The lives they lived - Part I
Celebrating 22 loved ones lost in 2009
About the issue
This last week of the year Illinois Times takes a loving look back at some of the lives that ended in 2009. All across Springfield this past week, chairs were empty and hearts were aching as families went through traditional holiday gatherings for the first time without their loved one. At the same time, those families remembered the joy the newly missing ones had contributed over the years.
Each person makes a contribution to the larger community. Not only are families diminished, but Springfield is taken down a notch with each passing as well. This collection of lives remembered is IT’s way of pausing to note the losses, while celebrating their contributions. Included here is a teenaged football start, a murder victim, a disabilities activist, a once-homeless writer, a public official, a business executive and many others. Read as a whole, the edition reminds that a community is a collection of characters, sometimes underappreciated until after they’re gone.
The selection is idiosyncratic and makes no attempt to be comprehensive. IT staff writers and regular contributors wrote the nine longer obituaries. We asked readers to send us remembrances of their Springfield-area loved ones who died in 2009, and they responded well, contributing the 13 shorter essays included here. Together we celebrate 22 very different lives, all memorably lived.
Joe Knox Feb. 10, 1925 – June 26, 2009
‘Nobody speaks for me.’
“Nobody speaks for me,” is the quote longtime political writer Gene Callahan remembers from covering the career of Joseph P. “Joe” Knox, who died at age 84 on June 26.
Once a powerhouse vote getter in Sangamon County Democrat politics, Knox was elected Sangamon County Clerk of the Circuit Court in 1956 and reelected in 1960 and 1964. In 1967 and again in 1971 he was elected Springfield’s Commissioner of Public Health and Safety.
“I was writing five political columns a week for the (now-defunct) Illinois State Register,” recalls Callahan, who was also a downstate stringer for Time Magazine and the New York Times.
“In the 1960s and 70s I watched Joe Knox rack up the largest vote totals any Democrat ever got in Sangamon County. Once I wrote a story and referred to one of his employees as his spokesman. I got a call from Joe setting me straight that he was his own man, and believe me, I never made that mistake again. He was a tough cookie and nobody took him for granted.
“He had guts, and wasn’t afraid to go his own way. In 1960 the Democrat leaders were all supporting Otto Kerner for Illinois governor. Not Joe. He supported Democratic National Committee Chairman Stephen Mitchell, and he stuck with him even though the party establishment went the other way.”
The youngest of nine children — eight boys and one girl — Joe Knox was the scion of a strong political family. His father was J.P. “Cotton” Knox, who was elected Sangamon County coroner in Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 1932 national Democrat landslide. He eventually ran unsuccessfully for state representative.
Educated in Springfield’s Catholic schools, Joe Knox was a Golden Gloves boxer and basketball standout. A fixture at Bunn Park golf course until his death, he scored not one but two holes in one. In 2006 he was inducted into the Springfield Sports Hall of Fame.
His only surviving sibling, Paul, 86, a retired Springfield fireman, remembers him as “the baby — the youngest boy so we all looked out for him until we realized he didn’t need anyone to take care of him. We were all scrappers. Some of us got our dad’s fair coloring but Joe got our mom’s dark good looks.”
“Seven of us served in World War II. Three in the Army, three in the Navy and one Marine. Joe earned six Navy battle stars in New Guinea and the Philippines.”
With an intact record for winning elections, Joe Knox bowed out of politics in the mid-1970s. Paul Knox recalls people urging his brother to run for mayor of Springfield, but after two terms on the Springfield City Council he thinks Joe had simply had enough of politics. Instead, he took a job managing nursing homes throughout the Midwest, and faded from the local political scene.
“I think he’d like to be remembered as a straight shooter,” says Paul. “Joe loved people — and they sure loved him.”
“He had guts,” says Callahan, who wrote about Knox’s maverick streak, including his refusal to support Otto Kerner, the party leaders’ candidate for Illinois governor in 1960.
— Julie Cellini
Adam Padget Nov. 6, 1990 - June 4, 2009
‘Football was his first love.’
