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2015 leaves us with noise, selfies and drones

  • Written by Joe Boyle

 

Another year has passed and another one will arrive at midnight. The year 2015 will make way for 2016. And what does that really mean? Well, 12 months have passed and in that time a lot has happened.

But trying to recall all it can be difficult. Yes, I can remember the endless shootings that have resulted in needless deaths. That makes up most of the major headlines during the year. It was a year of storms, politically and due to the weather.

A lot of people seemed angry, or at least they gave the impression they were. With smartphones, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc., we can be in constant communication with someone. That means a lot of people were sounding off about how Black Lives Matter, All Lives Matter and 16 shots. Of course, people also comment on Charlie Sheen, Steve Harvey and Adele.

Of course, there is also Kim Kardashian. Her contribution to society is to continue sending out photos of herself. Kardashian not only posted photos of her face but her backside as well. Welcome to 2015, where people can shout, tweet their indignations and also provide us with plenty of narcissism.

During the course of the year, strange occurrences happen. Let’s take the weather, for instance. For the past month up until Monday, we have not seen any snow. We did have a minor snowstorm before Thanksgiving that resulted in about six inches of the white stuff in the southwest suburbs. But that quickly melted and the temperatures have been in the 40’s and 50’s throughout December.

The mild temperatures were welcome but they were accompanied by dark clouds that seemingly would cross the sky at a rapid pace. That would result in some heavy rain or mist. It was not a White Christmas but the weather was eerie. The cold weather took a vacation in December, along with the sun.

Most of the East Coast has also had mild temperatures. Buffalo, which usually has snowstorms in November, just recently had their first snow. But the weather has played havoc in Texas and Oklahoma. Major tornadoes have ravaged parts of Texas near Dallas. I was flipping through my remote Saturday afternoon and paused for a few minutes to watch the Sun Bowl, which was played in El Paso, Texas. However, there was no sun to be found. Snow was falling heavily throughout the game. It was a strange sight.

However, if you turn back the clock to last January, we were dealing with a near record-breaking cold wave. Temperatures were below zero for most of the month. As far as spring, it never really arrived. The cold winter was followed by some spring snow, rain and more rain. And it was cold. Temperatures seemed to get better in July and the fall had warmer than usual temperatures.

Perhaps we will be jolted by more cold temperatures in January. The temperatures were mostly mild in December 2014. So, I guess we will just have to see.

In most of these years in reviews, there is always a story on noted obituaries. On one hand it seems a little morbid but we are interested to see some famous names that have left us. When the subject is brought up at the end of the year, I can’t really remember. The most recent names come to mind. I heard that Meadowlark Lemon, the clown prince for the Harlem Globetrotters basketball team for years, died Sunday. I haven’t followed the Harlem Globetrotters much lately but I knew that Lemon was long retired. Dave Henderson, a stylish slugging outfielder for the Oakland A’s and Boston Red Sox, died Sunday at age 57.

However, during the course of a year, the names escape me. I had to look them up. The list includes actors Omar Shariff, Marjorie Lord, Robert Loggia, Leonard Nimoy, Maureen O’Hara, Anne Meara, Rod Taylor and Donna Douglas, who played Elly May Clampett on “The Beverly Hillbillies.”

Scott Weiland, frontman for the Stone Temple Pilots, also died in 2015. He was joined by country singer Lynn Anderson, who sang “Rose Garden.” ESPN anchor Stuart Scott succumbed to cancer. The woman once known as Cynthia Lennon also died. She was John Lennon’s first wife.

Besides Lemon and Henderson, Cubs Hall of Famer Ernie Banks and White Sox legend Minnie Minoso also died in 2015. And we can’t forget New York Yankee great Yogi Berra.

As the year quickly comes to an end, we are apparently being invaded by drones. With little regulation over the use of them, these flying contraptions have been falling out of the sky of late, almost injuring a skier while dropping on a jogger. Two tourists were also being detained after flying a drone over the Vatican recently.

So, be careful out there. Have a safe and Happy New Year.

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. .

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.