2015 was full of big news: the community celebrated momentous achievements, mourned the loss of loved ones and looked forward to the future with both excitement and skepticism.

The 19th Ward aldermanic election started the year with passion, as residents voiced how much they care about their neighborhood.

Sadly, the year ended with tragedy, as Chicago firefighter Dan Capuano, of Mt. Greenwood, lost his life fighting a blaze.

With the new year approaching, here’s a look back at the top stories of 2015.

Local Leaders

Matt O’Shea, a lifelong neighborhood resident, won his second term as 19th Ward alderman on Feb. 24, defeating Anne Schaible, a physician from North Beverly whom he also defeated in 2011, with 72.47 percent of the vote.

O’Shea said he was “running on my record” during the campaign, citing helping the Beverly Arts Center out of financial troubles, supporting the opening of the Morgan Park Sports Center and helping several local businesses open.

During the campaign, O’Shea referred to debates as “silly,” drawing both criticism and support, but he still defeated Schaible, who wanted more than the one public forum that took place, and called for more tax increment financing (TIF) funds to go to community infrastructure instead of individual businesses and more police to be hired.

Margot Holland, of North Beverly, was announced as the new executive director of the Beverly Area Planning Association (BAPA) on March 31. Holland led several changes for the local organization: BAPA re-designed The Villager, its monthly publication, and hosted a new event, “Tap into BAPA,” a bar crawl fundraiser in November along Western Avenue.

The organization also announced its Snowflake Ball fundraiser, which had returned for four years, will not be held in 2016. The event was popular several decades ago, but attendance had sharply decreased, according to BAPA.

The 22nd District of the Chicago Police Department (CPD) also received a new leader, as over the summer, Mark Harmon, a 25-year CPD veteran, was named commander. Harmon, a Southwest Side resident, replaced Dan Godsel, who was assigned to another district.

Crime

On Sept. 16, the community mourned the death of John Buckner, a 25-year civilian employee of the Chicago Police Department, who police said was gunned down near his home on the 11600 block of South Church Street as he unloaded groceries from his car.

William Cochran, 18, of Morgan Park, has been charged with first-degree murder.

Neighbors said Buckner, 59, was looking forward to retirement and was active with the community’s block club.

In December, off-duty Chicago police officer John Gorman, 53, was charged with driving under the influence after firing multiple shots at two men, Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez said, stemming from a Nov. 23, 2014, traffic incident that took place in Mt. Greenwood and Beverly. According to Alvarez, Gorman shot at a Merrionette Park police officer and another man after they tried to pull him over for driving erratically.

Four men were also arrested after officials said they were part of a squatting scheme that illegally seized about a dozen foreclosed homes around Beverly/Morgan Park. Arshad Thomas, Raymond Trimble, Fahim Ali and Torrez Moore all face felony charges.

Community Issues

Jackie Robinson West Little League’s fairy-tale story had a sad ending. After winning the Little League national championship in August 2014, JRW was stripped of its title in February, as Little League International (LLI) said the league changed its boundaries illegally and used ineligible players.

JRW filed a complaint for a lawsuit several months later, then reportedly dropped it. JRW reportedly planned to leave Little League, but in December, LLI announced it was working with JRW to be removed from probationary status and be a full participant in 2016.

Train stoppages on CSX, Inc., railroads around the community continued to frustrate residents.

Residents and officials said trains often stop for more than 10 minutes, in violation of an agreement CSX signed when purchasing the local railroad about two years ago; they also said stoppages in the middle of the night cause noise problems, including crossing signals ringing for long periods.

Because railroads are under the control of the federal government, several officials, including O’Shea, state Sen. Bill Cunningham and state Rep. Kelly Burke, sent a letter to federal government officials seeking assistance and outlining several agreements that CSX has broken.

U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski said he is looking into the problem.

A home on the 10300 block of South Seeley Avenue also continues to be in a legal battle with the city. The home is filled with mold, owners Dave McClain and Sanaa Hachem said, but because it is located in a historic district, city officials have barred them from demolishing it. In April, a judge ruled in favor of the family’s request to demolish the home, but the city has appealed. The family’s lawyer said it could take several years before the case is settled. For now, the home is boarded up.

Coyote spottings also became frequent this year, with neighbors often seeing the animals casually walking or running down side streets. One resident said she was approached by a coyote as she jogged with her dog one summer evening.

Business News

Western Avenue underwent several construction projects, with many completed and others scheduled to be finished in 2016.

The Morgan Park Sports Center, a gymnastic and skating center on 115th Street and Western, opened in September. The facility cost $16 million, officials said, and was paid for through a combination of state, park district and TIF funding. Programming is available for youths and adults, and several high school hockey teams use the facility for their home ice.

