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Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2009 04:33 am

The lives they lived - Part II

Celebrating 22 loved ones lost in 2009


KENNETH “GENE” WELLENREITER JR. Aug. 13, 1971 – July 27, 2009

Gene Wellenreiter came into my life about six years ago and taught me more about life and living through his death and dying than he will ever know. Gene was diagnosed with cancer on his 37th birthday and never made it to his 38th. He fought a courageous battle with his family and friends by his side through it all. I saw a family pull together, bring him back to the home where he was raised, take care of him, love him and allow him to die where and how he wanted.

He was a man who was full of life and love that was contagious to those around him. He seemed to love everyone and let them know it. My partner and Gene were best friends and spoke just about every day for 25 years, and even though Gene is gone, I see how he continues to touch lives. I watch my partner continue to speak with Gene by writing a letter every now and then as if they were just catching up. I look at the many pictures of Gene and his many friends and he continues to make me smile and thank the Creator that he was able to touch my life.

At Gene’s funeral the minister mentioned just one more thing that stuck with me, the story of “The Dash” – a poem by Linda Ellis. The last stanza reads as such:

So when your eulogy is read
With your life’s actions to rehash
Would you be proud of the things they say
About how you spent your dash?

Gene taught us to live our lives and to never take a second of it for granted, to love, to laugh, to smile. His body may not be with us but his spirit is deep inside. I only hope that everyone can know one person like my friend Gene and how he spent his “dash” touching everyone around him.

Randal Bird

Carol Manley May 28, 1954-July 29, 2009
Her stories ‘stick a fork in your heart and twist it.’

If you commute into town from the west side you may recall having seen a stout woman with straight blonde hair and glasses determinedly trudging along Madison, then later that afternoon she’d be sitting on a bench at Jefferson and Second waiting for a bus. Maybe you used to see her weekends walking near Fairhills Mall with a little boy’s hand firmly in her grasp, the doting grandmother vibe obvious even though their skin colors didn’t match. If it crossed your mind at all to notice, maybe you think she got in a car.

She didn’t. Carol Manley got a one-way ambulance ride on July 29 when her heart failed her.

During her 55 years she’d gone from her blue collar family in Belvidere, Ill., to poverty as a Chicago welfare mother of mixed race children. In Springfield she finally arrived at middle class respectability as a state government employee who owned her own home and had married her longtime love Leon Johnson. (Her friend and mentor Jackie Jackson’s poem quoted her in full: “Leon and I got married on my lunch hour yesterday. Seems to be working so far.”)

Carol bootstrapped her way to better times for herself and her children through education and grindingly hard work. Look up her name in the Illinois Times search function at www.illinoistimes.com and read some of her accounts of when food was scarce and respect nonexistent. Measure “White Christmas: The Church People Come for a Visit” against the bachelor’s degree she earned with honors in computer science and her master’s in English.

Of course, her real career was her writing, which was anything but pedestrian. Last year Rodd Whelpley reviewed Carol’s collection of stories, Church Booty, in IT with an eye for the humor, horror and humanity that she brought to life as a blonde member of the black community. He wrote of her characters that “They spend as much energy looking for rides as they do looking for someone to love and be loved by, and they have to do it on the cheap.” It doesn’t matter if you’re rich, poor, black, white, male or female — Carol’s stories will stick a fork into your heart and twist it. Oprah needs to know about Church Booty and surely President Obama would recognize something of his mother’s life and his own within its pages.

Who benefits from Carol’s passing? Only other contestants for writing awards. The rest of us will miss the decades of stories, poems, articles and reviews that she won’t be writing.

Lola Lucas is author of At Home in the Park: Loving a Neighborhood Back to Life about Enos Park in particular and Springfield in general. It’s available at Amazon.com.

