At 92, she's still using her Curves

  • Written by Kelly White



                Imagine being 92 years old.

Now, imagine being 92 years old and being an active member in your local gym.

And when it comes to working out at Curves Fitness in Hickory Hills, Viola Strupeck is the belle of the ball. Or the glory of the gym.

 For Strupeck, this is all a reality.

                “Throughout the majority of my life, I have always belonged to some type of fitness center and I love staying active,” the Burbank resident said.

                Strupeck joined Curves Fitness at the younger age of 81 in 2003 and has been a loyal member for the past 11 years, spending the past two years at the Hickory Hills’ location at 8725 W. 95th Street.

                “Viola is very active, energetic and very well-liked by everyone who meets her,” Marcella Vrotney, Hickory Hills’ Curves owner, said, “She is such a wonderful person and everyone really loves her here.”

                Strupeck and her husband, Carl, are described by fellow Curves members as extremely healthy aside from a few minor bumps in the health road including Carl’s September thyroid surgery. Carl turns 97 in December.

                “He will bounce back very quickly,” Strupeck said. “As long as he listens to me.”

                Being active has rooted from Strupeck’s childhood where she says aside from participating in local choir, she would spend her days playing baseball with neighborhood children in local sandlots for fun.

                “I’m talking about the late 1930s, early 1940s,” she said, “A bunch of kids would get together and play baseball regularly. It wasn’t on a professional level by any means, but it was a lot of work and a lot of fun.”

                Staying positive, staying active and staying healthy are keys to what Strupeck considers a full and happy life. Attending Curves for workout sessions 2-3 times a week helps her achieve her desired goal.

                “I really enjoy going to Curves,” she said, “It keeps me moving and gives me the exercise I need. There are also very nice ladies there and throughout time spent there, we have developed wonderful friendships. Everyone socializes, knows each other and are really good friends. It is just a really nice environment to be surrounded in.”

                Strupeck joined Curves through an organization known as SilverSneakers Fitness program that works with insurance companies to provide free gym memberships to senior citizens. It is estimated that approximately 20 percent of senior citizens are eligible for the SilverSneakers health benefit. More than 65 leading Medicare Advantage as well as Medigap plans include SilverSneakers as a benefit. One out of five people 65 and older are eligible for this fitness benefit. Having a Medicare health plan is all most senior citizens need to obtain a SilverSneakers membership.

                “My daughter had originally told me about the SilverSneakers program,” Strupeck said, “When I first belonged to Curves, I was not a part of it, but as soon as I found out more information about it, I joined it immediately.”

                Aside from being an active Curves member, Strupeck continues to work as the Director of Arrangements at St. Fabian Church in Bridgeview. For the past 50 years she participated in a variety of activities for the church, including ordering floral arrangements.

                “As long as I can still do it and my brain is still working just fine, I don’t see any reason why I should quit doing it,” Strupeck joked, “I really enjoy my job there and spending so much time at the church.”               

                Strupeck also continues to grocery shop regularly and spend time outdoors working on her garden.

                “Since my carpal tunnel surgery in August, my gardening days have slightly subsided; however, I do plan to continue working on it again as soon as I can, and until then my daughter comes over to maintain my garden for me,” she said.

                Strupeck still drives and admits getting out and going to the grocery store still counts as a form of exercise. 

                And she influences others.

                “Viola is truly a positive inspiration that age should never be a reason for slowing you down,” Vrotney said.



Jeff Vorva's imPRESSions: Thankfully we had no tragedies this week

  • Written by Jeff Vorva


Jeffs Col Impressions


Viola finally made it!

I never thought I would see this day come. Well, that may be overstating it a bit. But it felt like forever.

Our front page story featuring 92-year-old Viola Strupeck and how she still exercises religiously at Curves in Hickory Hills was finished and actually placed on the front page of the Oct. 9 edition of the Reporter.

I liked the way Kelly White wrote the story. I don’t want to strain my arm from patting myself on the back but I also liked the way the photo turned out. And our designer, Kari Nelson completed the trifecta by cutting Viola out of the photo and placing her body into the body of the story.

And the headline about her still using her Curves still makes me snicker. By the way, for anyone who thinks it was in bad taste, I ran it by her and she laughed and approved it. 

The story, photo and headline were all set to go and on the page on Oct. 3. We were ready to roll.

Unfortunately two days later, the traffic accident in Oak Lawn that killed three people including two nuns forced us to make a decision and rather than stuff Viola’s story inside, we decided to hold it for a week for out Oct. 16 edition.

That happens all the time. You have an idea and it gets completely turned around because bigger news is made. This is the exciting, unpredictable world of the news business.

So on Oct. 10, we put it on the front page again. It looked just as good as it did the week before. We couldn’t wait to run it.

