Jeff Vorva's Im-PRESS-ions: Welles was larger than life in more ways than one

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

Jeffs Col Impressions

You are old if you remember Orson Welles.

You are ancient if you were around when Orson Welles was a genius. But you are a better person for it.

If Welles was still alive, he would be 100.

Hanging out with Erik Martin and his Oak Lawn-based CineVerse film discussion group and talking about classic movies (see page 1)  jogged my memory about my favorite movie of all time, “Citizen Kane.’’

Some, including Martin, consider it to be the greatest movie ever. CineVerse showed it three times in 10 years.  Welles was the boy genius who starred and directed that film in 1941 and, depending on who you want to believe, wrote some or a lot of the storyline.

Growing up, I didn’t get Welles. At the time he was a fat, old guy who people in the entertainment biz made fun of. He did some wine commercials, popped up on a Dean Martin roast and many talk shows.

His last couple of credits before death in 1985 were not Oscar- or Emmy-worthy. He was the voice of the planet-eating robot named Unicron in the movie “Transformers: The Movie’’ and he was the voice in a “Moonlighting” episode on TV. Remember “Moonlighting”? That was when Bruce Willis did TV. And had hair!

When I was in college, I was home on a Saturday night and “Citizen Kane” was being shown at 10:30 p.m. My attitude was “OK, Kane, you are supposed to be the greatest movie of all time – impress me.’’

The stars were aligned for me to not enjoy the greatest movie of all time. I was watching on a 19-inch TV with rabbit ears. Channel 7 showed way too many commercials.

And I loved it.

It’s the story of the fictional newspaper mogul Charles Foster Kane (allegedly based on William Randolph Hearst) from the innocence of his childhood to his rise as an idealistic newspaperman to his later years as a disagreeable old man.  The lights, shadows and camera-angle styles used in that film are still used in films today.

Welles was masterful as a young, middle aged and old Kane.

I thought it was going to be overrated but I was blown away by the movie.

Then I found out Welles was just  25 when he created the masterpiece. All of a sudden, the fat wine salesman people enjoyed spoofing was someone worthy of respect in my world.

Even earlier in his career, he was the brainchild of the radio broadcast “War of the Worlds” which was a fictional account of alien invasions and it was so realistic-sounding that people all over the country panicked.  Frightened folks called radio stations and newspapers all across the nation wanting to know what the heck was happening to their planet.

The first quarter century of Welles’ life was simply amazing.

The rest was a mixture of hits and misses but nothing could compare with the work his first work of art –“Citizen Kane.’’

For those of you youngsters who think that black and white movies are not worth your time and know Kane as a Blackhawks star or a WWE wrestler, I would point out that alt-group the White Stripes have a song called “The Union Forever” in which the lyrics are based on Kane.

A few hard rock/punk groups have emerged that called themselves Citizen Kane have popped up and a prog-rock group called Citizen Cain so the movie has some influence in the guitar group world.

The “Orson” character in “Mork and Mindy” was in homage to Welles, even if fat jokes were a part of the bit. “The Simpsons” parodied Welles’ “War of the Worlds” broadcasts. I don’t know if the town Orson, Indiana in “The Middle” has to do with Welles, but it wouldn’t surprise me. 

Kane is probably not for the teen set, but if you are in your 20s or older and haven’t seen it yet, give it a shot. It might not make it to No. 1 on your list there is so much to the movie to enjoy.

And just remember, the guy who made the magic of this great film was just 25.

'Selfish' motivation turns to Irish language school

  • Written by Dermot Connolly





 Photo by Dermot Connolly

Luanne Baldwin, Shannon O'Brien and teacher Áine McGillycuddy are involved in Irish language classes offered at Gaelic Park.


What began last summer with the coincidental blog post seeking Irish language classes at the same time that an Irish teacher was starting a new life in Oak Lawn, has grown into a language school, complete with drawing students from the Southwest Chicago area.

 “It was purely selfish,” said Shannon O’Brien with a laugh.

She posted her request last June for an Irish teacher on a Facebook page for mothers in Chicago’s Beverly neighborhood, where she lives.

“I had been trying for years to get Irish language classes at Gaelic Park in Oak Forest, because it is too hard for people here to get to those held on the North Side, at the Irish-American Heritage Center,’’ she said and added finding qualified teachers was difficult.\

But not impossible.