Excerpt from “White Christmas”
by Carol Manley

They were the type of people I had been before a marathon of poor judgment had led me to this life and this building. (…..) When they reached a safe distance, they remembered what they’d come to say. “Merry Christmas!” they chimed as they edged away from my door. I closed the door and looked in the bag. There were three boxes of macaroni and cheese, a loaf of bread, and a box of cornflakes. Each had a sterile white label stamped with black letters. I looked at those generic labels, impersonal and punitive in their lack of color. I needed that food. How could I not be grateful? Yet somehow I felt condemned by it. I ached for the luxury of red-and-blue stripes on the bag of a normal loaf of bread. I carried that bag of joyless groceries to the alcove that served as a kitchen in the studio apartment. I put the bread and cornflakes in the refrigerator to protect them from roaches. I would try to save the cornflakes until my next check, when I’d be able to buy some milk. Without a colorful rooster or bright-yellow rising sun, that miserly box would camouflage itself in the white interior of the fridge. I had a little salad dressing, so I’d be able to make the macaroni and cheese without milk or butter, but the thought of it made me weary. I looked around my shabby apartment. I was paying for my sins, for those twin evils of gullibility and fertility. Out the window I could see the red and green traffic lights on Wilson Avenue, the white headlights and red taillights of the cars on the street, and the broad palette of Chicago brick colors in the buildings surrounding me. I looked at that colorless box of macaroni in my pale hand. Then I sat down on the pullout couch where my beautiful brown children slept. I rummaged in its crevices until I found a crayon and began to draw red ribbons on the bland box of generic macaroni and cheese.

FES STEVENS Aug. 15, 1952 – June 17, 2009

Larger than life.

This phrase has been used to describe all types of individuals but I never knew anyone actually larger than life until I met Fes Stevens. Fes was my best friend and I guess that colors my judgment, but ask any old-timer from the Springfield theater community and you’d probably get a chuckling agreement.

Fes was active in Springfield community theater for more than 30 years. I first met Fes when we were cast in Paint Your Wagon at the Muni and soon realized that he was the ringmaster in a rowdy cast of characters. Theater in those days may have lacked the sophistication of today’s productions but it was much more fun.

Fes always attracted a wide range of friends who gravitated to his gregarious nature. Over the years, Fes entertained Springfield audiences in a wide variety of roles, from a towel-clad Herod in Jesus Christ Superstar to a drunken Pap Finn railing about the “guv’ment” in Big River. But my favorite Fes performance occurred in South Pacific. I directed that production and made him wear a goofy turkey costume in a Thanksgiving pageant within the show. The costumer, Karen Fifer, had created a wonderfully garish outfit that only a best buddy would wear in front of a Muni audience. That’s the kind of friend he was.

Fes passed away this June after a long battle with cancer. He is greatly missed by his beloved wife Frannie and hundreds of friends.

Fes Stevens — larger than life.

Rich McCoy

William G. Hall Dec. 23, 1945 – Dec. 3, 2009
‘He took everything seriously, except himself.’

It’s a brisk winter night outside Robbie’s Restaurant, where more than 100 of Bill Hall’s closest friends and family have gathered in his memory.

By the front window overlooking the Old State Capitol, a jazz band plays the smooth, cool sounds he adored – the meaty bass, slick guitar, swinging drums, wailing sax and blazing trumpet playing just loud enough to overcome the laughter and nostalgic conversations that fill the room as a photo collage of his smiling face looks on. It seems more like a party than a memorial, but one gets the feeling Hall would have wanted it that way.

William G. Hall passed away Dec. 3, 2009 – 20 days before his 64th birthday – of complications from a stroke he suffered while golfing with friends. He was a public administrator, teacher and all-around renaissance man, say the numerous people who spoke fondly of Hall at his jazz-themed memorial. Born in Springfield in 1945, Hall lived his entire life here, positively influencing friends, family and total strangers in ways he may never have known.

“Bill really enjoyed life,” says longtime friend and former coworker Phil Gonet. “He loved to have fun, and he loved people. He was a genuinely nice guy, always made you feel comfortable.”

So many and so varied are Hall’s accomplishments and interests that his résumé reads like that of three people combined. He was involved in so many things that his son, Andy Hall, remarks, “Frankly, I don’t know where he found the time.”

“He was interested in everything, and he took everything seriously except himself,” Andy says.

After serving three years in the Army, Bill Hall taught at Springfield’s now-defunct City Day School, then joined the staff of the Illinois House Republicans in 1979, where he met Gonet.

“He was a good friend,” Gonet says. “He was always eager to help, and he knew so much about so many things. That really influenced me to be the same way.”

