Palos Lions Honor First Responders at 70th Anniversary Celebration

By Jack Murray

The Palos Lions Club shared the limelight with police officers and firefighters whom the club honored at its 70th anniversary celebration last Wednesday.

More than 210 people attended the First Responders Appreciation Night held at the Palos Country Club, where the Lions, whose motto is “We Serve,” honored those who serve and protect the Palos area.

The program recognized the actions of first responders selected by each of the six police and fire departments that serve the Palos area. The honorees included Park Heights and Palos Park police Detectives John Parnitzke and Diana Campbell, Palos Hills police Officers James Cha and Ahmad Sows, Palos Fire Protection District Firefighter/Paramedic Thomas O’Connor and North Palos fire Lt. John Roe III.  

Palos Heights Fire Chief Kevin Doyle selected the members of Units 6422 and 6402, who saved the lives of four people suffering cardiac arrest, as his department’s honorees. They are Capts. Dave Ritter, Matt Gruca and Dave Schwenn, Lts. Al Dagys and Joe Stefanko, and Firefighter/Paramedics Steve Thompson, Jason Martin, Bryan Mueller, Tim Malone, Brandon Messana, Nick Kania, Elliot Burica, Josh Cwik, Jake Tiesenga and Nick Wilmingham.

Palos Lions Club President Herb Schumann conceived the idea of coupling the club’s 70th anniversary party with paying tribute to first responders. Planning the event for more than 10 months, Schumann said that he borrowed its theme from the Oak Lawn Lions Club. The club is considering making the awards night an annual or periodic event, he added.

Schumann tapped former Illinois Appellate Court justice David Sterba to act as master of ceremonies. “For them, our worst nightmare is just another day at the office,” Judge Sterba said of first responders after dinner. “They rise to the call of duty every day. They display courage and commitment. We are eternally grateful for the blanket of protection you provide us each and every day.”

The chiefs of each department introduced their respective honorees to the podium to say a few words. The Lions gave each of them a plaque and gift card. The celebration’s printed program detailed their accomplishments.

Detective Parnitzke uncovered an identity theft ring that preyed on vulnerable victims at Palos Heights medical buildings, including residents of Manor Care.

Detective Campbell serves on the state police ruse burglary task force and trains officers and community groups to protect themselves against active shooters.

Officers Cha and Sows, risking their lives, entered a building engulfed in flames to save the lives of people they evacuated.

Firefighter O’Connor’s leadership improved his department’s EMS unit and enrolled in the rigorous Georgia Smoke Divers class to test himself against the best firefighters in the country.

In a poignant moment, Palos Heights fire Capt. Schwenn and Alderman Dolores Kramarski hugged each other. He had helped save her life after she collapsed outside City Hall after a City Council meeting last May.

The Lions also honored Cook County Commissioner Sean Morrison (R-17th District, Palos Park) with a Friend of First Responders Award for his role in saving the lives of more than 200 victims of heroin overdose. Morrison worked to obtain 12,000 doses of the life-saving medication naloxone. He provided the antidote for overdose by opioids to 56 police and fire departments, mostly in poorer communities, across the south suburbs, Morrison said.

Besides Judge Sterba, local dignitaries who attended the function included Palos Heights Mayor Bab Straz, Palos Park Mayor John Mahoney, Palos Hills Mayor Gerald Bennet, Palos Township Supervisor Colleen Schumann, a Lion, former Palos park mayors Don Jeanes and Carolyn Baca, Palos Hills City Treasurer  Ken Nolan and several Palos Heights aldermen, including Lion Jack Clifford.

“It was a grand affair,” said Tom Crowhurst, a former Palos Lions president, as he packed up years of memorabilia preserved by the club and placed on display. “As part of our anniversary celebration, we wanted to thank all the first responders for all they do throughout the Palos area. Every one of the recipients were well deserving of their awards tonight. It was a privilege to honor them.”

Another former president, Gene Adams said: “Tonight was the result of hours and hours of preparation and was definitely worthwhile that we were able to honor our first responders. What an honor it was to recognize them here at our 70th anniversary party.”

“We knew we had a great concept,” Schumann said after the party. “We’ve been trying to find a way to honor our first responders and it worked out perfectly to do it during our 70th anniversary. And the response from the community is tremendous.”