Her search ended when a mutual friend saw her post and contacted Áine McGillycuddy, an Irish teacher who had recently moved to Oak Lawn with her partner, Kati Whittingham, and their infant daughter, Saoirse (which means “freedom” in Irish).  Whittingham, from Orland Park, starred on Mother McAuley High School’s 1991 state champion basketball team and is now a guidance counselor in Community School District 218.

The couple met 10 years ago when McGillycuddy spent a summer here playing Gaelic football for the St. Brigid’s team based at Gaelic Park

With a degree in Irish and economics from University College Dublin, McGillycuddy has 15 years of experience teaching Irish (sometimes called Gaelic) and other subjects at her alma mater, Coláiste Ráithín, in Bray, County Wicklow. She explained that the high school is a “gaelscoil” where all subjects are taught through the language known as Gaeilge in Irish.

Although Irish is the first official language of Ireland, English is the everyday language in most parts of the country. McGillycuddy said that while Irish wasn’t her first language, she and her four older brothers became fluent in it.  

Now a stay-at-home mom, McGillycuddy said she liked the idea of teaching evening classes, but credits O’Brien with setting them up. “We didn’t have a clue at the beginning about how much to charge, or how many students should be in the classes,” she said. But they worked it out, and O’Brien is now affectionately known as “the principal” of the school.

Weekly classes started last fall, drawing students from age 13 to 80, and continued into the spring for beginners and intermediate levels. They will start again in the fall. In addition to Oak Lawn and Oak Forest, and Chicago neighborhoods such as Clearing, Morgan Park, Beverly and Mt. Greenwood, students also come from more distant suburbs such as Homewood and Clarendon Hills.

Her former students in Ireland were challenged to come up with a name and slogan for the new language school, and the winning name was Gaeilago, combining Gaeilge and Chicago. Another won for the motto, “Sharing Our Language Across the Waves.”

Gaeilago students and others are invited to an “immersion weekend” at Gaelic Park, 6119 W. 147th St. from July 17-19, where they can speak Irish all weekend. The immersion weekend will include informal classes in language, culture and history led by McGillycuddy and her brother and sister-in-law, both teachers in Ireland, along with plenty of socializing.

Group breakfasts are also held one Saturday a month at Jack Desmond’s restaurant in Chicago Ridge.

McGillycuddy has an easygoing way of teaching, encouraging students to speak as much Irish as possible, without worrying about mistakes.

“I guess I’m proof that immersion works,” she said, laughing about her early days as a 12-year-old at her gaelscoil, learning everything through Irish and not understanding much for the first few months.

“I caught on eventually,” she said.

 McGillycuddy’s students give various reasons for learning Irish.  

Most have family connections in Ireland, and want to get to know the culture as much as possible. O’Brien, who grew up in Maine and was named after the largest river in Ireland, once planned to move there. Clearing resident Luanne Baldwin, whose grandmother came from County Roscommon, said she enjoys learning languages. She said one basic Irish class she took at Daley College years ago piqued her interest.

“It is easier than Finnish,” she said.  

The classes also draw people like John Murray, who was born in County Mayo but had to immigrate with his family before he got to learn much of the language in school.

“It is up to us and the younger generations to keep the language alive,” said Murray, who is now learning it alongside his son, Martin, 13. A younger son might be joining the class in the fall.

"It has been such a positive experience right from the beginning. I have been amazed by Americans’ enthusiasm to learn Irish. I have so many years of experience teaching at home and to see such interest here has been so encouraging. When moving here last June, never in my wildest dreams did I think we would have a school established so quickly. Shannon’s willingness to do so much administrative work in the early stages was a great help,” said McGillycuddy. “Hopefully the interest and the classes will continue to grow. Ní neart go cur le chéile (There is no strength without unity)."

More information about the classes and the immersion weekend may be obtained by contacting Shannon O’Brien at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .



