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10 for 2013: Relive the stories that shaped a year in Villa Park

Published: Sunday, Dec. 29, 2013 2:14 p.m. CDT • Updated: Tuesday, Dec. 31, 2013 2:33 p.m. CDT
(Mark Busch -
Lou Manfredini, owner of the new Ace Hardware store in Villa Park, stands near the power tool aisle in his store. (Mark Busch -
(Matthew Piechalak -
C.S. "Sid" Bergh (right), judge advocate for Villa Park VFW Post 2801, stands at attention during the Star-Spangled Banner at a grand opening ceremony for the new post on Saturday. The post was rebuilt after a fire destroyed the building last year.
(Lorae Mundt)
Cyclists round a bend before the sprint stretch Sunday during the Villa Park Grand Prix. Lorae Mundt for Shaw Media
Sarah Minor file photo - Willowbrook's Brian Johnson looks to pass in a game against Addison Trail this season. Johnson put up prolific passing numbers this season, including throwing for a state-record 675 yards against Lyons Township.
(Erica Benson -
DISTRICT 45 SUPER>>> Anthony Palmisano, the new Superintendent of School District 45, sits in a classroom Aug. 20 at Jefferson Junior High in Villa Park.
(Photo provided)
Todd Mandoline of Villa Park was charged with first degree murder, aggravated arson, residential arson and criminal damage to property after allegedly being involved in a Lombard house fire that killed a woman last July.

VILLA PARK – New challenges and triumphs await as the new year lingers just a few days away. In the final hours of 2013, we take a moment to reflect on the incredible stories that captivated our communities. From a high profile Ace Hardware to epic flooding, these are the memories that shaped the year.

1. VFW Post reopens

What happened: The Villa Park VFW Post 2801, 39 E. St. Charles Road, had a reopening ceremony in June, roughly a year after a fire destroyed the building. The reopening attracted dozens of community members, and doubled as a fundraiser to cover the costs of rebuilding. A fire ravaged the post’s building May 29, 2012, causing thousands of dollars in damages and rendering the site uninhabitable.

Quote of note: “Everyone is glad to be back. As far as I’m concerned, this is open to everyone who wants to come and see what we’re about. I want the community to be involved as much as they want.” – Dennis Geiseman, post commander

2. State of emergency

What happened: The village of Villa Park declared a state of emergency after severe thunderstorms April 17 and 18 caused significant rainfall and flooding. The extensive rain pooled in streets, rivers, ponds, backyards and homes.

Residents were asked to avoid driving, and most public and private schools were closed. Reported rain totals in Villa Park were up to 10 inches.

Throughout the day, sandbags were distributed to residents at the village recycling center and at the salt dome.

3. President elected

What happened: Villa Park Trustee Deborah Bullwinkel was elected the village’s new president April 9.

Bullwinkel won the election against John Heidelmeier with 76 percent of the vote.

After the election, Bullwinkel said she was overwhelmed by the support of the community and impressed by the volume of people who came out to vote.

She replaced Tom Cullerton, who was elected to the state Senate in November 2012, and chose not to run for re-election in Villa Park.

Quote of note: “This is a new day in Villa Park. There is no way we could do this without the residents. The residents did it first, and now it’s our turn. This is quite an honor.” – Deborah Bullwinkel

4. District 45 superintendent

What happened: Anthony Palmisano, 43, was named the new superintendent of School District 45. Previously, Palmisano spent 20 years at Jackson Middle School, first as a teacher, as assistant principal and most recently as principal.

In his first school year, Palmisano said he’s faced with the challenge of learning more about the district schools, understanding their unique cultures and responding to their needs.

Quote of note: “We all matter and together we matter more and students will achieve more when we’re working together. The final result will be student achievement.” – Anthony Palmisano

5. Grand Prix returns

What happened: The Villa Park Grand Prix bicycle race returned to the village in August for its second year. The free event, sponsored by RDS Cycling Team and Club, drew close to 300 racers, as residents lined the streets to watch the action.

The course began at Yale Avenue and Park Boulevard and winded clockwise along Park, Princeton Avenue, Washington Street and Harvard Avenue.

Quote of note: “We want children to see this. We want them to take a good look at the sport.” – Robert Di Silvestro, race organizer for RDS Cycling

6. Mr Fix-It opens Ace

What happened: Lou Manfredini, a radio personality known as “Mr. Fix-it” on WGN Radio, opened an Ace Hardware in Villa Park in late August. The opening of the store, at 46 S. Villa Ave., was met with excitement from residents.

Manfredini said he planned to make the store an integral part of the community by remaining active in local events and activities and by supporting different community groups. Five of the 10 employees originally hired were Villa Park residents.

The store opened on the site of a former hardware store that closed in 2012.

Quote of note: “It’s called Villa Park Ace because it’s their hardware store.

That connection to the community is something that’ll be a part of our mission.” – Lou Manfredini

7. Record-breaking QB

What happened: Willowbrook starting quarterback Brian Johnson set a state record for passing yards in a single game with 675 yards thrown against Lyons Township on Sept. 6.

Johnson threw for seven touchdowns and ran for another in the 62-49 win against the Lions.

The senior totaled 3,291 yards on the season, with 31 passing touchdowns and five rushing touchdowns. He was named MVP of the West Suburban Gold and an honorable mention Class 7A all-state selection.

Quote of note: “That’s a big part of our game. Keeping the tempo up and our foot on the pedal.” – Brian Johnson

8. Todd Mandoline hearing

What happened: A hearing of Todd Mandoline, a Villa Park man accused of starting a house fire in 2012 that killed Paula Morgan in her Lombard home and severely burned Jason Cassidy, was held in August.

Mandoline, 24, was charged with four counts of first-degree murder, three counts of aggravated arson, one count of residential arson and one count of criminal damage to property.

The video presented in court showed Mandoline being interviewed by the police. He described watching Morgan’s house late into the night – after he had allegedly been taken home from a birthday party at her home – and eventually igniting her car.

After two more court dates in October and December, Mandoline is next scheduled to appear in court Feb. 18.

Quote of note: “I lit it and I walked away. I don’t know what point I was trying to prove.” –Todd Mandoline

9. Metra parking issues

What happened: Villa Park Police in September met with Metra commuters to hear their concerns over a new mobile payment system implemented by the department. The mobile system, Passport Parking, was intended to allow commuters to link their phone number to their credit card and then call, text or use a mobile app to alert the company to their parking spot.

Quote of note: “Commuters are creatures of habit and I failed to recognize that. When we introduced the program, we could have done a better job of letting people know what was going to happen.” – Bob Pavelchik, Villa Park police chief

10. Former cops sue village

What happened: William Tobias, a former probationary officer from Villa Park’s police department, filed a lawsuit against the village and several employees and trustees in March. The lawsuit sought reinstatement and wage compensation after Tobias, of Elmhurst, was terminated from his position in 2012.

The lawsuit came six weeks after fellow probationary officer, Daniel Messina, filed a similar lawsuit against the village.

The lawsuit alleged that Tobias was dismissed without the use of the village’s municipal code pertaining to the dismissal of an employee.

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