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The Regional looks back

2015 saw the opening of the Cal-Sag Trail, the unveiling of the Sporting Life in Palos Heights mural, the adoption of the Harlem Avenue Overlay District and the groundbreaking for the reconstruction of the Palos Heights Recreation Center.

But the news with the biggest implications for the economic and demographic future of The Regional News’ coverage territory was made by the village that had been a relatively sleepy place for news the year before aside from the celebration of its centennial – Palos Park.

Westward expansion

The Palos-Orland story of the year 2015 came out of Palos Park last August when Mayor John Mahoney dropped the bombshell that Cog Hill, Gleneagles and the Mid-Iron golf courses and parcels connecting them could be annexed into Palos Park in early 2016.

And the war came: That same night, Lemont Mayor Brian Reaves promised an overflow crowd at his Village Board meeting that he would work to prevent Palos Park from annexing four properties totaling 1,400 acres of unincorporated Cook County land.

In the months since, Palos Park appears to be winning the battle after both the village and the Cook County Forest Preserve District approved the annexation agreement that puts Palos Park contiguous to all three gold courses and the Ludwigs Feed Store parcel. The best case legally to be made for Palos Park is that the owners of all four parcels want to be annexed into that village, not into Lemont, and each have submitted annexation petitions to Palos Park.

Mahoney has said the annexations could be completed by spring 2016, a few months away. Cog Hill Golf & Country Club was home to the PGA’s Western Open from 1991 to 2006. It and the other three parcels would add a huge boon to Palos Park’s real estate tax base and potential for residential and commercial development that would further grow the village’s revenue stream. Plus it would give Palos Park bragging rights to Golf Capital of the World: Cog Hill and Gleneagles have a combined six, 18-hole golf courses, according to Mahoney.

Harlem Avenue destiny

Palos Heights in September established the Harlem Avenue Overlay District, years in the making. The new rules lay the groundwork for mixed-use, pedestrian friendly commercial and residential developments the length of the Harlem corridor through Palos Heights from the Cal-Sag Channel to 128th Street. Michael Coogan of Brigid Capital’s transformation of the old Ben Franklin into Palos Place, completed in 2015, with its residences above stores and offices, is a real-life model of the future envisioned by the new overlay rules.

The same week Palos Heights established the Harlem Avenue Overlay District, a small group of retailers formed the Harlem Avenue Association in an effort to promote retail. The brainchild of Diane Goerg, owner of Diane’s Place, a restaurant and ice cream shop in Palos Place, the group organized the first Holidays on Harlem event held in conjunction with the Palos Area Chamber of Commerce, city and fire district’s tree-lighting celebration on Dec. 4.

Search The Regional archives

The Palos-Orland area’s history is now more accessible than ever at the Palos Heights Public Library, we learned in January.

Almost every edition of The Regional News, from its founding in 1941 to mid-2012, is now available in digital format online at the library, 12501 S. 71st Ave. The collection is available at a computer terminal in the library that has Internet access. The move is a major step forward from the rolls of microfilm that researchers and others had to scroll through in years past, then Administrative Librarian Elaine Savage noted. The initial cost was $9,500.

Strawberry Fields whenever

          The Regional last January profiled Palos Heights resident Mary E. Matury Gibson, a nurse who sings in her church choir, and her published memoir, “Remembering Strawberry Fields.” She grew up on a little farm—16 acres—near Lowell, Ind., the daughter of Italian immigrants. Her book is now at local libraries and Gibson made the rounds of local book signings and talks to community groups. Her coming of age story is a bitter-sweet tale of triumphs, hurts and tragedies filled with the characters she grew up with.

Tragic end to search

Authorities found the body of John Cunningham Jr. in January, long after he walked away from his parents’ home—near 104th Avenue and McCarthy Road—on Oct. 30, barefoot and wearing only a gray T-shirt and black sweatpants, and without his wallet or cell phone, according to police.

His body was discovered in a frozen detention pond by a group of youths playing hockey in the 12700 block of Misty Harbour Lane shortly before 4:30 p.m. Sunday —about a mile southwest of the Cunninghams’ home.

Sentenced for theft

Former Palos Heights Fire Protection District administrative assistant Michelle Sopko, 46, of Oak Forest, was sentenced in March to eight years in prison after she admitted stealing more than $350,000 from the fire district. Sopko pleaded guilty to a single count of theft of government property valued at more than $100,000 in an agreement with prosecutors and approved by Circuit Court Judge John Hynes,

She had been arrested in December 2013 after an investigation by the Cook County Sheriff’s Financial Crimes Unit and the Palos Heights Police Department.