Hall went on to serve in many state agencies, even becoming director of the Illinois Economic and Fiscal Commission from 1991 to 1999, before leaving the state’s employ to try his hand at city government. He headed the city’s Office of Budget and Management under former Mayor Karen Hasara until he retired in 2003, then returned in 2008 when appointed to Mayor Tim Davlin’s Blue Ribbon Committee tasked with studying the city’s finances.

Norm Sims, another longtime friend of Hall, met Hall while both men were working for the city, waiting for a city meeting to begin.

“We got into a conversation, I couldn’t tell you why to this day, on physics,” Sims recalls. “And we just sort of hit it off from that point, so we started getting together to talk about all kinds of things, because Bill was not only very intelligent, he was also very curious.”

Hall and Sims would later teach a class on public administration together at the University of Illinois-Springfield, and Sims recounts how Hall announced – 10 seconds before the first class period – that he wanted to change the lesson plan.

“He says, ‘I think I’m going to do something different. I think I’m going to talk about fractal geometry and chaos theory,’ ” Sims says with a laugh. “He did it, and he made it relevant. That was not uncommon for Bill.”

Outside of work, Hall had several hobbies that revealed not only his intelligence and creativity, but his drive to do his best. Andy Hall describes his father as an avid woodworker, golfer, genealogist, audiophile and amateur physicist.

“Dad had a slew of interests, all of which he took very seriously,” Andy says. “I can’t picture him ever dismissing anything as not worth finding out more about, whether it involved history or technology or science or sports or politics.”

Phil Gonet recalls how Hall picked up golf in the ’90s and quickly became a skilled player.

“I’ve been golfing since I was six, and he’d only been playing for a few years,” Gonet says, “I usually beat him, but he started beating me toward the end there. For someone who hadn’t played very long, he did very well. He wanted every shot to be perfect.”

Gonet says what he admired most about Hall was his love for his twin sons, Andy and Nick.

“I can see a lot of Bill’s traits in his boys,” Gonet says. “They have his intellect and curiosity, his independence. He was really proud of them.”

Hall’s ex-wife, Imogene “Jeff” Hall, says his curiosity and intelligence served as guideposts for the twins.

“Back when we didn’t know what computers were, Bill was investigating them,” she says. “Our sons learned everything from him. Now they’re in computer work, and I think it’s because Bill started them on that path. He was so proud of them.”

The night of Hall’s memorial, between the jazz solos and the sharing of funny anecdotes, four different people stood before the crowd and said what everyone else seemed to be thinking.

 “I’ve lost my best friend,” they each said. “Bill was my best friend.”

— Patrick Yeagle

EVA TROST JOHNSON Nov. 22, 1916 – Dec. 28, 2008

My mother moved from Tovey to Chicago and met my dad during WWII, after her address was posted on a bulletin board at Fort Grant and he decided to write to her. It took a couple of years of correspondence and visits, but they married. They resided in North Aurora more than 50 years. She worked as the grade school secretary, much to my dismay during my years there! Her friendships with teachers and church folk lasted for decades, and when my parents moved to Rochester a few years ago, the goodbyes were tearful but the support plentiful.

She set about making new friends and making her presence known in this small community as she attended library and church functions, as well as meeting a few new doctors, teasing them continually. Even late in life, she was a “hoot” and, though physically easy to keep up with, she was often way ahead of others mentally.

Her final few months were spent at a Taylorville nursing home where she was a delight. Her photo was taken there, holding one of our foster puppies. Her cat lives on with us. She enjoyed visits from our pets and fosters regularly.

What made her special to us, me and my husband, is that she was the last of our parents to leave this earth. She didn’t always understand or agree with us; she challenged us to learn about late-life issues “on the job.” Her faith was unshakeable. She was tough on the outside, but a softie. She wasn’t much for praise, often employing the “you can do better” strategy. But it turns out she told plenty of people she was proud of us and she left it to them to tell us what she’d said. Who knew?

Kate Johnson Hein

JOHN DAVID PETERSON Jan. 13, 1979 – Dec. 1, 2009

The loss of a child is a parent’s worst nightmare and the pain of losing John is overwhelming. But the celebration of his life and the outpouring of support from family and his many friends has sustained us. 

