Shepard JROTC students receive lessions on 9/11 attacks 16 years ago

  • Written by Joe Boyle

shepard salute photo 9-14

Photo by Joe Boyle

Members of the Shepard High School JROTC program salute in unison at the beginning of the 9-11 ceremony held Monday at the Palos Heights school.

Chris Saberniak, master staff sergeant for the USAF JROTC program at Shepard High, remembers all too well the chain of events that gripped this nation on Sept. 11, 2001.

“I was stationed in Florida and we were told to stay indoors,” Saberniak recalls. “We saw the footage of the attacks but we didn’t know what was happening. It was frightening.”

Saberniak said those memories will last a lifetime and that it why it is essentially important to instruct the Shepard JROTC and the rest of the student body that everyone needs to remember what took place on 9-11.

The second annual 9-11 ceremony was held along the track at the Palos Heights school. Over 120 students in the program participated in the event Monday morning to mark the 16th anniversary of the 9-11 attack.

“Part of the reason we do this is because many of these students were not even born when 9-11 occurred,” Saberniak said. “They don’t understand what happened and we have to teach them. By holding this ceremony, they have a better understanding. We want them to remember.”

The U.S. was the victim of a terrorist attack on Sept. 11, 2001 that killed nearly 3,000 people when two planes crashed through the two World Trade Center buildings in New York City. Another aircraft also deliberately crashed into the Pentagon. Another plane crashed and killed all the passengers in Shanksville, Pa., 80 miles southeast of Pittsburgh.

The magnitude of the attack stunned the nation. It was the first time an attack occurred on the continental United States. Saberniak said that the horror of the day is conveyed to the students.

“After it happened, we just had no idea of who was attacking us, and if was going to continue,” added Saberniak.

The program is under the guidance of Saberniak and Major Dan Johnson, who also helps to direct the ceremony. The day begins with students from the program signing up to participate in walking 56 laps around the track in the football stadium. The national anthem is played before the walk begins. The 56 laps equal 14 miles. Saberniak said the students take a break for lunch before resuming the walk.

The money raised from the walk goes to the Heart of A Marine Foundation, a non-profit organization that provides financial and educational support to improve the lives of military personnel in all the branches of the U.S. Armed Forces.

Throughout the day students took turns at a podium on the field reciting names of people who died in the 9-11 attacks. The list of 3,000 names was obtained by the cadets through the website,

“I think by participating in this event, the students have a better idea of what happened on 9-11,” Saberniak said.

The 14 miles the students walk mirrors the Bataan Death March, which was the forcible transfer by the Japanese Army of 60,000 to 80,000 American and Filipino prisoners of war during World War II, according to Saberniak.

Saberniak said that the students in the program remember 9-11 through the ceremony. They also receive service hours for their participation in the ceremony and other activities during the course of the school year.

“We used to just have a flag ceremony,” Saberniak said. “But I think reciting the names of people who died and walking around the track has more meaning.”

The day of remembrance concluded with a ceremony near the American flag at the south end of the football field. The flag was at half-mast, a reminder of what happened in this country 16 years ago.

Retired alderman: 'I could write a book'

  • Written by Joe Boyle

Tom McAvoy’s resignation as 3rd Ward alderman during the Aug. 24 Hickory Hills Council meeting surprised those in attendance.

However, those who know McAvoy well knew what he was up to.

“I sent a letter out to over 100 friends and folks (before the meeting) who have volunteered to assist me in completing many non-partisan community projects and programs over the last 14 years,” said McAvoy.

McAvoy has been a fixture in in the Hickory Hills City Council when he was elected on April 1, 2003 with 59.8 percent of the vote in a three-candidate contest. He went on to become the chair of the City Council Business Development Committee, city liaison to the Hills Chamber of Commerce, and member of the Hickory Hills Economic Development Committee.

The former alderman cited health issues as the reason for this retirement, which became effective on Aug. 31. A U.S. Army veteran, McAvoy served in the 525th Military Intelligence Group while in Vietnam from 1971 to 1972. He was honorably discharged from the Army on June 22, 1973.

