Remembering the lives of residents who died this past year
At the end of the year — this year, any year — there is always a tinge of sadness, a dollop of melancholy for those we have lost along the way.
This time around is no different and, as always, it's impossible not to be struck by how fragile our presence on this earth is.
Some of the people we remember today clearly led full and complete lives. Others, often through no fault of their own, never got that chance.
In their own way, though, they each touched us — partially through their deaths, yes, but far, far more through what they brought to us in life.
The Habib family: Iqbal, 45, Zeenat, 39, Fareeza, 10, and Ashaz, 6
The Naperville family was vacationing in India when the driver of their car apparently lost control and crashed in the northern city of Agra. The family, which was very active in the Chicago-area Muslim community, lived in south Naperville for about 10 years.
Ursula Nailor, 37; Darnell Holt, 16; Daniel Nailor, 13; Dominique Robinson, 19
All four were murdered in their home near Villa Park by Cedric Anderson, who himself died a short time later of an apparent suicide in his father's house. Authorities said Anderson shot the mother, her two sons and her niece, in mid-January and then set their house on fire.
Miguel Quinones, 22
As a student at West Chicago Community High School, he was honored by his teachers and classmates for bringing his peers together and fostering a sense of community. In mid-January, though, his death baffled authorities when his body was found near West Chicago Middle School. The DuPage County coroner's office later said he died of hypothermia after passing out due to alcohol intoxication.
Shaun Wild, 24
The second-grade teacher at Naperville's Spring Brook Elementary School was stabbed to death in early February when he tried to come between a friend and another man who were arguing in a downtown Naperville club. A 2011 graduate of North Central College and a member of that school's football team, he was remembered by his coach, John Thorne, as someone who "had this kindness in his heart, and he always could make people smile and laugh."
Richard Cuvala, 61
The owner of Trixx Manufacturing in Bensenville for 35 years, he was a hard man to ignore partially because of his fondness for Hawaiian shirts and baseball hats and partially because of his devotion to the community where he served on the chamber of commerce, Lions Club and American Legion. He died in February after a battle with cancer.
Gina Thorson, 66
She was a pioneer in community access cable TV programming in Glendale Heights and the driving force behind the Valentines for Vets program that sent greetings to 30 overseas bases, veterans administration medical centers and VA nursing homes. She started her career with the village in 1986 as a part-time nursery assistant at the Sports Hub and rose through the ranks to become public relations manager. She died in February after a battle with leukemia.
Ke'Andre Hall, 24
The Army specialist stationed at Fort Hood, Texas, was one of two soldiers who died after a single-car accident in February when their vehicle left the road and struck a tree. He was a graduate of Naperville Central High School. The driver of the car, who survived, was charged with two counts of intoxication manslaughter.
George St. Angelo Jr., 90
Described by many as the most influential educator on the North Central College campus between 1955 and 1966, he was perhaps best known for initiating the college's required chapel and speaker program. The longtime advocate for civil rights and students died in March after a lengthy battle with esophageal cancer.
Ashley Garza, 13
The seventh-grader at Blackhawk Middle School in Bensenville loved to dance and play softball and always shot for straight A's in her accelerated classes. She was the life of every party with a dream of becoming a chef. Mostly, though, she was a fashionista who always, always cared that her hair was fixed and her outfits were just right. She died in April after battling cancer for more than a year. "To our family," her mother Concha Garza said, "Ashley was the bravest, bravest little girl ever."
Eric Lederman, 12
The Oswego boy was struck in the neck by a baseball during a game his Oswego Panthers traveling team was playing in April at Atten Park in Wheaton. Authorities said he suffered a cerebral hemorrhage and blunt head trauma.
Mike Kwasman, 65
He was appointed mayor of West Chicago in December 2006 and won election the following April and again in 2009. Remembered as a dedicated leader who fought to improve both his city and its image, he died in mid-April after a heart attack. "His record of public service and his countless contributions as mayor of the city he loved will serve as a legacy to future generations," City Administrator Michael Guttman said.
Don LaBrose, 56
Anglers who cast a line in a DuPage County Forest Preserve lake have him to thank for any luck they had. The longtime district fisheries biologist and Downers Grove resident died in April after suffering a heart attack while working in one of the preserves. For years he was responsible for the district's fishing programs and oversaw the health of its many lakes and ponds.
