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Aaron Toppen grew up dreaming of serving his country.

Though he and family members knew his enlisting would come with an unavoidable degree of risk, they held firm and united — a tight-knit group — in supporting his ambition, keeping close from the time he was a tot to a teen.

Rebecca Susmarski

Pam Toppen takes a seat in a Starbucks cafe next to her daughter, Amanda Gralewski, as she smiles and enthusiastically introduces her baby granddaughter, a certain bitter sweetness though as it was roughly a year ago that Toppen found out about her while having to plan to funeral.

A little while later, she shows off her dog tags with her late son’s military photo proudly imprinted – something she never leaves her home without.

Rebecca Susmarski

The second annual Mokena Festa Italiana will be held on Sunday, July 19, and is expected to draw an even larger crowd than last year’s 1,000-plus attendees.  

The event begins at 11 a.m. at Mokena Intermediate School, 11331 195th St., with a procession ending at the festival grounds at the Front Street Metra Station lot. The festival is based on the traditional Italian Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.  

Danny Ciamprone

No music is playing, rather just the sound of pouring rain, some bickering among park visitors and a tyrannosaurus rex with a dangerous combination of curiosity and appetite, who has made its way out of captivity.

Danny Ciamprone

Farmers markets, outdoor movies, trips to the pool, festivals, parades, cruise nights and fireworks. There is no shortage of activities when it comes to summer in the southwest suburbs. And 22nd Century Media has 101 ideas for readers to get out and enjoy their communities this summer. We provided 50 ideas in print and now have 51 more online. Enjoy!

1. One Fish, Two Fish ... Time to Find All the Fish

Will O'Brien

In March, Lincoln-Way Community High School District 210 was placed on the Illinois State Board of Education’s Financial Watch List.

The ISBE used five criteria to place the district on the list: fund balance to revenue ratio, expenditure to revenue ratio, days cash on hand, revenues and expenditures, and long term and short term borrowing capacity.

Danny Ciamprone

When owners Steve and Jeanna Rotondi of Mokena founded the original Roma Sports Club in 2011, they never imagined they would grow out of the building and need something much larger so quickly.  

On Monday, Nov. 10, the Rotondi’s broke ground on the new, larger, state of the art facility Roma Sports Club at 9115 Mark Court in Frankfort.  

Rebecca Susmarski

A Mokena man was charged with retail theft June 2 at 20005 S. Wolf Road in Mokena after attempting to steal a 750 mL bottle of vodka and conceal the bottle in the front of his pants.

David Bachar, 33, of 9403 W. Ash Ave., in Mokena, was charged after a complainant observed the suspect try to conceal the bottle and then attempt to proceed passed the last point of sale before being detained, police said. Police were then called and the subject was charged with retail theft.

May 29

Danny Ciamprone

The call of the wild beats in us all. 

For some, it is a subtle tapping that is satisfied after a hike through the woods. For others, the drumming is constant enough to compel daily outdoor activity. And then there are still others, like Mokena native Jill Castiglia, who cannot ignore the thunderous internal beat. 

That call forces action.

Danny Ciamprone

After more than three decades of operating Mr. Benny’s Steak and Lobster House at its Matteson location, the Leonardo family has decided to close its doors and focus solely on the Mokena restaurant.

“It’s time for me to hang up my spurs,” said Benny Leonardo, co-owner of both full service restaurants in the southwest suburbs.

Leonardo has been in the restaurant business for almost 50 years total, having operated the Matteson location for 38 years before opening the restaurant in Mokena, located at 19200 Everett Lane.

Danny Ciamprone