In the letter to colleagues, friends and relatives, McAvoy said he enjoyed his 14 years in office but added that he “just no longer has the energy to do all the elements of the job I have done in the past and that I believe an alderman should do in that office.”

McAvoy added that according to the Veteran’s Affairs Department, his exposure to Agent Orange in Vietnam over 45 years ago has created his current health issues.

“On a lighter note, I have really enjoyed my job as alderman,” added McAvoy. “I could write a book full of stories about various events and incidents over the years. The bad memories are very few and overwhelmingly counter balanced by the good ones.”

McAvoy, 66, also said that many experiences he had were often hilarious. He added that it would be difficult to choose one specific great moment because there were many.

He was often cited for his hard work and diligence to duty, including organizing the Bingo Tent each year at the Hickory Hills Street Fair. He was cited for distributing semi-annul ward newsletters to keep residents informed of what was going on in the community.

“I have a great deal of respect for him and will be forever grateful for having served on the city council with him,” said Mayor Mike Howley.

While McAvoy’s attention to detail was well noted, so was his sense of humor. During last year’s presidential election, McAvoy came up with the idea of passing out “barf bags” to voters to deal with a controversial election in which both major candidates, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, had major critics.

McAvoy even passed out the barf bags to residents who were arriving to vote at St. Patricia Parish.

“Just hold your nose and vote,” he told voters who came to cast their ballots.

While McAvoy served for 14 years in the Hickory Hills City Council, it was not his first efforts on the political stage. McAvoy served as a state representative as a Republican for the 27th District from 1982 to 1983, which at the time covered portions of Chicago’s Southwest Side, Burbank, Bridgeview and Bedford Park. He was also a Chicago office manager for the Illinois Department of Commerce and Community Affairs. He also held positions for the Illinois Department of Transportation, the Illinois Department of Public Aid and the Walter Quality Association.

McAvoy once boasted that his grandfather, Tom, was a union organizer of grain elevator operators in the Chicago Stockyards and worked for the Roosevelts. But he quickly pointed out that he worked for the Republican Roosevelts – Theodore and Edith. He grandfather was working for Teddy Roosevelt during his 1904 election bid for president.

McAvoy’s father, Walter “Babe” McAvoy, was in his fourth term as Republican state representative when Tom was born in 1951. McAvoy said he was 7 years old when he sort of volunteered to work for his father’s reelection in 1958.

The younger McAvoy was soon hooked on politics. While losing bids for the Senate (1982) and the House (1986), he was elected Republican ward committeeman for the 16th Ward on Chicago’s Southwest Side during the 1980s.

McAvoy, who has lived in Hickory Hills since 1993, said despite his retirement, he won’t disappear. He told the Hickory Hills City Council he will continue to work as a consultant.

“I told them I would do it if I was paid a salary. I will do it for $1 per year,” McAvoy quipped.

Protestors continue pressure for ouster of Palos Twp. trustee

  • Written by Anthony Caciopo


Photo Anthony Caciopo

A man who refused to identify himself displays signs in counter-protest to the activists and community members gathered at Palos Township headquarters who were calling for the resignation of Trustee Sharon Brannigan. “Take your refugees and stick ‘em,” he shouted.


Activists and community members are turning up the heat on the Palos Township Board of Trustees for what they say is silence, inaction and even complicity regarding recent, controversial social media postings of Trustee Sharon Brannigan.

“We need to replace every single board member who remains silent in the face of Sharon Brannigan’s bigoted and racist speech,” said Tammy Georgiou, representative on behalf of Southwest Suburban Activists.

Georgiou and an estimated 100 people converged on Palos Township offices Monday evening to attend the monthly meeting of the township’s board of directors.

“We’ve received letters from five mayors (of communities in Palos Township) of support,” said Bassem Kawar of the National Network for Arab American Communities at a rally in the parking lot before the start of the meeting. “We’ll make their letters public in the next several days.”

For the third consecutive month, people protesting Trustee Brannigan for messages she posted on social media filled the 42-person-capacity meeting room at the township headquarters, 10802 S. Roberts Rd. in Palos Hills. Each time, the crowd exceeded the capacity of the meeting room by at least double, forcing many to stand in the lobby outside the room or outside the building.

