Jeff Vorva's Editor's Notebook: Neylon stocking up on donations for Christmas Without Cancer

  • Written by Jeff Vorva


jeff column  No one was there to ask Gerri Neylon for her autograph.
  They weren’t waiting in line for hours to say “hello’’ or “great job’’ to her.
  There were no TV cameras pointed at her or media types asking her if she thinks she is bigger than the Beatles.
  No, on this Dec. 4 night on the opposite side of the room, all of that attention and adulation went to Bears legend Mike Ditka. The former tight end and coach was at Binny’s Beverage Depot in Evergreen Park to sign autographs for a couple of hours after he and EP Mayor Jim Sexton sliced a red ribbon with a pair of hedge clippers during the store’s grand opening.
  Ditka was the man of the hour and there was no doubt about that aspage-3-2-col-jv-colGerri Neylon’s group, Christmas Without Cancer, can ring bells of joy as it benefitted from Bears legend Mike Ditka’s appearance at Binny’s Beverage Depot’s grand opening in Evergreen Park on Dec. 4. The event raised close to $15,000 for her charity. Photo by Jeff Vorva. approximately 300 people got to meet him and several people were turned away.
  But I think Neylon was the woman of the hour at Binny’s even though it’s doubtful that anyone in line even knew who she was.
  Not that she’s complaining. The founder of the Evergreen Park-based Christmas Without Cancer charity was thrilled that Ditka’s appearance at Binny’s benefitted her organization. Between a $10,000 check from Binny’s and $4,695 raised in signatures, Christmas Without Cancer came away with close to a $15,000 payday.
  The charity is in its 10th year. It will help seven families during the 2013 holiday season including families from Evergreen Park, Hickory Hills and Oak Lawn, giving them gift cards for gas, groceries and medications and provides emotional support, home repairs and car repairs.
  “Never in a million years did I ever think this would take off like this,” Neylon said.
  Neylon is a longtime Oncology nurse at Christ Hospital who had her heart aching and breaking in 2003 from one woman’s plight.
  “I had a young patient in her 20s who was married and expecting her first baby and she was diagnosed with a lung sarcoma, and right before the holidays she found that the cancer was going to her brain,” Neylon said. “She was very devastated. So was her husband.
  “I just felt like I had to do something for her. I called a few friends and in a matter of days we had two or three vans full of stuff for the family. She passed away that June. The following months, her family called and said ‘let’s keep this up.’ We would help a family a year but then it caught on. This community is awesome. I’ve had many gifts from God. It has taken on a life of its own.”
  The group had several fundraisers throughout the year netting more than $20,000.
  The Ditka/Binny’s bonanza was a surprise treat for the organization.
  “This is a first,” Neylon said. “We’re so honored that Binny’s partnered with us and that Mike Ditka is here. But the community’s outpouring and generosity is what impresses me the most.
  “It inspires me to help even more people. It really does.’’

10K race added in Palos Heights
  As if hosting a half marathon isn’t enough, officials in Palos Heights have doubled their pleasure and have added another race on May 4.

  The First Midwest Bank Half Marathon will now be known as the First Midwest Bank Half Marathon and 10K. Race directors Jeff Prestinario and Mel Diab said they consulted with their committees and think the new race will attract more runners to the event. Last year, it drew about 2,000 athletes — many from around the area.
  Committee meetings start in January for the race and we will bring readers updates on the plans for the race as they unfold in the coming months.

Toyota needs turf
  Last week, I wrote about Toyota Park in Bridgeview falling short on a bid to host the Illinois High School Association and, instead, it went to Huskie Stadium in DeKalb for every odd year until 2021. It will continue to be held at Memorial Stadium in Champaign through 2020.
  IHSA Official Matt Troha said a criteria the state was looking for in a hosting stadium was artificial turf and Toyota Park still has natural grass.
  The Bridgeview facility still has a few years to make itself fake if it wants to get in on the action.

