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Shnay: Two top Park Forest officials retiring, will be missed

Updated: November 7, 2013 6:11AM



We bet no one in Park Forest ever called Ken Eyer to thank him for unclogging a clogged storm drain or getting rid of dead leaves.

And we will wager that few, if any, parents in the village ever called Deputy Police Chief Mike McNamara to let him know that their teenage driver arrived home safely.

And why should they? Cleaning sewer drains and sweeping streets fall under the purview of Eyer’s public works department. It comes with the territory. Making sure that someone’s child is not driving the family car while intoxicated is part of a police officer’s job.

This past week, Eyer and McNamara retired from village service. And their successors, public works director Roderick Ysaguirre and Deputy Police Chief Chris Mannino, have large shoes to fill.

Public works is a thankless, top-to-bottom operation that deals with everything from streetlights to sewers and a lot in between. It also functions as a kind of community complaint department.

After working for Cook County for more than 30 years, Eyer came to Park Forest in 2001. During his 12 years on the job, he helped guide numerous street and building projects to completion, including a new state-mandated water plant.

In recent years, he supervised the reconstruction of Orchard Drive, Park Forest’s major north-south artery, as well as resurfacing a number of adjacent thoroughfares.

But if you ask, he will tell you that he takes special pride in his last major task, the repaving of Blackhawk Drive that was completed earlier this year. That project stands out because of new concrete driveway aprons for houses, giving the entire street, from Monee Road to Sauk Trail, a spacious and airy look it seemed to lack.

While Eyer looks forward to long trips with his wife, Patricia, and enjoying the couple’s nine grandchildren, McNamara will end his distinguished 32-year career in Park Forest and immerse himself completely in Licensed for Life, a program that educates young drivers about the dangers of drunken driving.

Twice named Park Forest’s Officer of the Year, McNamara is also a fifth-degree black belt in karate. If you count all the awards he has won in karate in the International Police and Fire Games, he’s the all-time medal winner in the martial art.

His passion for karate is matched by his commitment to Licensed for Life, which he founded in 1996 with executive director Cheryl Baczek. The program has specially trained police officers speak to students in classrooms, explaining the effects of alcohol and current law on drunken driving.

It also teaches driver safety skills and demonstrates how a street sobriety test is conducted. The program uses humor and a common-sense approach because the old solutions are not working.

McNamara, who has been part of more than 500 DUI arrests, said “just say no” doesn’t keep Junior away from alcohol or drugs.

“I’ve heard all the stories, and I’ve never believed in only saying ‘don’t drink,’” he said. “We know kids will drink, so we tell them what the law is and how a single violation can wreck more than a vehicle. We also show students what the word ‘impaired’ means through the use of fatal vision goggles that simulate a drunk driver.”

The statistics for Licensed for Life are impressive. Its numbers include presentations to more than 200,000 students in nearly 300 high schools from Maine to South Carolina and from New York to Kansas. Numbers, however, cannot tell you how many lives have been saved.

If you want to know more about the program, its website is licensed4life.org.



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