On a rainy October night, Athens was losing 15-6 to PORTA in the annual Blacktop Braggin’ Rights game. The three-year-old football team, who’d won only one game in the previous two varsity seasons, looked to their captain to clinch not only the win, but also their first winning record.
With six minutes left on the clock, senior receiver Adam “Paddy” Padget stepped up the game. The wide receiver caught a pass from quarterback Korey Kern and ran the field for a 70-yard touchdown. Then, with one minute remaining, the team unleashed the “Adam Bomb.” Kern threw the football to Padget, who passed it to teammate Justin Hankins to score another touchdown.
Athens football fans will always remember that the Warriors won the game 18-15, edging PORTA out of its state playoffs’ spot and finally taking it for themselves after a victory over Mendon Unity the next week. But what fans will probably remember more is seeing Padget, dropped to one knee on the muddy field after the game, exhausted and overcome with emotion.
“The tears were coming out,” says David Padget, Adam’s dad. “They went from losing every game for the first two years to going to the playoffs. They came a long way in a little bit of time.”
It became the game of the 18-year-old’s career, forever stamped into the minds and hearts of those who loved him.
At 1:16 a.m. on June 4, Padget died at St. John’s Hospital, two hours after his Dodge Neon crashed into a light pole on Sherman Boulevard near Carter Brothers Lumber Co. and two days before his high school graduation. The cause of the accident has never been determined.
Padget was born on Nov. 6, 1990. He grew up in Springfield, but moved with his parents to Athens in 2001. He was all teenager — he loved McDonald’s chicken nuggets, Reese’s candy, rap music, Hollister clothes and horror movies. He spent a lot of time at his grandma’s house and always had his cocker spaniel Leo at his side. He had a deep-rooted love for the Philadelphia Eagles and hoped to one day play for the NFL team.
He excelled in high school, finishing his four years as an honor student who also helped his friends pass tough classes. Mike Curry, principal of Athens High School, says Padget was an “all-around good kid” who worked hard in school, but even harder in sports.
“Football was his first love,” Curry says. “When he came to school during football season, you could tell that he carried himself like he was proud to be on the football team.”
Padget was a freshman when he signed up to be one of the first players on Athens’ first football team. He’d never played before, and mom Terri Padget was apprehensive at first because he was so thin. Then she found out he’d been throwing the football with friends across the street from the new coach’s house.
“I saw him playing catch,” then-Athens football coach Joey Dion says. “I couldn’t wait to see people with a football in their hands, and I went out and met them. They surfaced all the time from that point forward.
“I learned later that they loved the game of football and wanted to show the new coach their skills.”
Dion, who coached before he started the football program at Athens, says that Padget was the perfect player. They developed a comfortable friendship — Padget watched TV at his house with other teammates and once helped find the coach’s dogs after they escaped. Even if they didn’t always see eye-to-eye on the field, Dion says, he respected Padget and could always count on him.
“He was a very good football player, athletically,” Dion says, “but what set him apart was his commitment and dedication. He knew what he needed to do to be successful. And people followed him.”
David and Terri Padget watched their son grow to a 6-foot-1, 170-pound leader who inspired his team before, during and after each game. Known not only for game-saving plays and for showing his soul on the field, Padget also captured the hearts of fans by running the school’s flag out to midfield and waving it to rev up the team. It was important to him, and this year, Athens asked his dad to do the honors at their first home game on Aug. 28.
“They asked if I wanted to walk it out, and I said, ‘No, Adam never walked it out,’” David Padget says. “I ran it out.”
For someone so young, Padget touched hundreds of lives in Athens and surrounding communities. The PORTA football team gave the ball from that legendary October game to his parents. It’s now displayed in a glass case at the entrance to Athens High School, with the inscription “Eternal Warrior, #4, Adam ‘Paddy’ Padget, Blacktop Braggin’ Rights 2008” and a photograph of a smiling football player holding a hard-earned trophy. A memorial tree and stone in his name were also placed near the school’s sports complex.
Like many athletes, Padget became the number he wore on his jersey. From the time he died until the time he was buried, Athens lit up its stadium scoreboard with 4’s. Friends and family will always wear his number on shirts, necklaces and tattoos.
