Garden Harvest Day earns a (green) thumb's up

  • Written by Kelly White


harvest garden photo 8-18Photo by Kelly Whitw

The Oak Lawn Community Garden volunteers held their first harvest Saturday morning, marking the coming fall season. Volunteers helped to pick a variety of crops to be sent to local food pantries.


Volunteers and local organizations celebrated the first Oak Lawn Community Garden Harvest Day, which was held Saturday morning to mark the beginning of the fall season.

The community garden is located between Harker Park, 104th and Minnick Avenue, and the Oak Lawn Village Senior Center, 5220 W. 105th St.

The garden became a reality in June. This is the cooperative project of School District 123, the Village of Oak Lawn and the Oak Lawn Park District. A community garden is a single piece of land that is worked on collectively by a group of people. The Oak Lawn Community Garden is made up of 30 active members.

“Community gardening has been a trend in the United States since the 1960’s,” said Dolly Foster, horticulturist for the Oak Lawn Park District and community garden volunteer.

Foster worked alongside Oak Lawn-Hometown School District 123 Community Liaison Officer Larry Fetchko on the planning and garden creation.

Foster has worked for the parks for almost 10 years. Her duties include caring for the landscapes that can be found in and near the parks and other facilities. She is responsible for the planning procurement and propagation and also runs gardening programs for the park district, with the community garden being the park’s newest program.

The garden is composed of garden beds and is divided into two sections. One half is a pantry garden composed of 22 beds where volunteers from the community plant and care for the vegetable plants and harvest the produce to donate to local food pantries in the Oak Lawn area.

The other half of the garden is allotments that can be rented by anyone in the community. Allotments cost $25 per Oak Lawn resident and $35 for non-residents. Currently, there are 17 people renting allotments. There is currently room for 30 more 4 x 10 or 4 x 16 garden beds.

“Half of the people who are renting allotments are living in apartment buildings or condo complexes,” Foster said. “There are a lot of both apartments and condos in our community and people residing in them have nowhere to garden. They cannot garden on their balcony. The community garden provides a place where they can garden and harvest their own crops. Oak Lawn Park District members have wanted to put in a community garden where people could rent spots and could build their own garden on their own time.”

The community garden also works hand-in-hand with the Oak Lawn Village Senior Center, according to Foster.

“We have a number of raised or elevated beds for senior citizens where they can plant and harvest crops free of charge,” she said.

“It is really nice working with the senior center,” Fetchko said. “Most of the senior citizens that are currently working in the community garden have never gardened before. We encouraged them to try it and often they are surprised at how much they love it.”

With the help of eight community garden volunteers, the group harvested a couple hundred pounds of fresh produce on Saturday morning, including tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, Brussel sprouts, broccoli, lettuce, cucumbers and squash.

The group worked for a total of two hours, picking vegetables, laying out all of the vegetables by type and packing them to be distributed to local food pantries.

“We talked with local food pantries in the area and asked if they needed assistance. However, one major factor in the decision making for the first harvest was if they could store fresh produce,” Foster said.

“Our goal is to supplement local food pantries with fresh produce,” Fetchko said.

The three pantries selected by the community garden for the first harvest were St. Germaine, Trinity Lutheran and Pilgrim Faith church pantries. All three pantries chosen are located within the Oak Lawn community.

The community garden plans to incorporate school children from District 123 into the gardening project this fall.

“When we began planting in June, children were already out of school for the summer. But we look forward to having them help out with future planting and harvests,” Foster said.

Village board agrees to ease restrictions on Mercy Circle residency

  • Written by Sharon L. Filkins

The Evergreen Park Board of Trustees unanimously approved Monday night a request for an amendment to a 2012 agreement with Mercy Circle, a senior residence at 3659 W. 99th St.

The amendment calls for lifting of a ban limiting access to the facility to seniors 62 years of age or over who are members of a particular religious order.

Speaking on behalf of Mercy Circle at the public hearing were Sister Susan Sanders, RSM, a team member with Sisters of Mercy; Sister Laura Reicks, RSM, president of Sisters of Mercy and a trustee of Mercy Circle; and Frances Lachowicz, executive director of Mercy Circle.

“We are here to ask the village board to consider lifting the ban incorporated in the agreement of 2012, which only allows residents of a certain age and who are members of a religious order,” said Sister Sanders.

She said that currently the 110-unit facility has only 85 percent occupancy while 95 percent is required to meet financial responsibilities.