Massage arrests

A Palos Heights police joint investigation with the Cook County Sheriff’s Police Vice Unit resulted in three arrests and charges–one relating to alleged prostitution and two relating to allegedly performing massages without licenses–at businesses in Palos Heights.

Two women were taken into custody by the Cook County Sheriff’s Police on Feb. 11 at a business in the 7200 block of West 127th Street, police announced in March. Both were charged with violations of the Massage License Act for performing massages without proper license after undercover officers performed multiple checks of the business throughout the investigation, according to a Palos Heights Police Department press release.

A third woman was taken into custody by Sheriff’s officers at a business in the 7000 block of West 127th Street on Feb. 18. She was charged with two counts of prostitution.

More than a week before the arrests, Palos Heights resident Kathy Lovitt and a local business owner blew the whistle on what they said were three local massage establishments essentially acting as fronts for prostitution.

Reign of excellence

Elaine Savage, the woman who brought the Palos Heights Public Library into the 21st century—literally and figuratively—wrote the final page of the final chapter of her 27 years at the cherished institution when she retired last spring.

“This is a good place, a genuine community center,” Elaine Savage said in a Page One story in The Regional at the library, 12501 S. 71st Ave. “We’ve worked to make it that, and I think we have succeeded.

Editor Jack Murray’s editorial commended her for her years of hard work, and dedication, not only to the library, but the broader community of Palos Heights through her involvement with the Chamber of Commerce and support for the woman’s club, League of Women Voters and other civic groups.

 

Good night for McLaughlin

The biggest winner in last April’s election was not even on the ballot.

Candidates backed by Orland Park Mayor Daniel McLaughlin and his political organization swept to victory in school board races, as well as the heart of his turf, the Orland Park Village Board, in the April election.

Longtime Trustee Edward G. Schussler—a man with 17 years of service on the board and a political pedigree that includes being a former acting mayor and the descendant of two other mayors—was dislodged by McLaughlin’s First Orland Party slate.

With all 50 precincts reporting, incumbents Carole Griffin Ruzich and Patricia A. Gira led with 3,387 (27.54 percent) and 3,357 votes (27.3 percent), respectively. Newcomer Michael F. Carroll grabbed the final slot, with 2,897 (23.56 percent) tallies, and Schussler was stuck at the bottom with 2,656 (21.6 percent).

Tuesday’s result was quite a difference for Schussler from four years ago when he was the top vote getter in the April 2011 election that saw a nine-way race for three slots. In that election he ran on the same ticket with Gira and Ruzich under the Orland Park United banner backed by McLaughlin.

District 230 battle

Voters settled things in High School District 230, re-electing Board President Rick Nogal and Vice President Patrick O’Sullivan, and electing Denis Ryan, the third member of their ticket, by a wide margin over four others in the April election.

          O’Sullivan led with 8,426 votes, Nogal was in second at 7,180, and Denis Ryan was firmly in third with 6,631, with all 119 precincts reporting. All three ran as a “230 United” team.

          Bringing up the rear of the race was John Thomas Donovan with 5, 217 votes, Mary Ryan Norwell with 3,565 tallies, Frank Ryan with 3,350 votes, and Wesley Boske with 1,240. Some 13,501 voters cast ballots in the race, for a 13.15 percent turnout, according to the Cook County Clerk’s Office.

 

Martyrs of genocide

Saints Joachim & Anne Armenian Apostolic Church, 12600 S. Ridgeland Ave. in Palos Heights held solemn commemorative events open to people of all faiths in remembrance of the Armenian Genocide in Turkey, 1915-1922. “When we don’t remember history, we are condemned to repeat it,” said the Rev. Fr. Tavit Boyajian, the church’s parish priest.

The church showed “The Armenian Genocide,” a PBS documentary, on April 24, before a pizza dinner and an ecumenical worship service to which the community was invited. All 1.5 million victims of the Armenian Genocide who died for their faith were canonized as saints by the church in Armenia that week.

Last Hurrah

Orland Park Trustee Edward G. Schussler’s last hurrah at Village Hall quickly became emotional as he neared the end of his remarks and reflected on his wife, Sharon, at his last Village Board meeting in May.

“It’s been a 17-year run, and I’ve enjoyed it. The only regret I have tonight is, um, that my wife couldn’t be here to, uh…” he said, pausing to hold back tears.