Unfortunately, two days later, the plane crash in Palos Hills claimed the lives of three doctors from Kansas. It was another gut-wrenching tragedy that had one redeeming quality – more people weren’t hurt or killed.

Viola had to wait another week.

So it was with great trepidation on Friday that for the third time, we put Viola back on the front page and closed our eyes and crossed our fingers that nothing major was going to bump her off the page again.

We were especially worried about Sunday. We couldn’t have back-to-back-to-back Sunday tragedies in one of our six communities, could we?

Thankfully, no.

I won’t pretend that these bad-news stories affect us as much as friends and family members of the deceased. I won’t pretend that these horrific incidents affect us as much as first responders who can smell the death and see the mangled bodies.

But they still affect us.

The first question we ask a lot is why? Why doctors? Why nuns? These seemed to be good people who were valuable members of our society having their lives ended in our region. The buzz around our office after the Oak Lawn tragedy questioned how God could allow this.

I’m not getting into a religious debate, here, but something like this was able to shake some faiths. And then to come back with three doctors dying on our soil – two of whom were married – also shook some people up.

Ironically, shortly before all of these sad stories a woman sent us a nice card about how much she loves the good-news stories we run in our paper. She was sick of all the bad-news stories and “diabolic behavior” that appear elsewhere. I was thinking about her letter when we first placed Viola on our front page.

So after all this time, it was nice to make the top story of the week of our newspaper a nice one.


Chicago Ridge finds buyer for abandoned truck terminal but testing must be done before development

  • Written by Bob Rakow

A developer with experience building the biggest commercial properties in Chicago Ridge is ready to take on his next challenge in the village.

Ken Tucker of Structured Development, located in Chicago, is the point person for the potential development of the abandoned Yellow Freight trucking terminal.

Tucker was instrumental in the development of both Chicago Ridge Mall and Chicago Ridge Commons, Mayor Chuck Tokar said.

“He’s got the Ridge experience,” Tokar said.

But specific plans for and area on Harlem Avenue village officials have called an “eyesore’’ have not been made public and there needs to be testing for contamination done before moving forward with any plans.

Yellow Freight abandoned its truck terminal about five years ago. Since that time, redeveloping the Harlem Avenue terminal and some adjacent property has been the village’s top priority.

To that end, the village recently partnered with Structured Development to create the Ridge Creek Joint Venture Partnership.

The village purchased the property from Yellow Roadway Corp. for $14 million. The purchase contract is contingent on the condition of the property, Tokar said.

The village board also approved an ordinance that designates the Yellow Freight property and the adjacent land as a tax increment financing district. The TIF district is bordered by Harlem Avenue, the Tri-State Tollway and Southwest Highway.

But bringing a developer into the mix is an important step, Tokar said.

“The village is no longer the one holding the contract of purchase,” he said.

Structured Development will spend the next several months performing due diligence on the property, including taking soil samples and conducting detailed market studies.

Testing Services Corp. of Carol Stream is performing soil borings and will prepare an environmental report within the next several weeks, Tokar said.

While the 75-acre trucking terminal is mostly covered with concrete or asphalt, a garbage dump once existed adjacent to Stony Creek, so the possibility for contamination exists.

Additionally, Tokar recently learned that some of the land south of 103rd Street was used as a dumping ground for debris that accumulated after the 1967 tornado.

But the mayor is encouraged by Tucker’s belief that the terminal and adjacent land can be developed.

Marketing studies will help determine the businesses best suited for the development, but Tokar believes that the steady stream of traffic on the tollway—estimated at 270,000 cars daily—is the key selling point.

“You just don’t know what is going to be appealing to the market,” Tokar said.

But he envisions big things for the parcel.

A mixed-use development that would feature family entertainment options, such as Dave & Buster’s; a multi-level, heated golf driving range similar to Top Golf in Wood Dale or an indoor skydiving facility similar to iFly in Naperville and Rosemont all are under consideration.

The development also could feature shops, restaurants and condominiums or townhomes, Tokar said. Hotels, a conference center or an venue for entertainment also are under consideration, he said.

The shuttered Aldi, located at Harlem Avenue and Southwest Highway, and the long-closed Nikobee’s restaurant at the northeast corner of 103rd and Harlem, are included in the district. Additionally, Burger King, the Blue Star Motel, the Glendora House reception hall and a storage facility, all located north of 103rd Street, would be razed to make room for new development.

The TIF district enables the village to float bonds that would finance construction of a mixed-use development at the Yellow site and throughout the district. In a TIF district, real estate tax revenues yielded by properties that increase in value are used to fund improvements within the district, or as an incentive to the developer.

Hickory Hills woman defends family in wake of neighbor’s previous complaints to council

  • Written by Bob Rakow

Deborah Szymanski is fighting back.

The Hickory Hills resident appeared at last Thursday’s city council meeting to defend herself and her son against allegations levied by a neighbor.

