Elgin woman remembered for lifelong passion for teaching

  • Former Elgin Area School District U-46 teacher Kathleen Turnquist died Tuesday at 59 after a six-month battle with cancer.

    Former Elgin Area School District U-46 teacher Kathleen Turnquist died Tuesday at 59 after a six-month battle with cancer.

  • Former Elgin Area School District U-46 teacher Kathleen Turnquist, pictured here with husband Jerry, died Tuesday after a six-month battle with cancer.

    Former Elgin Area School District U-46 teacher Kathleen Turnquist, pictured here with husband Jerry, died Tuesday after a six-month battle with cancer. Courtesy of Jerry Turnquist

 
 
Updated 3/31/2017 7:26 PM

Former Elgin schoolteacher Kathleen Ann Turnquist, a lifelong advocate for students with developmental disabilities, died Tuesday after a six-month battle with cancer.

Turnquist, 59, joined Elgin Area School District U-46 in the fall of 1979 and taught at several elementary schools as a special-education teacher and later a general education teacher, ending her 33-year career at Lowrie Elementary School. She went on disability in 2010 and retired from the district in 2013. She was a longtime building representative for the Elgin Teachers Association and served on the district's Instructional Council and numerous other committees.

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School was everything to her, said husband Jerry Turnquist, a retired U-46 teacher.

"She was a lifelong teacher. That's all she wanted to be," he said. "Our kitchen table was full of grading materials. ... She spent endless hours during summer vacation preparing her room."

A 1975 graduate of Morton East High school in Cicero, Turnquist was inspired to become involved in activities to help developmentally disabled children and young adults because of her brother Ken's special needs. She served as a Sunday school and vacation Bible school teacher for youths. In high school, Turnquist was involved in the Girl Scouts' Cadet program.

Turnquist earned a master's degree in reading -- her lifelong passion -- from Northeastern Illinois University in 1983. During the summer of 1983, she attended an Illinois Education Association Summer Leadership Academy at Illinois State University in Normal, where she met Jerry.

She appeared in "Who's Who Among American Teachers" and in 1985 was appointed by the Elgin City Council to serve on the city's Sesquicentennial Committee. She was nominated for the Elgin Junior Woman's Club "Outstanding Young Woman of Elgin" award in 1992.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"She was driven and focused in whatever life brought her way," said Sue Welu, a friend of Turnquist and a retired U-46 employee who recently served as interim associate principal at South Elgin High School. "She never gave up. You became a better person by being around her. We went through the highs and lows of our lives together with the times of needing additional support. She never wavered and loved her job."

A survivor of two liver transplants, as well as a kidney transplant, Turnquist became an advocate for organ donation and spoke about organ donation to driver's education classes. She also appeared in an Illinois secretary of state pamphlet and participated in American Liver Foundation walks.

Jerry Turnquist said he and Kathy recently bought a house in Elgin's Del Webb active adult community and made plans to travel extensively in retirement, but in October she was diagnosed with a terminal cancer of the abdominal lining.

"She was given four to six months to live," he said.

Yet, she was able to go on one last family vacation to Las Vegas last month.

"We had a great time, a lot of great memories," Jerry Turnquist said. "That was one great positive thing for her during that final couple of months. I will miss her tremendously, but she left me some great memories and I have those to sustain me."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Three weeks ago, Turnquist was moved to JourneyCare Hospice facility in Barrington, where she died surrounded by her family.

She was preceded in death by her parents, Dorothy Spomer Larson and Gustaf Larson. She is survived by her sons, Dennis and Eric, both of Elgin, and brother Kenneth Larson of Aurora.

Visitation is 3 to 8 p.m. Sunday at Laird Funeral Home, 310 S. State St., Elgin. A memorial service is 11 a.m. Monday at First Congregational Church, 256 E. Chicago St., Elgin, followed by light refreshments in the church's Fellowship Hall.

Burial will be private at Bluff City Cemetery in Elgin. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the U-46 Foundation's Elementary School Library Fund or the Bethesda Lutheran Communities, which provides services and homes to people with developmental disabilities.

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