“We are looking to provide future occupancy to others, beside those of faith, due to the decline in the numbers of retiring and aging priests and nuns,” she said. “We would like to be able to open up occupancy to qualified individuals, 62 years of age and older, regardless of their occupations.”

“We want to insure that Mercy Circle will continue to be an asset to the community. We want to open our facility to qualified applicants,” said Sister Reicks. “We will have a monthly fee, of course, but there will be no entry fee or deposit required.”

“We want to open the facility to the community,” said Lachowicz. “We would not require them to give up all their assets as other places often do,” she said.

Following the approval, Mayor James Sexton said the amendment will not change the scope of the project.

“It will not be expanded beyond the current 110 units in the three story building. We will remain good neighbors,” Sexton said.

Mercy Circle offers independent and assisted living, memory care with assisted living and skilled nursing care.

Other business included approving an ordinance allowing the village to fine any person who knowingly possesses 10 grams or less of cannabis. Fines will range from $250 for a first offense, $500 for a second offense and $750, or no more than $1,500, for a third offense.

Also approved were payment of annual dues to the Metropolitan Mayors Caucus and Southwest Conference of Mayors.

A request from Police Chief Michael Saunders to hire one patrol officer from the current patrol officer eligibility list to fill a vacancy due to the retirement of one police officer was approved, as well as a request to purchase a new mobile command post.

A bid was awarded to Environmental Clearing Corporation in the amount of $94,221 for the demolition of two commercial buildings at 2952 and 2958 W. 95th St.

Volunteers at the heart

  • Written by Joe Boyle

The threat of showers did not prevent a steady flow of shoppers who were looking for clothing and other items Monday afternoon at Neat Repeats Resale, 7026 W. 111th St., Worth.

Doreen Holford, who serves as the operations manager at the Worth location and at 9028 W. 159th St., Orland Park, was not surprised. Customers from the community and beyond often visit Neat Repeats for not only clothing, but dishes, silverware and other products.

But what pleases Holford the most is that money raised from the sale of items at the two shops goes to assist women and family members who have been victims of domestic abuse.

“I just coordinate schedules and help get items brought in,” said Holford, who has been associated with Neat Repeats for 16 years. “But it is the dedication of our volunteers that makes all this work. Many of them have been working for us for 27 years.”

Funds raised from purchased benefits benefit the Crisis Center for South Suburbia. The Crisis Center for South Suburbia is a non-profit community organization that provides emergency shelter and other services for individuals and families victimized by domestic violence. The Crisis Center has helped hundreds of women build a better life for themselves and their children.

But a major source of the funding for the Crisis Center comes from the Neat Repeats Resale stores. The impact of Neat Repeats is not lost on Holford.

“Without the sales from the Neat Repeats shops, we could not keep the Crisis Center open,” said Holford. “It is very important.”

And Holford, who has served in a management role the past 12 years for Neat Repeats, said the Worth location is of great importance. Holford and her husband have lived in Worth the past 30 years and have raised two children in the community. She was active in the PTA and other organizations while raising her kids.

It was that sense of community that drew Holford to Neat Repeats, which will be celebrating its 30 anniversary in November. Neat Repeats spent one year in Blue Island before moving to 111th Street in Worth, just across the street from the current location. Holford said that Neat Repeats has been at the present site in Worth for the past 27 years.

“The Worth location is very important to us,” said Holford. “We are a community-based and we wanted to stay in the community. Worth is a wonderful pace to raise families. We could not think of a better place to be.”

The origins of Neat Repeats date backs to over 30 years ago when the first location was an old farmhouse on the campus of Moraine Valley Community College in Palos Hills, said Holford.

“That’s why this community is so important to us,” said Holford. “We have a long history here.”

Holford said due to the success of Neat Repeats in Worth, a second location was sought because a need had developed for assistance of domestic violence victims in the far south suburbs, which is why the Orland Park facility opened 11 years ago. Both facilities are about 4,000 square feet, according to Holford.

But it is through the efforts of the volunteers that the Neat Repeats Resale shops work. Holford said the list of volunteers fluctuates but there are usually about 200 who take part, 100 at each location. Volunteers work one five-hour shift a week. One of the responsibilities of the volunteers is help clients bring the clothing and other items in so that it can be cleaned and later put on display.

Holford said that volunteers are taught to be good listeners who often have to console customers who are victims of domestic abuse.

