The bright green crime scene paint was far from faded in the parking lot behind the Czechoslovak Heritage Museum in Oak Brook, but members of the museum's volunteer board couldn't cancel Saturday's event -- the opening of an exhibit honoring late Chicago Mayor Anton Cermak.
Jitka Vesel, the 36-year-old Westmont woman who was shot to death in the museum parking lot Wednesday, worked too hard on the exhibit for them not to open it as planned, board members said Saturday.
"She primarily organized this event. She was the driving force behind this," said Cary Metzer of Lombard, president of the board of the Czechoslovak Heritage Museum. "We're so grateful for all her hard work, her passion for all things Czech and Slovak."
As exhibit visitors made donations and filed into the display, a solitary scented candle burned next to a photo of Vesel at the museum's front desk.
"We're realizing what a void Jitka leaves because she would have been the one who would have it all put together," said Vera Wilt, a museum board member from North Riverside, as the volunteers prepared to open the exhibit.
Board member Joan Hemzacek of Hinsdale said Vesel had the perfect skills to serve the museum, first as a paid curator and later as volunteer secretary for the board. She was fluent in Czech and had a background as a public schoolteacher in Chicago, Hemzacek said.
"Our personalities just jived in the way we dealt with people," she said. "She was extremely kind, and I loved the way she dealt with people." She could be direct, but she always remained calm, Hemzacek added.
Vesel had two brothers and a nephew, Metzer said, and was looking forward to visiting her father next month during a trip to Slovakia, he said.
Funeral arrangements have not yet been made, but Klas Restaurant in Cicero is collecting donations to help fund services for Vesel, Wilt said.
Those who knew Vesel said they are shocked that an ex-boyfriend, 20-year-old Dmitry Smirnov of British Columbia, is charged with her killing. Prosecutors say he confessed to the murder.
"It's unfathomable that someone could have it out for her this way," Wilt said. "She was probably too kind."