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Reluctant beauty contestant

  • Written by Claudia Parker

 

 

 

 

   For a girl who prefers t-shirts and sweatpants over gowns and high heels, Ashley Gray did pretty well for herself in her first beauty competition.

Gray, 17, of Palos Hills, competed in the 2015 Miss Teen-Chicago Beauty Pageant on April 19 and won fourth runner up.

     The top placement among 165 girls in the pageant came as a complete shock to Gray, who graduated from Stagg High School earlier this week.

     “This is overwhelming,” said Gray. “I’ve never been in a beauty pageant before. A t-shirt and sweatpants is my favorite outfit.”

Those ranked in the top 10 are invited to compete in the 2015 National Competition, hosted in Orlando, Florida at the posh, Rosen Centre Hotel in December.

Gray said her family has always told her she would make a great model but she never took them seriously.

“I love sports. I’ve played volleyball, ran track and basketball; I started basketball in 6th grade and played through sophomore year. I had to stop due to a torn meniscus,” said Gray.

Actually, basketball is what connected her to this opportunity.

“One of my old teammates asked me to be in a prom fashion show at Hannah’s Boutique, in Palos Park. Her aunt is the owner and needed extra models.” Gray said, “I’d never been in a fashion show either. I told her ‘no’ twice, but, she’s my friend and I wanted to help her so I finally said, ‘okay.’”    

Trina Evans, a photo editor who serves in various other roles in the Miss Teen organization her organization looks for more than just whistles and bells.   

“Our slogan is ‘Pageantry with a Purpose.’ ’’ Evans said. “We are not a glitzy pageant, it’s not about expensive gowns, we’re looking for natural beauty.”

Apparently, what they were looking for, also caught the attention of a pageant coach, unrelated to Miss Teen, at Hannah’s Boutique prom fashion show.

“We were approached by a pageant coach who introduced us to the director of Miss Illinois United States,” Gray’s mother, Carmilla, said. “They suggested Ashley register for the Miss Teen United States pageant. We thanked them, it was humbling, but registration was expensive.”  

Hannah’s Boutique owner, Susan Shaban said, “The Director of Miss Illinois United States [Derrick Lee], he also handles Miss World United States. He and two pageant coaches were at our prom fashion show, there may have been more, it was busy. I had at least 90 girls here; about 30 were experienced pageant girls. It’s nice to have them; they help the girls who haven’t modeled before.”

Evans said Miss Teen doesn’t scout for talent; candidates’ names come by referral. The family is not sure how Miss Teen received Gray’s information but she was referred by someone who saw her at the prom fashion show.

“I received a letter from Miss Teen inviting me to a seminar to learn about their pageant,” Gray said.

The seminar provided prospective Miss Teen contestants with information about their pageant. Interested parties were then put through a screening process.

“We select about 50 percent of the candidates to compete,” said Evans.

“I was told they would get back to me within seven days but I heard from them within 24 hours,” Gray said. “I didn’t have to pay for anything, the local businesses in my community sponsored me.”

A few of those businesses included, Zacarelli’s Pizza, in Bridgeview, Durbin’s Pizza, in Palos Hills, State Farm agent, Laurie Evans, and Jimmy Jamm Sweet Potato Pies, in Chicago. Dashan Harris Designs sponsored her custom-made gown.   

She said her dream is to attend Duke University but for now, she plans to enroll at Moraine Valley College for her first two years while trying to decide on a specific field of study.

“I’d love a career working with kids. Since my freshman year I’ve been working with 4-7 year olds at Hickory Hills park district summer camps in Krueger Park. I’ve completed over 200 community service hours with those kids.” Gray said. “God’s got my whole life planned. Being in this pageant is evidence of that, everything happens for a reason. Look at how many doors opened just by saying yes to a prom fashion show.”

Gray said her faith is strong because of her mother Carmilla, father Richard Sr., sister Adorea and brother, Richard Jr.

“It is because of my family, especially my mother, and her words of wisdom and encouragement, that I am who I am today!” Gray said.

   

 

 

Jeff Vorva's Im-PRESS-ions: Half-marathon bosses iron out the rough edges

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

Jeffs Col Impressions

 

First Midwest Bank Half Marathon co-founder Mel Diab said that 99 percent of his event is “good stuff.’’

But the race committee convened Friday to talk about the 1 percent that is not-so-good stuff and to try to make it better.

