‘Chicago Tonight’ in Your Neighborhood: Clearing

Clearing is a community area located on the Southwest Side of Chicago. It’s home to many city employees, and it’s the southern portion of Midway Airport. Residents say it’s an area that often gets overlooked but take pride in their community and its history.

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Midway Airport and the Clearing Railyards, now called Beltline Railway, helped transform and grow the community in the early 1900s, said Rob Bitunjac, branch manager of the Clearing Library and president of the Clear-Ridge Historical Society.

One historic area in Clearing is Chrysler village, it’s on the east side of the neighborhood, just south of the airport.

“It was a subdivision that was built for workers during World War II. We had a lot of weapons and airplane making plants ... They built the Chrysler village for the workers. It’s a preplanned village, all the houses are basically the same,” Bitunjac said.

Video: Watch our full interview with Rob Bitunjac

The area is also filled with families. For many of them, the past week has been stressful as the Chicago Teachers Union voted to refuse to work in person and Chicago Public Schools canceled classes.

Clearing resident Angie Gazdziak is a CPS parent of two elementary schoolers. She said the back and forth is hurting the students.

“The students are suffering. They’ve experienced trauma with COVID. They’ve experienced their own losses. Getting back to in person learning safely would go a long way... It would be great if they could figure out testing and contact tracing,” Gazdziak said.

Gazbiak’s husband has been a teacher for more than 10 years. She says she understands teachers’ concerns.

Susie Harkins is another CPS apparent of two in Clearing. She said she wishes classes had been moved to remote learning, instead of canceled this week.

Harkins said she wishes CPS would find a solution, rather than sending emails to parents blaming the teachers union.

“I stand probably always with the workers. I think myself and every other person who’s working wants their employers to listen to them and to their concerns. The teachers are the ones that are with the kids every day in the school and if they have concerns, at the very least they should be listened to and not demonized,” Harkins said.

As parents continue to deal with COVID-19-related changes other institutions are also dealing with the impact of the pandemic, including funeral homes. Funeral homes have been on the forefront of the pandemic.

The funeral director of Central Chapel Funeral & Cremation, Jennifer Berlongierius, said it has been one of the hardest periods in her career — especially watching the grieving process for families change so dramatically because of COVID-19 safety guidelines.

“I think a lot of these families that we’re serving that have lost their loved ones to this could’ve been avoided in a certain circumstance. We’re seeing multiple family members, a husband and a wife months apart ... It’s truly heartbreaking to know that this family not only lost one parent, now they lost both parents because of this virus,” Berlongierius said.

Nearby, the owners of Cafe 63 have been dealing with the economic and logistical impact of the pandemic. The vaccine mandate for restaurants — which went into effect on Monday — was just the latest challenge they needed to adapt to.

“I thought not again. But you adapt and figure out a way to survive. And again, if it wasn’t for our locals here I mean it is unfathomable to try to think of going through that again but because we were supported so well,” said Dale Andrews, co-owner of Cafe 63.

His wife, Donna, said they haven’t received much pushback since the mandate took effect.

“People coming in, they show their cards right away. We really don’t have to ask them to show them… They’re showing it to us right away because they know that’s the rule and they want us to succeed,” Donna said.

Locals John Kurtovich and Judy Ollry regulars at Cafe 63 are part of the Clearing Night Force.

A neighborhood watch group formed back in 1996 aimed at helping keep the neighborhood safe. They share that they work as volunteers to help residents with concerns.

“We’re concerned about the well-being of our neighborhood. The stability of our neighborhood, our quality of life. I worry about my wife when she walks every day through the neighborhood. I want to make sure that she’s safe and I want to feel comfortable knowing that this is a safe neighborhood, and we do that by being involved,” Kurtovich said.

Ollry founded the organization 25 years ago. She says the group has seen positive changes in the community. But they’re having a harder time getting younger residents and families involved because of their busy schedules.

However, Ollry says she posts information about what is happening in the community online and has received positive feedback.

The watch has started hosting some community events to build more awareness about the organization.

Community Reporting Series

“Chicago Tonight” is expanding its community reporting. We’re hitting the streets to speak with your neighbors, local businesses, agencies and leaders about COVID-19, the economy, racial justice, education and more. See where we’ve been and what we’ve learned by using the map below. Or select a community using the drop-down menu. Points in red represent our series COVID-19 Across Chicago; blue marks our series “Chicago Tonight” in Your Neighborhood.

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