Don it, it was the wrong Pratlpage4-1-col-with-jv-colThis is the real Don Pratl.
  Haste makes waste and last week the Reporter editor, whomever that is, needed to find a quick photo for a page 3 story as deadline was drawing dangerously close. So, he found a photo that said “Pratl” on it and ran it, identifying the man as Don Pratl.
  It was the wrong Pratl. It was actually his brother, Rob, in that photo.
The correct photo of Don Pratl is here.
  The kicker is that the editor, whomever that is, went to Lewis University with Don. Even then, Don was looking to get involved and make changes as he was the school’s student government president back in the early 80s.


Stagg evacuated after smell in math class doesn’t add up

  • Written by Kelly White

  District officials are still Page-2-3-col-photoStagg High School was evacuated last week after a reported gas leak. Photo by Kelly White.puzzled over a leak that evacuated Stagg High School last week.

  Stagg resumed classes last Thursday morning after a natural gas leak was reported on Wednesday afternoon. Six students and one staff members became sick, prompting an evacuation of the high school in Palos Hills, after they reported a smell within their math class and were transferred to local hospitals, according to officials.
  But it’s not clear what actually was leaking.
  “The source of the unusual smell is still under investigation,” District 230 official Carla Erdey said Monday. “The North Palos Fire Protection District completed testing when the smell was reported that evening and again the next morning and has not detected anything unusual.
  “The district also completed air testing on Friday throughout the weekend and has not pinpointed a source for the smell. The District continues to work with local authorities to investigate the source of the smell. Following thorough inspections and testing by North Palos Fire Protection District and area first responders as well as Nicor Gas, safety officials are confident that the Stagg High School building is safe.”
  Stagg, located at 8015 W. 111th St., was evacuated as a precautionary measure around 1 p.m. last Wednesday afternoon.
  District 230 officials responded swiftly to the strange odor discovered in the mathematics classroom, and all of the students were escorted to three nearby churches — New Beginnings, Sacred Heart Church and Saints Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Church until being dismissed at 3 p.m.
  First responders arrived on the scene shortly after the 1 p.m. emergency phone call was made, and the Palos Hills Police Department had blocked off Roberts Road, south of 111th St., with the school being on the southwest corner of that intersection.
  Aside from the North Palos Fire Department, several surrounding area first responders arrived on site including: Orland Park, Evergreen Park, Hometown and a HAZMAT team from Bedford Park. EMS first responders also arrived on site from surrounding areas, including: North Palos, Roberts Park, Bridgeview, Chicago Ridge and Palos Heights. Three Nicor trucks also responded to the call, according to Stagg school officials. The emergency vehicles began leaving the school grounds shortly after 2 p.m., according to school officials.
  Seven people were transported by ambulance from the school — six students and one staff member. These individuals were transported as a precaution.
  “I would like to commend the Stagg High School administration, staff and students for working together in order to maintain a safe environment during this situation,” said District Superintendent James Gay in a statement.
  Officials are still uncertain what caused the odor was, but they have determined that it was not natural gas.
  • In other Palos Hills news, police officer Corey Quiroz was recognized for the off-duty actions he performed in another suburb. He stopped a road rage incident in October while off-duty in Lemont. The officer was just passing through the area on Oct. 13, when witnessing the incident involving two subjects.
  “The aggression (in the incident) was beating the victim with the baseball bat,” Alderman Martin Kleefisch (1st Ward) said at last Thursday’s city council meeting.
  Quiroz immediately stopped and identified himself as a police officer and was able to stop the attack. He held the offender until the Lemont Police Department arrived on the scene, to prevent further injury to the victim.
  “As a result of his actions, the offender was taken into custody, and the victim was safe from any life-threatening injuries,” Kleefisch added.
  Lemont Police Chief Kevin Shaughnessy addressed a thank-you letter, on behalf of the Lemont Police Department, to Officer Quiroz and Chief Paul Madigan stating officer Quiroz represented himself and the Palos Hills Police Department to the highest of standards.
  “Please extend our thanks for his prompt and professional actions at this matter,” Shaughnessy said, “It is to be commended.”

No Christmas Carol for Bury

  • Written by Bob Rakow

Mayor and her blog blasted
at fiery OL board meeting

  Blogs and ballot initiatives led to some angry outbursts Tuesday night between Oak Lawn Mayor Sandra Bury and her political opponents on the village board.

