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Siegel to say so long after 38 years as Ridge mayor

Village Clerk Chuck Tokar to run unopposed for seat

By Laura Bollin

Eugene Siegel was the mayor of Chicago Ridge before the village had sidewalks.

After nearly four decades in office, however, the southwest suburbs' longest-sitting mayor is calling it a career. Siegel will not run for reelection in April. The mayor has endorsed Chicago Ridge village Clerk Chuck Tokar, who is running unopposed for the soon-to-be-open seat, to be his successor.

Siegel moved to Chicago Ridge in 1956, and first ran for mayor in 1975. He was elected, then reelected nine times.

Siegel began his life in government long before he was elected mayor. He was the deputy Cook County coroner from 1962 to 1971, worked as the assistant chief the Cook County sheriff's office from 1971 to 1986, and was the administrative assistant to the state treasure from 1986 to 1992.

In 1993, he became a mayor full time. Before then, it was per village ordinance a part-time position.

"This is my fifth decade as mayor," Siegel said. "My first salary as the mayor part time was $1,500 a year, so I had to have a second job to support my family."

Siegel today earns in excess of $80,000 a year in salary and benefits.

Siegel's first run for mayor came after then-Mayor Joe Coglianese and five village trustees were indicted on charges of receiving kickbacks in return for rezoning properties, Siegel said. Coglianese went to prison for a year, and the Village Board was all but wiped out. Don Pratl Sr., who was appointed to fill a vacancy on the board the week before the indictments were handed down, village Clerk Mary Macarol and treasurer Richard Tranowski maintained the village for five months until the election.

Siegel' after being elected, presided over a board that included Trustees Thomas Cooper, William Herrington, Paul LaChance, Chuck Tokar, George Rwyniak and Mary Susan Zelis.

"When I got elected, there was no government left," Siegel said. "All that was there were the village clerk, an appointed trustee, and the village attorney. Fortunately, village attorney George Witous decided to stay with me."

Witous is still the village's attorney today.

One of Siegel's first big projects was creating a pumping station and a two-million gallon reservoir. The village bought its water from Oak Lawn, whose mayor, Fred Dumke, advised Siegel to build a pumping station and reservoir in case there were ever problems with Oak Lawn's distribution system.

"The second big thing we did was the Chicago Ridge Mall," Siegel said. "The mall made us. It made Chicago Ridge."

Siegel said the plan for the mall originally began with the outdoor movie theater on the property where the mall was eventually built in 1981.

"We had the theater, which was nothing but trouble for our police and our village," Siegel said. "Young people were getting drunk there, there were illegal drugs there. We went out and tried to get somebody to develop it."

The first plan was for apartments and stores on the site, but village officials wanted something bigger. When Oak Lawn turned down a development for a Sears store at 95th Street and Pulaski Road, Chicago Ridge officials got in touch with the developers and told them about the property in the village at 95th Street and Ridgeland Avenue. The board during his time as mayor also created the Commons of Chicago Ridge, at 98th Street and Ridgeland Avenue.

"The mall was built in the early 1980s, and it gave Chicago Ridge a tax base," Siegel said. "We didn't have paved sidewalks to go from one side of the street to the other, so this was a big improvement. With that money, we were able to pave the streets, put in curbs and gutters, and put in storm sewers and low-vapor street lights. Our little village became modern."

Creating a fire department with full-time paramedics is one of Siegel's proudest accomplishments.

"We had a volunteer fire department, and the chief came to me and said, mayor, I'm having trouble getting people to answer ambulance calls at night," Siegel said. "We went and put a referendum on the ballot to hire full-time paramedics. We hired full-time firemen that were certified paramedics."

The village had to raise property taxes to pay for the firefighters in the early 1980s, Siegel recalled. He knew money was going to come in from the mall as sales tax revenues, and once it did, the board repealed the property tax increase.

"I told them once we started getting revenue, I would take the tax off, and I did," Siegel said. "I think that put me in a good place with the residents."

After nearly 40 years in office, most of the people who came in with him when he was first elected - like youth counselor Hank Zewarski, who was hired to help keep kids out of the criminal justice system - have long since retired. Zewarski still volunteers as a counselor in the village.

