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Christmas charity can be discovered in any home

  • Written by Claudia Parker

Claudia-NEW

(This column originally appeared in the Inside Oak Lawn Magazine in December of 2013)

Have you heard the cliche, go along, to get along? That’s exactly what I was doing back in 2002 when my then new husband, Don, told me he knew how to get where we were going.

He was right; sort of.

The street was lined with cars, Christmas decor lit the yard and the muzzled laughter followed by chatter cued us to believe we were at the right Christmas party. In hindsight, maybe we were, but it’s not where we were invited. I attempted to be discrete when I interrupted his conversation, whispering, “Let’s go! We’re at the wrong house!” but things went a little haywire when he yelled, “What? We’re in the wrong house?!”

My mother-in-law is notorious for being late. She’d invited us to accompany her to a Christmas party of an old colleague of hers. She gave us the address and told us she’d meet us there, momentarily, which meant, in an hour. I didn’t want to go in without her but Don insisted.

Upon our entrance of this extravagantly appointed home, we were greeted by a host who took our coats. I noticed him, noticing our empty hands. We explained we were guests of Ms. Parker, but she hadn’t arrived. He smiled as he gave us a tour of the main quarters. "I hope my mother-in-law has 'whatever' we were supposed to bring," I thought.

On our tour there were beautifully decorated Christmas trees in each room, holiday music playing softly and the scent of pumpkin pie, fresh yeast rolls and honey glazed ham. We were offered a plate and asked if we were hungry. “I think we should wait a bit.” I said. But not Don, “Oh yes, thank you!” he replied, as he began stacking it to resemble a small hill.

It wasn’t until he’d eaten his second plate that I finally agreed to eat. We were well into a competitive networking game when my mother-in-law called my cellphone. “Where are you?” she said. I rolled my eyes as I looked at my watch. “The second living room, near the back,” I told her. “I’m in the living room. They only have one,” she replied. “What address did you go to?”

The look on my face must have been telling. A nice gentlemen, who'd been very conversational since we arrived said, “What’s wrong dear?” I whisked passed him to get to Don. The man followed. We were totally exposed because after Don yelled, “What? …wrong house?” The man replied, “I figured this much.”

He was the owner. Polite and gracious he was, but never leaving us unattended for long. He began to explain the purpose behind the party. He and his wife were owners of an investment firm. Every year they put together a Christmas gala in their home. Guests are welcome to bring others but everyone must bring an unwrapped gift, for the Toys for Tots charity.

Now I realized why he looked disappointed after taking our coats. We didn’t bring a gift -- his only rule, broken! We apologized for the mix up, wrote him a nice check and ran for the door. The party we were invited to was at his neighbor’s, which was next door.

I believe even in mistakes, we’re perfectly placed. From that year forward, we made charitable giving a part of our lives. I learned the route you take to give isn’t what’s important, if when your gift is given, it comes from the heart. Merry Christmas!

Claudia Parker is an Evergreen Park mother, author and runner whose columns appear in The Reporter the second and fourth Thursdays of each month.

Students can succeed without federal interference

  • Written by Joe Boyle

Sometimes what appears to be a great idea results in disappointment. I was thinking about that this week with the revision of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2002.

At the time President George W. Bush signed that bill and championed its goals, it appeared to me that it had merit. The bill would place an emphasis on educators to improve the scores of grade school and high school students. After a certain time period elapsed, these educators and schools would be penalized if these students did not see improvement.

Essentially, that was the basis of the No Child Left Behind Act. The idea was to reach every child and bring their ranking up to their potential. On the surface, that all sounds great. Hold educators accountable if students are not performing up to certain standards. The bill had the majority of support in Congress.

The No Child Left Behind Act had its basis in the fact that many American students were ranking behind other nations in math and science. The new law would make certain that these educators would be required to better prepare these students in these subjects and in their classes overall, it was believed.

Again, it sounded good on the surface but the priorities behind the law became distorted over the years. The pressure for students to excel in testing under the Common Core college- and career-ready curriculum guidelines became excessive. In some instances, teachers and administrators were changing grades to reach a certain standard. If some schools did not reach those goals, it could result in less funding along with disciplinary measures.

