Fund set up for children of hero mom

Updated 7/26/2014 8:50 PM
  • Karen Wessel

    Karen Wessel

  • Karen Wessel with her children, Michael and Elizabeth.

    Karen Wessel with her children, Michael and Elizabeth. Courtesy of Don Bussey

  • Karen Wessel with her sister Janice Potocki, right, both of Arlington Heights.

    Karen Wessel with her sister Janice Potocki, right, both of Arlington Heights. Courtesy of Don Bussey

Mourners of an Arlington Heights mother who died saving a young boy from drowning during a vacation to a Wisconsin lake have opened a fund to support her own two children.

Family friend Don Bussey reached out to several suburban banks to set up the fund for Karen Wessel's 9-year-old son, Michael, and 17-year-old daughter, Elizabeth.

Bussey said he wanted to pay tribute to the single mom's "all-consuming work" to raise her children.

"She was a mother first," the Arlington Heights man said Saturday. "That's all she wanted to be. She gave everything to those kids."

Contributions to the "Elizabeth Wessel and Michael Barr Support Trust" can be made at any Wintrust Bank branch in the Chicago area. Donations also can be mailed to Village Bank & Trust, 234 W. Northwest Hwy., Arlington Heights, IL 60004. For more details about the trust, contact Jamie Ericksen at (847) 385-7059 or

Bussey said the fund will go toward the cost of caring for the children and their future. Neighbors say Wessel's son and daughter will live with her sister in Arlington Heights.

Meanwhile, services for Wessel are scheduled for 11 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 2, at Our Lady of the Wayside, 434 W. Park St. in Arlington Heights.

Friends and family have hailed Wessel as a hero after she, her sister Janice Potocki and their friend Karen Altamore jumped into Star Lake to save three children struggling to swim back to shore.

Potocki and Altamore brought two of the boys, including Wessel's 9-year-old son, safely back to shore.

An exhausted Wessel then swam out to rescue the third boy, Altamore's 9-year-old godson.

Police said Wessel reportedly used her body to push the boy up above the surface of the water to keep him from going under, but then did not resurface herself.

An official cause of death has not been released.

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