Naperville's Pat Pradel was a faithful supporter and stubborn believer in everyone who mattered to her, like the wide group of family, friends and community members who gathered Thursday evening to remember her life.
Pat's family, including her husband of 55 years, Naperville's longtime Mayor George Pradel, praised her loving and selfless service to others as they celebrated at her church, Our Saviour's Lutheran in Naperville.
"My mom really supported us more than anything else. She was our rock," said one of the Pradels' three children, Gary Pradel. "My mom always stubbornly believed in us, stubbornly backed us no matter what we wanted to do, no matter what we tried."
Speaking in front of a simple, spotlit cross, Pradel's loved ones said their thanks for her life and for the community support they've felt since her death Saturday at age 75 of pneumonia after a battle with bone cancer.
"She was always thinking of others ... It was a life of giving and giving and giving," Naperville's recently retired mayor said to about 300 gathered to pay their respects. "Together, we had purpose."
Born May 7, 1940 in Chicago, Patricia Carol Pradel grew up to drive a school bus of special-needs kids for Naperville Unit District 203 for 23 years, even making lunches for kids who would forget a midday meal and treating each child like one of her own, her daughter, Carol Pradel, said.
Family members remembered Pat on Thursday as an instant spell-checker for her children's schoolwork before the days of computers and a faithful woman who made her love for Jesus obvious.
An intelligent thinker who was proud of being on the honor roll during her high school years in Lyons Township, Pat loved Jeopardy and Scrabble and stayed mentally sharp until her last moments, relatives said.
Gary Pradel said his mother was known for her belief in the simple act of saying thanks, especially in written form.
"In honor of my mom," he encouraged the crowd, "write someone a thank-you note."
When Pat's last of three bouts with cancer robbed her of the use of her left hand, family said she praised God for the fact she was right-handed and kept right on living -- always with a positive attitude.
"She continued to trust, she continued to reach out to others," the Rev. John Gerike said. "She continued to write thank-you notes with the right hand she could use."
When Mayor Emeritus Pradel spoke of his wife, he took listeners back to the day they met, on a setup in La Grange orchestrated by his sister. The couple went on their first date on Aug. 20, 1959 at a stock car race and got married exactly a year later.
Pradel said he told his wife in recent days to pass along the message to both of their mothers in heaven that the couple who married as young lovebirds lasted 55 years.
During that time, Pat became a mother of three, grandmother of six and great-grandmother of four.
While her husband served the community for 29 years as a police officer and 20 years as mayor, Pat stayed in the background, holding the family together. In her memory, donations can be made to Naperville Responds for Our Veterans and Naperville's Safety Town, which in May was dedicated to Pat and her husband.
Even before Thursday's service, those in Naperville were showing love to the former first family in honor of Pat. The Naperville City Council on Tuesday observed a moment of silence for Pat during a meeting.
"Our Naperville family lost someone near and dear to us this weekend," Mayor Steve Chirico said. "Pat was a constant in our community for 55 years. Pat taught her family and taught our community what is most important in life: the lesson of generosity and love."
Pat's love is exactly what will stay with her husband forever after her passing.
"I'll keep loving you," he said, "Until I see you again someday in heaven."