“Football was his life,” Curry says. “No one was given the number 4 this season.”
— Amanda Robert
JOHN M. SKUBE, JR. May 28, 1918 – June 12, 2009
We laid him to rest in the middle of June, less than a month into his 92nd year. All of us remember him as a man grown old and in need of his walker. But most of us – there were six children – are lucky enough to remember him as a younger man, too. We remember him, in fact, as a man younger than any of us is now, as a man still in midlife but with cares and responsibilities greater than we knew.
His 11 brothers and sisters – many of them gone from this earth – knew him as Buddy. Acquaintances knew him as John, others as Mr. Skube. We knew him just as Dad and that was enough for him. He rarely talked about himself, but never failed to inquire about us. If only he had talked more of himself.
It’s a funny thing about parents. Growing up, we see them always as adults and eventually as old people. In the privacy of the imagination we long to know the boy who became our father, the girl who became our mother, a child with hopes and dreams, fears and insecurities, not so different from our own. Seldom do we ever know that person who became our sponsor in this world. And then one day he has gone to the grave and we recreate him in our mind’s eye, the slab of stone that marks his resting place inadequate testimony to his presence in our lives. And so we remember him in his best days, knowing the debt we cannot repay. He would never have expected repayment.
Now his cares and responsibilities are past, and those he left behind carry with them not just everlasting gratitude but a full realization of what a good dad he was.
ANITA JEAN TULL YUNG Sept. 11, 1934 – July 1, 2009
I had the honor of taking care of my mom (with the help of countless other wonderful people) for the last few months of her life. I want no credit for that. It was a privilege and a great opportunity to spend that quality time with her. It was just like two girlfriends spending the day together. One day, I walked into her bedroom. She was lying in bed and noticed that my back was hurting. She said “Here, lie down with me.” So I laid across the end of her bed and we began talking about silly things, like who we saw when we were out and about, what they were wearing, their hair and, uncharacteristically for her, some of her comments weren’t so nice. We laughed till my stomach hurt, like two kids at a slumber party.
If she was able, we’d take little rides to get milkshakes and root beer floats from Steak ’n Shake. If you’d never been a passenger in her car, you missed the ride of your life. She drove with one foot on the brake and one on the gas. She knew only two speeds: go fast, and stop. We were driving down Sixth Street. towards downtown one time and she was going 15 mph down the middle of two lanes. I told her she was going to get a ticket and she said, like my Nona used to, “I no givee damn.” That was my mom; dancing to her own drummer – fitting, as she was a dance teacher here in Springfield for over 40 years – not caring what other people thought and doing her own thing.
Christmas was a whole different story at my mom’s. We would go to her home for presents, going from the youngest to the oldest. That took a very long time, with patience growing thin and stomachs growling — even though we had consumed an eight-course meal at the restaurant just a couple of hours ago. Instead of a tree, we had a mechanical Santa that sang various holiday songs, and even though it was rather small, it was very festive. Presents took up a six-foot radius around this Santa and the kids fought over who would get to pass them out.
I already painfully miss those times, knowing that I was there for her, but wondering if it was enough. Now as the grandmother and mom of my immediate family, I hope I can step into that position as gracefully, generously and kindly as she did. I already miss her more that I can express, but I take comfort in the fact that she is at peace with my dad — dancing with the angels.
James Robert Enlow Feb. 11, 1937 – July 18, 2009
‘He fought courageously with a smile.’
On the ninth hole of a 2003 golf trip to Mississippi, Jim Enlow suffered a near-fatal heart attack. Actually, it was fatal. He was medically dead, with no heart rate for 24 minutes. The doctors told the Enlow family that there would be substantial brain damage as a result. As the family hoped for the best and expected the worst, they sat around the hospital room, praying and mindlessly watching Jeopardy.
No one was really paying attention as Alex Trebek gave the “Final Jeopardy,” but the instant he said it, Jim woke up, answered the question correctly and everyone knew everything would be okay.