Like em' or not, weather forecasters deserve credit

  • Written by Jeff Vorva


Jeffs Col ImpressionsHere is a shout out to the people most people want to shout curses at.
The weather forecasters.
People get mad at these men and women when they give forecasts for bad weather. People get mad at them for being wrong. People say they don’t know what they are talking about.
Yet, we all go back to these meteorological mavens to find out what it’s going to do tomorrow night or next weekend.
Because they are usually more right than wrong.
It’s been a crazy spring in our area – crazier than usual.
One day, we are in shorts and sweating and the next day is sweatshirt weather. Teeth can be heard chattering in late June for goodness sake. How can you get a handle on that?
We’ve had thunder storm warnings, hail warnings, flood warnings, tornado warnings andDR-Page-3-Coghlan-with-JV-COLChris Coghlan played six straight games with the Cubs before visiting kids at Children’s Hospital in Oak Lawn and surprisingly became baseball’s Iron Man with 128 straight games in June. Photo by Jeff Vorva. just about every other warning short of “Careful with that axe, Eugene.”
So far, our area hasn’t suffered much.
Coal City, however, was ravaged June 22 by a tornado that is being called the worst one in the area since Plainfield’s 1990 disaster. Thanks to all of the early weather warnings and sirens going off there were thankfully no deaths.
We can give the forecasters a little credit for that, can’t we?
I’ve heard the argument “Geez, they have millions of dollars of equipment and radar – why can’t they get it right?’’
My answer to that is that even the radar isn’t infallible.
Once I was covering a baseball game in Miami and it was delayed by a huge rainstorm. I checked the radar to see how long this bad boy was going to last and the radar showed nothing! My computer said it was sunny. A look out the window showed otherwise.
I equate predicting weather with doing all the research in the world but in the end, it’s like putting a playing card on the table and guessing if it’s an odd number, even number, picture card or joker.
Speaking of jokes, I once heard this one, and it sums up forecasters pretty well: The most honest answer to “What’s the weather going to be?” is “I don’t know.’’

This rally stunk
The biggest event in the Chicago area in June was the Blackhawks celebration June 18 through the streets of downtown and Soldier Field.
Were there millions of people or hundreds of thousands? Believe what you want, but there were a lot.
I’m a little too old for that stuff. During the Bulls run, I was assigned to cover the rally of their fourth NBA championship at Grant Park. I was actually paid to be there, so I shouldn’t whine.
But I’ll whine.
I was told I would be in the media area and I thought that would be great. I would be up close to the action. I didn’t think I would be on the stage, but I thought I would be close to it.
We were an afterthought so far back that we couldn’t see or hear the players very well. Someone would say something that was funny and thousands would laugh and we had no idea what they were saying.
While I couldn’t see or hear very well, I could smell just fine. They put us next so some police horses and one of them must have had a really bad meal the night before.
It was really a horse(bleep) assignment in more ways than one.

Professor Fife and giraffes
On a smaller, bigger scale, I was sad I had to miss World Giraffe Day at Brookfield Zoo in June.
Ever since I was a kid, the giraffe has been my favorite animal at the zoo. A couple of times I was able to feed a giraffe and their slimy purple tongue are kind of gross but I still like them. My family gave me a Father’s Day card with a giraffe on it a few weeks ago.
So I missed an opportunity to join Potoka, a Brookfield Zoo giraffe, to celebrate his second birthday. I was denied the chance to party with him and learn about how these tall animals’ status is threatened and how to protect them and their environment.
Potoka was given a special birthday cake made from his usual diet of fruits and vegetables and guests sang “Happy Birthday” to him.   
I doubt in any of the informational presentations of giraffes, the zoo will have any theories from Barney Fife.
The fictional deputy on the “Andy Griffith Show’’ was trying to soothe young Opie Taylor’s fears about a pack of dogs who were out in the rain. Professor Fife said that dogs look after each other. Not so with giraffes.
“Now if they was giraffes they’d have been hit [by lightning] by now, but dogs are short and they take care of their own. Giraffes don’t. No, giraffes don’t at all. Boy, giraffes are selfish, just run around looking out for No. 1.’’

I am Iron Man!
Cubs outfielder Chris Coghlan visited sick kids in at Advocate Children’s Hospital Oak Lawn last Aug. 29 and then went to Wrigley Field to go to work.
He didn’t start that night but he managed to sneak in a pinch-hitting appearance after that game he had played seven games in a row for the North Siders.
Who knew on June 18, his 30th birthday, he would become baseball’s Iron Man?
OK, he would have a long way to go before catching Cal Ripken’s seemingly impossible streak of 2,632 consecutive games streak, but on that night, he played his 128th straight game while Atlanta’s Freddie Freeman had a 234-game streak halted because of a wrist injury and Seattle’s Kyle Seager had a 192-game streak snapped because he fell ill.
Coghlan was next on the list and moved up to the front of the line.
See, good things can happen to you when you come to one of our hospitals and hang out with the kids.


