Construction underway for Hickory Hills park district projects

  • Written by Joe Boyle

splash pad photo 10-6

Photo by Joe Boyle

The splash pad at Kasey Meadow Park in Hickory Hills has been dug up and will be replaced by a new concrete surface after state grant restrictions were lifted following Gov. Rauner signing a bill this summer.


The stopgap budget that was signed by Gov. Bruce Rauner in July provides a reprieve for a variety of state institutions until January when legislators have to come up with an agreement to avert another shutdown.

However, Jennifer Fullerton, executive director of the Hickory Hills Park District, is concerned with the present. With the governor’s signature in July, funding for a series of projects that had been suspended for the Kasey Meadow Park District is being worked on again.

During the budget stalemate, Rauner had frozen grant money for park district projects in January 2015. Park district officials from across the state lobbied Springfield by writing, calling and visiting with elected officials to pressure them to reverse the governor’s decision.

Fullerton was one of those park district officials who wrote letters to the governor. Rauner signed into law a stopgap budget that would free up to $26 million in grant funding for 75 projects across the state. The money is part of the state’s Open Space Land and Acquisition and Development (OSLAD) program.

The Hickory Hills Park District director said that when the governor froze the grant funding, it prevented construction of playground equipment in March 2015. The Hickory Hills Park District playground and splash pad equipment that was supposed to be sent on three semi-trucks for construction of the Kasey Meadow Park OSLAD project had to be sent elsewhere. Before the governor signed the bill this summer, the equipment had to be stored on a farm in Central Illinois but was still in the elements and often facing bad weather.

But in the last week, the splash pad has been dug up to install new concrete for a complete upgrade. Dirt has already been dug up to install a walkway surrounding the baseball fields and softball fields. An area that will be set aside to allow the disabled or people who lack mobility an opportunity sit safely to watch ballgames.

An outdoor fitness station will also be constructed in a location near 91st Street and 82nd Avenue.

“We didn’t want to put in the outdoor fitness station along with the walking path because people have told us they didn’t want to stop while they are walking,” said Fullerton. “They wanted an area where they could have for just working out. So that’s why we set it up this way.”

But the fact that ground is being dug up for the walkway and outdoor fitness station pleases Fulllerton. An upgrade for the new splash pad was necessary because of the budget stalemate, said Fullerton.

In the letter she had addressed to the governor in October 2015, Fullerton told him that she worried every day what was going to happen to the equipment for Kasey Meadow Park if a state budget is not passed.

“There is $400,000 of equipment just sitting on this farm because that is the only type of storage that we could afford,” wrote Fullerton.

Fullerton received the good news after the bill was signed in a letter from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, stating that the restrictions on funding have been lifted. She said that the Hickory Hills Park District will be receiving $390,000 from the IDR for the overall $908,000 project.

“Without the funding it would have been really challenging,” said Fullerton. “We would have had to take out the money from our recreation department fund.”

Fullerton added that without the state grant, aging vehicles could not be replaced, along with upgrades to the playground equipment. She reminded the governor that the Hickory Hills Park District is a small park district with little funding for capital projects.

“This was the first grant the Hickory Hills Park District was awarded other than a very small joint project with the City of Hickory Hills 14 years ago,” wrote Fullerton. “We spent three years writing the grant, hosting many focus groups with the community and working with several groups of children to select the ideal playground.”

But Fullerton said the projects that have been discussed for several years will become a reality.

“We are moving right along,” she said. “It’s very exciting. We are hoping to be done by mid-November, if the weather holds up. If not, it will be completed in the spring.”

Sanguinetti tells League of Women Voters that less government is needed

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

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Photo by Dermot Connolly

As President Barbara Pasquinelli looks on, Lt. Gov. Evelyn Sanguinetti addresses the League of Women Voters of the Palos-Orland Area potluck breakfast on Saturday morning at Lake Katherine in Palos Heights.