Jim was born Feb. 11, 1937, to John and Janet Enlow. In 1957, he married his high school sweetheart, Carole Decatoire, and later that year they had their first son, John. Over the next 13 years, Jeanne, Jackie, Jim, Jeff and Julie followed. Between 1985 and this past February, they became grandparents 18 times over.
As you can see, my grandparents were very productive in their 52 years of marriage.
My grandpa was not merely in this world to create a rabbit farm-esque family. He served our community with his whole heart and mind. He joined the Knights of Columbus in 1982, rising to the esteemed fourth degree, the position of Grand Knight and serving as an honor guard. He also gave his time to groups such as the Boy Scouts at St. Aloysius and, like everything else he did, always did so with a smile.
His life and charitable mission grew in 1998 and 1999 with the births of grandsons Ryan Sattler and Lucas Enlow, both born with Down syndrome. With the welcoming of these two boys, Grandpa devoted much of his time to helping show just how able the “disabled” really are. He became heavily involved with the Special Olympics and Polar Plunge, and the Lincoln Land Down Syndrome Society and its annual Buddy Walk and golf outings.
Grandpa was diagnosed with lung cancer in February of 2008. We were all terrified, but he was fearless – outwardly, if not inwardly. He fought courageously with a smile. Always that smile.
He was given four to nine months. Like that day in Mississippi when he defied medical logic by waking up to beat everyone at Jeopardy, he exceeded the doctors’ expectations yet again. When told the cancer was growing again after a few months’ respite, he fought on and did another round of chemo, giving him almost a year longer than predicted.
His bravery continued right up until the very end. Just days before he passed, he was on the phone with clients, letting them know that he would no longer be able to do business for them, making sure everything was in order. My grandpa was the kind of man who made sure no one would be inconvenienced by his death – a true businessman his clients were lucky to work with.
He left this world exactly as he would have wanted – surrounded by his entire family, his mother holding his hand. Before the funeral home took him away, we all got to say one last goodbye — and an ever-important thank you — at the house in which we’d all spent so much of our lives. We cried and hugged, reminding each other and ourselves that wherever he was, he could breathe again, golf again, bowl again and watch out for all of us, the way he always had.
At his funeral, my family was quickly saddened by how unrecognizable and wrong he looked in that coffin, but none of us could understand why. My uncle Jeff figured it out.
“He’s not smiling.”
The line at his wake was not dissimilar to a line during a busy day at Disney World. There were so many people, even ones he’d only met once, all touched in some way by his life. For 72 years, Jim Enlow was an inspiration to everyone with whom he’d come in contact. His marriage to my grandma was that beautiful perfect love that you only ever see in movies. He was helpful without ever needing to be asked. He knew every answer to every Trivial Pursuit question. He was so proud of his kids and grandkids and everything they did, big and small. He was funny and quick and always, always smiling that smile that all six kids and most of his grandkids got from him. He was someone with so much love in him, with so many people who loved him back.
He lives on through his whole family, all of whom know that he left big shoes to fill, and all forever better because he was here.
— Courtney Enlow
ERIC HUCKABY, JR. Nov. 17, 1969 – Oct. 16, 2009
Eric, my friend of 15 years, was born on Nov. 17, 1969, and died tragically on Oct. 16, the victim of a senseless murder. He was one month shy of his milestone 40th birthday. It is a wrenching loss to his family and friends, and I will never recover.
Employed in the restaurant and bar industry for 20 years, Eric was an old-fashioned hard worker, a rarity by today’s standards. Lime Street Café, Illini Country Club and Ross Isaac were the beneficiaries of his talents. He rarely called in sick and dutifully showed up to work even if he was ill. He would say, as he took a drag off a cigarette, “I’ve got to go to work. They depend on me.”
Motivated to please his customers, his memory for their likes and dislikes was impeccable. Just how did he remember what someone’s drink of choice or food preference was when he had only waited on them once before? Time and again, people tell me nobody knew how to run the show like Eric. No matter how chaotic the restaurant business can be, Eric exhibited professionalism and pride in his work. One of his customers remarked to me that Eric was very highly regarded and his absence was sorely felt. Surely Eric would be overjoyed to hear such high praise.