Along with being the mayor, Siegel has served as the vice-chairman of the Southwest Council of Mayors, and is the legislative chairman for the Southwest Conference of Local Government. He is on the board of directors for the Illinois Municipal League and on its executive committee. He is a former president of the Illinois Municipal League, a past member of the Midway Airport Task Force and is on the executive board of directors for Southwest Central Dispatch. He serves on the executive committee for the Mayor's Caucus and was one of two mayors representing Illinois on the National League of Cities Council in Washington, D.C.

The village has changed a great deal since Siegel first moved into the village, which had 1,500 people at the time.

"We're like a jigsaw puzzle," Siegel said. "We zig and zag when our boundaries should be kind of square. We are divided by two sets of railroad tracks, which made the community harder to police and harder to get around."

Siegel oversaw the creation of a tax-increment financing district at Southwest Highway and Harlem Avenue, and advocated building a bridge over Stony Creek so police officers and firefighters could more easily get to residents.

He also made it a point to let people know he would not rezone an area for one apartment building, which is what caused legal trouble for the previous administration, Siegel said.

"We convinced apartment owners to turn units into condominiums on Southwest Highway, so we have a class of people that have ownership and take care of the property better," Siegel said.

Though he is looking forward to retirement, Siegel said he was a little worried about having so much time off.

"It is bothersome to me," Siegel said. "I'm not a golfer, so I won't be on the golf course. I'll be doing something, but I'm not a youngster."

Siegel said he believes Tokar - who has served as clerk since 1989 after spending 14 years as a village trustee - will continue many of the same programs started under Siegel's watch.

Residents will still see Siegel in the village, he said.

"I'll be around," Siegel said. "I've been in politics and I've devoted my whole life to it. I'll still be able to serve in some capacity. I've made politics my life. I always felt that I wasn't better than anybody. I am on the same level as the people, that's why I've been so successful."

A village remembers




OL holds vigil for Sandy Hook dead

By Jeff Vorva

On a cold night last Thursday during Christmas break, a small group of teenage girls were walking toward the gazebo on Oak Lawn's Village Green.

As they were getting closer to the gazebo, one of the girls gave the others a warning to heed.

"You better not laugh at me when I start crying," she said.

It was going to be that type of night.

Emotions ran high during the candlelight vigil to honor those 20 children and seven adults who were killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings on Dec. 14 in Newtown, Conn.

"I've been crying for a week," said Oak Lawn resident Jane Foley.

The tears flowed freely as an estimated 400 people gathered for the 45-minute ceremony that featured 27 area children stepping up to the microphone and reading off the victims' names. Lights and holiday decorations on the Green were shut off and candles were lit.

O ak Lawn firefighters hoisted an American flag on a truck's hydraulic platform and later sent 27 sky lanterns into the night.

O ak Lawn Mayor Dave Heilmann spoke to the crowd, and weeks after the tragedy it still affected him.

" You expect [children] to run back out [at the end of school] with a smile on their face," he said. "You don't expect to get a call with the words that no parent should ever hear. I don't know what those families are saying to each other tonight. I don't know the words they use in between the tears. I don't know how they tell their other children that their brother or sister is not coming home.

" I don't know how you walk into that room and see their clothes or see their toys and go on. But somehow you have to find a way. And maybe that comes from other communities - not just Newtown - but communities across the United States - not just Oak Lawn –where moms and dads come out on a cold winter night with their children. We're telling them, 'we're with you at the most difficult moment of your lives.'"

'Little Patriots' win national scouts award


Orland Park Boy Scout Troop 383 had an extra reason to celebrate as the group observed its second anniversary on Dec. 22.

One of the newest troops in the Nishnabec District of the Calumet Council, Troop 383 earned the Boy Scouts of America's Journey to Excellence Gold Award.

The Journey to Excellence Award is the BSA's performance recognition program designed to encourage and reward success, measuring the performance of units, districts and councils. The award honors excellence in providing a quality Boy Scout program.

"Our troop had to meet a lot of requirements and score points in a bunch of areas," said Troop 383 Senior Patrol Leader Tim Klotz. "We were excited when we had 300 more points than what we needed to make gold."