The eighth running of the half-marathon took place May 3 and 26 days later, members of the event’s committee got together for a 90-minute skull session in Palos Heights on what went right and what went wrong plus what they need to do to make it better for the ninth race in 2016.

Most of the time, these post-race meetings feature a lot of talk about smaller items that don’t affect a lot of people but this year, there were a couple of blemishes that founders Diab and Jeff Prestinario want cleaned up.

One of the biggest gaffes in the history of the race was when Warrenville’s Kyle Brady won the race but no one knew it.

This was the second year that a 10K race was also run with the half marathon and some of the faster marathoners were passing up the slower 10K runners.

Prestinario realized this mistake could happen and told officials from Special Events Management.  So they had a guy yelling at the runners for the 10K runners to go into a chute at the left and for the half-marathoners to go into the right chute.

As bigger groups were crossing the finish line, Brady was mixed in with the 10K runners and didn’t get recognized as the winner right away. He wasn’t able to be in the ceremonial breaking of the tape in victory. Those in charge of the timekeeping weren’t sure of his official time because of the mistake. 

“He came in the wrong chute and we didn’t know if he was a 10K runner or in the half marathon,” Prestinario said Friday. “We had different people coming in there. There was a guy there [directing the runners] but he was confused.”

Adding to the confusion was that the 10K runners were supposed to have different colored numbers on their bibs than the half-marathoners but that changed when there was an abundance of people wanting to change races at the 11th hour and officials had to use the extra half-marathon bibs for those extra 10K runners.

Diab said next year he wants to see signs directing runners as they get close to the finish line.

“We need it clear that the 10K runners go to one side and the half-marathon runners go to the other side,” he said. “We had that in 2014. We didn’t have it this year. Let’s put the signs back up.’’

Another issue that came up was some of the music that a D.J. played before the race.

“I heard the ‘F’ word and some other swear words,” Prestinario said. “It was hip-hop type of stuff and we were looking for higher-energy type of stuff. We can improve that for next year. Having swear words at a family event isn’t right. I heard some goofy song and heard some of the words but the guy did cut the music off after one of the swear words. But that should never happen.’’

Others on the committee said that some of the music in the middle and end of the race was appropriate and uplifting.

Prestanario said one year, the race had the theme from “Rocky” to pump up the runners and he would like to see that brought back.’’

Another area Diab wants to improve on is the relationship between race officials and residents of the Edelweiss in the Park subdivision in Palos Park, who deal with the inconvenience of the race every year.

“There are not many complaints but there are a few,” Diab said. “I had one upset gentleman complain to me and when I explained to him how much good this race does for the community and the money we raise for great causes.  He some things I can’t say here. He said he didn’t care. He didn’t want to be inconvenienced for one minute.

“You can’t please everybody. It’s impossible. We would love to please everybody but we know that’s not realistic. We have a good batting average. I think that 99 percent of this race is good stuff.’’

Diab said that he planned on attending a town hall meeting with residents of Edelweiss in the coming weeks to try to see what he could do to smooth things over.

“I might have to wear a bulletproof vest,’’ Diab joked. “But I will talk to them and see what I can do to help them.’’

Streit takes responsibility after warning from Board of Elections

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

 

An Oak Lawn trustee who has pointed out political transgressions of others on the board was caught up in a possible misstep of his own.

A May 18 ruling by the Illinois Board of Elections against the campaign committee of Oak Lawn Trustee Bob Streit (3rd) led resident Norman Lupescu to berate Streit at the May 26 Village Board meeting.

Lupescu, a 31-year resident of Oak Lawn, filed the complaint against Friends of Bob Streit and raised the issue when the floor was opened to public comment.

The Board of Elections found that Friends of Bob Streit violated the Campaign Finance Act by not including legally required disclosure language on emails, mailers and on its website.

The organization was told simply to follow the rules in the future, otherwise, it could face possible fines up to $5,000.

However, the Board of Elections also found that fundraising email that was sent to Oak Lawn employees at their official email addresses may violate “election interference” provisions of the Campaign Finance Act related to political solicitation.  The board advised referring that complaint to Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s office.   

After Lupescu repeatedly called Streit a “liar” and “thief” during his time at the podium, Trustee Alex Olejniczak (2nd) asked Mayor Sandra Bury to stop him.

“We’re all elected officials. We don’t have to listen to this,” said Olejniczak, who is frequently at odds with Streit.