“It’s just hard to talk about it,” Schussler nodded, alluding to the tragedy of how his wife of 49 years suffered brain damage last December while undergoing surgery.

The packed Village Board chamber responded with an immediate standing ovation and thunderous applause, the second of the night for the veteran public servant who ran a strong re-election bid as an independent but lost in April to a candidate who ran with the support of Mayor Daniel McLaughlin and his political operation.

Methodists merge

The congregations of both Worth United Methodist Church, 7100 W 112th St., and Palos United Methodist Church, 12101 S. Harlem Ave., each voted to unite as one church body.

The union became official Sept. 1 after each flock voted Yes to the merger at both their respective Sunday morning worship services on May 3.

Worth United Methodist Church has struggled with low membership for quite some time, and Palos welcomed the Worth members with open arms. Pastor Laura Barkley said: “There was a unanimous ‘Yes’ from our congregation, followed by tears and clapping. We are thrilled to join in ministry with them.”

 

Slain man mourned

The area mourned the death of Kevin O’Malley, a 25-year-old man from Palos Park who died after he was fatally shot by an armed assailant on Chicago’s North Side.

Mr. O’Malley died on a sidewalk in the 900 block of West Oakdale, in the Lakeview neighborhood, after being shot twice in the chest at about 2 a.m. He was the second Palos Park fatally shot in Chicago in recent years. A Humboldt Park man was charged with first-degree murder and aggravated robbery in O’Malley’s death after his arrest soon after the shooting by Chicago police on a nearby CTA Brown Line train platform.

Police said the assailant robbed Mr. O’Malley of his cell phone and cash before the victim gave chase on foot. An argument and struggle ensued before Pitts shot him twice with a small silver revolver, prosecutors said. CTA security video captured images of Pitts fleeing the scene and climbing onto the train platform. Prosecutors added that when Pitts was apprehended, he was wearing only one shoe and that his other shoe was found at the scene of the shooting.

Trail runs through Palos

More than a dozen government officials and Friends of the Cal-Sag Trail joined with hundreds of others in June to mark the opening and cut the ribbon on the western leg of the new Cal-Sag Trail at Lake Katherine in Palos Heights.

The trail, years in the planning and making, runs between Lemont and Cicero Avenue in Alsip. From there, the eastern stretch will run to Burnham, almost the Indiana border.

Sporting Life lives

The unveiling of the Sporting Life in Palos Heights mural in October beautified the “ugliest wall in town” thanks to a project of the Palos Heights Public Arts Commission.

The south wall of the public works building, just south of City Hall, 7607 W. College Drive, is adorned with a five-panel work of art that the Regional highly praised in an editorial of congratulations to commissioners and the city.

Designed by Chicago fine artist and illustrator David R. Becker, the mural depicts silhouetted athletes competing in baseball/softball, running, swimming, soccer and enjoying bicycling. It fits in well with its surroundings because the wall faces a parking lot that serves the public pool, baseball/softball diamonds and the 34-acre Community Park, Arts Commission member Maria DeCaprio-Sunta noted.

A time to mourn

Mary L. Johnson, of Palos Heights, the head of public services in the Adult Services Department of the Palos Heights Public Library, died June 16 at the Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood. She was 63.

A beloved figure at the library, Mrs. Johnson worked there for more than 20 years and most recently also served as co-interim head of the library, after the retirement of Elaine Savage earlier this spring. Before joining the Palos Heights Public Library in 1995, she served as a librarian in Palos School District 118.

“Mary had the greatest smile and the warmest personality,” said Palos Heights Public Library Circulation Manager Karen Skocik, a 20-year colleague and best friend of Mrs. Johnson. “People looked forward to seeing her every day. In fact, one of our patrons described her as ‘the lady with the million-dollar smile.’”

Looking forward

Palos Heights Public Library Director Jesse Blazek took up his duties before a reception welcomed him in September. He is no stranger to books, libraries, research — or the volleyball court. At one time in his wide and varied career, Blazek, who holds two master’s degrees, was the assistant coach for the women’s volleyball team at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa., an NCAA Division I school.

He played in college as a starter on the men’s volleyball team at Eckerd College, a liberal arts college in St. Petersburg, Fla. His team won the NIRSA national championship in 2000. Blazek took up his new duties as Palos Heights’ new library director on July 27. The high quality of the library staff is what struck him most about his new post in Palos Heights after completing his first week in Elaine Savage’s old office at the library’s helm.

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