John was a loving son, both as a child and an adult. He had a great, if not warped, sense of humor. He loved listening to records as a child and music became his life. He would practice piano, then go off on a tangent composing and playing the music in his mind. He played tenor sax in band and jazz band at Franklin Middle School and Southeast High School, and taught himself the bass in high school.

He was active in sports and Boy Scouts, but his love was music. He was part of the Springfield music community, playing in three bands and in Muni shows. He inspired younger musicians. He had a big heart and supported friends emotionally and, at times, financially. Some took advantage.

He had an infectious laugh and a great smile. He enjoyed playing pranks and drove us crazy at times, but he was full of love for us, his sister, Jessica, and his many friends. He was taken too soon, but his life touched many people. He has left a gap in Springfield’s music community and in many hearts. He will be sorely missed.

Dave and Barb Peterson

The old saying tells us that love is blind and it may well be, but love is most certainly not deaf. That is precisely how I ended up in love with a musician. When you fall in love with a musician, part of what you fall in love with is their passion and energy, especially when on stage. Something that you have to understand about musicians, however, is that their first love will always be music. It isn’t something that you can really be offended by or take personally, because that is just the way it is. And, to be honest, it’s part of why you fell in love with them in the first place, so you can hardly fault them for it.

John Peterson defined himself as a musician and he really lived it. He began playing the piano and then moved on to the saxophone, then bass. He loved to create music in any form. Music was his emotional outlet. When he was pissed at the world, he played his bass; when he was elated, he did the same. He was the best bass player I ever had the privilege to hear. He was improvisational yet surprisingly strategic. He really had a way of communicating with his guitar. They had a relationship that was somehow extremely deep and terribly dysfunctional. He just really knew how to play his bass. He knew exactly what his instrument was capable of.  

 John could play with anyone, and pretty much did. There was never a time when he only played with one band. As much as he liked to challenge his fellow musicians, he liked to challenge himself more. He would play a certain style just to prove to himself that he could. He played everything from jazz to hip hop to Broadway shows at the Muni and everything in between. The combinations of musical genres made his style richly unique and completely flawless.

I miss everything about John in a million different ways. Even the things that always drove me crazy, I miss horribly. However, I think the thing that we will all miss most is watching him on stage. It was incredible because he didn’t just play; he banged and struck his guitar. He beat the shit out of his guitar every time he touched it and it created the most beautiful sound I’ve ever heard. He was a genius and a musical prodigy and to say he will be missed is a gross understatement. And while I will never claim to be a musician, as a music lover, I think anyone who appreciates music and those who create it should give a nod to John Peterson. He dedicated his life to making music and played every show with more passion than most people put into their music in a lifetime. He will never be forgotten.

Lindsey Eyre

Kathy Conour March 22, 1943-Sept. 19, 2009
‘Pat my head, and I’ll bite you.’

In 2002, Kathy Conour and Diana Braun drove to Columbus, Ohio, to talk to Academy Award-nominated director Alice Elliott. Conour, who had cerebral palsy, and Braun, who had Down syndrome, had lived together since 1970 and wanted Elliott to help them show other people with disabilities that they could be just as independent.

Conour continued to e-mail Elliott, who was initially hesitant to accept another project, until she agreed. She came to Springfield the next year to begin filming the pair in their Springfield home. Five years later, Body & Soul: Diana and Kathy started screening at film festivals worldwide and has since won 11 awards.

“I thought it was so creative and symbiotic,” Elliott says. “That really struck me as important for a film. You can have this kind of creative friendship that will be mutually beneficial.”

Conour and Braun had been inseparable for 39 years, until on Sept. 19, Conour died of a heart attack at age 66 at Memorial Medical Center. It was one month before their film made its local PBS debut.

Conour was born on March 22, 1943 and grew up on Bates Avenue in Springfield. She was an only child; her mother was a first grade teacher and her father was an insurance agent. At age 9, Conour’s parents enrolled her in the Illinois Children’s Hospital School in Chicago — a move that her cousin Mary Caroline Erickson says was the first step to her independence.

“They worked with Kathy over the years to develop her capabilities,” Erickson says, “because as an adult, she wanted to live independently.”