“I think everybody needs to know that domestic violence is prevalent in our society,” said Holford. “It is our job to help and give these people comfort.”

Neat Repeat’s client’s assistance program supplies the much needed clothes and other essential for women and their children. All items are supplied to them free of charge. Many clients leave their abusive situation with nothing more than the clothes on their backs. The volunteers at Neat Repeats said they are proud to provide this service for them.

Currently, Neat Repeats Resale shops are accepting fall and winter clothing through March 14. Residents are asked to call in advance for donations of 10 boxes or more. Tax donation receipts are provided.

Along with the list of volunteers, students from area schools and churches can fulfill community service hours. The students will work together with Neat Repeats volunteers to accomplish daily goals and provide good customer service to donors and customers.

Neat Repeats is open at both locations from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays; 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays; 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays; and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sundays. More information can be obtained by calling the Worth location, (708) 361-6860, or the Orland Park facility, (708) 364-7605.

The 24-hout hotline for the Crisis Center for South Suburbia is (708) 429-7233.

Holford believes that Neat Repeats will remain a fixture in Worth for years to come.

“They have really embraced us,” said Holford. “Over the years, they have been great to us. Every mayor has been a great help.”

Clear Ridge bangs the ball in Bangor; wins World Series

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

PAGE 1 10 hug

 Photo by Jeff Vorva

Clear Ridge player Dave Navarro gets a hug during a welcome-home event at Hale Park on Sunday.

 Sweet 16

The 16 players on the World Series champion Clear Ridge squad and their high schools:

St. Laurence

Tom Doyle

Jake Gerloski

Noah Miller

Tim Molloy

Mel Moriaro

Gage Olszak

Zach Verta

St. Rita

Mike Rios

Mike Skoraczewski

Joe Trezek

De La Salle

Gary Donahue

Dave Navarro

Bob Palenik

Nazareth Academy

Julian Lopez

Paolo Zavala


Jake Duerr

Hale to the champs.

The Clear Ridge Little League baseball team banged the ball a lot in Bangor, Maine last week and won the 2016 Senior Little League World Series.

Clear Ridge, which features players from the Clearing and Garfield Ridge areas who attend area schools, capped it off with a 7-2 victory over Australia Saturday afternoon as Mansfield Stadium in a game that was broadcast on ESPN.

The group came home to an informal celebration at Hale Park in Chicago on Sunday and fans and community leaders will get to hail the players again at Hale (located at 6232-6298 W. 62nd St.) at noon on Saturday in a formal rally. Hale Park is where many of these players got their start as six-year-olds. A decade later, they are on top of the world.

“It’s surreal,” said Zach Verta, Saturday’s winning pitcher and one of seven St. Laurence players on the Clear Ridge roster. “One day you are winning the World Series and the next day you are back home in your community celebrating with your teammates.’’

Clear Ridge outscored its opponents, 44-11, in the five games at Bangor and collected 45 hits.

But the game that had some people on the South Side and south suburbs glued to their TVs was the title game against Australia, which featured a 95-minute delay in the fifth inning with Clear Ridge leading 7-1.

“During the delay, we were trying to make sure we didn’t take them lightly because a couple of games they made comebacks,” Verta said.

“The players were Tweeting and listening to rap music during the break,” Clear Ridge manager Mark Robinson said. “They stayed loose and had a good time. I didn’t have much to say to them. Nothing fazes these kids. I just want them to stay loose and warm up in the proper way when we continued the game.’’

Clear Ridge is the first Illinois team in the 55-year history of the tournament to win the Senior Little League World Series. The organization featured a 2013 team that made it to the national tournament and went 0-4 in Bangor.

“This area has a ton of great players,” Robinson said. “We have football here but it’s a great baseball community.’’

Robinson also coached the team that went 0-for-Bangor in 2013 so he wasn’t making any big predictions this year. But now that it’s over, he was able to brag about his team.

“I kind of had a thought this could happen,” he said. “But I didn’t want to say anything. This group has been together since the players were six. Once we got through the state tournament, I didn’t think anyone was going to stop us.’’

Verta said he wasn’t nervous about pitching in a nationally televised game with the top prize on the line.

“I’ve been in a lot of big games and I didn’t want to treat it like any other game,” he said. “So I treated it like I was pitching against little kids pretty much.’’


10 HUG --

Stagg students help make movie, book to document year and honor late teacher

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

cover of stagg book photo 8-11


Here is the cover of the book, “111th and Roberts: Where Our Stories Interact,” which was written by students at Stagg High School about their life at the school and to honor the late English teacher Mary Ogarek. A documentary was also filmed.

