Jim Kruse, a Vietnam Army War veteran, talks to visitors and asking them to provide care packages for U.S. servicemen and women stationed overseas. He was at the Hills Chamber Business and Community Expo last Saturday at Conrady Junior High School in Hickory Hills. (Photos by Joe Boyle)

Jim Kruse, a Vietnam Army War veteran, talks to visitors and asking them to provide care packages for U.S. servicemen and women stationed overseas. He was at the Hills Chamber Business and Community Expo last Saturday at Conrady Junior High School in Hickory Hills. (Photos by Joe Boyle)

Larger crowds returning to Hills Chamber Business Expo

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Derek Newtoff, an engineer for the North Palos Fire Protection District, greets residents and passed out flyers during the Hills Chamber Business and Community Expo on Saturday at Conrady Junior High School in Hickory Hills.

By Joe Boyle

Phyllis Majka, president of the Hills Chamber of Commerce, said the organization’s annual Business and Community Expo is an opportunity for everyone to gather after a long winter.

The irony was not lost on Majka and chamber members that while the calendar indicates spring, snow flurries were falling outside.

“But we are doing quite well this year,” Majka said. “We have more people coming through here this year than last. I think everyone just wants to get out and see each other. This is great for the community.”

The chamber’s Business and Community Expo was held Saturday at Conrady Junior High School in Hickory Hills. The showcase drew nearly 50 local businesses and organizations from the community and beyond.

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Nearly 50 vendors attended the annual Hills Chamber Business and Community Expo Saturday at Conrady Junior High School in Hickory Hills. Chamber officials said the attendance for the expo exceeded last year’s total.

Majka said that the organization was pleased that the business expo returned last year. The chamber, during the height of the pandemic, held a modified event outdoors two years ago.

“The weather was awful and the wind was just knocking everything down,” Majka recalled. “But we still had many who toughed it out and stayed through it all.”

But this year’s edition had a steady flow of residents. Local political and community leaders stopped by throughout the day.

“It’s just nice to have this where we have some more normalcy,” Majka said. “COVID is still here, or course, but I think everyone is dealing with it better.”

As in the past, some familiar faces were back. Vietnam Army veteran Jim Kruse, from “Kruse’s Krew,” was on hand to greet visitors, requesting that they send letters, sign cards and provide some snacks and comforts of home for U.S. servicemen and women overseas.

“I know what it’s like to be overseas,” Kruse said. “Sometimes you start to think does anyone care about me? That’s why I do this, so that we show them that we appreciate them. We want to thank and remind everyone what the troops do. We don’t want to forget them. Sometimes we have to remind people of that.”

Representatives of the Hickory Hills and Palos Hills police departments were on hand to talk to residents and pass out information. A representative of the North Palos Fire Protection District, engineer Derek Newtoff, also talked to residents and passed out flyers.

The Secretary of State’s office was on hand to greet the community and provided driver’s license and state ID renewals. Pathlights and Pillars representatives offered COVID-19 vaccinations.

Business representatives, community leaders and residents were also asked to assist Elsie’s Food Pantry Drive, which provides food for local families in need. Elsie’s Pantry is located at Savior Divine Lutheran Church in Palos Hills.

Residents and local leaders provide food and refreshments for families who are dealing with difficult times. Food is usually dropped off from 2 to 4 p.m. Thursdays by a drive-through pickup system.

“The drive-up is working very well,” said Pastor Marty Pauschke, of Savior Divine Lutheran Church. “We had to do the drive-through pickup because of COVID but I think we will keep doing this for a while. People sometimes don’t realize there is a need out there. I just want to thank the community.”

Hickory Hills Mayor Mike Howley also attended the expo, as did Palos Hills Mayor Jerry Bennett. Howley also applauded the efforts of Elsie’s Pantry.

“You don’t realize that even out here, and it could be someone on your block, there are people in need,” Howley said. “This can happen anywhere. I want to thank Pastor Marty for all he does.”

Bags of food was being placed on a table at the expo throughout the day for Elsie’s Pantry. More information about the pantry can be obtained by calling 708-598-4435.

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A student participant shows some martial arts skills on Robert Garza, owner of A Center for Martial Arts in Palos Hills. Garza interacted with several younger students during the Hills Chamber Business and Community Expo on Saturday.

Robert Garza, who owns and operates A Center for Martial Arts in Palos Hills, was back to greet residents at the expo. Garza will be at the Palos Hills location two years in June. He provides martial arts training for all age groups.

Garza said that COVID-19 resulted in challenges that required making adjustments. He still provides some Zoom sessions because some participants are still apprehensive about in-person training.

“COVID was something I had to deal with,” said Garza, who recently celebrated his 15th anniversary of providing lessons. “At one point, I was doing some classes from my living room. But we survived and now we are flourishing.”

Other representatives that set up shop at the expo were from Delicious Creations in Hickory Hills, Green Hills Public Library in Palos Hills, Pizza Castle in Hickory Hills, Cannataro Farm, based in Marengo, and St. Patricia School and Parish in Hickory Hills.

Hills Chamber members greeted visitors at the expo, passing out swag bags filled with information on local businesses and organizations. Majka was joined by chamber members Georgia Vouris, vice president; Art Golden, treasurer; and Teresa Stack, secretary.

The organization is preparing for events in the near future. The chamber will sponsor “Pictures With The Bunny” from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Saturday, April 1 at Byline Bank, 9504 S. Roberts Road, Hickory Hills.

Majka said the chamber is looking forward to the second annual Hills Farmers Market, which will be held from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. every Friday, June 2 through Oct. 13, in the Hickory Hills City Hall parking lot, 8652 W. 95th St.

“We can’t wait,” Majka said. “The weather will be so much better by then.”

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Palos Hills Mayor Jerry Bennett (from left) and Hickory Hills Mayor Mike Howley stopped by the Hills Chamber Business and Community Expo Saturday at Conrady Junior High School in Hickory Hills.

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