I knew I could spontaneously show up at his house and enjoy a glass of red wine, and it was always the good stuff. Eric had cultivated a fine palate and was more than generous in sharing his collection, even if it wasn’t a special occasion.
Naturally intuitive, Eric listened to each and every person in his life without judgment. A friend to everybody, his friendships crisscrossed all socioeconomic backgrounds — rich or poor, black or white, old or young, male or female, gay or straight. He wasn’t famous. He wasn’t wealthy. He wasn’t a sports star or movie star, but he was our star, and we are so much richer for having had him in our lives. I am not a religious person, but I believe our loss is truly heaven’s gain, and the streets of heaven are lined with celebrations. We love you, Eric.
Howard Humphrey Nov. 7, 1933-July 20, 2009
‘He would light up a room.’
Howard Humphrey was the embodiment of the old cliché “larger than life.” A heavy-set, baby-faced jokester with a prodigious intellect and an unbridled zest for life, he was at center stage in Springfield’s business and civic communities for nearly four decades. In his spare time he traveled the world, read encyclopedias cover to cover and wrote spy stories and mystery novels.
Humphrey died July 20, 2009, at age 75. He left behind a legacy that included a 37-year career with Springfield’s home-grown Franklin Life Insurance Company, beginning with a job in the supply room and finishing with him being president, CEO and chairman of the board. He retired in 1996.
“He could have made it as a stand-up comedian, he was that good,” says Jack Watson, who was a Franklin management trainee with Humphrey in the early 1960s. “We were both small-town boys. I was from Riverton and he was from Taylorville. We joined Franklin because its founder, Charles Becker, was recruiting young college graduates to learn the insurance business from the bottom up. Howard was perfect for the job. He was fun and funny but he had a tremendous work ethic and was a stickler for organization. There was seldom even a single sheet of paper lying on his desk. When he called a meeting it started on time and never lasted more than an hour. He’d lock the door so no one showed up late. And he kept his office at about 50 degrees summer and winter so you didn’t hang around and waste his time.”
Watson recalls watching Humphrey with Lynda, his wife for 53 years, beside him, greeting scores of Franklin employees from around the country. He says Humphrey rememberedevery agent’s name and insurance sales record.
“Lynda was great. She filled in the blanks,” says Watson. “She knew the names of agents’ kids and events happening in their lives. Lynda and Howard were a great match and she was there beside him every step of the way.”
“Nobody was better at the podium than Howard,” Watson recalls. “He would light up a room. People assumed it was all spontaneous. In fact, Howard was an excellent writer who researched and worked out everything he said — every joke he delivered — well in advance. He made it look simple because he was very, very smart.”
Frank “Beaver” Schwartz describes his relationship with Humphrey as “best friends for 53 years.” Nearly 40 years ago the two bought 100 acres of undeveloped land west of Springfield and built homes for their families on either side of a three-acre lake.
“We even dug and laid the sewer together — a mile and a half using a trench digger. We hit boulders as big as a room.”
The two families were inseparable, raising their children together and sharing grief when the Humphreys’ daughter, Lee, died of cancer in 1996.
Family vacations took the Humphreys and Schwartzes around the world.
“Howard would lay out the itinerary,” says Schwartz. “He’d give us a lecture on the country, the customs, the food — everything about where we were going day by day. One trip we went to 30 different cities in Europe. Traveling with Howard wasn’t a vacation, it was a journey. The ground rules were that we could each have one small bagand we had to be on time for everything.”
“Howard always had a goal. Even if it was finding the perfect veal Milanese in all ofEurope. We both worked in insurance, but I can’t ever remember talking business with him. He had so many other interests.”
The pair shared a passion for their alma mater, the University of Illinois in Champaign. Working with a handful of other die-hard Illini fans, they reactivated the Springfield Illini Club and took contingents of fans from central Illinois to support U of I teams wherever and whenever they played.