  Early in the meeting, Trustee Carol Quinlan said that Bury’s blog, which formally launched in October, should not include village hall’s address and phone number.
  “It’s not a village blog. It’s political,” Quinlan said.
  Quinlan said she thought the mayor’s blog would report village news, but instead it includes personal and political attacks.
  “It’s is not an Oak Lawn blog,” she said.
  Bury previously has said that the village hall contact information is on the blog so residents know how to reach her. She also defended the content of her blog.
  “Everything on there is factual. My name is on it, and people have a right to know what their mayor’s position is,” Bury said. “I will state my feelings on issues.”
  Bury asked Quinlan if she was specifically concerned about a recent blog post that reported on the trustee’s proposal at the Nov. 26 board meeting to delay a vote on spending for the senior center.
  “(Quinlan) proposed turning the day-to-day operations of the senior center over to senior volunteers, senior employees who ‘wouldn’t cost that much’ and reducing the services that Genesis currently provides seniors,” according to the blog.
  Quinlan would not respond to Bury’s inquiry, saying only that she wanted the village hall contact information removed.
  “So even though you make allegations, you have nothing to substantiate them,” Bury said.
  At the Nov. 26 meeting, Quinlan said members of the village’s senior commission are seeking more responsibility and relying on them would reduce the $85,000 paid to Genesis, the organization the currently provides senior services.
  Bury disagreed.
  “I really think $85,000 for seniors is not enough,” Bury said. “I would like to see more for them not less.”
  Tuesday’s brief exchange between Bury and Quinlan paled in comparison to the one between the mayor and Trustee Bob Streit, which came as the trustee made remarks in opposition to term limits.
  The board voted 4-2 in favor of placing on the March ballot a referendum asking voters to decide if the village should adopt term limits for mayor, village clerk and trustees.
  Streit and Quinlan voted against the measure, which would limit village board members to three consecutive terms in a single office beginning with those elected or re-elected in 2015.
  Streit said he opposed term limits and added that the village should seek residents’ input via referenda on other public policy questions such as outsourcing 911 dispatchers.
  Trustees voted at the Nov. 26 meeting to outsource the 911 emergency communications services to Norcomm, a private dispatch center located in Franklin Park.
  Bury chastised Streit for straying from the issue of term limits during his remarks, which angered the trustee.

  “Please stop interrupting,” Streit told the mayor. “My points are very much to the point, very much to the issue before us.”
  “Do your comments pertain to term limits?” said Bury, who added that she wanted Streit to stay on topic.
  Streit said an elected official can make his or her own pledge to serve a limited number of terms.
  “The voters can decide whether they want to keep you or not,” he added.

  He then asked if voters should be asked via referendum about the level of fire department staffing.
  “Trustee Streit, you are out of order,” Bury said.

  “How about if we ask if we should have mayoral recall? We know the answer to that. That would pass overwhelmingly,” Streit replied.

Supt. search underway in Dist. 127.5

  • Written by Bob Rakow

  Board members in Chicago Ridge School District 127.5 are in the initial stages of a search for the district’s next superintendent.

  Board members spent Saturday interviewing seven candidates for the position, said board president Greg Hillman. Twenty five individuals applied for the position.
  Supt. Joyce Kleinaitis is retiring at the end of the school year after eight years in the position. Her base salary for 2013-14 is $161,902.
  Kleinaitis said she is leaving to teach graduate education classes. Specifically, she will teach school law, which prepares teachers to become administrators, she said.
  Kleinaitis is 43-year veteran of education, having worked as a teacher, assistant principal, principal and assistant superintendent before coming to District 127.5
  The board was expected to discuss the initial interviews at its Tuesday meeting, Hillman said.
  Board members could decide to meet with additional candidates or grant second interviews to some of those interviewed Saturday, he said.
  “We have to sit down and review,” Hillman said Monday. “We are going to discuss what our next options are.”
  The finalists for the position will be brought in for an additional round of interviews and meet with faculty, staff and members of the community, Kleinaitis said.
  She said the board hopes to choose her successor within the next few months.
  The seven candidates all are from Illinois. Each responded to a posting the district placed with the Illinois Association of School Boards. The district did not hire a search firm to select or screen candidates.
  The services of a search firm could cost the district at least $15,000 plus expenses, Kleinaitis said.
  Hillman would not discuss the qualities the board is seeking in the next superintendent.
  “The intent is to find the most qualified candidate that we can,” he said.
  Kleinaitis said, however, that her successor’s key challenges will be to maintain programming and develop a relationship with the community.
  District 127.5 serves approximately 1,500 students in Chicago Ridge and a small portion of Oak Lawn. Students attend Finley Junior High and Ridge Central and Ridge Lawn elementary schools.

