 with a 2.68 ERA in Class A ball.
Jim Sexton The Evergreen Park Mayor survived the deadly West Nile virus and was presented with an award at Christ Medical Center for getting through it all. The virus took its toll on his body, especially his shoulders and neck area, and when I first met him after the ceremony in September, he had a sense of humor about it. He noticed my shoelace was untied. “I notice those things now because I see the floor a lot more now,” he joked.
Larry Thomas/The Soup Nazi When he came to Orland Park to promote the local independent film “You Don’t Say,’’ I was able to talk with him for a half hour or so on a snowy night in March about his career and it was a ton of fun. Not many have gained as much recognition for so little screen time as the Soup Nazi character from “Seinfeld” and his “No soup for you!” line.
For years, communities in the south suburbs have been using “Polar Express” to mark a train ride to visit Santa Claus.
But 2013 may mark the last year the coined name of the Polar Express can be used. Warner Bros. is having some issues with towns using that name. The Polar Express events, based on the Christmas book by Chris Van Allsburg, may be changing their name in the coming winter seasons, according to Mike Leonard, Director of Parks and Recreation for the City of Palos Heights. “Each agency that holds such an event (Polar Express event) received an email from the Warner Bros Anti-Piracy Department back in October concerning the name of the ‘Polar Express,’ ” Leonard said. Warner Bros. is the owner of copyright, distribution and certain other intellectual property rights in and to the motion picture “The Polar Express” and related elements, and is the exclusive licensee of the underlying book property in relation to themed events based on it. Because of these rights, no one is authorized to utilize Warner Bros.’ Intellectual Property without their express written permission. Susan K. Proctor, Director of Anti-Piracy sent letters on behalf of Warner Bros. saying: “It has come to our attention that the several park districts are offering a ‘Polar Express’ themed train ride excursion using the title ‘Polar Express,’ and/or recitations of the book and/or other elements thereof. “It is our belief that your train ride event will erroneously lead consumers to believe that these park districts are licensed by, sponsored by or authorized by, Warner Bros., when in fact that is not the case. In addition, your use of Warner Bros.’ Intellectual Property dilutes the distinctiveness of The Polar Express Property by trading upon the goodwill and reputation which the public associates with the Property. Warner Bros. considers such conduct to be a serious violation of its rights and to be damaging to its business and reputation.’’ The Polar Express Train is advertised that it brings the classic children’s story to life with a real train ride that departs from the Palos Heights Metra Station, 11451 South Hwy. The trip continues on to the North Pole (otherwise known as Union Station in Chicago) to pick up Jolly Old St. Nick, who takes the train ride back home as a passenger. Riding along the train in pajamas, families are able to enjoy hot chocolate and cookies while singing Christmas carols and taking turns telling Santa what they want most for Christmas. There are also readings from the “Polar Express” book. And, just like the book, Santa gives each child the gift of a bell from Santa’s sleigh. Communities participating in the holiday train ride experience were given the option by Warner Bros. to license the rights to the Polar Express to keep the name, for future events, or to change the name entirely. “The event is expected to continue on in the future, but under a different name, because the company that owns the rights to the name has forbidden communities that sponsor this event from using it,” Alderman Martin Kleefisch (1st Ward) stated on behalf of the Palos Hills City Council. In November, ABC7 News did a story on how Clarendon Hills Park District changed the name to “Santa Train.” They quoted a man who plays Santa on the train, John Sullivan, as saying that the ride won’t be the same without the “Polar Express” name. “This is Scrooge in action not letting the kids have the ‘Polar Express’ trip,” he said. Changes to the name of the event have not yet been discussed by Palos Hills. While past Polar Express events have been very successful with the limited space filling up quickly, cities plan on carrying on the tradition. Mary Jo Vincent, Commissioner at Palos Hills Resource and Recreation Department, has confirmed the event will still take place next Christmas season.
The owner of an Oak Lawn bar said he’s “totally embarrassed” by a Dec. 13 incident at his establishment that involved drugs and a violation of his liquor license.
