Y-Me: Working and Playing for a Cure

By Laura Casey  

Most people know me as Ms. Laura from Graver Park, where I worked for 18 of my 30 years at the Chicago Park District. My favorite days were welcoming all the moms, dads and toddlers for morning programming and organizing youth volleyball leagues.  

While I have been a part of the community through my role at the Chicago Park District, for the past 15 years I have been playing in and volunteering for Ginger Rugai’s Y-Me Softball Tournament. Four years ago I took on the role of Board Chair. This volunteer role has been inspiring. The mission we declared, is “Together We Can Find a Cure.”  

Naturally, in the beginning I was concerned taking on this position would be too much of a commitment, but, deep down, I knew it was the right thing to do.  

These days it’s hard not to find someone not touched by breast cancer. Two of my dear friends, also sisters of our Board Secretary, were diagnosed with breast cancer, and although they had been in remission, unfortunately, the cancer metastasized and they lost their battle. This experience gave me renewed drive to volunteer my time, join the committee and eventually lead the board.   

Since 1994 our tournament has been growing and today we have over 60 teams with more than 1,200 women coming together in Mt. Greenwood for a day of competitive softball. But more than that, they come together to honor all those touched by breast cancer and especially the survivors of this terrible disease.  

This year’s Y-Me Softball Tournament will be held Sat., Aug. 25, St. Christina Fields and Mount Greenwood Park, 111th and Central Park. Team rosters and fees are due by Aug. 23. Players, volunteers and donors can find complete information at y-mesoftball.com.  

A highlight of the Y-Me Softball Tournament day is the three-inning survivor game. The survivors who are playing may be newly diagnosed or 25 years cancer-free. While this game is fun, it is more about courage, strength, hope and faith: by playing, the survivors give back to others and share the strength of their journey. 

It is with great pride that I stand among the board with such creative minds! They are always looking for ways to increase awareness and funding for Breast Cancer Research. This year, Open Outcry Brewing Company created a Y-Me craft beer and donated a portion of the proceeds directly to our cause. We are planning eat-and-earn fundraisers at Buona Beef and other local restaurants.  

I am so proud to say that ALL of the proceeds from our fundraising go to support the breast cancer research of Dr. Kay McLeod, Breast Cancer Researcher for the University of Chicago, Ben May Institute. Since 2015 our organization has raised over $200,000 and assisted in real progress to eradicate this terrible disease. Ginger Rugai’s Y-Me Softball Tournament is a 501©3.  

Thank you to my fellow board members for all their time and talents making this a great day working towards a common goal: a cure. 

Cooking with Summer Produce

By Kristin Boza 

With the 95th Street Farmer’s Market in full swing, there’s an abundance of delicious, fresh and local summer produce available. As you head to the market at 95th and Longwood Drive each Sunday, 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., keep in mind these tips for choosing and preparing seasonal produce from local chef and Beverly/Morgan Park resident Alvin Green. 

Talk with the Farmers
Farmer’s markets are more than simply places to buy fresh food. They are an opportunity to speak directly to the people who are cultivating the food you are purchasing, so you can get a better understanding of where your food is coming from.  

“Find out what’s really in season by asking the farmers questions about their food,” Green said. “You can even find out about their ‘second harvest’, which may not be the perfect ‘supermarket ready’ foods we’re use to, but this produce is great for cooking now and freezing so you can have fresh and healthy food all winter.”  

Anything in-season will be cheaper and more flavorful, since it is in abundant supply locally and fresh from the vine without being packed and shipped from warmer climates. 

Choose Fresh Foods That You Will Actually Eat
Green advises farmer’s market shoppers to buy foods that they’ll actually eat. Gather up fruits and veggies that have imperfections, such as an odd shape or small size.  

“So much food in this country never makes it to market because of imperfections, which means it is ultimately wasted,” Green said. “I’ve found that a farmer’s ‘second tomatoes’ [the second harvest of the seasons, usually a smaller yield] make the best tomato soup or pasta sauce. Even food that is a little past its prime will still make flavorful smoothies or soup.” These imperfect foods usually are priced lower than produce without blemishes. 

Buy Now, Eat Later
“Use everything and go back to the way people used to eat. They didn’t throw anything away,” Green said. Normally cast-off ends, peels and odd sized pieces of produce can be saved to make a vegetable stock that will keep for months in the freezer.  

