Around the Southland: Bears mascot delights students in Tinley Park, RomCon returns in Oak Lawn, more

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Bears mascot delights students in Tinley Park

A special friend stopped by last week at the Lt. Joseph P. Kennedy School for Exceptional Children in Tinley Park to help everyone shake off the winter blues.

Staley Da Bear, the official team mascot for the Chicago Bears, danced his way through a crowd of cheering students and staff, exchanging high fives with a multitude of raised hands.

“You ready to have a dance party?” his handler asked above the roar. “Let’s go!”

School administrators invited Staley to stop by the school to help motivate students as they settle into the second half of the school year.

About 70 students attend the therapeutic day school, including students from Thornton Township District 205, Thornton Fractional District 215, Plainfield Community Consolidated School District 202, Crete Monee District 201-U, Consolidated High School District 230 and Flossmoor District 161.

Oak Lawn library, Tinley book store reunite for RomCon

Fans of romantic literature will be swooning Feb. 17 as the Oak Lawn Public Library presents RomCon, an afternoon event dedicated to the genre. Independent bookstore Love’s Sweet Arrow, in Tinley Park, is teaming up with librarians to produce the free mini-convention featuring eight romance authors along with book signing, author panels, raffles, trivia and book sales.

Love’s Sweet Arrow owner Rosanne Backlin recruited a diverse group of authors to visit the library, including Danielle Jackson, Kelly Farmer, Tinia Montford, Tamara Jerée, Rien Gray, Hanna Earnest and Sara Fujimura. Author Olivia Dade will be doing a virtual visit to the event.

Dade, who lives in Sweden, is the author of Avon bestsellers “Ship Wrecked” (2022) and “Spoiler Alert” (2020) and she has a new novel coming out, “At First Spite” in 2024. Bettcher says,

“It’s a really big deal for us to have her participate in RomCon,” said fiction librarian Emily Bettcher.

Oak Lawn’s RomCon is from 1 to 4:15 p.m. Feb. 17 from 1-4:15 p.m. Register in advance for updates and a special treat on the day, at 708-422-4990 or

Hidden Oaks Nature Center to close for most of 2024

The Forest Preserves of Will County’s Hidden Oaks Nature Center, 419 Trout Farm Road, Bolingbrook is about to be transformed, but the process will require the facility to be closed for most of the year starting Feb. 19.

FPD officials said Hidden Oaks Preserve also will close on occasion for outdoor renovations during the year, as necessary, but the renovations will not affect Hidden Lakes Trout Farm, which is in the northern part of the preserve.

The interior and exterior work at Hidden Oaks Nature Center is designed to convert the former Bolingbrook Park District site, which was purchased by the Forest Preserve in February 2022, into a nature center tailored to Forest Preserve-type exhibits and activities.

Officials said the renovation will provide new design features throughout the first floor and a new permanent live animal tank for the nature center’s resident turtles, and an elaborate indoor bird-watching lookout deck will be installed.

Oak Forest High School earns diversity award

Oak Forest High School has earned the College Board AP Computer Science Female Diversity Award for achieving high female representation in AP Computer Science A. Schools honored with the AP Computer Science Female Diversity Award have expanded girls’ access in AP computer science courses, according to a news release from the School District 228.

Oak Forest High School was one of 225 institutions in the country recognized in the category.

“We are so proud of the unique perspective our female students bring to the fields of Math and Science,” said Oak Forest principal Jane Dempsey. “This is a recognition of our belief that anyone can succeed in any field. Our graduates are a testament to the impact created by opening doors to women.”

Oak Forest Raiders chosen to lead Fleadh

The Oak Forest Raiders instructional tackle football and cheerleading program for boys and girls ages 5 to 14, which has been operating in the area for more than 50 years, was chosen as grand marshals for the 15th anniversary edition of the Oak Forest Fleadh.

Players, families and coaches will lead the parade, which steps off at 11 a.m. March 2 at 151st and Central Avenue and heads to the Oak Forest Park District. The parade will be preceded at 8:30 a.m. by the CNB Oak Forest Fleadh 5K race, which starts and finishes at 155th Street and Betty Anne Lane. More than 500 people are expected to participate. Activities also are planned before and after the race at Fire Station 1, 5620 Jame Drive. Street closures are planned for the race and for the parade. More information is at www.oak‐

Visitor’s Bureau video highlights Southland attractions

The Chicago Southland Convention & Visitors Bureau has launched its interactive destination video for visitors’ vacation and residents’ staycation ideas.

The video displays footage of Chicago Southland amenities with their corresponding logo and website link synced on the side of the screen. Users can also scroll through the vertical list of all amenities in descending order of appearance.

“This interactive video helps our tourists and residents peruse and visit many of Chicago Southland attractions in one source,” said Jim Garrett, president/CEO of the bureau. “The video includes nature centers, art galleries, restaurants, breweries, museums, sports facilities, golf courses, and performing arts centers to name a few.”

The CSCVB interactive video is available at

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