The neighbor, Gil Marek, of the 9300 block of 79th Avenue, asked aldermen at the Sept. 25 council meeting to intervene in an escalating dispute he’s having with the Szymanski family.

The problem is, Marek and Szymanski have very different versions of the dispute.

Marek asked the council to take action to prevent the Szymanski’s from repairing campers in their driveway, which is located directly across the street from his house.

He said his neighbor has worked on at least three campers in recent weeks, which includes the use of power tools for hours well into the night.

Szymanski denies the claim.

“He wants us to get aggravated,” Szymanski said after last Thursday’s meeting. “He is clearly fabricating because he wants his own way.”

Marek, who vowed to attend future meetings until the problem is resolved, was not at last Thursday’s meeting.

Szymanski said Marek became angry on a recent weekend when her son, Tim, was working on his pickup truck in the driveway. She said Marek was “ranting, raving and swearing” when police arrived.

The Szymanski’s did not receive a ticket from police, but did get a letter from the city reminding them of various ordinances such working too late or violating noise restrictions.

Szymanski was adamant that her family is not running a business from their home.

“The fact that tickets haven’t been issued supports her statement,” Mayor Mike Howley said. “We certainly can’t control what he’s alleging, what he saying.”

Szymanski denied that her family power washes multiple trailers in their driveway or that her son routinely uses a grinder while restoring his truck.

“He wants to dictate a block of Hickory Hills,” she said. “He’s harassing us. I feel he’s watching. It’s pretty bad. It scares me.”

She also denied Marek contention that other neighbors are angry about the situation, but they are afraid to call the police and complain to the city.

Marek told the council during at his first appearance that he has no conflicts with his neighbor other than the complaints he’s lodged with the city.

Szymanski agreed with that assertion, saying that she gets along with Marek’s wife, who her son has helped out in the past.

Quinlan won’t seek trustee post for third term

  • Written by Bob Rakow

Eight is enough for Oak Lawn Trustee Carol Quinlan.


The veteran village board member has decided against running for a third, four-year term in April, but has wasted little time endorsing a candidate to run for her 5th District seat.


Bud Stalker, a long-time Oak Lawn resident announced his candidacy last week. He joins Dan Johnson and Paul Vail in the race.


“I just think he’s a straight-up guy,” Quinlan said. “He would be ideal.”


Stalker also has the support of former 5th District Trustee Marge Joy and former Village Clerk Jayne Powers.


Quinlan said she decided after winning re-election in 2011 that she would not run again.


“I had only planned for two terms. I think it’s a good think to have new blood,” Quinlan said, adding that she’s looking forward to spending more time with her family.


An ally of former Mayor Dave Heilmann, Quinlan became part of the village board minority in 2013 when Mayor Sandra Bury won election and often disagreed with the mayor on various issues.


Quinlan said she has known Stalker for many years through their involvement at St. Linus parish.


“You have to find someone who’s passionate,” she said. “I wanted to find someone who would do a great job for the village.”


Stalker, 68, has lived in Oak Lawn for 25 years. He retired in 2009 following a career as an electrical contractor. He is the president of his condominium board and is a member of the International Association of Electrical Inspectors.


The experience, he said, prepares him to serve on the sometimes contentious village board.


“If you think this is tough, you ought to try negotiating a contract worth a couple million dollars,” Stalker said.


He added that he is prepared to work with Oak Lawn Mayor Sandra Bury and other members of the village board.


“I am not for or against the mayor,” said Stalker, who describes himself as an independent.


Both Vail and Johnson also have said they are independent candidates not aligned with the mayor or other factions of the board.


Vail, 36 is a lifelong Oak Lawn resident who chairs the village’s corridor studies committee. He works as a construction manager.


Johnson is the commander of the Johnson-Phelps VFW Post in Oak Lawn.

He served more than 20 years in the U.S. Army, including four years of active duty, two tours of combat in Iraq and one tour in Afghanistan.

He was awarded the Bronze Star for meritorious service in a combat zone in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in 2013. He is a member of the Army Reserve.

Stalker and his wife, Mary Ellen, have been married for 44 years. They have five children and seven grandchildren. He is a graduate of Brother Rice High School and Bradley University.


Stalker said he considered for months Quinlan’s suggestion that he run and added that he’s looking forward to the race.


“It’s going to be a real good opportunity for three people to discuss the issues,” Stalker said.


The race could involve more than three candidates, as there are rumors other contenders may jump into the contest, Quinlan said.


Stalker has not yet discussed his candidacy with Trustee Bob Streit, Bury’s chief opposition on the board, but plans to meet with the veteran trustee.


“Bob is an interesting person,” Stalker said.


Streit is seeing his seventh term on the board and is facing a challenge from Scott Hollis, 58, a newcomer to Oak Lawn, who announced his candidacy in August.