“I remember Howard organizing a couple dozen of us to go see the Illini basketball team play in the Final Four in Seattle,” says Bob Cohen, a Springfield attorney and one of the group that helped reactivate the club.
Cohen had a friend in Seattle who offered to lead the Illini fans to his favorite local eatery in a location so off the beaten path that a caravan of cars was organized so no one would get lost.
“It was impossible to find the place,” recalls Cohen. “None of us had ever been to Seattle, and the restaurant was on the second floor of a strip mall that was almost impossible to get to.”
“We assembled our cars to follow my friend, but Howard didn’t show up. We finally arrived and there was Howard at a table waiting for us. He had simply listened to the friend describe the convoluted location and figured it out. I don’t know if Iever knew anyone with a mind as sharp as Howard’s.”
Escapades of the Springfield Illini Club’s road tripsare the stuff of legends, but one story in particular has made the rounds for years.
In 1984 some 50 locals, led by Humphrey, traveled to California for the Fighting Illini’s appearance at the Rose Bowl.
“It was New Year’s Eve and we booked a small private partyroom at the very fancy Newport Beach Yacht Club near Los Angeles,” recalls Schwartz. “The club members arrived in limos for their party. Some of the women wore pink mink coats.Our Illini group was not all that dressed up, but it was fun to watch the yacht club members as we made our way to our little party room.”
Cohen picks up the story from there.
“Somebody put on a record of the Illini fight song and Howard appeared wearing a full feather Indian head dress that reached to his knees. Everybody began chanting and Howard did a war dance, spinning around faster and faster until he crashed, not just into the wall, but completely through it. You could actually see the band playing for the yacht club party through the hole in the wall. Howard got up to wild applause and pretty soon we were all part of the yacht club’s party.”
“Some of the California people said it was the best New Year’s Eve party they ever had,” says Schwartz.
Howard Humphrey died in his sleep in Florida, not long after receiving a new pacemaker after years of heart disease.
“He went to bed, fell asleep and that was it,” says Schwartz. “I miss him a lot. But we should all be so lucky.”
— Julie Cellini
RICK VATTHAUER Feb. 6, 1961 — Jan. 6, 2009
Rick was an officer with Taylorville City Police for 24 years, the D.A.R.E. officer for 14 yearsand a member of the National Guard for 22 years. He had a master’s degree from UIS in community counseling and taught criminology classes for Lincoln Land Community College. He was trained as a welder and a massage therapist. His friends and Cassandra will remember him for singing “Tainted Love” and the Underdog theme song and wearing his trademark swim trunks and sweatshirts.
Loyal friend, great dad, amazing boyfriend, loving companion, tough counselor, gentle warrior, compassionate cop, relentless jokester, aspiring beach bum, quirky wit, intrepid traveler, spiritual seeker, dearly loved, too soon gone.
CATHERINE S. KALB Sept. 16, 1954 – March 23, 2009
Cathie loved Christmas time, so there is no better time to celebrate her life and love than now. An avid animal enthusiast with love for her family and life in general, we are sure no one will ever forget her — or her smile. She loved to be at home with her beloved dogs just staying warm and decorating at this time of year.
Even though she passed in March, it still feels like yesterday. The holidays have not been the same this year, though we remain in good spirits knowing she is close to us; laughing as we catch the Christmas tree as it falls, traveling on “Black Friday” — her favorite — or simply cuddling up and watching A Christmas Story. Mom, we love you and miss you every day. Thank you for this chance to celebrate her life.
DELBERT “DEL” REYNOLDS Nov. 12, 1928 – April 25, 2009
We remember Del…who loved to sing — in quartets, the Faithfull men’s chorus and along with country music on the radio. …who loved working on his whimsical art, drawing cartoons and his fancy “lettering,” especially “Old English,” a lost art. …who loved working in his yard and gardens, and keeping a watchful eye out for aircraft flying over, and whether it be commercial or Air Force, he knew their exact names.
Del and his wife Alice (Ally Lu) kept a watchful eye out for birds and squirrels to feed them daily and enjoy watching them “play” in their yard. Del taught Alice a lot about nature, trees and flowers.