Brannigan is under fire for now-deleted messages on Facebook which many people consider offensive to Muslims and other Middle Eastern people. In those postings, Brannigan questioned the intentions of Middle Easterners entering the U.S., questioned the documentation status of children entering local schools, and compared First Lady Melania Trump with women who wear hijabs

Last month’s meeting, on Aug. 14, was cancelled just as it was about to begin because of the number of attendees who packed the building. Officials announced at that time that the September meeting would be moved to a larger venue to accommodate the crowd, due to fire code and the need to comply with the Illinois Open Meetings Act. Attendees dispersed but vowed to be back.

As of Monday afternoon, hours before the meeting, a township employee answering the phone said that the meeting location had not moved. Rumors swirled among those arriving for the pre-meeting rally that the meeting would be held in the parking lot to accommodate the crowd. Come meeting time, however, the doors to the usual room were opened, resulting in the same overcrowding as the meetings in the two previous months.

“I suspect you’re wondering why we are back at our overflowing facility instead of a different, larger venue,” said Township Supervisor Colleen Schumann as the meeting began.

“We worked toward that goal in getting access to gyms and other areas but we were denied because children are on the premises,” she said.

“There’s tons of township community centers out there,” countered Azmi Mohammad. “It’s not only schools that could have been used.”

The board conducted little, if any, business other than approval of the previous meeting’s minutes. The floor was soon turned over to public for comments. More than a dozen attendees spoke. Cables snaked along a wall in the meeting room outside where a public address speaker was set up for the benefit of those unable to get in. A wireless microphone was passed around.

“What gall it takes to fail to find a comfortable venue for your constituents,” said Kip Cozad of Palos Park. “I wonder if you would have made the same decision if we were businessmen in the community.”

Cozad, like almost every other meeting attendee who spoke, quickly turned his attention to Trustee Brannigan’s fellow board members.

“Are you going to be leaders, or enablers” he asked. “Are any of you calling for her to step down?”

“We have no legal authority to remove another official from office,” Supervisor Schumann said.

“Forget the bylaws or a special rule,” said Cozad. “Just of your own integrity, are you going to stand up and ask for her to step down?”

The bylaws Cozad referred to were revealed earlier in the evening by Georgiou of Southwest Suburban Activists, who quoted “Appointed officials…shall conduct the government of the township with integrity and impartiality, without allowing prejudice, favoritism, or the opportunity for personal gain to influence their decisions or actions or to interfere with serving the public interest.”

It is this passage from the township government bylaws, it was argued by the activists, that would allow the board to remove Brannigan from her position.





“She has violated these acts in their own bylaws,” said Georgiou, “and they (the other trustees) know it. They can use it against her and they chose not to. Are they lying to us and standing behind her to protect her? Is this the tip of the iceberg? What else is going on in there?”

“Hate has no place in our communities,” said attorney Vivian Khalaf of Palos Hills. “You, the public officials, need to join us in that stand and take action. You work for us and you should represent us fairly and equally.

“What do the remaining board members do to rectify the wrongdoing of one of their own,” continued Khalaf, “or at a minimum appease the community? Absolutely nothing.”

“Not a damn thing!” said someone seated nearby, to applause.

Brannigan has said little publically since the controversy began. At the July 10 meeting, she read from a statement which said, in part “My published words on this platform (Facebook) regarding the taxes are for the sole purpose of bringing awareness to the property taxpayers occurring (sic) within our township.

“To clarify and underscore for those of you who don’t understand, the point of my statements criticizes the federal government’s poor immigration controls including an almost negligible visa tracking system. That criticism falls under my 1st Amendment right.

“I am fully supportive of inviting all hard-working immigrants who contribute their fair share to our society and township. Anything less would be un-American,” her statement concluded.

“She’s a hopeless case,” said Mohanned Alkaki of Orland Park about Trustee Brannigan, “but I wonder when you guys (the other board members) go home, do you really, truly wonder—not just for political reasons—but I’m talking about the moral part. Do you talk to one another and say ‘Hey, maybe what she has done is wrong’.”

