Former ECC instructor remembered as giving and humorous
A celebration of life will be held Saturday for longtime Elgin Community College professor Gary Christenson, who was remembered for his good humor, dedication to writing and teaching, and deep love for family.
Christenson, 65, of Sleepy Hollow, died of a suspected heart attack Jan. 13 in his home, said his wife, Tammy Ray. He had two surviving siblings, three sons and two stepdaughters whom he embraced as his own, and eight grandchildren who were "the light of his life," she said.
Services will be at 11 a.m. Saturday at First Congregational Church, 900 S. 8th St., West Dundee. Visitation will be from 9 to 11 a.m. Saturday.
Pastor Aaron James, who celebrated their wedding in 2012, cut his mission trip short to co-officiate services, Ray said. "Without our church family, it would be so much harder. It's comforting to be there," she said.
A native of Elgin, Christenson taught English, journalism and film classes at ECC for 33 years until he retired in 2012. He attended Elgin High School and got a bachelor's degree from Judson College -- later renamed Judson University -- and a master's degree from Northern Illinois University.
He also published a book, "Fatherhood is Not Pretty," and wrote columns for a local newspaper and TV Guide.
"In Elgin, as a kid in the '90s, I remember walking into our local Jewel store and him being stopped by people saying how much they enjoyed his writing," said his son Josh Christenson of Elgin.
Christenson was a humorous and extremely loving father, his son said.
"As I was calling to notify friends and family, the number one thing that I heard come back is how many people found him funny," he said. "The other thing I always heard was just how giving he was."
Christenson gave to several charities, rescued dogs, and did good deeds without seeking glory, his son said.
"At the (West Dundee) church there is a group of older women who were doing knitting, and he used to sneak supplies and leave them there without telling anybody that he did it," he said.
Christenson, who also was a faculty union representative, had a knack for establishing a rapport with his students and keeping them engaged, said Ruixuan Mao, dean of communications and behavioral sciences at ECC.
"He read a lot and he was very current in his following on the media," Mao said. "Whenever he had some examples for his class, they were either very current or very eye-opening to the students.
"That really impressed the students."
Christenson and Ray, an ECC instructor, met about 20 years ago. She wore an engagement ring for 10 years until Christenson persuaded her to marry him when her daughter was pregnant with their first grandchild, she said.
That way, he argued, the grandkids could call them "Grandpa" and "Grandma," with no qualifiers needed.
"All we wanted was to blend one happy family," she said.
After he retired, he focused on family and his work as a board member and volunteer for The Literacy Connection of Elgin.
He always wrote things down and found the right words for everything, said Karen Oswald, former longtime executive director of the agency. He also sponsored "Team Christenson" during the annual trivia bee, she said.
"Sometimes he was such a quick wit that people didn't get it right away," she said.
His one regret was not being able to travel to California to meet their eighth grandchild, a girl born last year, his wife said.
"He constantly talked about how blessed he knew he was," she said.