At the northeast corner of 107th Street and Western, construction on a new Buona Beef restaurant continues, with officials hoping to open before spring 2016.

Keegan’s Pub, 10618 S. Western Ave., underwent a massive makeover and changed its name to Barney Callaghan’s, officially re-opening on Aug. 27 after several months of construction. The island bar gave way to a bar along the north wall, and the building was extended 40 feet to the west. A private-party room in the basement was also added.

A popular bar returned to the neighborhood. Reilly’s Daughter, owned by Morgan Park resident Boz O’Brien, re-opened at 4010 W. 111th St., in Oak Lawn, in November. O’Brien closed that location in 2003 after more than 20 years, as he also operated a Reilly’s Daughter at Midway Airport since 2002. O’Brien quoted Yogi Berra when describing the return, “It’s like deja vu all over again.”

In January, Family Pride Foods, a grocery store at 10601 S. Pulaski Road, announced it was closing after 16 years, citing nearby big-box competitors and an increase in the minimum wage. A Dollar Tree store opened at the location later in the year; however, O’Shea said in a mass e-mail to the community that he opposed it.

The Barraco Family, which owns several restaurants and pizzerias, might be on the verge of selling alcohol on 95th Street in Beverly, which has been banned since Prohibition. According to officials, under a plan proposed to the city, the family would operate a banquet hall at 2121 W. 95th St., the former site of a Chicago Public Library branch. Local neighbors need to sign a petition allowing for the sale alcohol, and O’Shea said the petition has received enough signatures; his office plans on submitting it to the city in the near future.

New plans have been announced for The Plaza, 9500 S. Western Ave., in Evergreen Park. Demolition of the historic building, once home to a popular mall, began Oct. 7. Officials said a new retail center will be open by 2017, although an official announcement on which businesses will be part of the construction has not been released.

A Carson Pirie Scott located on the site will stay open, officials said, while a new store is built on the southwest corner of the property.

Several Beverly natives and residents also won major awards for their work in the business sector. Neil Byers, owner of Horse Thief Hollow, won the James Tyree Emerging Business Leadership Award, with a $25,000 prize. James Gorski won the James Beard Outstanding Restaurant Design Award for his French bistro-themed Brindille, which is located downtown, and Emily Bohn, a bartender at Maple Tree Inn in Blue Island, won the Tenzing Coupe cocktail competition—and $3,500—for her “Amber Equinox” mixed drink.

Schools

Clissold Elementary School hired a new principal on Aug. 10, as Sean McNichols, a Mt. Greenwood resident, was selected by its Local School Council. McNichols was chosen over local resident Kathleen Valente after both participated in a public forum a few days earlier. McNichols, former assistant principal at John C. Dore Elementary School, introduced his 90-day plan and said he wants to improve the school’s Montessori program.

Mt. Greenwood Elementary School, 10841 S. Homan Ave., which officials said has experienced overcrowding issues, built a six-classroom modular on the north end of campus. Officials said the project cost $3 million. The school also built an annex in 2011, but officials said the school was still at 120-percent capacity last school year.

In February, St. Rita of Cascia High School senior Ethan Gray received the National Federation of State High School Associations Heart of the Arts Award, after he was selected as the Illinois representative by the Illinois High School Association. Gray, of Beverly, battles sickle-cell thalassemia, which requires him to have blood transfusions and causes “pain crises” that can lead to unconsciousness. However, he still plays 11 instruments, and he starred in the St. Rita jazz band.

Community Events

Once again, several events brought out thousands to Beverly/Morgan Park and Mt. Greenwood, casting the neighborhood in a positive light.

On Mother’s Day, the 16th annual Beverly Breast Cancer Walk brought out about 10,000 participants, who paraded through the neighborhood to music, dancing and other entertainment. The event has raised over $4 million since 2000. All funds go to Little Company of Mary Hospital Comprehensive Breast Health Center, which has purchased a digital mammography machine and hired new staff to fight breast cancer.

On Oct. 3, thousands of people again visited the neighborhood for the second annual Beverly Art Walk. Organized by The Alliance, a local arts group, the walk featured hundreds of works of art on display at homes and businesses. Dancers and musicians also entertained visitors.

The Alliance also helped create The Frunchroom, a reading series that was held three times at O’Rourke’s Office, 11064 S. Western Ave., during the spring, summer and fall. The fourth installment is set for Jan. 21, 2016, at O’Rourke’s.

