Breaking News Bar
updated: 8/4/2014 5:12 AM

Arlington Heights mom who saved boy remembered

Woman 'showed great love,' friends say

hello
Success - Article sent! close
  • Karen Wessel, left, with her sister Janice Potocki, both of Arlington Heights. The Rev. Edward Fialkowski, pastor of Our Lady of the Wayside Catholic Church in Arlingtom Heights, touched on the sisters' closeness Saturday during his homily for Wessel's funeral Mass.

      Karen Wessel, left, with her sister Janice Potocki, both of Arlington Heights. The Rev. Edward Fialkowski, pastor of Our Lady of the Wayside Catholic Church in Arlingtom Heights, touched on the sisters' closeness Saturday during his homily for Wessel's funeral Mass.
    Submitted by Don Bussey

  • Karen Wessel

      Karen Wessel

 
 

An Arlington Heights woman who died after saving a 9-year-old boy from drowning in a Wisconsin lake was remembered Saturday for a willingness to take care of others and being nonjudgmental.

Roughly 250 mourners attended Karen Wessel's funeral Mass at Our Lady of the Wayside Catholic Church in Arlington Heights. Our Lady of the Wayside's pastor, the Rev. Edward Fialkowski, presided over the service.

Order Reprint Print Article
 
Interested in reusing this article?
Custom reprints are a powerful and strategic way to share your article with customers, employees and prospects.
The YGS Group provides digital and printed reprint services for Daily Herald. Complete the form to the right and a reprint consultant will contact you to discuss how you can reuse this article.
Need more information about reprints? Visit our Reprints Section for more details.

Contact information ( * required )

Success - request sent close

"Throughout her life, she lived her life showing great love to those around her," Fialkowski said in his homily.

Family and friends have praised Wessel for saving the boy while at Star Lake in northern Wisconsin on July 22. Police said three boys began swimming across a narrow channel toward a sandbar when adults told them to return to shore.

Wessel, 47, her sister Janice Potocki of Arlington Heights and their friend Karen Altamore jumped into the lake when the children struggled to reach land.

Potocki and Altamore brought two of the boys, including Wessel's 9-year-old son, Michael Barr, back to shore. An exhausted Wessel then swam out to rescue the third boy, Altamore's 9-year-old godson.

Wisconsin authorities said Wessel reportedly used her body to push the child above the surface to prevent him going under water, but she did not immediately resurface and later died at a hospital.

At Saturday's funeral Mass, Fialkowski said Wessel had a loving demeanor that came through by being a good listener and nonjudgmental, always with a concern for the needs of her family, neighbors and co-workers. Her house in the Pioneer Park neighborhood became known as a welcoming place.

"Very clearly, she lived her life as a way of joy," Fialkowski said. "J-O-Y. Jesus first. Others next. Yourself third. Joy."

Fialkowski lightened his homily when he touched on the bond between Wessel and her sister. Wessel and Potocki lived next door to each other in Arlington Heights and in their vacation homes in Star Lake, an unincorporated area near Michigan's Upper Peninsula.

"This is a true story Janice shared with me. ... Early in the morning, Janice would call Karen. They both have side windows of their homes facing one another. They opened the drapes and talked to one another looking through a window," Fialkowski said.

In addition to her son and sister, Wessel is survived by her 17-year-old daughter, Elizabeth. The immediate plan for the children is for them to live with Potocki.

Wessel family friend Don Bussey said a trust fund has been established for Wessel's children. He said Wessel was a single mother of "very limited means."

Bussey said donations should go to the "Elizabeth Wessel and Michael Barr Support Trust." Contributions may be sent to Village Bank and Trust, 234 W. Northwest Hwy., Arlington Heights 60004, or dropped off at any branch.

"As the creator of the trust, I can assure the public that the trust has strong yet reasonable language to direct its use and maintain integrity," he said. "Specifically, the trust can be used for Elizabeth and Michael's education, health and maintenance in reasonable comfort."

Share this page
Comments ()
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.
    help here