Glendale Heights officials and residents are remembering a longtime employee who was a pioneer in public access cable TV programming for the village and was the driving force behind the Valentines for Vets program.
Gina Thorson, 66, who first joined the village staff in 1986 and most recently served as public relations manager, died Wednesday after a battle with leukemia.
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Village leaders gathered on the front steps of village hall Wednesday afternoon to observe a moment of silence.
Thorson's career with the village began inauspiciously enough when she took a job at the Sports Hub as a part-time nursery assistant. But officials said her personality and creativity soon led her to ever-expanding community relations roles.
She hosted, for example, "In Touch with Glendale Heights," the village's first foray into cable-access programming that focused on community events.
One of her best-known projects was the Valentines for Vets campaign, designed to collect letters, cards and other greetings to warm the hearts of veterans, some of whom might otherwise feel forgotten.
The project started about 16 years ago when Thorson was in the hospital and found herself reading about longtime newspaper columnist Irv Kupcinet's Purple Heart cruise for veterans.
"I thought, 'What about these people who are in these hospitals who have given the ultimate sacrifice," she said in a 2011 Daily Herald interview. "Who lets them know we're grateful for all they do for us?"
What started as a small project among village employees quickly spread by word-of-mouth and advertising. Thorson eventually collected valentines from church groups, Scout troops, schools and organizations -- some of which sent their greetings anonymously.
The project became an annual event that long has included students from all four Glenbard high schools.
By last year, Thorson and other village staff members were packaging thousands of valentines and sending them to 30 overseas bases, veterans administration medical centers and VA nursing homes.
"I know Gina is smiling in heaven knowing that the Glenbard students finished hundreds of heartfelt valentines that will be delivered to the veterans hospitals throughout Illinois," Village President Linda Jackson said Wednesday in a written statement. "Gina's community spirit touched everyone she came in contact with and her smile and laughter will be sorely missed."
"Our days will be dimmer," Sharon Mennemeier, program director for the Glendale Heights Chamber of Commerce, said in a statement, "but our evening skies will be brighter by one star tonight and always."
Visitation is scheduled for 3 to 9 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 12, at Cypress Funeral Home, 1698 N. Bloomingdale Road, Glendale Heights. Funeral services will be at 8:45 a.m. Monday, Feb. 13, at the funeral home with Mass at 10:30 a.m. at St. Matthew Church, 1555 Glen Ellyn Road, Glendale Heights. Interment will be at Mount Emblem Cemetery, Elmhurst.