Anthony Hensley, 37
The Villa Park man was working in Des Plaines for a company that deploys swans to keep geese away from ponds and lakes when his kayak was attacked by a swan. He fell into the water and drowned.
George Van Der Molen, 86
The West Chicago's man life revolved around religion and business, his family said. He built Van Der Molen Disposal with his brother until selling it in 1972, but remained an executive under the new owners, BFI Waste Systems. He also was a charter member of Fellowship Reformed Church in Lombard and later was an active member of Faith Community Church in West Chicago.
Albert Benedetti, 88
A longtime supporter of North Central College and president of Naperville home-building company Bruno Benedetti & Sons, he was influential in rebuilding the school's football stadium after the old one was nearly destroyed by a flood. When he died in early May, North Central President Hal Wilde sung his praises. "Few figures have had more impact on the North Central College physical campus in the past half-century," he said.
A. Eugene Rennels, 80
The longest-serving mayor in West Chicago history, he knew just about everyone and everything that made the city what it is today. He served as mayor from 1977 through 1989 and also was active in numerous civic groups. He died in May, less than a month after the death of West Chicago's sitting mayor, Michael Kwasman.
Roger Marquardt, 75
The longtime Lombard resident, who died in May, started his career as a Lombard police officer, eventually working his way up to the rank of deputy chief. He left the force to get a real estate license and then, in 1981, became CEO of the DuPage Airport Authority. He spent the final decades of his life as a Springfield lobbyist.
Joe Sell, 33
A guitarist for the punk rock band Lucky Boys Confusion, the Naperville resident dazzled bandmates and fans with his perfect pitch and his image as a "simple man." He died in May after a long battle with addiction. "I just want people to remember him for his amazing gift and ability," the group's lead singer, Stubhy Pandav, said.
Samuel Watts, 20
The U.S. Army specialist long wanted to join the military and serve his country. He enlisted in 2010, the year he graduated from Wheaton North High School, and was serving in Afghanistan in April when he was wounded by a roadside bomb. He died a month later. "He had a deep love for this country and he wanted to serve this country," said Wendy Biggs, his guidance counselor at North. He became the fifth Wheaton native to die in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Samuel Sloan, 11
The sixth-grader from Bartlett was killed in late May when he was struck by an all-terrain vehicle driven by a relative. A student at Westfield Middle School in Bloomingdale, he was remembered by friends and family for his "big eyes and beautiful smile."
Anthony LaRocca, 83
A former Addison village manager, he served residents for more than 50 years in a variety of capacities, from part-time cop to superintendent of water pollution control to village manager and longtime member of the Addison Fire Protection District board. When he died in May after a long illness, colleagues said his personal touch stood out as much as his professional achievements.
Alexis Banuelos, 18; Brian Herrera, 19; Tyler Montgomery, 19
The three former Plainfield North High School graduates were killed in June when the car in which they were riding was struck by a truck at an intersection in unincorporated Kendall County. Authorities said Herrera, who was driving, unexpectedly pulled out in front of the truck. No citations were issued. Banuelos was from Naperville, the others from Plainfield.
Sue Vos, 63
As an Aurora-area tourism leader for 20 years, she helped bring facilities, events and people to the region with her passion for leisure travel and all it can add to the local economy. Recently retired from her leadership post at the Aurora Area Convention and Tourism Bureau, she died in June after a battle with cancer.
Alyce Bartlett, 90
Friends may have called her "Scoop," but community journalism was her middle name. The longtime Winfield resident began her newspaper career in 1967 and worked at the Daily Journal, Daily Herald, West Chicago Press and most recently the Winfield Press. She died in June after a brief illness.
Kim Presbrey, 60
The Aurora attorney was known as a nature enthusiast, a hunter, a fisherman, a lobbyist, a labor advocate, a sports fan, a master shopper, a pilot and, above all, a family man. He died May 25, nearly two months after the experimental plane he was flying crashed into a Florida grocery store.
Rita Harvard, 82
The Naperville native spent most of her life in the city and her civic involvement helped shape the community. She was one of the driving forces behind creation of North Central College's Wentz Concert Hall and was involved in countless other activities. But her greatest contribution may have come when she and her brother, Ted, donated nearly one acre of prime downtown real estate for the creation of Fredenhagen Park.