Outward support for Brannigan at the three meetings has been scant, but a lone counter-protester took a prominent spot across the street from the 100+ demonstrators about to enter the meeting. His oversized, hand-lettered cardboard signs read “Sharon Brannigan stays” and “No ISIS in Palos Township.”

The main refused to identify himself but called out loudly “You wanna let everybody bring their relatives’ kids and dump them in our public schools, just because you don’t want to be called a racist?”

The meeting was peppered with rounds of applause for the individual speakers, more than a few elevated voices, and group chants that caused Supervisor Schumann to quickly grab the gavel and call for an adjournment as control of the meeting began to deteriorate.

Kawar, the representative of the National Network for Arab American Communities, called out the township office telephone number for attendees to program into their phones, urging them to call two, three, even more times per day.

“Keep the lines busy, remind them that Sharon Brannigan must resign and remind them that we’re coming back,” he said.

The next meeting of the Palos Township Board of Trustees is scheduled for 7 p.m. Monday, Oct. 9 at a location to be announced.

Mechanics uion strike continues to affect local dealerships

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

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Photo by Dermot Connolly

Auto mechanics Steve Tracy (from left), union steward Eli Triantafilis, Scott Ruckman, Joe Wozze and Roman Stecko took a brief break from picketing Shirey Cadillac, 10125 S. Cicero Ave., Oak Lawn, on Friday to talk about the issues behind the strike by Local 701 that began Aug. 1.


The strike by Automobile Mechanics Union Local 701 is into its seventh week, and there is no end in sight following the decision Monday by members to reject the latest offer by the New Car Dealer Committee.

Mark Bilek, director of communications with the Chicago Automobile Trade Association, said the strike involves about 1,700 technicians employed at the 129 Chicago-area dealerships that belong to the New Car Dealer Committee.

He said there are 420 new-car dealers in the Chicago area, so about one-third are affected by the strike, including several in Oak Lawn and nearby communities. At many of those dealerships, without their mechanics on staff, only oil changes and other minor work is being done.

According to Bilek, no new negotiations are currently scheduled, following the decision to reject the latest offer.

Union steward Eli Triantafilis and several co-workers put down their picket signs outside Shirey Cadillac, 10125 S. Cicero Ave. in Oak Lawn, last Friday to share their views on the work stoppage that began Aug. 1, when their previous contract ended.

Prior to the vote on Monday, they were optimistic that the latest offer would be acceptable. But “the devil is in the details,” said Triantafilis, who has been working at the same location for nearly 39 years.

“One offer was thrown at us (last Wednesday), but that was rejected, too,” he added.

“The big thing is uncompensated time,” said the union steward, explaining that the mechanics are only guaranteed to be paid for 34 hours of work each week, but the jobs often take longer than that, so they end up working without pay.

The most recent offer rejected on Monday would have guaranteed 35 hours of work per week. But the mechanics are looking for 40 hours.

“They’re totally unrealistic (about factory-set job times),” said Triantafilis.

“With these computers, it takes longer than people think to diagnose a problem,” he added. “And some of the problems are intermittent, which makes it harder to solve.”

“Some people think we can just plug the car into a machine and it will tell us everything that is wrong. But it is more complicated than that. The machines can tell you which system is not working, but nothing more than that,” said the union steward.

He and his co-workers, many of whom have also been working at the same dealership for decades, said the high number of recalls are causing problems as well. They said the times allotted for certain jobs to be done have actually been reduced, for no reason.

“It seems like Ford, GM and Chrysler are telling customers they can get all this work for free, and are trying to save money on the backs of the mechanics,” said Triantafilis.

Scott Ruckman, who has been working for Shirey for 36 years, noted that since the strike began, several car dealerships, including Rizza and McCarthy Ford, have separated from the NCDC and come to agreement with their mechanics.

Bilek said Tuesday that 29 dealerships had made separate contract agreements, allowing their mechanics to go back to work. But he said those agreements are in dispute and have not been approved by the National Labor Relations Board, because the member dealerships negotiated separately.