Conour’s disability never kept her from experiencing life. In the 1960s, Conour’s family traveled the world. They drove as far south as the Yucatan Peninsula and as far north as Alaska in an Airstream trailer. She later visited such countries as Italy and Israel.

In 1970, she met Braun at a sheltered workshop in Ottawa, Ill., and the pair instantly connected. Neither one of them wanted to live with their parents or in a nursing home like many other people with disabilities at the time.

“She pointed like this to me, and said, ‘That’s the person I want,’” Braun says. “She was the person I wanted. We knew we were the right team.”

They started out with foster families in Ottawa and in Kankakee, but in 1978 found their first apartment. They eventually returned to Springfield in 1990 after an operation left Conour paralyzed from the neck down.

Conour had always been non-verbal, but in earlier years could communicate by pointing to letters and phrases on a special board attached to her wheelchair. After the operation, she lost her limited mobility but could still communicate through Braun.

“No one could understand her but me,” Braun says. “I knew what she was saying by eye contact and listening. She would look at me, and I’d look at her. That’s how we do it.”

With the help of a Pathfinder electronic communication device, Conour graduated in 1993 with a bachelor’s degree in English and a minor in business administration from Olivet Nazarene College. In 1998, Conour and Braun hired a contractor to build their own house.

The pair became activists for disability rights, serving on boards for such organizations as United Cerebral Palsy of Illinois, the Illinois Council on Developmental Disabilities and the Illinois Center for Independent Living. In 2005, they became the first people with disabilities to win an Illinois Human Rights Award.

In the past few years, they traveled to places like California and New York to promote Body & Soul: Diana & Kathy. The film was important to Conour, Braun says, because she wanted people with disabilities to know they didn’t have to be put away or ignored.

“Kathy wanted to see how far this film will go,” Braun says. “We’re trying to teach them, so they don’t have to hide their disability. They can go to the movies, go out to eat, try to go on a train or travel around the world like we do.”

People in Conour’s life remember her sense of humor and defiance. Pete Roberts, executive director of the Springfield Center for Independent Living, gives the perfect example: she had a bumper sticker on her wheelchair that said, “Pat my head, and I’ll bite you.”

“Kathy’s message was don’t treat me that way,” Roberts says. “Don’t pat me on the head. I’m equal to you. She and Diana both lived their life that way. They expected equality from people, they demanded it from people.”

Her cousin, George Conour, calls her a visionary who was capable of getting what she wanted: a movie that would “allow people who were undertaking the same struggles as they were to learn how to live independently.”

Braun, who’s 58, continues to travel to promote their film, recently talking to more than 3,000 people with disabilities at a conference in Albany, N.Y., about becoming independent. It’s hard without Conour, she says, but it’s what she would have wanted.

— Amanda Robert

JOHN PRICE Nov. 14, 1919 – Oct. 31, 2009

John Oren Price was born Nov. 14, 1919, in Mulkeytown. He was raised on a farm with his six brothers and sisters. In 1941, he was drafted into the United States Army and served four years during World War II, mainly in the Pacific and New Guinea. The rest of his working days were spent on barges traveling the Mississippi River. My grandfather was so proud to be a veteran and was a member of the local VFW.

When I was older, my father told me stories about John. I’d had no clue that my grandfather was an alcoholic. He would sit out on a patio most days and drink until he could barely walk. My father recalls countless times when John fell down the stairs leading into the back door. His drinking came to a complete and total stop when I was born in 1981. My father said he never saw John take another drink.

My grandfather would visit me nearly every day as a child. A cookie in his shirt or overalls pocket was the first thing I went for each time. Most near and dear to me are the memories and photos I have of my grandfather taking me for walks in a red Radio Flyer wagon. He bolted a car seat into the wagon and walked me around for hours upon hours. I can barely look at those photos now as I break down with joy and sadness at the loss of my grandfather.

I was married this past October and it broke my heart that my grandfather was unable to make the trip. He had been in the nursing home for some time at this point. I promised him I would bring wedding pictures home on his 90th birthday Nov. 14 and he was thrilled.

