Assembly line of goodwill helps Worth’s poor

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

  It resembled an assembly line.

  It was a well-oiled machine.
  They have it down to a science.
  And why not? They’ve had more than 60 years to perfect it.
  The hundreds of volunteers of the Worth Marrs-Meyer American Legion Post 991 held its annual holiday food drive Sunday morning. More than 80 families received food, clothes or toys thanks to the Legion with an assist from the Worth Lions Club.
  At about 8 a.m., the Legion’s hall was filled with items, making it look like a grocery store.
  It didn’t take long for volunteers to put the groceries in numbered boxes — mostly boxes that formerly housed bottles and cans of beer — and have them ready for dozens of other volunteers to put in their vehicles for deliveries to underprivileged families.
  Within an hour, the hall looked like a ghost town and the assembly line was in full gear on a freezing Sunday morning. At one point, the beer boxes were stacked higher than the size of even some of the taller volunteers.
  Bethanne Lode, a co-chair of the event, said this year was challenging.
  “We do two drives — one near Thanksgiving and one near Christmas,” she said. “This year, Thanksgiving was a week later than it usually is and we had just three weeks to get ready for the Christmas drive. But as you can see, our volunteers have once again done a great job getting this together.”
  The group has had plenty of practice keeping this event efficient.
  Ask any volunteer how long this drive has been going on and you might get a number of different answers. The line “as long as I can remember” seemed to be the most popular answer.
  “I’ve been doing this since I was six,” Lode said. “That’s 44 years.”
  Another theory is that it started in the late 1940s, when the post started up.
  “There was a time when there were 20 or 30 families and I would deliver everything,” said Terry Mahaffay, who said he’s been at it more than 50 years. “You put everything in a van and then go. It’s changed a lot.’’
  Co-chairman Mary Frestel has been at her position for 14 years and enjoys what she is doing.
  “Helping the families of Worth is something that I like to do,” she said. “They appreciate it. They need it. They need it during Christmas and Thanksgiving.”

Will Worth and Ridge tag-team for centennial parade?

  • Written by Bob Rakow

  Both Worth and Chicago Ridge turn 100 in 2014 and plans are underway for celebrations in both communities however plans for a joint parade in the summer are unclear. 

  Chicago Ridge officials are all for it.
  Worth officials are not sure at this early juncture.
  “There were a lot of concerns,” Worth Mayor Mary Werner said. “It’s a long parade.”
  A joint parade with Chicago Ridge would step off on Ridgeland Avenue near Birmingham Street and proceed to 111th Street where it would head into Worth and end near village hall.
  Chicago Ridge Mayor Chuck Tokar favors a joint centennial parade.
  “I’m old enough to remember the last one we did with Worth,” said Tokar, recalling the parade held to celebrate the communities’ 75th anniversaries.
  Tokar said he supports celebrating a milestone date with a neighboring community. He added that joining the resources of the towns would result in a better parade with more popular entries.
  Perhaps the first order of business for organizers of Worth’s centennial celebration, however, is to determine the correct date of the village incorporation.
  Village officials were “99.9 percent certain” that Oct. 8 was the official date, but the actual date may be Aug. 29, according to the secretary of state’s office and state archives, Werner said.
  The correct date is important because the village wants to have a 100-day countdown as part of its celebration.
  The village board on Tuesday approved an ordinance that formally creates a centennial celebration committee.
  “We have to make it official,” said Werner, who became part of village history in April when she was elected Worth’s first female mayor.
  Werner met informally in November with the 25 from individuals who will serve on the centennial committee.
  “Everyone is very enthusiastic,” she said. “I got a very good response.”
  The committee, which is made up of representatives from the village, library, park district, schools and various community organizations, will meet on Jan. 6 to begin planning the celebration.
  Plans call for the village to have a monthly event to celebrate the centennial leading up to Worth Days, the annual summer festival that celebrates the founding of the village.
  The village and park district are close to finalizing an agreement that will transfer control of Worth Days to the park district. Village officials agreed that planning of the fest, which begins in February, was too taxing on village staff, and the park district is better equipped to organize the fest.
  The various community organizations that make up the centennial committee each would be responsible for a monthly celebration, Werner said.
  The village will not use taxpayer dollars to fund the celebration. Rather, fundraising, including the sale of banners, will pay for the festivities, the mayor said.
  Meanwhile, approximately 30 people have volunteered to serve on the Chicago Ridge centennial committee. The village celebrates its centennial on Sept. 1.
  “(Planning) takes a lot of time,” Tokar said. “Having 30 people involved is a huge plus.”
  Chicago Ridge will celebrate its centennial with an April 12 dinner dance at the Glendora House and a community festival in September that will that reflects games and recreation popular a century ago, such as an old-time photo booth; watermelon, hot dog and pie-eating contests; horseshoe pitching and children’s games played in early 1900s.
  The village will sponsor a fire hydrant painting contest, the release of a village history book and a community cook book. The celebration also will feature an 8th grade essay contest and open a time capsule buried 25 years ago at the old village hall and bury a new one, Tokar said.