Rob Pullen, 50
The Tellabs Inc. CEO and a 27-year veteran of the Naperville-based global telecom equipment maker died in July after a brief battle with colon cancer.
Ray Soden, 88
The Wood Dale resident had a long political career in DuPage County, serving as Addison Township supervisor, president of the DuPage Forest Preserve Commission and briefly as a state senator. He also was a former head of the Veterans of Foreign Wars and a Navy veteran of World War II, and it was veterans issues that defined his time in the Illinois Senate.
John Kacena, 20
The Neuqua Valley High School graduate became the second Naperville resident this year to die of a heroin overdose. His death in July inspired his mom, Caroline Kacena, to launch a campaign to make Naperville residents more aware of the hazards of the drug.
Kirk Urso, 22
He grew up in Lombard and attended Glenbard East High School before moving to U.S. Soccer's residency camp in Bradenton, Fla., his sophomore year. He played at the University of North Carolina and eventually joined the Columbus Crew this season He died unexpectedly in early August.
Robert Westrom, 87
During a life spent mostly in West Chicago he was a business owner, firefighter and West Chicago High School school board member who was always active in civic groups like the Jaycees and Rotary Club. He died of cancer in August, two years after doctors gave him just six months to live.
William Mueller, 76
The longtime Lombard village president always had his hometown in his heart, on his mind, in his words and even on his license plate, which simply read "LOMBARD." The town's longest-serving village president, he was first elected in 1993 and continued in that role until his death in August. He had been battling cancer and died from complications of West Nile virus.
Megan Boken, 23
The Wheaton native, known for her big smile and a work ethic that made her one of the area's elite volleyball players, was shot to death in August while visiting St. Louis to take part in an alumni volleyball game at St. Louis University. A star at St. Francis High School in Wheaton, she led her team to a pair of state championships. She was working as a financial adviser at a firm in Wheaton at the time of her death.
Paula Morgan, 24
The Lombard mom died early July 22 when her house caught fire during a party celebrating her approaching birthday. Ex-boyfriend Todd Mandoline is accused of torching Morgan's car in a fit of jealousy and sparking the blaze that spread to her home. Friends described Morgan as a good mother who always put her 6-year-old son first. "She was a wonderful woman," the boy's father, Nick Beckwith, said. "It was all about her kid."
Irene Kocher, 90
The longtime Naperville resident was remembered as a teacher at Elmwood and Maplebrook elementary schools, but she broke into education as a teacher at a one-room schoolhouse in Naperville where one of her students was George Pradel, who would grow up to be the city's longest-serving mayor. "Irene was the apple of all of our eyes because she was such a beautiful person," Pradel said.
Devin Meadows, 15
The Aurora boy was with three other young teens in the early morning hours of Oct. 23 when the car in which they were riding left the road and struck a house. The three others escaped without serious injury but Devin, who was riding in the back seat and not wearing a seat belt, was ejected from the vehicle and killed. He was a budding track and football star at Metea Valley High School.
Olivia Dworakowski, 5, and Justin Plackowaski, 7
The pair were stabbed to death in October when Justin's mother, Elzbieta Plackowska, went on a rampage — apparently to punish her husband. Authorities said the mom made her son and the girl she was baby sitting get on their knees to pray and then stabbed them repeatedly.
Mary Jane Klinger, 86
In a nearly 30-year nursing career with the DuPage County Health Department, she was an energetic advocate for healthy lifestyles who also served on state and regional nursing organizations. The longtime Wheaton resident led the department's nursing division at a time when the organization was expanding to keep pace with the county's rapid growth.
Alyssa Van Meter, 25
The Woodridge woman was stabbed in the heart during a Dec. 15 break-in at her apartment. Ex-boyfriend Adam Belmont is charged with invading her home and murdering her with a pocket knife engraved to commemorate their anniversary. Van Meter was one of three female drivers with O'Hare Towing. She had just returned from a three-week trip to help Hurricane Sandy victims in Brooklyn and Long Island. "If you truly love being in the towing business and want to be in the business, you really have to like helping people," O'Hare Towing President Bill Gratzianna said. "And she did."
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