Local government consolidation and unfunded mandates were on the menu, along with doughnuts and homemade pastries, when Lt. Governor Evelyn Sanguinetti came to the League of Women Voters of the Palos-Orland Area potluck breakfast on Saturday morning at Lake Katherine in Palos Heights.

Before addressing those topics with the group of about 50 people, Sanguinetti went to all the tables in the room, introducing herself and chatting for a few minutes.

“With this being Hispanic Heritage Month, I am happy to be here as the first elected Latina lieutenant governor, not just in Illinois, but in the country,” said the Wheaton resident.

She explained that soon after taking office with Gov. Bruce Rauner in January, 2015, she took on the role of chairman of the newly established Local Government Consolidation and Unfunded Mandates Taskforce, aimed at streamlining local government through consolidation and eliminating unnecessary state mandates

“In Wheaton, where I was on the City Council, there were 16 units of government,” she said. “That is too many, especially when you consider that most of them are taxing bodies,” she said.

Sanguinetti said Illinois currently has the most units of local government in the country — nearly 7,000, which is 1,800 more than any other state.

She said the duplication of services contributes to why Illinois residents pay some of the highest local government taxes in the nation, where Illinois ranks 10th in sales tax and second-highest property taxes.

She said another key to saving money is eliminating unnecessary unfunded mandates, those statutes or regulations requiring local governments to do something without providing funding.

“I have a problem when big government tells little government what to do, but does not provide any money to do it,” she said, explaining her opposition to them.

She said she traveled the state with the taskforce, gathering opinions from people at numerous meetings before 27 recommendations were issued last December.

“It was a bipartisan group of elected officials and local leaders from throughout the state. We needed to dispel the concern that the taskforce would just be promoting the governor’s agenda,” she said. State Sen. Martin Sandoval (D-11th) was one of the local representatives on it.

“We had a lot of thoughtful conversations,” said Sanguinetti, acknowledging that eliminating the requirement for government bodies to pay the prevailing wage was one suggestion that did not win widespread approval.

Absorbing townships into county government and consolidating school districts was also considered. But she said decisions like that would be decided on a local level. She said many communities, especially in rural areas, feel their identity will be lost if school districts are combined.

“As they say, the hardest animal to kill is the school mascot,” said Sanguinetti.

“Getting rid of my position as lieutenant governor was being considered as a cost-saving measure, and I wasn’t offended by it.” She said she did close one of her offices and now shares staff with the governor to save money.

One woman said that at least some township governments should be retained.

“I live in Orland Township,. Every township may not work well, but I think ours is a good system. They are very transparent,” she said.

“Consolidation is very personal decision,” agreed Sanguinetti, reiterating that the no statewide mandates would be issued.

One woman said that while not every township government is good, the Orland Township works well.

“I live in Orland Township. While not everyone works well, I think it is a good system. They are very transparent,” she said.

“Can this extra money we save be used for things like mental health care and other social services?” another woman asked.

“That would be certainly be possible if money becomes available. I am a product of the social service safety net, so I understand the need,” she said, explaining that her mother was 15 years old when she was born, and her family needed food stamps and other programs.

Jim Byrne, of Palos Heights, one of the few men at the gathering, asked Sanguinetti what could be done to reduce the length of political campaigns.

“This presidential campaign has been going on for 20 months now. I think it is becoming corrosive to the country,” he said. “In most countries, campaigns are limited to three months.”

Sanguinetti said she agreed in principle with Byrne, but suggested she take it up with Cong. Bobby Rush (D-1st) because it is a national issue.

“Well, it was a great turnout and I think we learned more about the lieutenant governor’s job than any of us knew before. That is the point of having these events,” said Barbara Pasquinelli, president of the Palos-Orland chapter of the League of Women Voters.

New Carson’s in Evergreen Park attracts large crowd for grand opening

  • Written by Joe Boyle

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Photo by Joe Boyle

The parking lot was filled to capacity for the grand opening on Sept. 14 of the new Carson’s at 9700 S. Western Ave. in Evergreen Park.