Mr. Henning’s opus

  • Written by Tim Hadac


Longtime St. Laurence band leader directs his last stanza

A man widely acclaimed as a giant among school bandleaders and teachers—not only in thepage-1-opusPatrick Henning leads the band in a Legacy Concert in June. Photo by Tim Hadac. Chicago area, but also the Midwest—recently waved his baton for the last time at an emotional farewell concert at St. Laurence High School in Burbank.

Patrick J. Henning, who taught more than 10,000 student musicians during his 46 years in music, led an alumni orchestra of more than 100 former students from St. Laurence, Queen of Peace, Brother Rice and Mother McAuley High Schools, with several hundred former students and their families, as well as colleagues, family and friends, in the audience at the event—dubbed The Legacy Concert--on June 7.

Henning is the son and protégé of the late Leo J. Henning, as much an iconic bandleader and music educator as his son, with a career that spanned from 1942 to his retirement in 2000, eight years before his death.
Like his father, Henning was renowned for building school bands that were “more than a band that plays the school song at football games,” as he said at the farewell concert, imparting class and sophistication to student musicians.

Son salutes father

In written remarks reflecting on his career, the younger Henning gave much credit to his mentor father.
“My college buddies have proclaimed for 50 years, ‘Henning is the only one of us that has never had a job or worked a day in his life,’” he wrote. “I couldn’t agree more. How does one get up every day of his life and get to do what he loves to do, which is my passion for music and teaching, and call it work?

“Professionally, my life could not have been better,” Henning continued. “As I have said many times, one of the greatest gifts I have received in life was being able to work side by side with my father for 30 years.”
He also thanked Susan, his wife of 47 years—“the cute little percussionist Susan Farrell of the Quincy University Wind Ensemble”—for marrying him and being his “soul mate, rock, lover and best friend.” He also tipped his cap to his three children and six grandchildren.

The music, the memories

The concert itself was classic Henning and explored nine varied works, including an “old chestnut” like Franz Von Suppe’s “The Poet and the Peasant Overture,” challenging and ambitious works played beautifully (most notably John Mackey’s “A Hymn to a Blue Hour”) with a bit of pops thrown in (Sammy Cahn’s “Come Fly with Me”) to lighten the mood and get the audience smiling and swaying in their seats.

The concert program noted that in addition to having an impact on four high school bands (St. Laurence, Brother Rice, Leo and Little Flower), Henning’s work touched 20 elementary school bands, including St. Patricia in Hickory Hills and St. Catherine, St. Gerald, St. Linus, St. Germaine and St. Louis de Montfort in Oak Lawn. He started band programs at six grade schools, including St. Germaine, St. Linus and St. Louis de Montfort.

Many of his students have gone on to careers as music teachers and bandleaders, including saxophonist Rich Daniels, who founded the famous City Lights Orchestra more than 40 years ago. Daniels was a featured soloist at the farewell concert.

In advance of the emotional sendoff, a number of Henning’s former students sent him messages of gratitude.
Several agreed to share excerpts with The Reporter.

“In hindsight, it may not have been the wisest of decisions to hand a box of spray paint to a trombone player who spent three years perfecting your caricature,” wrote Rich Bird, an editor with Crain Communications who grew up in Evergreen Park and is a 1990 graduate of Brother Rice High School. “Likewise, the passing years have led me to conclude that painting your mug on the 50-yard line of the St. Laurence practice field, for all the summer band kids to trample on, may not have come across as an expression of respect. Though it should.

“You exercised the patience of a saint,” Bird continued. “You didn’t hand me anything that wasn’t deserved. You encouraged me to reach for more. And you were the first guy to throw the word 'leadership' in my face. I spent the last 25 years working to live up to it. Thanks for everything and congratulations on an amazing career.”

Cathy Claussen Dewes, a 1991 Queen of Peace graduate who lived in Oak Lawn during her high school years, echoed the sentiment.

“Music has been such a big part of my life, all of my life. But the best and most influential years by far were the four years I spent in the St. Laurence band,” she wrote to Henning. “You and Mr. Leo Henning pushed us to achieve things that I never thought were possible. We were always challenged to work hard, to keep improving, to persevere, and to achieve our goals.