His humor and kindness were well known to all. We miss you.
Love, Alice, Steve and Debbie, Jason, Josh, Andrea, Noah, Kaydin, Dave and Deb, Ron and Jason, and Sheryl.
Constance A. Merrifield May 11, 1961 – Nov. 13, 2009
‘She made a difference.’
Every once in a while, a hero comes along to save the day when you most need it. Sometimes it’s a single act of courage; sometimes it’s a pattern of kindness that lifts your heart and pushes you forward.
Constance Merrifield didn’t have the usual superpowers like flight, x-ray vision, or super speed, but she was blessed with a different kind of incredible gift. Merrifield, who died Nov. 13 from cancer, cared about others so much that she devoted her life to advocating on behalf of the disabled.
“I think a lot of people would say she was their hero,” says Kathy Leuelling, chief operations officer at United Cerebral Palsy of Land of Lincoln, where Merrifield had worked since 1993. “If you talked to a lot of the individuals she’s worked with, you’d hear the same thing. She stood up for people, a lot of the people other people wouldn’t stand up for.”
Merrifield made sure her disabled clients had everything they needed to live a full and healthy life.
“Constance was always known around here as one of the best advocates that we had,” Leuelling says. “She made sure that people were treated with respect. She was always very good about making sure that they knew they could speak up, helping them learn how to speak up.”
Constance Arnetta Merrifield was born in 1951 and grew up in Alton, Ill., with six sisters and four brothers. Her older sister, Georgia Pearson, remembers Merrifield as a curious young girl with a strong will and a positive attitude.
“She liked to experience different things she didn’t understand,” Georgia says. “She just wanted to know about everything.”
Constance Merrifield worked various jobs before finding her true calling in social service. When she was laid off from an unrelated job, she went back to school to earn her bachelor’s degree and became an advocate at UCP.
“She was one of the those people who came in and got personally connected with other people,” Leuelling says. “She was right there in the trenches, and she was really a mentor to a lot of staff throughout the years, not just in learning their job duties, but in terms of setting goals for themselves and working so that they could develop themselves personally and professionally.”
Merrifield had a way of pushing others gently but firmly toward their goals, recalls one friend.
Deidra Lockhart met Merrifield during a difficult time in Lockhart’s life, and Merrifield was a support and an inspiration to turn her life around.
“She made me know I could change,” Lockhart says fondly. “She never judged me for my past. She knew that I could complete what I wanted to do. That’s what she gave me. She never did bring up the past, but was just an encouragement for me.”
That encouragement continued through another challenge in Lockhart’s life, one she shared with Merrifield. The two women worked on their master’s degrees together at the University of Illinois-Springfield, and Lockhart says Merrifield always kept on her to finish.
Merrifield earned her master’s degree in 2005, and Lockhart finished hers in 2008.
“I never got to tell her I did finish my project,” Lockhart says regretfully. “I know she pushed me to get stuff done. She persevered. She was a go-getter, an advocate, and she made a difference.”
When Merrifield found out she had cancer in late April, the disease was already in its fourth and final stage. She lived with it for about six months, but daughter Tiffoney Clark says her mother’s courage and dignity never faltered.
“I knew she was strong, but to have cancer and be in so much pain, she never, ever complained,” Tiffoney says. “She held her head up, and she never asked why. It gave me strength just looking at her in that situation. When they told her she only had six months left in her life, she said she was going to fight till the end, and she did.”
Merrifield was 58 when she died, leaving behind two sons, two daughters, six grandchildren and numerous friends. The impact she had on them and the other people in her life is immeasurable, Tiffoney says.
“I didn’t realize until she was sick how many people’s lives she impacted,” Tiffony says. “She always wanted people to be above level; not to settle, but to go above and beyond. She had so much knowledge, and I knew that when she said something, that was the answer.”
Leuelling says the world could use more people like Constance Merrifield.
“She was a role model for a lot of people. She lived what she said. If she said it, she lived it, and people could see that. That’s probably the best way to influence people,” Leuelling says. “We could use a lot more of her.”
— Patrick Yeagle