Fishermen who ever cast a line in a DuPage County Forest Preserve District lake have Don LaBrose to thank for any luck they had.
The longtime district fisheries biologist died Monday at 56 after suffering a heart attack while working in one of the district's preserves. For years, LaBrose was responsible for the district's fishing programs and oversaw the health of the district's many lakes and ponds.
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As the district acquired land over the nearly three decades LaBrose worked there, he oftentimes turned barren lakes into thriving fishing holes for area anglers. In addition to those duties, LaBrose was also an advocate for fish and fishing, often teaching youngsters how to properly catch and release the aquatic creatures.
"It's inspiring to see someone who liked what they did for a living so much," said forest preserve Commissioner Linda Painter. "He made it fun for everybody and that gets everyone more involved and wanting to participate in forest preserve activities."
Never married, LaBrose had no children either, but he was a natural with kids, co-workers and family members said.
"One of the times I had an opportunity to work with him at the trout fishing program and it was great to see him working the kids," Painter recalled. "It was a cold day, but he was happy just to be there helping the kids get their fishing rods together. He was just a pleasure to watch work."
LaBrose was at home when he was outside.
"He was an outdoorsman and he'd rather be outside doing something than anything else in the world," said LaBrose's brother-in-law, Hank Schaeflein of Aurora. "He never described why he liked his job so much, but being around Don, he didn't need to describe to you how much he enjoyed doing what he did, you could just see it."
He oversaw annual re-stockings of the district's lakes, often inviting friends with young children to come watch the thousands of fish he released into the lakes en masse. He also began a program years ago that allowed residents to drop off Christmas trees after the holidays that were weighed down and then strategically dropped at various points in district lakes that would become fish habitats.
In recent years, the district has rented a massive aquarium for the annual county fair to display fish found in area lakes. LaBrose usually manned the aquarium, giving lectures about the various fish in the tank and explaining their role in the ecosystem to eager listeners. He didn't work from a script, didn't rely on note cards and never gave the same speech twice, still managing to captivate people passing by despite the allure of carnival rides and midway food all around.
Forest preserve commissioner Carl Schultz said LaBrose embodied the spirit of many forest preserve employees.
"This is something I can say about a lot of our employees, but it was certainly true of Don," Schultz began, "when they show up at work, it isn't just their vocation, it is what they advocate for. They love animals, they love nature and they really entrust themselves to that."
LaBrose was a native of Downers Grove and is also survived by his mother Elaine; two sisters, Karen Schaeflein and Sheri Suddarth; as well as two nephews and a niece.
Visitation is scheduled from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday at the Toon Funeral Home at 4920 Main St. in Downers Grove. A Funeral is slated for 10 a.m. Friday at the funeral home. Burial will follow at the Mt. Emblem Cemetery in Elmhurst.