“Well, it is public comment,” said Bury, before stopping Lupescu when he reached the three-minute time limit.   

Streit made no comment on the ruling until after Bury brought up the issue of emails being sent to employees in her report.

“Nice job, getting him up to the podium for a three-minute assault on me,” Streit told the mayor sarcastically.

“If that was one of your allies (being attacked), you wouldn’t have allowed it,” he added.

“I will take responsibility for everything I did,” said Streit, acknowledging that campaign literature had been emailed without the notation directing readers to the website for financial disclosure information.

He said the campaign solicitation was sent to employee emails “erroneously,” adding that he wasn’t the only candidate to send that type of material.

“I have a stack of emails here (from other candidates),” he said.  

Streit blamed the errors, in part, on this being his first time using social media and email, rather than just relying on printed campaign material to get his message out.

The trustee also pointed out that although Lupescu filed the complaint, he was represented by attorney Jim Nally at the hearing, and did not attend.

“I wonder who paid for him,” said Streit, referring to Nally as the mayor’s attorney.

“He’s not my attorney. He has represented you, too,” said Bury.

“It’s obviously personal and political,” said Streit, questioning why his case was singled out for attention when the mayor and several trustees have been cited and fined by the Board of Elections for more serious offenses involving finances. 

Lupescu, who left the meeting before Streit spoke, said later that he stayed away from the hearing to avoid getting into arguments.

“I don’t have to say who paid for the attorney. That is privileged,” he added.

Lupescu said he felt Streit “just got a slap on the wrist,” adding that he plans to speak at the next Village Board meeting, which takes place Tuesday.

“It’s not just (Streit) I’ve had problems with. I’ve spoken against Mayor Heilmann and a lot of the trustees. I’m a Vietnam veteran, and I fought for my right to free speech,” he said. 

    

 

 

No more free rides for health insurance in Chicago Ridge

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

The controversial policy of free lifetime insurance benefits for part-time elected officials is coming to an end in Chicago Ridge.

Trustees agreed at Tuesday’s board of trustees meeting to send letters to the vested retirees now getting the taxpayer-funded insurance benefits, advising them of changes being made to the program.

Trustee Sally Durkin said that the retirees will be given the choice of opting out of the program, or accepting the changes being made.

As of July 1, all retirees who remain in the program will be required to pay 40 percent of their health insurance premiums and 100 percent of life, vision, dental and Medicare premiums. Any spouses of deceased retirees will have to pay 100 percent of premiums for any of the insurance policies they wish to retain.

A committee made up of Durkin and Trustee Frances Coglianese with attorney Burt Odelson, held several meetings in recent weeks to determine the best way of resolving the issue. The program had been in place for more than 15 years, but many residents only became aware of it this year and it turned into a major issue leading up to the April 7 election. Durkin said she and Coglianese had discussed the latest move with Odelson before bringing it the full board for discussion in the executive session before the meeting.

“We are drafting an ordinance (detailing the changes to the policy),” said Durkin. She said the changes will affect six or seven people, including retirees and the surviving spouse of a retired trustee.

Trustee Bruce Quintos, now midway through his fourth term, is the only current board member qualified to receive the insurance benefits, which he said he has been doing for four years.

“We took a cold hard look at what everyone was paying, and I think we did an excellent job resolving this. I think it is fair,” he said.

In other business, the board also tightened the existing restrictions on watering lawns and gardens, following advice on water conservation from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. Watering lawns and gardens is now limited to alternating days, between the hours of 7 a.m. and 11 a.m., and 7 and 11 p.m. year-round.

Therefore, people with odd-numbered addresses may water between those hours only on odd-numbered calendar days, while those with even-numbered addresses will be allowed to water on even-numbered calendar days.

The current ordinance limits the watering restrictions to between May 15 and Sept. 15, but Trustee Jack Lind said he wanted to make it year-round, and the others agreed.

“It is just simpler,” he said, adding that it will be make monitoring it easier for law enforcement.

Quintos agreed, after ensuring that the ordinance would state that lawns less than three months old would be exempt from the restrictions.

Rescued Palos Hills native tells his story about surviving Nepal earthquake

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

 

DR-Page-5-nepal

Photo by Jeff Vorva

Corey Ascolani talks about his adventures in Nepal at Trinity Christian College last Wednesday.

