Even as walking became a struggle and speaking above more than a whisper ate her energy, Patty Szerlong was determined to keep a special commitment.
Since she began serving on the Lake Park High School District 108 board in 1996, Szerlong always attended the school's annual commencement.
And last month was no exception, even as she battled the final phases of pancreatic cancer.
Szerlong, 64, of Itasca, died on Sunday in an area hospital, and now friends and colleagues say she leaves a void in the community where she became a spunky fixture.
"She cared deeply about our students and always wanted the best for them," said Acting Superintendent Lynne Panega. "Patty will always be remembered for her fighting spirit and commitment to Lake Park."
A direct woman with a dry wit, Szerlong served on the board for 14 years, serving as president from 1999 to 2000. She was a certified Illinois assessing official and tax revenue specialist, and used her skills to help with finances at the Roselle high school.
This winter, Szerlong unanimously won the second annual Georgene Geils Award from the Bloomingdale Area Women in Business this winter. The award honors women who have an impact on all facets of life in Bloomingdale.
But she didn't win just for her time on the District 108 board. Szerlong, a former model, also owned Artful Touch salon and spa in Bloomingdale, which she tearfully announced during the awards ceremony she had to sell due to her illness. She also held several political posts throughout the years.
Her personal time was spent helping the community, too. She participated in the Itasca Junior Women's Club for more than a decade. And as a member of St. Peter's Catholic Church in Itasca, Szerlong helped bring a family from Vietnam to Itasca. She arranged all phases of the project, including securing a home and financing for medical expenses.
But when the mother died in childbirth, Szerlong adopted her daughter.
Former District 108 Superintendent John Butts, who nominated Szerlong for the Geils award, said last winter that she lived community service.
"She serves at the same time she runs her business," Butts said. "A lot of people work during the day and put on a different hat at night, but for her it seems to all blend together."
Before she died, Szerlong said it was paramount to keep up with civic and business activities even as she dealt with the effects of chemotherapy and radiation treatments.
"I have no regrets," Szerlong said in February. "I've had a great life and would do it three times over again if I could."
Services for Szerlong will begin at 8:30 a.m. Friday, June 25, at Salerno's Rosedale Chapels, 450 W. Lake St., Roselle, and proceed to St. Peter Church for Mass at 9:30 a.m. Interment will be in St. Mary Cemetery. Visitation will be from 3 to 9 p.m. Thursday, at the funeral chapel.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be sent to the Patricia A. Szerlong Scholarship Fund for Lake Park Students, c/o Itasca Bank & Trust, 308 W. Irving Park Road, Itasca, IL 6014. For details, call (630) 889-1700. A memorial fund in Szerlong's memory has also been established with the Lake Park Educational Foundation at 590 South Medinah Road, Roselle, IL 60172. For details, call (630) 529-4500.