Chicago Ridge Mayor Chuck Tokar had been busy preparing for the 50th anniversary of his graduating class at Our Lady of the Ridge Elementary School when he got the news.
“Now we find out that the school will close if we don't draw more students and raise more money,” the mayor said. “All of a sudden this is of the most importance.”
School officials were informed by the Chicago Archdiocese on Jan. 11 that Our Lady of the Ridge, 10859 S. Ridgeland Ave., Chicago Ridge, will close in June if funding and enrollments figures do not increase. Parents, students, administrators, teachers, business and community leaders have to show the archdiocese that those goals will be met by the end of February.
“Well, I can't speak for everybody, but I know about my effort and many other people who realize how important is to keep Our Lady of the Ridge open,” Tokar said. “This is an election year and I'm dealing with that, but I believe most of the board knows how crushing it would be for the community if this school closed. We are doing everything in our power to keep it open.”
Tokar grew up in Chicago Ridge and is a 1967 graduate of Our Lady of the Ridge. He said his roots are here and Our Lady of the Ridge has played a great part in that.
According to Mary Grisolano, media relations volunteer and a graduate of Our Lady of the Ridge, OLOR’s goal was to raise $250,000 and secure 114 enrolled students by Sunday, Feb. 26. The school has had an enrollment once as high as 196 but those numbers have dwindled over the years. The school currently has 103 students enrolled and has raised over $120,000. With a major phone-a-thon and fundraiser on the horizon, prospects are optimistic, added Grisolano.
Despite a recent surge, Tokar cautions all Chicago Ridge residents not to become complacent and to do everything humanly possible to keep the school open.
“Look, I'm optimistic,” Tokar said. “We have approached businesses and they have been receptive. Carson's at the Chicago Ridge Mall has been selling coupon books with some of the proceeds going to Our Lady of the Ridge. The same can be said for Kohl's at the Chicago Ridge Mall. Associates at Kohl's at the Mall and three other locations have volunteered to help clean up the school.”
Tokar said that Chipotle's has been donating half of their profits during specific hours to raise funds for Our Lady of the Ridge. Chili's has given percentages of their profits from fundraising efforts that were held leading up to the Super Bowl to assist the school. Jenny's Steakhouse has donated 15 percent of what they make on specific weekdays for Our Lady of the Ridge, the mayor added.
A big fundraising event for Our Lady of the Ridge will be held from 2 to 7 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 19 at 115 Bourbon Street, 3359 W. 115th St., Merrionette Park. The fee is $35 for food and refreshments. Entertainment and raffles will be provided.
Tokar plans to be in attendance, along with other village officials, business and community leaders. The mayor said it will be a good time and alumni should also attend in an effort to help out the school.
A video has been produced that includes alumni and civic leaders talking about how important Our Lady of the Ridge is to the community. Tokar can be seen in the video explaining the benefits of keeping the school open.
“The thing about is that I didn't know is that Our Lady of the Ridge draws from 12 public school districts,” said Tokar. “I was talking to someone who graduated from here and has moved but sends their children here. She told me she usually doesn't leave when she drops off her kids. She shops in the area at several places, like Jack and Pat's, for instance. This is important for business as well. These people shop here and are part of the community. Losing the school would be dreadful.”
The archdiocese has not indicated where they are leaning. They would prefer an enrollment of about 225 but there are other factors besides class sizes. They would like to see a strategy set up to keep the school open not for just this year, but for years to come.
Our Lady of the Ridge opened in 1954 and has served not only Chicago Ridge but nearby Worth, which does not have a Catholic grade school. Students have also attended Our Lady of the Ridge from Alsip, Chicago's Beverly neighborhood and Oak Lawn.
While Tokar is not certain of the outcome, he remains confident.
“I sat at the table during a recent committee meeting and I heard a lot of great ideas on how to keep the school open,” Tokar said. “We have a lot of go-getters here and that's what we need. I believe there is a chance. They are halfway to their goal right now.”
Residents who would like to help keep Our Lady of the Ridge open can go to www.olor-school.org/help.