Palatine Dist. 15 renames athletic field to honor late board member

When Rich Bokor learned he had colon cancer, he, predictably, attached a sports metaphor to his diagnosis.

"I'm going to run the race of my life," he told his wife Ann.

He fought - for his full ride to DePaul University, for the at-risk students in his classroom, for the track-and-field athletes he mentored. And he fully expected to fight through cancer.

"He fought for everything he got," Ann Bokor said.

Bokor, 66, died four months later in January. Family, former students and co-workers of the Palatine Township Elementary District 15 school board member gathered Tuesday afternoon to formally dedicate a track and field in his name at Winston Campus.

"Everything started here," said Ann Bokor, smiling with pride as students readied for a meet at what is now the Richard Bokor Field & Track.

"Here" is where she began her education career and met Bokor, who taught social studies at the junior high.

"That's what drew us together," she said of her husband of nearly 40 years. "We both had a passion for education, at-risk kids."

She traced his relentlessly high expectations to his teenage years, when Bokor's father died. The son of a waitress, Bokor knew he had to excel at track to get to college. He would earn a scholarship and set a school record that still sticks today, in the indoor 600-yard dash.

"He wasn't a quitter," his daughter Courtney Thomas said. "It was always never give up."

And he was a numbers guy, even predicting stats before the start of a meet.

"He would always put the bar high for what he'd expect of all us," said Mary Kate Gorr, a long distance runner at Fremd High School, where Bokor, a history teacher, coached track from 1978 until 2003. "Right going into a meet, you knew you had to deliver."

Though he demanded their best effort, he was "nurturing" in defeat.

"You always knew you weren't running for yourself. You were running for the team," Gorr said. "He never made it about the individual achievement. He always made it about 'the team needs you to perform.'"

He left such a mark on his students that they would become "Bokor's Army," posting messages of encouragement on Facebook after his diagnosis. And he in turn followed their careers or their times in marathons.

When Gorr became principal of Westbrook School in Mount Prospect - two of his six grandkids are students there - he took her out to dinner and told her to call him "Rich." Gorr refused.

"I said 'You don't understand it,'" Gorr recalled. "'If you wanted me to go run around the school, I would do that for you. You are my coach forever.'"

Bokor pushed for the installation of the track and field at Winston, the only junior high in the district without one.

"That was Rich through and through," Superintendent Scott Thompson told the gathering. "He always wanted kids to have opportunities."

The district installed a $3,325 sign bearing his name, and his family donated benches. A scholarship fund also has been set up in his honor for programs benefiting underprivileged students. Nearly $7,000 has been raised so far, Thompson said. Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211 has announced similar scholarships, too, his wife said.

After helping uncover the sign, Gorr told Winston Campus students how to honor Bokor's legacy before their meet against Walter Sundling.

"Never underestimate what each of us can do in our lives because I believe Coach Bokor would have expected that from all of us," she said.

  From left, Courtney Thomas, Rich Bokor's daughter, Carter Thomas, his grandson, Evie Thomas, his granddaughter, Ann Bokor, his wife, and District 15 Superintendent Scott Thompson help unveil a new sign and benches at the track. Bob Chwedyk/
  Winston Campus Junior High students ran a ceremonial lap around what is now Richard Bokor Field & Track in Palatine Tuesday afternoon. Bob Chwedyk/
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