With bipartisan support, the Senate on Dec. 9 voted 85-12 to approve legislation to rewrite the No Child Left Behind Act. President Obama signed the rewritten bill that will return power to states and local school districts to improve troubled schools. The bill will still preserve federally mandated standardized testing but without the penalties for states and districts that perform poorly.

The new version is called Every Student Succeeds Act. The bill also prevents the government from certain requirements like the Common Core.

The problem was that more affluent schools districts and achieving students were reaching the goals of the No Child Left Behind Act. But struggling school districts and underperforming students were under excessive pressure to test better. The problem became that there was such an emphasis on testing that some administrators, teachers and the students lost sight of learning. They were just memorizing how to best perform for these required tests.

While students from all walks of life will be better equipped to deal with a more technological world with improved math and science skills, not everyone is alike. While tests and quizzes are a barometer for learning, it’s not the only way to rate a student’s intelligence. Math and science scores need to improve in U.S. classes. But not everyone is going to excel in these subjects. To apply the same standard to everyone will result in some students withdrawing.

Not all students who score well in math and science perform as well in English. Reading skills are of vital importance for students. The goal of teachers is to get the best out of each student. Memorizing federally-mandated exams are not the answer.

Some of the complaints I heard about students in the early 2000s is that they were lazy or that many teachers are unqualified. I believe there are excellent teachers out there while there is a minority that do not push themselves. But from what I have seen, most teachers are dedicated and put in long hours to help students. So, I never bought into the fact that there are too many bad teachers.

I recall reading that students who were failing in math and science have to be in school longer and recess is not necessary. They should be learning, not playing, the critics of modern education insisted. Sime private schools did not have designated recesses. However, many of them do. We have since learned that there is a definite correlation between exercise and education.

Obesity has risen among students in this century. While poverty and ignorance are often the culprits, having students sitting at desks all morning and afternoon is not conducive to learning. Play time for kids will actually help stimulate learning.

I believe that new law will be beneficial. Instead of grouping kids like cattle and making them learn under one standard, let’s reach all students. Kids, like adults, are not all the same. Let’s let them reach their potential and not prescribe to a federally-mandated standard.

Joe Boyle is the editor of The Reporter. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Lost dog is found with help from some 'Good Shepherds'

  • Written by Claudia Parker

Claudia-NEW

Can you remember the last time you lost something? I’m not talking about the remote control or your keys. I’m talking about “the can’t eat, sleep, or think until I find it” kind of lost. In this case, it wasn’t an “it” at all, it was Demon, my Uncle Charles’s dog.

This occurred in December, three years ago in Terre Haute, Ind. They had been having unpredictable, global warming type weather, where tornado-like winds had knocked a portion of his fence down. Demon, who got his name from his mischievous behavior, leaped to the streets like a wild horse in an open field.

Uncle Charles took off to find him, initially, angered by his rebellion. But his emotions took a drastic turn just as suddenly as the weather. What was once high winds had shifted to freezing rain. Night faded into morning. Not a sign of Demon anywhere.

This feeling was familiar to Uncle Charles. He had experienced two prior situations where his dogs had run off. In both instances, those dogs, Honey and Brownie, had been struck by cars. His worry swirled his thoughts like a hurricane. After almost two days, he had just about given up. “Lord, even if you don’t bring 'em back, can you just keep 'em safe? Send 'em to a good home where he’ll be cared for,” he prayed. Feeling as though he had no choice, he let go.

Ivy, a family friend, didn’t have a choice, either. It was Ivy’s second time having to use Uncle Charles’s phone. The high winds knocked out her power and not even her cellphone was getting reception. She had seen the somber look upon Uncle Charles’s face. She felt bad for the fella. That’s why that morning, after reading her morning paper, she was in good spirits about needing to use his phone again.

“You’ve gotta see this article. This has got to be about Demon,” she told my Aunt Andrea, Uncle Charles’s wife, while flipping to the ad section.

The title of the ad read, “Family Hoping Dog Can Be Found for Christmas.” The ad went further to describe the dog, where it was found and their contact information.