A slight drizzle did not deter a large crowd from showing up for the grand opening of the new Carson’s store at 9700 S. Western Ave. in Evergreen Park on the morning of Sept. 14.

In the eyes of Evergreen Park Mayor Jim Sexton, who was on hand for the ribbon-cutting and grand opening, there were just clear skies. The Evergreen Park High School Band helped to usher in a new era of Carson’s by playing as the doors opened and the crowd began to file in.

“It was a nice day and it was very, very organized,” said Sexton. “We had a little rain but it didn’t stop anything. It was a nice turnout with very nice people on hand. We are very glad that the first phase is over.”

Sexton was referring to the fact with the opening of Carson’s this is the first step in the construction process for the Evergreen Marketplace. While the grand opening proceedings were taking place, construction crews were busy at work next door to the new Carson’s on additional retail stores and restaurants.

“They want to get the old Carson’s demolished as quickly as possible for additional parking (for the new Carson’s),” said Sexton, who said that it will be needed if the crowds that gathered on the first day at the new location are any indication.

“I was telling some of the officials that the love affair with Carson’s dates back to the ‘50s. People like Carson’s and will continue to shop there,” said Sexton.

According to Christine Hojnacki, vice president for public relations for The Bon Ton Stores, Inc., which operates Carson’s, 400 people were waiting in line to enter the new Carson’s on the first day despite the rain.

“The first customer was here at 3:30 a.m.,” said Hojnacki. “A lot of people brought lawn chairs.”

The old Carson’s was still operating until the new store opened and is less than a block away facing Western Avenue. Both stores shared the same parking lot.

The two-level 119,000 square foot Carson’s reflects a new store design, which is unique to any other store in the company, according to Carson’s officials. The exterior has large open windows to allow natural light to enter. The architecture is framed with a red band, Carson’s signature color.

Customers had another incentive to attend the grand opening. The first 250 shoppers received a free gift card valued between $10 and $500. Large crowds were seen at Carson’s throughout the day. Evergreen Park police directed traffic in and out of Carson’s parking lot during the grand opening.

Store representatives said new updated merchandise, new brands and the addition of a big and tall for men and young contemporary plus sizes for women departments will be featured at Carson’s. A newly designed cosmetics session is featured on the first floor. During the grand opening, a series of complimentary consultations were offered. Desiree Rogers, CEO of Johnson Publishing and the former social secretary for President Obama, provided make up lessons for Fashion Fair Cosmetics during the grand opening.

Carson’s was also celebrating its grand opening with the company’s Goodwill Sale. Customers can bring gently used apparel donations to the store through Saturday, Oct. 1 to support Goodwill’s mission of providing job services and training in the community. Customers will in turn receive coupons and discounts.

Fashion TV personality Giuliana Rancic will appear at Carson’s from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 24 in the celebrity fragrance department.

Hojnacki said that along with name brands, items that appeal at a local level will be on sale at Carson’s. She pointed to a display on the first floor that featured products with Chicago’s Beverly neighborhood written on them, and Cubs and White Sox memorabilia.

Sexton said he was not certain when the old Carson’s, which opened as a main anchor of The Plaza in 1963, will be leveled. But he did say construction target dates for other retails shops and restaurants are on schedule.

Next door to the new Carson’s will be a DSW, a Petco, Five Below, T.J. Max, Ulta, Rally House, 365 by Whole Foods Market, Carter Oshkosh and Dress Barn. A Dick’s Sporting Goods Store will round out these series of stores.

“The response was great,” said Sexton about Carson’s first day. “I went back a couple of times and the parking lot was filled each time.”

Pat King, a resident of Chicago’s Beverly neighborhood, was pleased with what she saw of the new Carson’s.

“It’s wonderful,” said King. “We really needed this in the area. I definitely will be back.”