For example, buy corn on the cob at the market, but don’t discard the cobs. Instead, create a corn stock that will act as a base for soup or polenta. Put cobs in a pot, cover with water and simmer. You can also make vegetable stock with the ends of carrots and other vegetables from the scrap pile.  

“This cuts down on food waste and works with nearly any vegetable. There’s still a lot of flavor and nutrients in these parts of the vegetable. I freeze the stock in quart size bags and it’s great to pull out in the middle of winter to make soup that will taste a lot better than canned soup,” Green said. 

Adding produce to dishes that traditionally don’t contain them is another great way to use up the farmer’s market bounty while adding more vegetables to the diet. Green developed a recipe to use a zucchini surplus in a popular breakfast food; check out this recipe: 

Alvin Green’s Zucchini Pancakes 


2 cups grated zucchini 

2 large eggs, slightly beaten 

2 Tbsp. chopped green onion 

1/2 cup all-purpose flour 

1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese 

1/2 tsp. baking powder 

1/2 tsp. salt 

1/2 tsp. garlic powder 

1 tsp. Italian herb seasoning blend 

1/4 cup olive oil, or as needed 


Blot grated zucchini with paper towels to remove excess moisture. Stir zucchini, eggs and onion in a large bowl. Mix flour, Parmesan cheese, baking powder, salt, garlic powder and Italian herb seasoning blend in a separate bowl; stir flour mixture into zucchini until batter is just moistened. 

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Drop rounded spoonful of zucchini batter onto hot oiled pan; cook 2 to 3 minutes per side until golden brown. Set aside and keep warm. 

Add more oil to pan as needed and continue with remaining batter. 

Historic Home Welcomes Teen Filmmakers

For one week in July, The Ingersoll-Blackwelder house, 10910 S. Prospect, was transformed into a movie set when 14 teen filmmakers arrived to make a television pilot. The teens were participating in a workshop offered by Fresh Films, an organization based at Augustana College in Rock Island, that provides teens around the country chances to gain experience in film through summer programs that pair youth with industry professionals.  

The teens used the local historic Victorian house at the setting for a spooky TV show about a young woman who inherits her grandmother’s inn then discovers she has the power to communicate with the ghostly guests that inhabit it. The pilot will be reviewed by executives from Amazon Studios and Disney Channel Original Movies, and the young filmmakers hope it will be picked up. The pilot will be available on the Fresh Films website in fall.  

In addition to filmmaking the teens participating in Fresh Films workshops also engage in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) careers that are part of the film industry. Sandra Biedron, owner of the Ingersoll-Blackwelder home is a physicist and engineer, and was thrilled to have the teens filming here in Beverly/Morgan Park.  

“I love how Fresh Films is melding the excitement of film with science and technology,” Biedron said. “There are many careers like VFX, sound engineering, even lights and camera that need STEM skills.” 

The teens will develop career skills as they work on a Hollywood-style film set alongside professionals, getting a chance to experience working in lighting, audio, camera and producing. Now that filming has wrapped, the teens are participating in four-week internships with Chicago companies.  

Fresh Films, a not-for-profit arm of Dreaming Tree Films, has been offering teen filmmaking projects since 2002. For more information, visit www.fresh-films.com 


Renaissance Academy Invites New Members

Renaissance Academy at Saint Xavier University, 3700 W. 103rd St., invites area residents who retired or semi-retired to become new members for the 2018-2019 season. 

Renaissance Academy that was created for community people who have the desire to learn simply for the joy and excitement of learning.  Its primary purpose is to provide forums for participatory group study on to with topics decided on by the members. The group’s focus is on member participation and peer teaching with the aim of providing intellectual stimulation, cultural enrichment and fellowship. 

The annual membership is $175, which includes tuition for up to three classes in each of the fall, winter and spring sessions. Classes are held on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons. Upcoming classes include “The Other Side of History,” “Poetry Blast!” “Take My Check Please!” and “The Sky Above the Clouds.” 

Renaissance Academy members can also audit one course per year in the regular weekday SXU college program on a space-available basis and with permission of the teacher; privileges at the SXU library and an invitation to all Renaissance Academy social activities.   

Founded more than 25 years ago, Renaissance Academy encourages all interested people to learn more about membership. Email renaissancechgo@gmail.com or call 773-298-3149. 

