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Car show in Bridgeview a ‘boost’ for tornado-ravaged town

John Haase holds 'WashingtStrong' T-shirt during car show Sunday Bridgeview thraised funds for victims last November's powerful tornado thstruck downstate

John Haase holds a "Washington Strong" T-shirt during a car show Sunday in Bridgeview that raised funds for victims of last November's powerful tornado that struck the downstate community. | Mike Nolan/Sun-Times Media

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Updated: September 19, 2014 6:16AM



Draped over the passenger seat of his white Corvette, John Haase had an orange T-shirt that read “Washington Strong.”

He’s worked at a Chevrolet dealership in that downstate community, which was hit by a powerful tornado in November, for 25 years, and on Sunday was taking part in a car show in Bridgeview intended to raise money for tornado victims.

“It’s a nice boost to know people are thinking of us,” Haase said.

Well over 100 vehicles were on display in the parking lot of Northwestern College, with a portion of each car’s show entry fee going to relief efforts in Washington.

Haase is a member of the Mid-Illinois Corvette Club, which brought several cars to the show. Two members of the club were trapped in the basement of their home, which was destroyed by the tornado, said Elaine Kasky, the club’s activities director.

“They had nothing left,” she said, although they rebuilt their home and recently moved in.

The Nov. 17 tornado destroyed or damaged more than 1,100 homes. Three people were killed — one who died during the storm and two others who later died of injuries suffered during the tornado.

Kasky, who lives about five miles from Washington and attended high school there, said rebuilding efforts are going full strength.

“It’s all new neighborhoods,” she said. “People are roofing, putting up garages.”

Still, there are also many lots where homes were leveled and owners are trying to sell the property, she said.

Kasky said she knew “a lot of people who were touched” by the storm but she is glad to see the community getting back on its feet.

“The town’s sticking together, we’re all sticking together,” she said.

A bit more than 75 percent of buildings that were destroyed by the storm have been rebuilt or are in the process of being rebuilt, Kristy Howell, a member of a committee providing financial aid to tornado victims, said. About $200,000 has been distributed so far, said Howell, a member of the Rotary club in Washington, who noted donations for the city have come “from all over the world.”

“As the need’s still there, we continue to give,” she said.

Debris removal has remained an issue, as residents’ homeowners insurance didn’t cover that expense. Also, homeowners who are rebuilding are, in many instances, having to dig up their entire yards because wind-driven debris is embedded several inches into the soil.

“It’s $7,000 to $10,000 to do an average yard,” which includes replacing the topsoil and putting down sod, Howell said.

Jim Demopoulos, a retired truck driver from Palos Park, started talking with officials in Washington in January about doing the car show as a fundraiser. He’s a member of the Lemont Classic Car Club, which organized the event.

After the tornado hit, he saw Washington’s mayor on the television news and was moved to help with cleanup efforts.

“The guy was in tears,” Demopoulos said. “It just hit me, and I went down (to Washington) the next day.”

He said he made five trips to the community in the months after the tornado.

“I promised them nothing,” Demopoulos, of Palos Park, said when he presented plans for the fundraiser. “I told them I would try my best, and whatever was left over after expenses was theirs.”

Rudy Keebler, of Palos Hills, had a Blackhawks-themed Corvette on display at the show. A lifelong hockey player until a shoulder injury last year, he started outfitting the car with all things Blackhawks — even the tire valve caps sport the team’s emblem — in 2007 and “I’m still doing odds and ends things on it, but I’m 95 percent finished,” he said.

He said he was glad that some of the show’s proceeds would help out in Washington, noting that he likes “to do charitable things.”

“Every little bit helps,” Keebler said.

John Katauskas, president of the Lemont car club, said before Sunday’s show got underway that he was hopeful the event would benefit the tornado victims.

“We hope this works out for the people of Washington,” he said.



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