Ikie Jackson, of Chicago’s Auburn-Gresham neighborhood, was impressed with the new Carson’s after completing her shopping

“It’s a beautiful edifice. I really like the cosmetics session. They have large lettering that really helps us seniors,” said Jackson, 75.

And would Jackson make a return visit to Carson’s?

“Sure I will,” she said. “You can count on it.”

Palos Hills honors residents who make their property 'beautiful'

  • Written by Michael Gilbert

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Photo by Michael Gilbert

Palos Hills Mayor Gerald Bennett (left) and Ald. Marty Kleefisch pose for a photo with resident Linda Kaiser at the council meeting last Thursday. Kaiser was one of the winners of the city’s Beautification Awards contest.



A dozen years ago, Ald. Marty Kleefisch (1st Ward) was the newly appointed chairman of the Palos Hills Beautification Committee and looking for a way to entice residents to take pride in their properties and make the city more aesthetically pleasing.

The alderman created a friendly competition to honor those residences and businesses that go above and beyond the norm when it comes to landscaping and maintaining their property. Kleefisch’s idea was to start the Palos Hills Beautification Awards and 12 years later the contest is as strong as ever.

Last Thursday was the culmination of the contest with a packed house present at the city council meeting for a 20-minute ceremony to recognize the winners. Twenty-nine residences spanning all five wards as well as five businesses were honored at the meeting for having exceptionally landscaped properties. Many of the winners were in attendance at the meeting to receive their prizes – a certificate and a yard sign stating they were a winner in the contest – from Kleefisch and Mayor Gerald Bennett.

“This is one of the nicest events we hold each year because it is resident-centered and we get to honor some of our businesses as well,” Kleefisch said. “I was very pleased with the contest this year and was so happy to see a majority of the winners here.”

Bennett described last Thursday’s city council meeting as a “special night” for Palos Hills.

“We have with us tonight some very special people who did some very special things regarding the maintenance of their property,” Bennett said. “Each year this program continues to grow and as we tour our neighborhoods we can see the corporation and certainly the participation of the residents into the program to make our city beautiful.”

While the goal of the contest has remained the same these past 12 years, Kleefisch said the quality and overall beauty of the landscaping has improved.

“I think that more people are taking more pains to make their property respectable, and I think the fact that the winners put up those yard signs brings attention to the contest and it encourages people to try to get the award themselves the following year,” said Kleefisch.

For the first time in the contest’s history, a city entity was the recipient of an award. That went to the public works department who maintain city hall, the police department, city parks and the community resource building.

“(Public Works Commissioner) Dave (Weakley) and his staff have done a great job,” Kleefisch said. “Just look at how beautiful our city hall is.”

The honor was kept a secret from Weakley, who was visibly surprised when accepting the award.

“I wish I had because I would have asked the crew to come up (for the meeting),” he said. “They are the ones who truly deserve it. We appreciate it.”

The Beautification Contest is open to all single-and-multiple family residences, businesses, churches and schools, Kleefisch said. Residents have the option of nominating their own property or a neighbor’s, he said.

Members of the Palos Hills 39er’s Senior Club and the Community Resource and Recreation Department judge the contest by viewing all entries. Judging is based on the general appearance of buildings, fencing and edging as well as the overall landscaping of lawns, including any shrubs, trees and flower gardens that may be on the property.

Patient reunites with doctor, nurse she credits for saving her life

  • Written by Sharon L. Filkins

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Submitted photo

Michelle Bruno (right) thanks Dr. Theodore Toerne and nurse Margie Barry-Sheerin that she credits for saving her life for their quick actions when she arrived at Advocate Christ Hospital 10 years ago.


Advocate Christ Medical Center was the scene of a happy and tearful reunion on Aug. 23 as two medical staff members met with a woman whose life was saved by their quick actions at the hospital 10 years ago.

