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Former Blackhawk Korab embraced by adopted hometown

by Brad Boron / Chicago Blackhawks
Jerry and Mary Ann Korab pose with Elmwood Park President Peter Silvestri (Photo by Brad Boron/Chicago Blackhawks).

You’d be forgiven if you didn’t associate the name “King Kong” with community building. In the village of Elmwood Park, Ill., however, the man who bore the nickname throughout his 16-year NHL career, Jerry Korab, was recently celebrated for dedication to his adopted hometown and to the Chicago area when he received a street named in his honor.

The former defenseman was born in Sault-Ste. Marie, Ontario, and played stints in Vancouver, Buffalo and Los Angeles after leaving the Blackhawks in 1973. However, when he and his wife Mary Ann decided to set down roots, they made the decision that many other former Blackhawks have made following retirement and returned to Chicago.

“The way people remembered me after those three years with the Blackhawks really made me want to come back,” Korab said, still moved after unveiling the street sign on Monday. “I was gone for a long time, but when I came back after about 14 years of playing—mostly against the Hawks, not with them—the people of Chicago still embraced me. They remember who you were and the way you presented yourself.”

After 25 years, the Korabs are still in Elmwood Park, and Jerry runs a successful business in nearby Bellwood.

“When I came back, I was accepted by everyone,” says Korab. “As far as even going into business on my own, I got help from people who remembered me from playing way back when. It really helped.”

Of course, Chicago is very familiar with former Blackhawks joining the community following their playing days. Greats including Stan Mikita, Denis Savard and Troy Murray—none of whom were American-born—chose to make lives for themselves in the area, along with many other alumni. The Blackhawk Alumni Association, presided over by Canadian-born Cliff Koroll, has raised money and worked with charities around Chicagoland, and has awarded college scholarships to roughly 60 Chicago-area hockey players.

“We feel it’s very important to stay involved around the city of Chicago, and we have with a number of different charities and events that we participate with, as well as our own scholarships,” says Korab, who serves as one of the Alumni Association’s vice presidents. “We’re very involved in the community, and we try to give back to the city that gave us all so much.”

Despite being a long-standing member of the community, no one was more surprised or appreciative when "Jerry Korab Way" was announced than the man himself.

“I was just talking to my neighbor the other day, and someone else stopped by my house and asked me, ‘Did you hear that they’re going to name a street after you?’ It caught me off-guard; you always hear things, but it’s never official until it’s official. But then a few days later I got a phone call,” he says. “It was very exciting. I’m honored; you take a look at the number of people who get streets named after them—especially in the city they live in—it’s pretty good company. Elmwood Park is very special to me, and I’m very proud of this.”

“Jerry is a very distinguished Elmwood Park citizen; anyone who can accomplish everything he did, both in Chicago and elsewhere, we thought was deserving of recognition,” says Elmwood Park Village President Peter Silvestri. “He’s been on our city ‘Wall of Fame,’ and we’ve been selecting members of that group for this honor. We knew Jerry was very worthy.”

Korab is just the third athlete to receive the honor in Elmwood Park, joining Cubs Hall of Famer Ron Santo and Green Bay Packers legend Ray Nitschke, each of whom spent time in the town. But neither planted himself in the town quite like the former Blackhawk; Korab is very much a fixture, and will take pride every time he passes his street.

“Most of the time you see streets that are named after presidents, mayors and people who are deceased—at least I’m here to enjoy this moment,” he jokes. “To see my name every time I pull up to this corner will be fun. It’s a great honor for me and my family.”

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