Also around the community, “Get Behind the Vest,” a Chicago Police Memorial Foundation campaign to purchase new bulletproofs vest for officers took off in 2015.

Schools and local businesses joined the cause, including at St. Christina Elementary School on Feb. 22, when cast members of “Chicago Fire” joined Mayor Rahm Emanuel for a pancake breakfast fundraiser. The Original Pancake House, 10437 S. Western Ave., donated all the breakfast items for the festive event.

The Original Pancake House had much to celebrate in 2015, including its 50th anniversary, a celebration that brought out Emanuel for a cook-off between his Challah French toast and the restaurant’s buttermilk pancakes on Oct. 16.

The community also had a strong turnout for the renaming of the Mt. Greenwood post office as the “Captain Herbert Johnson Memorial Post Office Building” on Dec. 20. Johnson, a beloved firefighter from Morgan Park, died fighting a fire in Englewood in 2012. His widow, Susan Johnson, said, “I now look forward to receiving my mail from Herbie’s post office—though I told him no bills,” drawing laughs from a crowd that included family, local officials, residents and firefighters.

King Lockhart Park, 10609 S. Western Ave., was officially dedicated to two Chicago firefighters, Patrick King and Anthony Lockhart, on Feb. 12. King and Lockhart died fighting a blaze at a former tire store at that location in February 1998.

On Jan. 8, new Archbishop Blase Cupich celebrated one of his five vicariate welcome Masses at St. Rita’s Shrine Chapel. Cupich also visited several local schools, including high school basketball games.

Community Pride

“Choose Kind,” an initiative supporting Mary Cate Lynch, a 4-year-old from Beverly battling the craniofacial condition Apert Syndrome, had already drawn support from the community for several years. Mary Cate’s family, including her mother, Kerry, regularly visit schools to encourage students to “Choose Kind.” The message is inspired by the children’s book “Wonder,” by R.J. Palacio.

In October, the family’s efforts spread throughout the city, as “Choose Kind Chicago” was launched. Eli’s Cheesecake offered several promotions at local grocery stores, donating portions of sales to the cause, and Chicago public libraries held events around the city.

On Oct. 17, the Lynches met Palacio at Mother McAuley High School, where they hosted two presentations detailing Mary Cate’s story.

“Choose Kind” will be honored again in February, when Kerry receives the Venerable Mary Potter Humanitarian Award at Little Company of Mary Hospital’s annual Crystal Heart Ball fundraiser.

This past year’s Crystal Heart winner also had a local flavor. A New Direction (AND), a domestic violence support group, received the award in February.

Beverly native Maeve McSweeney just kept winning—and winning and winning.

McSweeney, 22, advanced all the way to finals of the Rose of Tralee International Festival, an annual Irish competition celebrating young women of character and integrity.

McSweeeney, a St. John Fisher Elementary School and St. Ignatius College Prep graduate, won the Chicago Rose of Tralee competition in March; she then advanced out of regional competition in Tralee in July, sending her back to Ireland for the finals of the international festival a few weeks later as one of 32 finalists. Although she didn’t win the crown, she called competing in the event “hands down the best experience of my life.”

The neighborhood also radiated pride on Oct. 24, when 9-year-old Jake Schied, who lost vision in both eyes as a result of cancer, starred on the football field for St. John Fisher Elementary School. First, Jake handled all the team’s kicking duties in a game at Beverly Park against St. Michael Elementary School. Then, near the game’s end, he ran for a touchdown.

The neighborhood has done a remarkable job rallying behind youngsters battling cancer. “Anthony’s Avengers,” supporters of 6-year-old Anthony Pappalas, a Mt. Greenwood boy battling a rare brain cancer called diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma, have held several fundraisers since his late July diagnosis. A car wash took over his home block of 108th Street and Trumbull Avenue in early August, and a benefit was held Nov. 1 at 115 Bourbon Street in Merrionette Park. Anthony has also met Cubs player Anthony Rizzo and touched the Stanley Cup.

Other local groups continue to raise funds and awareness after losing loved ones to cancer. On June 26, “Pat Mac’s Pack,” named for Beverly teen Patrick McNamara, took its second annual 100-kilometer bike ride to Long Beach, Ind., to raise funds. About 100 riders participated, starting at St. Barnabas Elementary School at dawn.

In February, the “Live Like John” Service and Leadership Institute, named for Beverly teen John McNicholas, launched a social media campaign revealing troubling statistics about how many young people die from cancer. The group is led by teens and college students.