Turns out, a 13-year old boy with a big heart saw him. He was sitting under a tree with icicles in his fur, looking totally exhausted. Together, this boy and his family expressed a love for Demon you don’t hear about often. They took in this scary, old, matted-haired, droopy-eyed dog and nourished him. They fed him, bathed him and brushed his teeth. They even found him an old collar worn by their previous dog.

Being dog owners themselves, they knew Demon’s owner must be stewing. They went a step further and placed an ad in the paper. The reunion was nothing other than a Christmas miracle.

This family was being a good shepherd looking after the lost. The parable of the Lost Sheep describes how a shepherd leaves his flock of 99 to search for the one that was lost. There are so many lost souls in this world. If only we were all like this family that found Demon. Willing to put fear aside and love someone back to life. I’m sure we all know someone who may be in a vulnerable place. Let’s go after them. Let us nourish them with fellowship and prayer. Let us bathe them with loving words.

My favorite book says, “I tell you that even so there will be more joy in heaven over the one sinner who repents, than over the ninety-nine righteous that needs no repentance.”     Luke 15: 7

Claudia Parker is an Evergreen Park mother, author and runner whose columns appear in The Reporter the second and fourth Thursdays of each month.

 

Evergreen Park, Oak Lawn in good health

  • Written by Joe Boyle

Serving as mayor, or village president, of a southwest suburban municipality is a daunting task these days. Not only do these mayors have to balance a strained budget, but they are left sitting on the sidelines while the budget impasse in Springfield drags on and on.

And not much was going to come from a meeting between Gov. Rauner, House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-22nd) and other legislators on Tuesday. The southwest suburban mayors are resigned to the fact that this tug-of-war is going to continue into the new year.

I thought about all that while working on a story this week on a healthy competition between Evergreen Park and Oak Lawn in terms of attracting big box stores, retailers and other assorted businesses. Evergreen Park Mayor James Sexton admitted he would like to draw more businesses from other suburbs, including Oak Lawn.

While Sexton and Oak Lawn Mayor Sandra Bury are often competing to land businesses for their communities, both officials have one common goal: they want the best for their southwest suburban towns.

Sexton reminisced recently about the demise of The Plaza, once known as the Evergreen Plaza and a model for malls across America. Sexton was given the first opportunity to strike the first blow with a sledgehammer on the old Montgomery Ward building to begin the demolition of The Plaza. He enjoyed the photo-op but admitted that it was also a sad day, an end of an era.

But since Sexton is the mayor of Evergreen Park, he can’t afford to get too wrapped up in nostalgia. That’s why he also quickly mentions that a new era has arrived in Evergreen Park. The Evergreen Marketplace is going to replace the old Plaza. The Plaza had over 120 stores in its prime. The Marketplace will be closer to 95th and Western and will draw a variety of well-known stores. The Marketplace will have anywhere from 25 to 40 stores.

Evergreen Park already has a Mariano’s and a Wal-Mart. A drive north on Western Avenue shows mores businesses where the Evergreen Park golf course used to be. Both Sexton and Bury have had to adapt following a brutal recession that began at the end of 2007 and is beginning to finally subside. However, that does not mean everyone has found work. Many people who have been laid off are working for less money or juggling a couple of part-time jobs.

This is what Sexton and Bury have to deal with. But both mayors refuse to sit on the sidelines. They have been instrumental in helping to draw new businesses to their communities. Both mayors have been assisted by efficient staffs who have worked hard over the years to convince developers that Evergreen Park and Oak Lawn are viable communities.

One thing I have discovered over the years is that having similar businesses in a community encourages more businesses to enter the arena. That’s why this healthy competition is just that. Sexton said that while he may lose out on one business that prefers Oak Lawn, this opens the door for other retailers.

In a story that appears in this edition, Bury said that when Evergreen Park does well, Oak Lawn does well. I believe that is true. If a neighboring community is mired in economic difficulties, it can cause a chain reaction. Boarded-up businesses can damage the quality of schools and a rising crime rate often follows. That can cross over into neighboring towns. It is much better to have strong business communities. This, in turn, attracts developers who normally may have been eyeing more affluent communities.