John didn’t quite make it to 90 years. He passed away Oct. 31, 2009, just two weeks shy of his 90th birthday.

I miss my grandfather every day, but his face, voice and love will forever be in my heart.

Jamie Biby

Larry Robinson, Sr. June 10, 1961-July 12, 2009
‘He was always trying to keep the peace.’

When the Robinson family gathers for its annual New Year’s celebration, there will be one person missing: Larry Robinson, Sr. His absence will be a clear reminder that they will no longer watch him make his customary grand entrance — usually later than the designated time — and declare: “Larry’s in the house.” Nor will they be able to laugh along with him when he rattles off his famous slogan: “Do you know who I am? I’m Larry Robinson, Sr.”

“Not having him around is very difficult, especially now with the holidays,” says Isaac Robinson, one of Larry’s 12 siblings. “We are a really close family. And he was a very big part of my life. I either spoke to him or saw him every day,” states Isaac, who is only 14 months older than Larry.

By all accounts, Robinson was a jovial, friendly, fun-loving person, who got along with everyone.

“Larry always had something nice to say about everybody,” says Robinson’s youngest brother, Alvin Robinson.

“My dad was a very kind and giving person. He was the kind of person who always wanted to help others. If you needed anything, and he had it, it was yours,” states Robinson’s 26-year-old son, Larry Robinson, Jr.

 “Larry was the type of person who didn’t like to see anyone suffering or in need. And if he could stop or prevent a fight from happening, he would,” states Isaac. It was Robinson’s concern for others that led to his death.

Robinson was gunned down July 12, 2009, in front of his home on the 2100 block of Adams Street while attempting to break up a fight involving his teenage son and a neighborhood teen. His alleged killer, Deborah Hickman, was the grandmother of the other teen involved in the fight. According to reports, Hickman approached the scene, where more than 20 people gathered as they watched the boys fight. She allegedly fired into the crowd, hitting Robinson in the head.

“My dad did not like to be around any negativity,” said Larry, Jr., who lived next door to his father. “He was always the one trying to keep the peace. That’s what makes his death so tragic. He lost his life trying to do what was right.”

Robinson was born in Caruthersville, Mo., in 1961. The Robinson family moved to Springfield in 1969 when he was 7 years old. Isaac laughs as he recalls the mischief that he and Larry got into as children.

“When we were about 4 or 5 years old, we told the neighbors that our mom needed some matches. We took the matches and set a farm field on fire. We used to break things around the house or eat up things and blame our two older sisters. We were able to get away with it because we were so young and our parents thought that we were too small to do these things.”

Family members affectionately referred to Larry Robinson as the “minute man,“ says Alvin and Isaac. “He was very energetic, and was always moving around. When he came by to visit, he would only stay for a few minutes,” explains Alvin. “He’d leave his car running, and would always say that he didn’t want to wear out his welcome,” laughs Isaac.

Robinson had a passion for cars and traveling. “Traveling and hanging out with my dad are some of my best memories,” says Larry, Jr., recalling a trip to St. Louis with his dad last May when the two toured the arch. “We were making plans to go to Las Vegas and the Bahamas.”

As the family struggles to make it through the holidays without Robinson, Larry, Jr., who was present when his father was shot, is trying to cope with the image of seeing his dad “lying in the street with a bullet hole in his head.”

Larry, Jr: “It’s hard to get that image out of my mind. It still just seems so surreal. I’m still trying to collect my thoughts and bounce back.”

Robinson’s family awaits Hickman’s trial, which is scheduled to begin March 28 — the second anniversary of the death of Robinson’s mother. They hope that the trial answers the question: Why?

“I just want to know why she took my brother’s life. What did he do to deserve her shooting him in the head?” asks Alvin.

“I’d like to know what she was thinking,” says Larry, Jr., who recently had a picture of his dad tattooed on his arm. “Why would she come out and arbitrarily shoot into a crowd over a fight between kids?”

Regardless of the outcome of the trial, Isaac says that no one wins. “Both families lose. I lost a brother, and she sits in jail.”