“The status of those contracts is in question,” said Bilek. “Technically, those employees are (picket) cross-overs.”

Macs dig 7th straight win over RedHawks

  • Written by Phil Arvia


Photo by Jeff Vorva

Mother McAuley hitting star Charley Niego (black shorts) joins the Mighty Macs’ fans in the postgame celebration of Tuesday’s 25-20, 25-17 win over Marist, which was ranked third in the country by USA Today/AVCA.

When Central Michigan-bound Savannah Thompson blasted a spike off the face of Mother McAuley sophomore defensive specialist Grace Niego, her big sister, Charley, had only one thing to say.

“Nice dig.”

Indeed, the ball came up off Grace’s left cheekbone, Charley eventually ending the point with one of her nine kills. And, amid a five-point, second-set run, McAuley was well on its way to a surprisingly easy 25-20, 25-17 win Tuesday over Marist in front of an estimated 2,000 fans in the packed Mighty Macs gym.

“That’s unusual,” Grace, who finished with seven digs, said of her facial save. “All I thought was, ‘Is it up?’

“It feels good when Charley says encouraging things to me. She’s been my role model.”

Grace was one of four sophomores to show well in a match with a RedHawks team that entered as the top-ranked team in the state in at least one poll, and No. 3 or 7 in the nation, depending on who you ask.

Amia Owolabi, a left-handed right-side hitter, finished with five kills, including a run-stifling rip to make it 22-16 after Marist rallied from nine points down to within five in the second set. Lexi Warfield served for five points in the second set. Alena Pedroza had five kills.

“I didn’t know how it was going to go,” McAuley coach Jen DeJarld said. “I have four sophomores I expect big things from, but I didn’t know if they were going to be able to handle the pressure of McAuley/Marist — the crowd, the noise. All four were so solid.”

Marist (9-1), which has now lost seven straight to the Mighty Macs (9-1), played from behind almost the entire night, last leading at 3-2 in the first set.

“Mentally, we were a lot stronger,” said Charley Niego, who added 14 digs to go with her team-high kill total. “We didn’t let the fans or anything get in our heads.” 

Maggie Meyer, who led Marist with 10 kills and 12 digs, insisted the crowd didn’t get in the RedHawks’ heads so much as their ears.

“I thought we needed to deal better with the crowd,” she said. “We couldn’t communicate as well with each other as we normally do, so we struggled a bit.”

Marist coach Jordan Vidovic suggested it was more than a bit — especially after seeing his team get off to a 9-0 start that included an upset of then top-ranked Minooka.

“Some of the stuff we’ve done real well just wasn’t there,” he said. “We didn’t get comfortable. We didn’t get settled.

“We didn’t mix it up enough on offense. We have a really dynamic offense and we didn’t use it. We just weren’t on our game.”

Did he think any of that owed to any alleged McAuley mystique?

“I really don’t,” he said. “It comes down to what we put on the court. They’re not the only big team we play. This was just a nice test for us early in the season.”

Grace Green added 10 digs for Marist and setter Molly Murphy had 22 assists. McAuley got 18 digs from Casey Macander and 23 assists and nine digs from Nancy Kane.

McAuley’s uptick came after a weekend of lineup juggling at the Louisville (Ky.) Invitational, where the Macs went 4-1 and won the Silver Championship. The Macs’ lone loss came to Mount Notre Dame (Ohio).

“They had a lot of offensive weapons that we had a hard time containing,” DeJarld said. “Overall, I was happy with the way we competed. We’re getting better every day and we are working hard to improve on the deficiencies that were exposed when we played such high-caliber competition.”

One such deficiency was Owolabi’s hitting.

“I haven’t had a lefty over there in a while,” DeJarld said. “She’d been having a hard time with her timing, but it came together tonight.”

Thanks to Owolabi grabbing Kane for some extra pre-game work.

“I pulled Nancy over for some extra time with her,” Owolabi said. “Today I showed Coach DeJarld what I can do — the team saw it, too.”