Over the nearly 23 years I have lived in Lansing, I have loved learning about Lansing’s past. On my nights as a docent at the Lansing Historical Society, I’ve sat thumbing through old newspapers reading about happenings in the area and scanning the sales ads indicating you could buy a bag of apples for 19 cents or a loaf of bread for a dime. I’ve also really enjoyed hearing about the village from those who were here long before I was.
I recently chatted by phone with Ken Straka, who retired last fall from his job with the Lansing Building Department. We talked about his years working for the village and some of the organizations he was involved with in his years here. Straka has since relocated to North Carolina to live with his daughter, who insisted that he come to live close to her so she could keep an eye on him as he has a health issue that requires close monitoring.
Straka was born in East Chicago and spent the first part of his childhood in Whiting. The family later moved to Griffith where his father had an electrical business in Highland and he attended St. Mary School in Griffith and then Bishop Noll in Hammond, graduating in 1948. He was a member of the Naval Reserves from 1951 to 1955.
He talked about fun times back in the 1950s when he was president of the Lansing Old Timers organization. He was also a president of the park district board and spent about 13 years on that board. “I served with Patti Leach, Dennis Flanagan and Mike Fish. We had a great group,” he said.
A Lansing Lion since 1959, Straka served as president and later as district governor of District 1A in the late 1970s, overseeing about 100 Lions Clubs and close to 6,000 members. His district encompassed all of Cook County.
An electrician by trade, he worked for Fischbach Corp., which was based in New York, but had branches in downtown Chicago, East Chicago and Schaumburg. His employer sent him for further schooling and he later worked for the company in marketing and project management. After 28 years there, he retired and went to work for Lansing’s Building Department where he put in another 23 years. He spent the first 13 years as building commissioner and the final 10 working in the department alongside new commissioners and as an interim commissioner in between.
“He is one of the most honest, skilled and kind individuals I ever knew,” said Grace Bazylewski, former director of planning and development who worked with him. “He is a great problem solver.”
“I enjoyed Lansing and was very pleased to be involved in things,” said Straka. “I always said it was a great place to raise your children.” He recalled the 1954 centennial celebration and friends of his being named Mr. and Mrs. Lansing during Good Neighbor Week.
Straka had a part in a lot of the good things that were going on in the village and in some of the traditions we continue to enjoy today. He and his fellow Lions put up the first Christmas lights on the light poles, which at the time were accompanied by big speakers that played Christmas music on Ridge Road. His father-in-law was the first Santa Claus in Lansing. He also is responsible for starting Lansing’s Halloween Parade.
It’s people like Straka that we can thank for many of the programs and facilities that we enjoy in Lansing. Thanks to Ken for all his years of service in the community and for sharing some of his memories of Lansing long ago.
Coffee with a Cop on May 7
The Lansing Police Department is hosting Coffee with a Cop from 9 to 11 a.m. May 7 at the local McDonald's, 17810 Torrence Ave. Sgt. Randy Hoving and other officers will be there to meet with residents and discuss anything they want. This is the first event of its kind in Lansing and police will consider to continue it if there is enough interest. For more information on the event call Hoving at (708) 895-7130. Coffee with a Cop is a national movement, to learn more go to www.coffeewithacop.com.