—Jolonda Young

LEONARD METZ Sept. 5, 1918 – Aug. 28, 2009

Leonard Metz was born on Sept. 5, 1918, in Cantrall. He led a happy and holy life that ended on Aug. 28. His life was devoted to his three loves – God, family and friends. He was a humble and quiet man who worked as a postal clerk for 35 years to financially support his family of seven children. He was a devout Catholic who attended Blessed Sacrament Church daily except Sundays. When one of his sons was shot severely in a holdup, he said, “Don’t just pray for Steve, but pray for the person who committed the crime – he is in greater need of your prayers.” He taught his strong values by example and his children learned that “can’t” is a four-letter word. While he could not afford to provide his children a college education, he provided them with the tools and work ethic to allow them all to succeed professionally. He had no enemies and respected everyone with dignity, no matter their status in life.

Mr. Metz was a loving husband to his wife for more than 52 years and devoted 45 years of his life to the care of his daughter, Kathy, who had both mental and physical challenges, but always knew that Dad was there for her. He truly appreciated the assistance of Sparc. He fought for his country in World War II and looked forward to the annual reunions with his army buddies. He would deliver meals or take “old’ people to the doctor, even though he was 20 years older than them. He was always appreciative of any assistance provided and kept in touch with friends and relatives with letters, especially at Christmas time. The world is a better place because of his life.

Pat Metz

STEVEN OLSZEWSKI May 27, 1987 – May 19, 2009

Steven Olszewski, or “Steve-O” as he was known to his friends, was a wonderful son and little brother. With his untimely passing this year, I would like to share with you some stories of Steven that help to illustrate what a wonderful person (and amazing brother) he was. Over the 21 years we had together, we shared so many memories that it is difficult to recall just a few to share, but I will try my best.

Steven wanted desperately to help those in need — whether they were strangers, family or dear friends. One of the most vivid memories I have in my time with my brother is how he demonstrated what a caring, loving individual he was. While Steven was a student, working only part-time and making little money, he was always there to lend a hand to those in need. He would give the last dollar he had in his wallet to the Salvation Army bell-ringer during Christmas or to the collection for the children’s orphanage at our church. His caring nature was not exclusive to strangers, but also his family and friends. Steven was the first person to comfort a friend in need. He was there for me when I needed him to act as my protector and he was a loving son who never failed to tell his dad how much he loved and respected him.

I believe that my brother left a legacy for us when he left us in May, a week before his 22nd birthday — a legacy of hope. While this may seem trite, Steven passed away on the day he should have been in St. Louis with me to cheer on the St. Louis Cardinals (our favorite team) at the opening game of the Cubs/Cardinals series in St. Louis — tickets I purchased for his birthday. The Cardinals swept the series. I have a feeling that this was a way of Steven letting us know he was in a better place and that he is looking down on his family and friends every day, inspiring us to continue his legacy of caring and loving one another.

Lisa Olszewski Henn
St. Louis



My mother’s young parents ran a store and filling station a few miles south of Springfield along the newly poured concrete slab that was U.S. Route 66. In 1928 before Lake Springfield inundated their place, the family business relocated to Sixth and South Grand Avenue, still along Route 66.

Mom graduated from Springfield High School at age 15 and went right to work as a bookkeeper. She met her future husband at her aunt’s gas station along Route 66 in Glenarm. In 1947 Mr. and Mrs. John White moved into their new home beside Route 66, 12 miles south of the Capitol Building.

Mom and Dad raised my two sisters and me in that house. Dad operated a welding shop next to the highway. Before I was old enough for school, Mom took me along on countless trips to Springfield to buy parts for Dad’s repair jobs.

Mom kept working as a bookkeeper. She drove a school bus for 28 years, making twice-daily rounds up and down Route 66 and parts of Old 66.

The roar of traffic was a constant in our lives. The road fell silent only around noon on Thanksgiving. We fell to sleep each night watching the glare of headlights play across the bedroom walls, listening to trucks shift gears to make it up and down the overhead bridge at Glenarm.

U.S. Route 66 was renamed Interstate 55 in the 1970s, but it remained “the Highway” to us. After Dad died, Mom continued to live in her little house beside the Highway for nearly two more decades.

I held my mother’s hand as she took her last breaths in her bright living room on a brilliant afternoon in May. Mom’s last trip was down the Highway to Camp Butler National Cemetery.

John White

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