Clearing is a community area located in southwest Chicago. It is home to many city employees and is the southern portion of Midway Airport. Residents say it’s an area that’s often overlooked, but they’re proud of their community and its history.
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Midway Airport and the Clearing Railyards, now called the 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.
A historic neighborhood in Clearing is Chrysler Village, it is 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 factories for making weapons and planes… They built the Chrysler village for the workers. It’s a pre-planned 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 mother of two elementary school students. She said the back and forth hurt the students.
“Students are suffering. They’ve been through trauma with COVID. They suffered their own losses. Getting back to safe in-person learning 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 over 10 years. She says she understands the concerns of teachers.
Another apparent CPS of two in Clearing is Susie Harkins. She said she wished classes had been moved to remote learning, instead of being canceled this week.
Harkins said she wanted the CPS to find a solution, rather than send emails to parents blaming the teachers’ union.
“I’m probably always with the workers. I think myself and all other working people want their employers to listen to them and be responsive to their concerns. Teachers are the ones who take children to school every day and if they have concerns they should at least be listened to and not demonized,” Harkins said.
As parents continue to deal with changes related to COVID-19, other institutions are also dealing with the impact of the pandemic, including funeral homes. Funeral homes have been on the front lines of the pandemic.
The funeral director of Central Chapel Funeral and CremationJennifer Berlongierius, said it had been one of the toughest times of her career – especially watching the grieving process for families change so drastically due to COVID-19 safety guidelines.
“I think a lot of these families we serve who have lost loved ones to this could have been avoided under certain circumstances. We see multiple family members, a husband and wife months apart… It’s truly heartbreaking to know that this family not only lost one parent, but now they’ve lost both parents to this virus,” Berlongierius said.
Nearby, the owners of Coffee 63 coped with the economic and logistical impact of the pandemic. The vaccination mandate for restaurants – which took effect on Monday – was just the latest challenge they had to adapt to.
“I didn’t think about it anymore. But you adapt and find a way to survive. And again, if it wasn’t for our premises here, I mean it’s unfathomable to try to rethink this, but because we’ve been so well supported,” said Dale Andrews, co-owner of the Cafe 63.
His wife, Donna, said they hadn’t received much pushback since the warrant came into effect.
“People who arrive, they show their cards right away. We really don’t have to ask them to show them… They show it to us right away because they know that’s the rule and they want us to succeed,” Donna said.
Cafe 63 regulars John Kurtovich and Judy Ollry are part of the Night Force Wipe.
A neighborhood watch group formed in 1996 to help keep the neighborhood safe. They share that they work as volunteers to help residents with concerns.
“We care about the well-being of our neighborhood. The stability of our neighborhood, our quality of life. I worry about my wife when she walks around the neighborhood every day. I want to make sure she’s safe and I want to feel comfortable knowing it’s a safe neighborhood, and we do that by getting involved,” Kurtovich said.
Ollry founded the organization 25 years ago. She says the group has seen positive changes in the community. But they find it harder to engage younger residents and families due to their busy schedules.
However, Ollry says she posts information online about what’s happening in the community and has received positive feedback.
The Watch began hosting community events to raise awareness of the organization.
Community Report Series
“Chicago Tonight” is expanding its community reporting. We’re taking to the streets to talk with your neighbors, local businesses, agencies and leaders about COVID-19, the economy, racial justice, education and more. See where we went and what we learned using the map below. Or select a community using the drop-down menu. Dots in Red represent our COVID-19 Across Chicago series; blue marks our “Chicago Tonight” series in Your Neighborhood.