Committed to Collecting

By Grace Kuikman 

When Gary and Denise Gardner moved to their Beverly/Morgan Park home in March 1982 they had already started buying original works by African American artists, but it wasn’t until nearly 20 years later – once the children were out on their own – that the couple became serious about collecting.   

“We decided to restore the house into an ‘adult’ place, not a place just about kids or hockey sticks,” Denise Gardner said. When she retired, Denise Gardner had time to travel and visit galleries and art fairs, discovering and learning about artists and their work. Now that her husband is semi-retired, they travel together, “learning, appreciating, collecting,” she said.  

A few years ago, they put an addition on their hilltop home, providing more space for their 100+ works of art, including works by Chicago artist Charles White (1918-1979).   

In many ways, White’s work embodies the beauty and intent of the Gardners’ outstanding collection. White grew up on the South Side and used his talent and tenacity to fight against racism by portraying African Americans with dignity in the context of universal themes. He started as a student at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago when he was still in high school, and became active with the South Side Community Arts Center, establishing himself as one of the most prominent artists to come out of the Chicago Black Renaissance of the 1930s.    

“White is the leading African American Artist from Chicago in the 20th century,” Denise Gardner said.  

The Gardners are Lead Individual Sponsors of “Charles White: A Retrospective,” the first major retrospective for the artist in 35 years, open through Sept. 3 in the Modern Wing of the Art Institute.  

The exhibit features more than 100 of White’s powerful and purposeful representational drawings, paintings and prints which interpret African American history and culture.   

As a member of the Art Institute Board and a member of the Leadership Advisory Committee (LAC), Denise Gardner was among the people who encouraged the AIC to acquire a sketchbook of works by Charles White, and to start the conversation that has culminated in the Charles White Retrospective. The purpose of the LAC is to support diversity in the AIC vision, collections, staff, exhibitions and audience. White’s work fits squarely into that mission.  

And the timing was right: “[White] would have been 100 this year,” Gardner said. 

Mounting the exhibit presented challenges. The African American artists of the 40s, 50s and 60s did not get the recognition they deserved. Co-curators from the AIC and Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York, where the Retrospective will go next, needed to do a lot of research in the three cities where White lived and worked – Chicago, New York and Los Angeles – to develop a definitive catalog of the artist’s work and exhibitions. That catalog provides an important resource for students, collectors and art historians.   

The Retrospective covers all four decades of White’s career, showing his development as an artist, social activist and eloquent documenter of the dignity of African American people, culture and history. The exhibit goes to MoMA in October then to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in February.  

The timing of the White Retrospective is also right from an art collector’s standpoint. “In the past ten years there has been an explosion of extraordinarily talented living artists of color,” said Denise Gardner. The Gardners are adding works by younger artists to their collection, and seeing the connection of the generations of artists. White’s work, so reflective of the human condition, can be a powerful link in that connection.   

Midnight Circus in the Parks Coming in September

Midnight Circus in the Parks is coming to Ridge Park for four shows on Sept. 29 and 30. The event features a thrilling high-flying assortment of acrobats, aerialists, clowns, contortionists and even a dog. Ridge Park, located at 96th and Longwood Drive, is one of nine Chicago Park District Parks that will showcase the Midnight Circus under a little big top tent this summer and fall.  

Mary-Jo Viero, President of the Ridge Park Advisory Council (RPAC), said the circus’s presence is a huge win for the neighborhood and credits Ald. Matt O’Shea with bringing it to Ridge Park. Midnight Circus in the Parks performed at Mt. Greenwood Park in 2011.  

Proceeds from the local shows will be used for improvements at Ridge Park. Earlier this year, the house received a new roof and new windows are slated for later this year.  

Volunteers with RPAC are working to promote the shows and sell ads in the program book, which will be distributed at all 28 performances across the city, allowing advertisers to reach a wide audience. The deadline to submit ads is Aug. 25. For information, contact Viero, mjviero@yahoo.com. Sponsorship opportunities are also available. 

Midnight Circus in the Parks is an eclectic ensemble of artists that brings world class contemporary circus performances to communities throughout Chicago. Since 2007, the shows have drawn over 100,000 attendees and raised over $1 million for local park improvements.  

Midnight Circus will perform two shows each day Ridge Park, 2 and 5 p.m. General admission, $22; groups, $20; and children under age two, free. Tickets and information: midnightcircus.net.