Robert Olson, owner of TC Pub, 9700 S. Cicero Ave., said he does not know who’s responsible for the incident, which occurred at 3:38 a.m. Olson appeared Monday morning before the Oak Lawn Liquor Commission, but the hearing was continued until Jan. 6 at 11 a.m. Police entered TC Pub after spotting a fight and hearing loud conversation, according to reports. The bar has a 2 a.m. liquor license, but at least one person in the bar was drinking when police arrived. A bar patron was intoxicated and uncooperative with police, they said. Police also found a bag of cocaine in the office, according to reports. Olson said after the hearing that he had hired Dan Brueck of Oak Lawn to promote the bar and attract clientele. Olson took over control of the bar from his father, who owned it for many years. He is working to open another bar on Southwest Highway in Oak Lawn. “Dan had permission to say he was an owner,” said Olson, who severed his relationship with Brucek after the incident. Olson said he has “put together a plan” to prevent similar incidents from occurring in the future. He said he would share that plan with village officials before the January hearing, which is scheduled for 11 a.m. He said the bar’s alarm system, which includes motion sensors, will notify him and police if it is triggered after 3 a.m., one hour after the tavern closes. Employees should have cleaned up and closed the facility by that time, he said. Olson was one of two bar owners scheduled to appear at Monday’s liquor commission hearing, chaired by Mayor Sandra Bury. The hearing was the first one held in several years, she said. John Cerniuk, owner of George’s Lounge, 5407 W. 95th St., did not appear at a 10 a.m. hearing concerning underage drinking that occurred at his bar on Nov. 9. “Not showing up is not good,” Bury said. Additionally, George’s did not have a valid liquor license posted when police arrived and began checking IDs. An expired liquor license was posted in the tavern, said police, who could not find a valid license in the state’s database. The ID check revealed four underage patrons, one who had a fake ID, police said. The four were charged with underage drinking. Cerniuk denied that the four individuals were drinking at his bar, according to police reports. The mayor said she will issue a ruling on the George’s complaint within five days. She can levy fines up to $1,000 per offense and suspend a liquor license up to 30 days. She also can revoke a liquor license. Bar owners can appeal her decisions within 20 days to the Illinois Liquor Control Commission.
Worth’s Toolis, 71, to perform at huge comedy sketch fest
When most people retire, they consider things like travel, volunteering or perhaps tinkering around the house on an overdue home improvement project. But, if you’re 71-year-old Ed Toolis, you write your own script to the next scene of life’s story. This lifelong resident of Worth will perform at 4 p.m. Jan. 19 at Stage 773’s 13th Annual Chicago Sketch Comedy Festival, located at 1225 W. Belmont. The fest runs from Jan. 9 to Jan. 19. Toolis is the oldest Sketchfest participant this year. He had a couple of warm-ups at Riddles Comedy Club but this will be Toolis’ debut in sketch work. “Performing at Sketchfest is a milestone for any comedian’s career,” he said. He was selected from a record-breaking number of applicants. Comedians perfecting their craft are invited to perform in an atmosphere of celebration, collaboration and community. Sketchfest attracts an audience of 10,000 patrons from every continent around the globe. It has been said to be the largest sketch comedy festival ever seen in America. Toolis said, “It took me 20 years to get comfortable with this. Comedic writing isn’t easy. I work at it every day.” Legendary performers such as Shelley Berman and Bob Newhart are two of the comedic entertainers that Toolis says shaped his craft. Prior to pursuing storytelling standup, Toolis spent a quarter-century building a business. He’s the former owner of Regional Truck Equipment of Alsip. His partners bought him out when he retired 10 years ago. He remarked, “Many people don’t have the means to pursue their dreams. Building a business afforded me that. But it takes more than money, it takes courage.” For Toolis, this is largely because a great deal of his material is autobiographical. “I’m a comedy writer who loves candlelight dinners, moonlit walks and all that jazz,” he said. “I only recently figured out why my career hasn’t taken off in 40 years. I never got married! If I had, I would have had an endless supply of comic material.” He spoke freely about his failures at love saying, “I’m nuts about women,’’ he said. “I’ve been tragically in love with a few of them but I just can’t get it right. When I get a Ph.D in relationships I’ll get married but that course isn’t offered and I’m terrible at studying.” Since 1975, Saturday Night Live has masterfully gotten people to shed light on their flaws through skits. Likewise, Toolis will bring a mixture of truth and fiction of his life during his act at Sketchfest. It’s about three male casualties, in a battle of the sexes, who tell their stories: The ultimate target of a woman scorn, a public relations man who has problems pitching the male brand to today’s women, and a teacher at a junior college who has problems with his students in a romance writing class. For tickets visit, www.Stage773.com. Performing humor, sketch and comedy are important to Toolis but more than anything, he wants to be taken seriously as a writer. He’s enrolled in the writing program at The Second City in Chicago. His current writing project is called “There’s an App for That.” It’s a book scheduled to come out soon. To stay informed of its release or to connect to Toolis, visit his Humor, Sketch & Comedy Writing” blog - http://edtoolisblog.tumblr.com.