Veteran Warren Township High School administrator dies
A veteran Warren Township High School District 121 administrator has died after a long fight against cancer.
Rafael Soto, 58, served as dean of students at the freshman-sophomore campus on O'Plaine Road in Gurnee for 20 years. He coached the school's freshman football team for a time, too.
District 121 Superintendent John Ahlgrim called Soto "an incredibly strong member of our WTHS family."
"He greatly impacted the lives of thousands of young people through his commitment to their futures," Ahlgrim said.
Soto died Dec. 1 at his Lake Zurich home.
A Chicago native, Soto played football at Drake University in Iowa and became the first member of his family to graduate college. He went on to earn a master's degree in education administration at Northern Illinois University.
Soto began his career in 1981 as a physical education teacher, football coach and wrestling coach at his alma mater, Schurz High School in Chicago.
From 1992 to 1997, Soto had a variety of roles in Waukegan School District 60, including principal of the Waukegan Career Academy and dean of students at Waukegan High School.
Soto joined the Warren Township District 121 staff as a dean in 1997. He coached freshman football from 1997 to 2004.
Sandy Ridker, a fellow dean of students at Warren Township High's O'Plaine Road campus, said Soto was a quiet, unselfish man "who listened and gave wonderful advice."
When it came to students, Soto took pride in being firm but fair, Ridker said.
"His students knew this and respected him for it," she said.
Soto hid his illness from students and many co-workers, Ridker said.
"He continued to stand at the front door every morning, just like he had done every day that he worked at Warren, creating a sense of safety and security for students and staff," Ridker said.
Soto was proud of his Puerto Rican heritage. He enjoyed cooking, especially a signature Puerto Rican rice dish called arroz con gandules.
"That's what he grew up with," said Soto's widow, Lenee. "We always had at least one Puerto Rican dish a week."
In addition to his wife, Soto's survivors include: two sons, Samuel and Nicholas, both of Lake Zurich; his mother, Iris Soto, of Puerto Rico; and a sister, Carmen Muniz of Bartlett.
Visitation will run 3 to 8 p.m. Sunday at the Ahlgrim Family Funeral Home, 415 S. Buesching Road, Lake Zurich. A funeral Mass will be said at 10 a.m. Monday at St. Francis de Sales Catholic Church, 33 S. Buesching Road, Lake Zurich.
Instead of flowers, donations be made to a memorial fund established by District 121.
Donations may be mailed to: Warren Township High School District 121, Attention: Rafael Soto Memorial Fund, 34090 N. Almond Road, Gurnee, IL 60031. Donations also can be made at wths.revtrak.net/donations#/v/rafael-soto-memorial-fund.