BACinema Expands Selections for South Side Film Fans

Damon Griffin, the new film programmer for the Beverly Arts Center (BAC), is expanding the popular BACinema screenings to include more independent, classic and international movies. That’s great news for South Side film fans looking for access to the quality and versatility offered at places like the Music Box Theatre and Gene Siskel Film Center. 

“The BAC is a great place to view films,” Griffin said. An East Coast native, Griffin came to Chicago by way of college in Boston and New York when he enrolled in graduate school at Columbia College. He earned a Masters in Cinema Arts and Sciences with an emphasis on writing and directing, and is an ambitious filmmaker currently working on a new project.  

Griffin’s background, education and passion provide keen insights for selecting BACInema movies. “I consider the BAC the kind of place that celebrates both the commercial and independent sides of filmmaking,” he said. He finds that audiences are eager to be entertained by Hollywood movies as well as to be challenged by the thought-provoking issues tackled in independent films and art house cinema.   

BACinema screens films every other Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. in the Baffes Theatre at the BAC, 2407 W. 111th St. Special screenings are also scheduled on selected Saturdays. Tickets are only $6 ($5 if you’re a BAC member).  Griffin mixes up the styles and substance of the movies he chooses for BACinema, showing the first run features on everyone’s “movie night” list as well as works by award winning Chicago indie filmmakers, classics and documentaries. Many of the main attractions are preceded by short films, and some of them include post-screening Q&As with filmmakers and directors. 

Upcoming screenings include “Dick Biondi, The Voice that Rocked America,” a preview of a one-hour documentary about the Top 40 rock and roll rebel DJ on Wed., Aug. 8; Chicagoland Shorts Vol. 4, nine short films by award-winning women, LGBTQ and minority Chicago filmmakers on Wed., Aug. 22; “Among Wolves,” an award-winning documentary about a motorcycle club in post-war Bosnia working to heal themselves and others from the trauma of war on Sat., Aug. 25; the silent film classic “City Lights,” starring Charlie Chaplin as the Tramp on Wed., Sept. 5; and  “Driftwood,” a stunning dialog-free feature by writer/director/cinematographer Paul Taylor on Wed., Sept. 19.  

Griffin is especially interested in screening works by Chicago filmmakers, many of which have won awards from film festivals that include Chicago International, Cannes, Tribeca and Sundance.  The BAC is the only big-screen theater that shows art house cinema in this area. And it’s an excellent film venue with 400 comfortable seats, free parking, $2 popcorn and concessions options include beer and wine.   

For information on movies, concerts, main stage performances, classes and gallery exhibits, visit www.beverlyartcenter.org or call 773-445-3838.  

Music, Art, Food and Brews at Summer Swelter #5

Embrace the dog days of summer at Horse Thief Hollow’s 5th annual summer party, Sat., July 21, noon to 10 p.m., 10426 S. Western Ave. A day of live music, art and dance promises fun while benefitting a great cause — the proceeds from this year’s event will benefit the Beverly Area Arts Alliance, which seeks to identify opportunities and incubate ideas to advance Beverly/Morgan Park as a hub of culture and creativity.  

“It’s the fifth anniversary of the art alliance and our business,” said Lizzy Benner, Horse Thief Hollow Manager. “We thought this would be a great opportunity to give back to all they do for this community.” 

The local brewery and restaurant currently partners with the Beverly Arts Alliance to feature Local Art on Tap, an exhibit of paintings, sculpture, and other works by area artists that is updated quarterly. The exhibit, Rollicking Rampage, will feature works by Matthew Coglianese, Kevin Demski, Ben Schlitz, Christine Connor, Jeannie Higgins and Kristen Dobbins. Be sure to check it out!   

A Kiddies Swelter will take place from noon to 3 p.m. This will feature crafts and a group project that will be unveiled at the Beverly Art Walk this fall by Ellen King of Mrs. King’s Art Camp; face painting by Cathy Sorich of Marvelous Faces; and children’s music. An artisan craft fair will take place from 12 to 4 p.m., and artist Ben Schlitz will produce a chainsaw sculpture during the event that will be auctioned off at a later date with proceeds benefiting the Alliance.  

Live music will begin at 5:30 p.m. with The Pack Drumline and Dance Crew, which will be followed by a performance by H.a.R.D, featuring Jasmine Gill from 7 to 10 p.m. Molloy and Associates, local real estate agency, is sponsoring the party’s music scene, and artist Brendan Mack will be doing a live painting performance to the groves of H.a.R.D 

And of course, food and brews from Horse Thief Hollow will be served to hungry and thirsty partygoers. Because would it even be a party without them? 