The family of another Beverly teen who lost his life tragically showed incredible charity in September. Kevin and Jean Kennelly, whose only child, Kevin Jr., died after being struck in the head during an altercation in Long Beach, Ind., over the Fourth of July weekend in 2011, decided to donate almost all of a $1-million settlement to various schools and charities. Mt. Carmel High School, St. Rita High School and St. Barnabas are among the benefactors.

In Memory

The community mourned the loss of several loved ones in 2015, many of them children or young adults. However, they made an indelible mark on their families, friends and neighbors.

Emily Beazley, a 12-year-old from Mt. Greenwood, inspired the whole city with her graceful, courageous fight against cancer. This year, Emily’s home street of 108th and Homan was named “Honorary Emily Beazley Avenue.” She was also named an honorary Chicago police officer—just like her dad and grandfather—and received a phone call from her favorite music star, Taylor Swift.

Emily’s courage was incredible on April 28, when she received her police honors.

“The fight that I've been going through for the past four years has been difficult,” Emily said, “but you got to stay strong, and you got to stay positive, no matter what happens.”

Emily died on May 18.

Brendan McNicholas, a 22-year-old St. John Fisher Elementary School and Br. Rice High School graduate, also inspired his family and friends with his selflessness and courage in his fight against cancer. Brendan became close friends with Emily Beazley, and in late May, just after her death, he held a “Light Up the Sky for Emily” event, in which Chinese lanterns were lit and released in the area.

After a nine-month battle, Brendan died Sept. 10.

Brooklynn Shell, 12, a St. Walter Elementary School student, also battled cancer with grace and a positive spirit, school officials said. The school was decorated in pink and purple for the youngster, and a “Prayers for Brooklynn” sign was displayed across the school’s front windows.

Brooklynn died Oct. 15.

Sydney Schergen, 18, of Mt. Greenwood, died unexpectedly on May 31. Sydney, a 2015 Queen of Peace High School graduate, was heavily involved in posting purple and green lights and ribbons around the neighborhood in support of Emily Beazley.

Kevin Renderman, 27, a diehard White Sox and Blackhawks fan from Mt. Greenwood, died of cancer on Jan. 30. Kevin is remembered for his outgoing personality and his determination to not let his illness stop him from walking or loving life. A scholarship for St. Christina Elementary School students attending Marist High School has been created in his honor.

Caroline Griffin, 21, a St. Barnabas and Mother McAuley graduate, died unexpectedly on Jan. 15, after battling endocardial fibroelastosis her entire life. The condition, in which the heart does not pump blood sufficiently, also took her father’s and sister’s lives. Caroline, who was attending St. Ambrose University, is remembered for keeping life in perspective and always counting her blessings despite her medical issues.

Mike McArdle, 27, a St. Barnabas alumnus, lost his life on March 7. According to officials, McArdle was driving in the Goose Island neighborhood when his car struck a light pole. A passenger was hospitalized.

McArdle, who was a bouncer and bartender at Cork and Kerry Tavern, was known for his bright smile, his loyalty to friends and his love of being in control of the jukebox remote while working at Cork and Kerry.

On Dec. 14, tragedy struck the Chicago Fire Department (CFD). Dan Capuano, a Mt. Greenwood resident and 15-year veteran of the CFD, died fighting a blaze on the 9200 block of South Baltimore Avenue. Officials said Capuano, fighting smoky conditions, fell down an open elevator shaft.

Capuano, 43, loved watching his two sons, Andrew and Nick, play hockey for the St. Jude Knights, his loved ones said, as well as watching his daughter, Amanda, compete in cheerleading competitions. Fellow firefighters called Capuano, who also served with the Evergreen Park Fire Department, a hard worker and a family man—when he wasn’t on the job, he was with his family.

Letters from his family were read at his funeral, and his widow, Julie, called him her first and only “true love.”

The CFD said the fire is under investigation, and a complaint has been filed with Cook County Circuit Court against the owners of the building, whom officials said illegally removed the elevator.

Black and purple ribbons still hang around the neighborhood, the traditional colors to mourn a firefighter’s death.

Several other neighborhood leaders also lost their lives, including Barry Dunkle, a retired teacher from St. John Fisher; Kevin Hansen, a teacher at Mt. Carmel High School; Dale VanderBloomen, a master craftsman who operated Catwood Studios out of his home in East Beverly; Jim Rago, former longtime supervisor at Kennedy Park; Jean Sapp, whose Beverly family has owned Original Rainbow Cone since 1926; and Al Brazen, former longtime dean and coach at Marist High School.

Beloved community members Maryjane McIntosh, Marty Gavin, Louise Beardsley, Richard Lusk, Jim Deering, Mary Kay Shannon Moore, Frederick Pennix and Bette Ryan were also mourned after their deaths.