Michelle Bruno, 26, had tears in her eyes when she met Dr. Theodore Toerne and nurse Margie Barry-Sheerin. Bruno, who grew up in Oak Lawn, was 16 at the time and a student at Mother McAuley High School when she was taken to the hospital because she felt very ill. She credits both Toerne and Barry-Sheerin with saving her life when she was brought to the emergency room with a high fever and strange blotches on her body.

Bruno said that it was due to her amazing recovering and the impact Toerne and Barry-Sheerin had that motivated her to become a nurse. She is now working at the same Oak Lawn hospital where she said her life was saved.

“I knew she was really sick and when I saw the blotches I immediately alerted Dr. Toerne,” said Barry-Sheerin. “I knew it wasn’t just the flu and I knew it was bad. I didn’t want to scare her parents, but I knew we had to act. I didn’t send her into the waiting area, which was the normal procedure. If we had done that, she would not have survived.”

It was only one of the many decisions that day that Toerne and Barry-Sheerin said miraculously saved Bruno’s life.

“She was at death’s door,” said Toerne. “She was white as a ghost. The bluish-red blotches on her skin indicated her blood was not coagulating properly. We realized it was meningococcemia, a very severe bacterial infection of the lining of the brain, spinal cord and bloodstream. It is serious and can be fatal. We had to act fast, her condition was rapidly deteriorating. ”

Toerne said he has only seen three cases of it in his 25-year career in emergency medicine. In fatal cases, death can occur in as little as a few hours.

“We don’t know what causes it, but fortunately, there is now a vaccine for it,” said Toerne. “In Michelle’s case, the bacteria was growing so fast we could practically see it growing. She had passed out and we had to intubate her immediately. We pumped nine liters of fluid into her in less than 45 minutes.”

He acknowledged it was a team effort on the part of the emergency crew who was on hand that day. He compared it to a race track where drivers pull into the pit and the pit team all have a specific job to do and they do it and get the driver back on the track.

“That is how it worked that day, everyone was where they were supposed to be and knew what they had to do and they did it,” Toerne said. “Michelle is my most memorable patient. Her case touched my life and all of the nurses and doctors who worked to resuscitate her that day. It was one time in my life I knew we needed help from a higher power and everything just clicked in and worked smoothly. In my 25 years I feel like I have only saved one life…hers.”

Barry-Sheerin, an Oak Lawn resident, has been a nurse for 32 years. She was really touched when she learned that Bruno had become a nurse because of her experience in the hospital 10 years ago.

“I am so proud of you,” she said to Michelle.

Barry-Sheerin also told her that it was divine intervention that day that helped everything work as smoothly as it did.

“Someone was looking out for you that day. It was a team effort in the ER and thanks to your mom (Oak Lawn resident Hilda Litto) for bringing you in when she did. Dr. Toerne and I still talk about that miraculous day.”

Bruno was unconscious for two days and remained in the hospital for two weeks. After returning home, she was able to return to school within a couple of weeks. While meningococcemia can often cause permanent disabilities in non-fatal cases, she had no repercussions and was able to return to a normal life.

“I am so grateful to everyone who was there,” said Bruno, with tears in her eyes. “I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for all of you. I know my care was in very special hands.”

Bruno said that the experience was a turning point in her life.

“I knew I wanted to help people like I had been helped. It truly inspired me to embark on this very rewarding career.”

A lifelong resident of Oak Lawn, she just recently moved to Lincoln Park .She grew up in St. Germaine Parish and attended St. Germaine Elementary School in Oak Lawn. She graduated from Mother McAuley High School in 2008.

She attended Illinois State University and the Mennonite College of Nursing. She worked at Advocate Christ Hospital for two and a half years as a certified nurse’s assistant and is now an RN. She cares for patients in the cardiac surgery unit who have just undergone open heart surgery, including heart transplants.

She said her own experience in the ER a decade ago enables her to encourage her patients.

“I know they are anxious to get well and go home and they get frustrated. I am able to tell them I know how they feel, but I also encourage them to try to maintain a positive attitude. I know it will help make them stronger.”