Look what she got on sale

  • Written by Claudia Parker



Richards librarian draws from her FRONT-COLOR-2-col-Bryant1Richards Librarian Ann Marie Bryant shows off her new book that she recently published on how to save money. Photo by Jeff Vorva.painful past to help others save $$

Richards High School librarian Ann Marie Bryant has gone from shelving books to authoring them.


  Well…she still shelves them once in a while. But she has released two books, including one that hit the market recently.
  In her new book, “Look What I Got on Sale: A Guide to Shopping and Online Saving,” Bryant references an uncomfortable past to facilitate others in a purposeful future.
  Bryant says the inspiration to write came two years ago.
  “The economy was bad. Many people were losing their homes,” she said. “Marriages were struggling. There was negativity all around me. I’d dealt with a lot of the same obstacles in my past but I had overcome them. I thought it would be helpful to show people how I came out of the places they were in, so I wrote about it.’’
  Living life passionately became her main objective because it could have been cut short. During a visit to the obstetrician in 1994, the doctor noticed a large lump on her neck. That recognition led to the discovery of thyroid cancer.
  “I had two small kids at the time,” she said. “This cancer caused me to undergo radioactive iodine treatment.”
  Radioactive iodine, given in a liquid form, is absorbed and concentrated by the thyroid gland. The treatment destroys thyroid tissue but does not harm other tissue in the body.
  “It was a very difficult time for me as a mother,” she said. “It forced me to be away from my kids. My doctor said until I was no more radioactive than a UPS package, I couldn’t be near them.’’
  Radioactive iodine is released from the body through urine. The length of the process depends on the dose received and the age of the recipient. To avoid exposing family and other people to her radioactivity, Bryant had to follow her doctor’s instructions carefully, staying away from the kids and avoiding all close contact such as kissing, sharing cups, dishes, or utensils with adults. Health problems weren’t the only thing that burdened her life.
  Hard times had taken Bryant from wearing $200 designer shoes to public aid. She utilized the welfare system and other community agencies for the underprivileged saying:
  “My rock bottom was the day I purchased a sofa at an auction for a dollar.”
  Poverty wasn’t something Bryant was accustomed to.
  “I grew up in a comfortable, upper-middle class home,” she said.
  Bryant, who lives in Valparaiso, Ind., felt furthering her education would provide an exit to the maze her life was in. She went back to school and obtained two master’s degrees which has kept her employed over the last 13 years at Richards.
  Today, Bryant can still be found in the Learning Resource Center at Richards. It was her expertise as a veteran librarian that led to the ease of writing and publishing her books. Yet, the library isn’t the only place Bryant can be checked out.
  Visit her website for information on her book and her speaking schedule. Bryant offers workshops from both of her books.

  “The ‘Releasing Your Story’ workshop will take you through a journey of self-exploration in which you examine your past and identify acquired beliefs that have been toxic,’’ she said. “Once revealed, I walk you through steps that help you take action to fulfill your dream. ‘The Look What I Got on Sale’ workshop is autobiographical. What happens when someone with expensive tastes goes on welfare? They still have expensive taste, but can no longer afford what they want. Through my school-of-hard-knocks education, I have developed a workshop around my ultimate shopping guide proven to save you money online and in stores.”
  Bryant realizes that everyone may not have the opportunity to read her books or attend her workshops, but she urges those who are discontent to discover their passion and take action.
  “No one should sell themselves short!” she said.