"They wanted nine community service projects for gold," added Assistant Senior Patrol Leader Will Davis. "Our guys did 15 service projects in 2012," he added. "The project I liked most was helping at the Wounded Warriors Motorcycle Ride. It was cool to see all those riders come out to support the vets."

Troop 383 includes boys in sixth, seventh and eighth grades from School Districts 135, 140, 146 and St. Germaine in Oak Lawn. Members include Jack Barrett, Bob Burns, Davis, Steven Fechtner, Belal Jaber, JT Jakstavich, Tim Klotz, Mitchell Kramer, Jacob Monnett, Jaden Mossman, Colin Motzny, Mark Mueller, Shane Murabito, Christopher Pearson, Vince Scaravalle and Nate Sporleder.

Troop 383 is chartered by the Village of Orland Park Veterans Commission and volunteers at a number of veteran and military oriented events. Commission Secretary Gail Blummer serves as the group's charter organization representative.

"Every time we ask for help from Troop 383, they all show up," Blummer said. "The commission is very proud of them and we love to see the boys interact with veterans of all ages. I've known many of these boys since they were Cub Scouts and I've always called them 'my little patriots'. Now they're my 'big patriots' because some of them are taller than I am.''

"We like to help the vets and I especially like helping at the steak fry because we get to spend time and talk with them," said Burns.

Troop 383 was created by the Cub Scout Pack 383 Webelos Patrol led by former Cubmaster Gerry Klotz who created the troop in 2010 and serves as scoutmaster.

"Each of our founding scouts has a special red 'founder' emblem on his uniform. When we go to scout events, people congratulate the boys for starting a new troop because it's a huge undertaking. Many of them were in Cub Scouts together and their goal is to make Eagle together," Klotz said.

In two years, the troop has doubled in size.

"I like Troop 383 because we're approaching a reasonable size and being small gives everyone more opportunities for activities, finishing requirements and positions of responsibility," said Mossman, who will soon complete his first year with the troop. "I also like that we're involved in so many community events.

Troop 383's largest community service project in 2012 was creating the Orland Park Geochallenge 2012 to celebrate the Village of Orland Park's 120th anniversary. The scouts spent several hours researching and creating the historical tour of Orland Park, which was co-sponsored by Mayor Dan McLaughlin.

Whatizit?


Readers, we hope you all had a wonderful Christmas. Last week's "Whatizit?" however, was apparently not-gift-wrapped for you despite our attempts to do just that. Either it was really difficult or you were all too entrenched in planning holiday festivities to bother responding. No problem, we understand. Those who knew it was a Christmas ornament were Henrietta Mysliwiec of Evergreen Park, Steve Rosenbaum of Oak Lawn, Jack and Griffin Burke Faddis of Hickory Hills, and Worth residents George and Theresa Rebersky and Celeste Cameron.

This week's clue is: Baby food flora. Send responses to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. under the subject "Whatizit," and include your first and last names and where you live. We wish all of you a safe and happy New Year! Don't hurt yourselves and we will see in 2013!

Focus on Seniors

The Evergreen Park Office of Citizens' Services will visit Amelia Island, St. Augustine and Jacksonville next Feb. 23 to March 3. Cost is $645 for triple room, $665 for double and $905 for single and includes motorcoach transportation, eight nights lodging, 14 meals, visits to the Fountain of Youth and historic Kingsley Plantation, narrated cruise on St. John's River, and visit to the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum. Final payment due Dec. 29. Call 422-8776 for more information

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The Evergreen Park Office of Citizens' Services offers a Meals on Wheels program for village residents 60 years and older who are unable to prepare their own meals. Meals are delivered Monday through Friday. For more information call 422-8776.

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Palos Hills residents 55 years and older meet from noon to 2 p.m. the second and fourth Wednesdays of each month at the Palos Hills Community Center, 8455 W. 103rd St. Tickets for events must be purchased one week in advance. Entertainment includes musicians, singers, luncheons, movies, plays and bingo.

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The Worth Senior Pinochle club is seeking new members. Membership is free. Visit the group at the Worth Park District Terrace Centre, 11500 Beloit Ave., every Monday and Wednesday from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Games begin at noon. Call 448-1181 for information.