“All of the practices, the band camps, the concerts, the was what I lived for,” she continued. “It was hard work, but I loved every minute of it. You were never concerned with how we placed in a competition. Your biggest concern was that we kept improving, so that each performance was better than the last. You taught us to compete with ourselves and to never accept mediocrity.

“The work ethic and the lessons that I learned in band have transferred to every aspect of my life, both personally and professionally,” she concluded. “You and your dad have left a tremendous legacy, and I was extremely fortunate to have been a part of it.”

Colleen McCoy-Cejka was a Queen of Peace student living in Oak Lawn when she first encountered Henning.

“I am grateful to have been part of your program for so many reasons,” she wrote. “You taught me music and marching and leadership, but I think most of all what I learned…was that high expectations are non-negotiable. What you accomplished with your students year after year is a result of your gift for being visionary and believing in others. Thank you for doing that for us and for teaching me so I could do the same for others.

“I am grateful for the experiences your program gave me,” she added. “I learned to win and lose, to be proud and to be humble, to work hard and have fun at the same time. I traveled to Ireland and Phoenix and all over the cornfields of the Midwest. Until I started traveling with students myself as a teacher, I had no idea how brave (crazy?) you were to travel with such large groups of kids year after year. Thank you so much for having the courage (or high level of insanity) to give us the gift of travel together!”

Today, McCoy-Cejka serves as assistant superintendent of Catholic schools in the Diocese of Phoenix.

A video of the concert is in editing and will be posted in the weeks ahead, according to a spokesperson for St. Laurence High School.


Wiener take all

  • Written by Michael Gilbert

  A.J. Pasek certainly didn’t dog it after he tasked himself to come up with a new attraction for Palos Hills’ Friendship Fest.

In fact, Pasek’s idea is one he hopes many fest-goers will surely relish.
  The longtime third-ward alderman told members of the city council on June 18 of his hope to incorporate a hot dog-eating contest into the annual fest, which will take place from next Thursday through June 12 at 107th Street and 88th Avenue.
After the idea was well received by the council – aldermen Pauline Stratton and Michael Lebarre both publicly Page-1-or-jump-page-hot-dogPalos Hills Alderman A.J. Pasek is the force behind a hot dog eating contest to take place at Friendship Fest. Photo by Jeff Vorva.supported it – Pasek said he would reach out to Durbin’s to gauge their interest in sponsoring the competition. A few days later, Pasek said Durbin’s was on board with cooking and delivering the dogs to the fest.
Contestants will have 10 minutes to eat a maximum of 25 hot dogs, with the first to do so receiving a $50 cash prize, Pasek said. Medals will also be awarded to the top three finishers. If no one is able to eat all 25 dogs in 10 minutes, the person who has consumed the most will be declared the winner.  kkkkkkkkk
“This will be fast and exciting,” Pasek said. “Hopefully it will become an annual event. I think it will be a great addition to Friendship Fest.”
He thinks enough contestants will want to wolf down the hot dogs for money and fame.
“I’m thinking there is going to be 10 or 20 people who are going to come out of the woodwork and want to compete to be our first hot dog-eating contest winner,” Pasek told the council. “I know it seems funny, but you will see there are people that are going to take this dead serious because they are hot dog-eating champions, or at least they think they are.”  
The contest, which will take place at 7 p.m. on July 12, will be capped at a maximum of 20 contestants, Pasek said. Information on signing up will be available near the beer tent once the festival opens on Thursday. An entrance fee of $15 will be collected to cover the cost of the dogs.
All participants must sign a waiver releasing the city of any liability should an injury occur during the competition, Pasek said.
As he would like this to turn into a fundrasier for the city, Pasek said he is trying to find a company or two to donate the hot dogs and buns but said if that does not happen he would make up the difference between the entrance fee and the cost of dogs and condiments.
Pasek said the idea for the contest came to him last month while he was watching the Food Network and a discussion on the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest came up. That contest is held annually in Coney Island on the Fourth of July and since 2003 has been broadcast live on ESPN.
“I thought if they can do it [in Coney Island] we can do it here in Palos Hills,” Pasek said. “I’m always thinking of ways to help the city and the Friendship Fest become more successful, and I think this would be pretty cool.”