Streit demands details

  • Written by Bob Rakow

Minor accident involving OL village manager raises questions from trustee

  It’s rare that a one-car accident that did not involve injuries, alcohol or other suspicious circumstances would generate much attention, but such is not the case when the driver is the Oak Lawn village manager.

  Larry Deetjen was involved in a minor accident last Thursday near Southwest Highway and Route 83 in Palos Park in which he drove a village-owned Crown Victoria into a ditch after attempting to make a U-turn, according to police reports. The accident occurred at about 9:15 p.m. The only damage suffered was to the undercarriage of the car.
  Two days later, Oak Lawn Trustee Robert Streit arrived at the Palos Park police station and requested copies of reports pertaining to the accident involving a village of Oak Lawn official. Streit said that since Deetjen was driving a village-owned vehicle, he should have been given blood alcohol tests.
  Streit was told the report was not accessible that night. He was given Freedom of Information Act forms and told he would need to contact the police department on Monday.
  Streit told police he became aware of an accident “involving a person in a management position with the village of Oak Lawn through dispatchers who had contacted him,” according to reports.
  The veteran trustee said he was told that Deetjen was picked up at the scene by Oak Lawn Police Chief Mike Murray. Both Deetjan and Murray deny the chief was on the scene.
  Streit said he received several calls from Oak Lawn emergency dispatchers who asked about the details of the accident and were seeking “justice.” He said “sometimes incidents like these can easily disappear” and wanted to make sure that did not happen, police said.
  “I didn’t believe the things I was hearing,” Streit said Tuesday. “They all seemed incredulous. I really have a duty to be aware of what’s taking place.”
  Streit criticized Deetjen for failing to inform the village trustees of the accident. He said he was not notified nor was Trustee Carol Quinlan. Other trustees may have been told, he said.
  Streit has opposed Deetjen on several controversial issues over the past few months. He also has participated in imbroglios with Mayor Sandra Bury. Streit was an ally of former Mayor Dave Heilmann, who was defeated by Bury in April.
  For example, the village board on Nov. 26 voted 4-2 to privatize Oak Lawn’s 911 dispatch services, a move that could save the village $1 million over two years, said Deetjen, who recommended the move.
  Streit, who voted against the decision, was a vocal critic of the outsourcing plan as well as other recommendations made by Deetjen and Bury, such as cuts to balance the 2014 budget and transferring control of the senior center to the park district.
  Ron Cicinelli, an attorney for the Metropolitan Alliance of Police, the union the represents the dispatchers, was unaware that dispatchers contacted Streit.
  Deetjen’s minor accident also caught the attention of a blog that has been highly critical of the village manager for many years.
  One day after Streit visited the Palos Park police station, the Florida-based blog implied that Deetjen’s accident may have been DUI related. The blog has frequently ripped Deetjen since he was the village manager in Deerfield Beach, Fla.
  Deetjen was not arrested nor did he receive a citation, according to Palos Park Police Chief Joe Miller.
  Deetjen would not comment on the motivations behind Streit’s actions or the blog post.
  Deetjen told police he was looking at land related to a property matter in Oak Lawn and missed the driveway on Southwest Highway. He said he was not familiar with area at night. When he made the U-turn, the car went into a ditch in the 11900 block of Southwest Highway, according to reports.
  Deetjen said he walked to the nearby CVS Pharmacy with his wife, a passenger in the car, and contacted Oak Lawn Public Works, who picked up the car. He also called for a ride home from CVS, according to reports.
  Streit wondered why Deetjen did not stay with the car and call police.
  “What did Larry do? Larry left the scene,” said Streit, who believes Deetjen should be cited for leaving the scene of an accident.
  A witness saw the car in the ditch as he was driving on Southwest Highway. He saw Deetjen and a woman exit the car, stopped and asked if they were all right, police said. Deetjen confirmed that he and his wife were all right and that we would call a tow truck. Deetjen did not speak to Palos Park police until 11:06 p.m., reports said.