Palos Hills native Corey Ascolani drew his audience into the Nepal earthquake zone during last Wednesday’s talk at Trinity Christian College in Palos Heights, weeks after being rescued from the Himalayan country devastated by the April 25 quake.

The 1998 graduate of Stagg High School would not call himself an adventurer, but he fits the description.

A world map he showed of the places he had visited was filled with markers stretching across Europe and into Asia. He told of once buying an antique car in Vancouver, Canada, and driving it down the coast to Tijuana, Mexico.

“I just drove and let life take me where it wanted to,’’ said Ascolani,

That philosophy led him to Nepal in April.

He said that after spending more than two years teaching English in Barcelona, Spain, and traveling Europe on weekends and holidays, he felt he needed a change. He bought a one-way ticket to Nepal after hearing about Buddhist monasteries there, and the opportunity to live and work with a family for a month on an organic farm.

“It was kind of a quick decision,” said Ascolani, who flew to Nepal after a trip home to visit his ailing grandmother. He said he arrived in in Kathmandu without any hotel reservations or itinerary, and just figured he would find his own way.

Showing photos of the capital city on an overhead screen, he described the country as impoverished, without infrastructure or building codes, a main reason for the widespread destruction by the  earthquake that killed perhaps as many as 15,000 according to reports.

He made friends with a Dutch man named Kase at a meditation center, and the two decided to take a 60-mile bus ride to Langtang National Park, where they met up with other international visitors for a trek. through rugged mountain valleys.

They took a break at a bamboo tea house during the trek when the 7.8 earthquake struck about noon, shaking the ground for 90 seconds. He said the epicenter was 25 miles from where they huddled for safety.

“It was the worst earthquake in 70 years. We didn’t know what to do.”

Photos and a short video he took with his smartphone during the earthquake showed people cowering under tables and tarps at the outdoor café as rocks falling down from the surrounding mountains kicked up dust around them,

“There were about 80 of us there, including 10 or 15 locals,” he said. “Avalanches were happening right next to us,” he said.

He added one local woman in the group lost her husband when he was hit by a rock, and photos showed how boulders cut trees in half.

There were 50 aftershocks in the 24 hours after the quake, he said. Sleeping outdoors or in a nearby cave, he said, “You could feel the Earth breathe, in a sense.”

Ascolani said that after the dust settled, the group members realized they would probably be there for a while, and formed teams to sort out all the necessities of life to make the best of a bad situation. Some in the group decided to continue walking, but he and others decided it would be safer to wait it out.

“We felt we were in a relatively good situation. We needed to be rescued but we had access to food and water,” he said, noting that not far away, Langtang village was “completely wiped off the map.”

He said there was some trouble with local people unwilling to sell food because their own situations were so dire.

“For two days, people at home did not know where we were,” he said.

Regular cellphones were useless, but someone in the group had a satellite phone, which allowed them to send texts to loved ones. Once the embassies were contacted, they knew help would be on the way. eventually.

In addition to setting up a system of boiling and cooling drinking water, they dug a latrine and put a chair with a hole in the middle over it. They also cleared spaces for three helipads, marking them with blue paint.

Five days passed before a U.S. Special Forces came for him and about 28 others and they were the last ones to leave. Ascolani said helicopters chartered by the Japanese and Israeli governments had come first, but only rescued their own nationals.

“There were only three Americans there, and I was afraid our government would do the same,’ said Ascolani. “I was very proud of my government when they said they said they were taking everyone.’’

Ascolani said he felt overwhelmed, “but in a good way,” when he finally arrived at Midway Airport, met by his brother Damon and other family and friends who worked to get him home.

“There is no other feeling but love,” he said, explaining how his grandmother died the day he went to Nepal, and his mother told him she was afraid she had lost her mother and son in the same month.

When audience members marveling at his calm demeanor asked if he was religious, Ascolani described himself as “spiritual.”

“Life throws all kinds of situations at you. It is how you deal with it that matters,” said Ascolani, adding that rather than planning any more adventures, he is content to stay home for a while, He is working on a fundraising project for Nepal, which can be found online at www.GoFundMe.com/nepal4relief, with 100 percent of the money raised going to Nepal.

 Tom Panush of Evergreen Park, a retired Cook County sheriff, asked Ascolani to speak to members of the Seasoned Adults Learning at Trinity program as part of his “Behind the Headlines” class.