An effort to hold onto the sense of community and empathy that enveloped Stagg High School following the death of popular English teacher Mary Ogarek in 2014 has resulted in a book written by students called “111th and Roberts: Where Our Stories Intersect.”

Kenneth Erdey also filmed a documentary following the two teachers and 60 students involved in the senior English class project, and more than 300 people came to its first public showing on Aug. 2 at Stagg, 11100 S. Roberts Road, in Palos Hills.

“It was a very special event. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house,” said Principal Eric Olsen last week.

Mary Ogarek, who was 33 when she died in 2014, following an illness, got the project started herself when she and fellow teacher Lisa Thyer applied for and received a District 230 Foundation grant for $5,000.

“We taught the same type of classes, and although we didn’t co-teach, we collaborated on things,” said Thyer, explaining how she became friends with Ogarek.

“Our idea for the grant was to create a class where students could learn to ‘write for the real world,’” she said.

“Mary was there for the early planning stages, but she missed a lot. She was told she needed a liver transplant a few months before she died,” she said.

After students and faculty came together to mourn and share stories following Ogarek’s death on April, 2014, the decision was made to find a way to hold on to the “sense of community and empathy that formed” said Olsen.

“After Mary’s death, the school community could have gone a lot of different directions. They chose to make something positive out of it,” said Erdey, whose wife, Carla, is the communications director for School District 230.

After meeting with people from Voices of Witness, a San Francisco-based non-profit dedicated to promoting human rights and dignity by collecting oral histories, the faculty created a class doing something similar at Stagg. Thyer and fellow English teacher Christopher Wendelin agreed to teach the two sections, with a total of 60 students.

“The students who agreed to take the class deserve a lot of credit, because we didn’t know how it would go,” said Wendelin. “Some gave up AP classes to take it,” he added.

“Many of the students said they took it for the challenge,” said Olsen, describing them as “courageous.” The classes were as ethnically diverse as the school population, with everyone from honors students to those in special education getting involved.

Wendelin said that seeing the documentary brought back a lot of memories of what went into putting together the book over 10 months. “I don’t like seeing myself on film but Ken did it so well, without being intrusive.”

The documentary follows the students through the process of interviewing each other, and writing and editing each other’s work before the book was ready for print.

In segments available on YouTube, one student said she thought she knew about 80 percent of her classmates, but through the interviews, realized that she hardly knew them at all. The students found out that whether they came from the Middle East, high rises on the South Side of Chicago, or their families had lived in the suburbs for generations. They all had struggles to overcome.

Erdey, an instructor in the University of Illinois College of Media in Champaign-Urbana with 20 years of experience in TV news, called making the documentary “a very unique and life-changing experience.”

“When you film a short news story for TV, you never see the people again. But I was involved in this on a daily basis for 17 months,” he said. “I am going to try to incorporate what I learned from these students into my own classes.”

He said he really appreciated being introduced at the Aug. 2 showing by Molly Nagle, a graduate of both Stagg and U of I who was taught by both Ogarek and Erdey.

“She works on George Stephanopoulos’s program now (This Week), and flew in from New York to specifically to do this,” he said. “She was my student when we began the project, and was going to help me but she didn’t have time,” he explained.

“I’ve heard that (that there was not a dry eye in the house) during the showing, but my intention wasn’t to depress anyone. I hope they were all not bringing anyone down. I hope they were all good, happy tears,” he said.

Erdey said he plans to have the book and documentary included in a panel discussion at U of I in the coming months. The movie isn’t currently for sale, but he said he is working on copyright and other details that will make it possible.

Thyer said she is already looking forward to teaching the next “voice of witness” class this fall with Wenderlin. “There are only 30 students this time, because the classes had to be chosen in January and no one was sure how the first class would turn out.” She and Wendelin both said that after the book came out in May, a lot of juniors were trying to get into the class, but it was too late. But it shows there is a promising future ahead for the class.

“We are not going to write a book again, but we might do a podcast. We will see how it goes,” said Thyer.

More information about the project is available at The book is available through the school and a few local bookstores. Erdey said he is planning to show the documentary at a U of I panel discussion, and is working on getting it copyrighted for wider release.

All proceeds from book sales will be donated to Voice of Witness San Francisco and to The Mary Ogarek Memorial Scholarship Foundation.