Hundreds wait hours for old man who needs the money

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

  Bears legend Mike Ditka was scheduled topage-4-3-col-ditka-signingWith several bottles of his brand of wine on the table, Mike Ditka signs for fans at Binny’s in Evergreen Park last Wednesday as a part of a grand opening celebration. Photo by Jeff Vorva. be at Binny’s Beverage Depot in Evergreen Park at 6 p.m. last Wednesday for a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

  Long before the man some call “Da Coach” walked through the doors, Binny’s officials had the rough task of turning people away after the store reached its limit of 300 people who snaked through the aisles of booze to wait for his signature. Some waited six hours.

  Ditka, who coached the Bears to the Super Bowl title in 1985, still appreciates being able to draw a big crowd.

  “Am I surprised? I’m absolutely surprised and humbled,” Ditka said. “I don’t understand it, but, hey, I’m an old man and I need the money. We have to sell this [Ditka brand] wine.’’
  When it was pointed out to him that not many old men could generate a crowd like that, Ditka retorted “Oh yeah — Bill Clinton can.”

  Oak Lawn resident Liz O’Neill stood in line for a couple of hours to get Ditka’s autograph five days before the Bears retired his number in a ceremony at Soldier Field.
  “Growing up, he was like a national hero at our house,” O’Neill said. “He’s an institution in Chicago. He’s the real deal. He was telling us in line ‘come on guys, pick it up.’ I thought that was real cute.”
  O’Neill had Ditka sign a huge Bear head that she had to bring in a suitcase.
  “I bought it at a garage sale about 10 years ago,’’ she said. ‘’It cost about $30. My old boss was trying to get rid of her husband’s man-cave stuff and asked me if I wanted it and I said ‘yeah — this would be great for my dad.’ ’’

  Her father, Pete, has passed on and she kept the Bears head and has autographs from Ditka on one side and Bears Hall of Famer Dan Hampton on the other side of it.

  And who would have guessed that the first guy in line for Ditka’s scribbles would be a man from Green Bay Packer country?

  Milwaukee’s Dave Allen waited six hours to have Ditka sign several canvas prints of Ditka flipping off a photographer.

  “I’m a football fan, I don’t care who it is,” Allen said. “I like Ditka because he’s a classy guy and a class act. I’ve met many [celebrities] before — baseball players, football players — and there is no one like him. I don’t want to name names but [Packers QB] Aaron Rodgers was cool when he was a backup quarterback. Now he’s got the big head and the big money.”

  Speaking of big money, Ditka’s appearance raised close to $15,000 for the Christmas Without Cancer charity. For more information on the charity, see Page 3.

Ready for the handoff

  • Written by Bob Rakow

Worth Days could be in park district’s hands Jan. 7

The village of Worth is close to handing off PAGE 3 3 col worth daysA woman hands out balloons during the 2013 Worth Days parade. The village is expected to hand the festival’s responsibilities to the park district in January. Photo by Jeff Vorva.control of the annual Worth Days fest to the park district.
  Village and park district officials are fine tuning an intergovernmental agreement that has been in the works for several months.
  “There are a lot of legalities,” Mayor Mary Werner said. “There’s a lot of details to be worked out.”
  Werner said issues regarding insurance, liquor licenses and control of the fest grounds have to be ironed out before the park district can take over. The village board is expected to approve the agreement at its Jan. 7 meeting, she said.
  The village ran the fest for several years after a non-profit committee turned over control of the event. But much of the planning and execution fell to the village clerk, public works department and other employees.
  “Doing it ourselves is very taxing on the employees,” Werner said.
  Trustees in October agreed that the park district is better suited to sponsor the annual festival.
  “It just seemed to make sense,” Werner said.
  Planning for the August fest begins in February with the booking of entertainment and vendors as well as garnering volunteers the top priorities, Werner said.
  Park District Director Carlo Capalbo said he’ll serve as the point man for the organization of the fest with park district department heads taking on specific roles.
  “This is in our realm,” Capalbo said, adding that the district is accustomed to planning and hosting events.
  The park district is no stranger to the annual festival, as it has run the children’s attractions for the past few years.
  Park district funds will not be used to fund any portion of the fest, he said. Instead, fundraising and money generated at the fest are used to pay for the event.
  Capalbo said the district will rely on the village pull off a successful fest. He added that the district is not interested “recreating” what is already a successful event.
  “We’re still going to rely very heavily, as the village did, on volunteers,” Capalbo said.
  Turning the festival over to the park district does not mean the village won’t stay involved. Instead, village officials and employees will continue to volunteer at the event, Werner said.
  The 2014 edition of the festival will be especially significant as it will be part of the village’s 100th anniversary celebration, Werner said.
  The village is planning a series of events throughout the year to celebrate its centennial, similar to neighboring Chicago Ridge, which is also celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2014.