Special Recreation in Mount Greenwood Gives Back

By Kristin Boza

With the upcoming 50th anniversary of the Special Olympics is this July, the participants in the Special Recreation program at Mount Greenwood Park are gearing up for the competition while maintaining their mission of giving back to the community. 

The program serves children and adults with intellectual disabilities in the Chicagoland area, and currently has 115 participants ranging in age from 7 to 65, according to Special Recreation Coordinator Lisa Mulcrone. Mulcrone has been a part of the program in some capacity for the last 27 years, beginning as a volunteer when her sister, Sioban, was enrolled in the Special Recreation program. 

While the program accepts community volunteers to help out, the participants in the Special Recreation program have become great partners to other community groups as well. 

“We have volunteered by baking cookies at the Oak Lawn Ronald McDonald House, we assist BAPA with the Ridge Run and Home Tour, and we volunteer with Special Children’s charities in various jobs, such as assisting with 5K runs, the annual Duck Derby fundraiser, and the Polar Plunge, to name a few,” Mulcrone said.  

The Special Recreation group has been essential in helping BAPA with the Ridge Run by stuffing goody bags, handing out fliers along the race route, and passing out refreshments and finishing medals to the Ridge Run runners. 

Mulcrone and the team is especially looking forward to participating in the Special Olympics July 17 through 21 at Illinois State University in Bloomington, Ill. Athletes will compete in power lifting, track and field, gymnastics, swimming and bocce, according to Mulcrone.  

“We are extremely excited about being a part of the 50th Anniversary of the Special Olympics. We will be attending as a group, hoping to make it to the majority of activities that Special Olympics has planned,” Mulcrone said. “We compete year-round in 14 different Special Olympic sports.” 

To get involved as a volunteer with the Special Recreation program in Mount Greenwood, contact Lisa Mulcrone, lisa.mulcrone@chicagoparkdistrict.com. To volunteer at a Special Olympics event, contact Eileen Guinane, eileen.guinane@chicagoparkdistrict.com. 


Local Mountain Biker a Champion

By Abby Johnson 

Jim Pittacora is not the kind of person to fill his fireplace mantle with medals. He doesn’t want anyone to know that he has more than 100 of them for mountain biking. And even talking about the shiny prizes makes him anxious; he waves his hand in the air as if to say that particular piece of information isn’t important. 

But there is no hiding that Pittacora is a champion.  

He has won four state titles since his first big race in 2012 and twice finished first place in the Breck 100, a 100-mile cycling course climbing more than 13,700 feet that took Pittacora 12.5 hours to complete. This race is the most challenging, he says. And he’s training to do it again in August. 

One hundred seems to be the magic number for Pittacora: One hundred plus medals, 100-mile courses and his participation in more than 100 races. It’s a funny coincidence, the frequency of this number, because it’s also a reflection of Pittacora’s dedication to the sport. He gives everything his 100%.  

He’s currently preparing for a 15-miler that will take place in West Virginia on July 19. When asked if it’s a relief to be riding such a short distance, he shakes his head. In fact, this race will keep him up the night before, he says. 

“There is zero room for mistakes when you’re riding such a short distance,” he said. “You mess up one time, everyone flies by you and that’s it. You’re done for.” 

To lessen the possibility of any mistakes, he will spend every night for the next few weeks practicing his starting position, so it can be as close to flawless as possible when the starter pistol fires.  

For Pittacora, training isn’t a chore, it’s just part of a hobby. One that began in 2005 and accelerated in 2010 when he retired from his job as a Chicago Police Officer and began preparing for competitive cycle racing. Of course, it’s a good way to stay in shape, he says. But it’s not about the exercise. Pittacora does this because he enjoys it. 

“It’s tiring,” he said. “But that’s not something you notice if you like what you’re doing.” 

Sometimes he will ride to Dan Ryan Woods and time himself racing up and down the toboggan slides.  

Pittacora surely has the stamina, the endurance to excel at something so mentally and physically demanding. But his response when asked how he got to this point is surprising, considering he has certainly earned his bragging rights. It wasn’t hard, he says. Anyone could do it. 

“There’s no magic formula. Just ride.”