The positive aspect of having a healthy competition for retailers and restaurants is that both municipalities develop a reputation that they are business-friendly. And this does have a direct effect on schools, neighborhoods and crime.

Hey, let’s be honest here. Life is far from perfect in Evergreen Park and Oak Lawn. While there has been an increase in businesses, there are empty storefronts. But that does not make Evergreen Park and Oak Lawn much different than other suburban communities.

The Stony Creek Promenade District at 111th and Cicero in Oak Lawn has drawn Mariano’s and Cooper’s Hawk Winery and Restaurant. Suddenly, a once lifeless corner that featured a dated Kmart has more appeal.

Yes, not everyone is delighted with every aspect of the project. Flap-jacks, the popular breakfast spot known for its omelettes, found a new home where the Top Notch restaurant was located at 95th and Cicero. Many people were angry when the plans for the Stony Creek Promenade were made because that meant Flap-jacks would have to move. But the owners are happy at their new location.

But if you also look down 95th Street, a variety of restaurants ranging from Chipotle to Lucky Burrito can be found. In the regard, Evergreen Park and Oak Lawn are on the right track. Maybe they can teach some legislators in Springfield about efficiency.

A Thanksgiving tale featuring Jack and Rosie

  • Written by Joe Boyle

 

We often hear that Thanksgiving gets lost between bags of candy collected at Halloween and wrapping presents for Christmas.

Well, this is a Thanksgiving tale.

Let me introduce you to my Uncle Jack. Jackie Lynn was a fun-loving and sometimes sarcastic individual. He was the younger brother of my mother. He was a free spirit who did not suffer fools lightly. But he was loyal and hard-working. He liked to have a good time, and my early memories of him consisted of playing games and wrestling on the floor.

He was born in Chicago but moved to Ireland with some other family members after the death of a grandmother I never knew. He returned to the U.S. and did a stint in the U.S. Navy. Jack was proud and often stubborn. He told me that while In Ireland he left school after an argument with his grade-school teacher .

Jack never went back. His education was the school of hard knocks, which involved a series of delivery jobs during the 1960s and the early 1970s. I would work part-time during summers with my uncle during this period, helping deliver Borden's Milk and later Jays Potato Chips. Our days were spent talking about some of our eccentric relatives and baseball.

I should point out that Jack taught me to drive.

“You should have seen the look on the face of the lad,” Jack laughed when describing my driving technique to my father. However, my dad did not share my uncle's enthusiasm

My dad was angry because my first driving lesson came as a 4-year-old. Jack, knowing my love of cars, decided to plop me in his lap and let me take over the steering through the side streets of Chicago's Roseland neighborhood.

“He was smiling ear to ear,” added Jack. My father was not impressed at the time, but laughed about it often in future years.

And now for that Thanksgiving tale. We invited Jack and his family over for Thanksgiving during the late 1960s. I should mention that Jack loved animals. Going to his home was a like a visit to Brookfield Zoo. A couple of dogs, parakeets and even a parrot could be found wandering around his residence.

So, it was not surprising that Jack brought a pet along with his family to our Thanksgiving event. Her name was Rosie. But Rosie was not a dog or a cat, a parakeet or a parrot.

Rosie was a monkey.

She was the type of monkey that would be seen perched on the shoulder of organ grinders. Rosie arrived in a cage, but wasn't there for long. Jack, a big kid at heart, let her out to frolic around the house.

I just remember the monkey did not have the greatest disposition. I believe it nipped at me a couple of times. She would do that with Jack but that did not bother him. He would only laugh and continue to play with Rosie.

While we digested our meal and dessert, Rosie became the focus of our attention. But to make the evening memorable, somebody opened the front door. Rosie made a quick exit, running down the street.

The monkey was quickly followed by Jack, who got to Rosie before she climbed a tree in the middle of the block. I don't remember any neighbors peering out of their windows. Maybe they became used to the antics from the Boyle household.

Jack is no longer with us but these memories are always shared at this time of the year. Jack, and even Rosie, reminds us that Thanksgiving is sharing good times with turkey and all the trimmings.

Maybe it's not a Norman Rockwell moment but this is my Thanksgiving tale.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

Joe Boyle is the editor of The Reporter. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .