No one was there to ask Gerri Neylon for her autograph.
They weren’t waiting in line for hours to say “hello’’ or “great job’’ to her.
There were no TV cameras pointed at her or media types asking her if she thinks she is bigger than the Beatles.
No, on this Dec. 4 night on the opposite side of the room, all of that attention and adulation went to Bears legend Mike Ditka. The former tight end and coach was at Binny’s Beverage Depot in Evergreen Park to sign autographs for a couple of hours after he and EP Mayor Jim Sexton sliced a red ribbon with a pair of hedge clippers during the store’s grand opening.
Ditka was the man of the hour and there was no doubt about that as approximately 300 people got to meet him and several people were turned away.
But I think Neylon was the woman of the hour at Binny’s even though it’s doubtful that anyone in line even knew who she was.
Not that she’s complaining. The founder of the Evergreen Park-based Christmas Without Cancer charity was thrilled that Ditka’s appearance at Binny’s benefitted her organization. Between a $10,000 check from Binny’s and $4,695 raised in signatures, Christmas Without Cancer came away with close to a $15,000 payday.
The charity is in its 10th year. It will help seven families during the 2013 holiday season including families from Evergreen Park, Hickory Hills and Oak Lawn, giving them gift cards for gas, groceries and medications and provides emotional support, home repairs and car repairs.
“Never in a million years did I ever think this would take off like this,” Neylon said.
Neylon is a longtime Oncology nurse at Christ Hospital who had her heart aching and breaking in 2003 from one woman’s plight.
“I had a young patient in her 20s who was married and expecting her first baby and she was diagnosed with a lung sarcoma, and right before the holidays she found that the cancer was going to her brain,” Neylon said. “She was very devastated. So was her husband.
“I just felt like I had to do something for her. I called a few friends and in a matter of days we had two or three vans full of stuff for the family. She passed away that June. The following months, her family called and said ‘let’s keep this up.’ We would help a family a year but then it caught on. This community is awesome. I’ve had many gifts from God. It has taken on a life of its own.”
The group had several fundraisers throughout the year netting more than $20,000.
The Ditka/Binny’s bonanza was a surprise treat for the organization.
“This is a first,” Neylon said. “We’re so honored that Binny’s partnered with us and that Mike Ditka is here. But the community’s outpouring and generosity is what impresses me the most.
“It inspires me to help even more people. It really does.’’
10K race added in Palos Heights
As if hosting a half marathon isn’t enough, officials in Palos Heights have doubled their pleasure and have added another race on May 4.
The First Midwest Bank Half Marathon will now be known as the First Midwest Bank Half Marathon and 10K. Race directors Jeff Prestinario and Mel Diab said they consulted with their committees and think the new race will attract more runners to the event. Last year, it drew about 2,000 athletes — many from around the area.
Committee meetings start in January for the race and we will bring readers updates on the plans for the race as they unfold in the coming months.
Toyota needs turf
Last week, I wrote about Toyota Park in Bridgeview falling short on a bid to host the Illinois High School Association and, instead, it went to Huskie Stadium in DeKalb for every odd year until 2021. It will continue to be held at Memorial Stadium in Champaign through 2020.
IHSA Official Matt Troha said a criteria the state was looking for in a hosting stadium was artificial turf and Toyota Park still has natural grass.
The Bridgeview facility still has a few years to make itself fake if it wants to get in on the action.
Don it, it was the wrong Pratl
Haste makes waste and last week the Reporter editor, whomever that is, needed to find a quick photo for a page 3 story as deadline was drawing dangerously close. So, he found a photo that said “Pratl” on it and ran it, identifying the man as Don Pratl.
It was the wrong Pratl. It was actually his brother, Rob, in that photo.
The correct photo of Don Pratl is here.
The kicker is that the editor, whomever that is, went to Lewis University with Don. Even then, Don was looking to get involved and make changes as he was the school’s student government president back in the early 80s.