It's not a surprise that Randy Suchy's life ended while saving someone else's, the Naperville man's family and friends said at a memorial held Thursday in his honor.
After all, his middle initial is A for Angelo, or for "Angel," as his brother, Bill Suchy, of West Chicago, said.
In the style of the classic Christmas movie, "It's a Wonderful Life," Bill rang a bell to give his brother the angel's wings he earned with his actions to save 12-year-old Evan Schwarz of Bolingbrook from drowning Aug. 5 in the Fox River near the Geneva dam.
"Thank you, Randy," Bill Suchy said. "You really did have a wonderful life."
It was a fitting -- though early -- end for 59-year-old Suchy, a veteran of the Marines and a nurse at nursing homes in Lisle and Wheaton, said his cousin, Steven Groubart of Downers Grove.
Suchy always was helping people and making them laugh, buying prayer blankets for his patients dealing with cancer and keeping a file folder stuffed with jokes in his apartment, his brother and cousin said.
He is survived by his mother, two brothers, two sisters, four nephews and a niece.
His kind heart, bravery and selflessness played out on the Fox River last week, but those who knew him said they saw those qualities in Suchy all along.
"Everyone in this room knows that if they were in the river on that Friday, Randy would have tried to save you, too," Bill Suchy said. "For most of us, we have to try to make a conscious effort to be good or help someone, but for Randy it just came naturally."
Even strangers who jumped in to help rescue Evan and attempt to save Suchy noticed the man's courage.
"This man that we are remembering today did not hesitate, although he knew full well the power of that river," said the Rev. Clint Roberts, of Knox Presbyterian Church in Naperville, who was biking near the Fox River when he noticed Suchy and Evan struggling to stay afloat. "This is a scuba diver; this is a captain in the Marines; this is an RN. He knew what he was dealing with. Nevertheless, he went in to save Evan's life."
Another man who assisted in the rescue of Evan, the son of Suchy's girlfriend Marcy Schwarz of Bolingbrook, told about 120 people gathered in Willowbrook for the memorial that Suchy appeared calm and at peace after he pushed Evan out from the whirlpool at the bottom of the dam.
"He had a smile on his face as if he knew what was about to transpire, that the boy was out," said Dion Powell of Geneva. "I expected to see something not near as peaceful."
A group of Marines from the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve Center in Joliet performed military funeral honors for Suchy during Thursday night's ceremony, opening an American flag, playing taps, then presenting the flag to his mother, Caroll Suchy of Arkansas.
As those closest to Suchy gathered to celebrate his life, Julio D'Alessandro of St. Charles said his longtime pal should be remembered for his deep understanding of friendship.
"Everything I needed to know about friendship, I learned from Randy," D'Alessandro said. "He said, you know, friends are people that know everything about you and still like you. ... Think of friendship when you remember Randy."