Remembering notable Lake County people who died this year

Updated 12/27/2017 6:22 AM

We said goodbye to several notable Lake County residents in 2017. They left indelible marks on their communities through impressive accomplishments and dedicated public service.

The list includes a few local officials and veteran educators, a Catholic priest, an Olympic gold medal winner and a dedicated environmental activist.

Audrey Nixon

Audrey Nixon
Audrey Nixon

Audrey Nixon, who some considered the matriarch of the Lake County Board because of her decades of dedicated public service, was also known as a passionate representative for her district.

Nixon, who had been in failing health, died April 27. She was 81.

She was the longest-serving board member, having first been elected in 1982. Her 14th District was made up of neighborhoods in North Chicago, Park City, Waukegan, and Gurnee, including some of the poorest in Lake County.

Although a Democrat and thus always in the board's minority party, Nixon had been the longtime leader of the law and judicial committee, making her one of the few Democrats to retain a leadership post for any significant duration.

She fought to keep county buildings and offices in Waukegan and was a champion of the Greenbelt Cultural Center, a facility near North Chicago that was created and operated by the Lake County Forest Preserve District -- an agency she helped run as a forest district board member.

"She was a voice for compassion and understanding," said county board member Steve Carlson, a Gurnee-area Republican. "She never wavered for a moment in her commitment to not only her district, but to all in the county that needed her help."

And yet, Nixon wasn't a my-way-or-the-highway politician. She often spoke of the need for consensus on complicated or controversial issues, for working together in pursuit of doing right by constituents.

"She wanted people to work together and she would remind you of that just about every chance she could," said Lake County Board Chairman Aaron Lawlor, a Vernon Hills Republican.

Richard DuFour

Richard P. DuFour
Richard P. DuFour

Former Adlai E. Stevenson High School District 125 Superintendent Richard DuFour was a longtime author and educator.

DuFour died Feb. 8 at his house in Virginia after a long battle with cancer. He was 69.

"While we have many amazing current and former colleagues that have helped to build Stevenson High School into a model of school reform and a nationally recognized school of excellence, Rick was instrumental in helping to shape our culture and sustain our mission of 'Success for Every Student,'" Superintendent Eric Twadell, who worked closely with DuFour in his early days at Stevenson, said in a news release.

During his 40-year career, DuFour worked as a public school teacher, principal and superintendent. In 19 years at Stevenson, the Lincolnshire high school was one of only three schools in the nation to win the United States Department of Education Blue Ribbon Award four times and the first comprehensive high school designated a New American High School as a model of successful school reform.

DuFour also was recognized as a leading authority on helping schools implement the Professional Learning Communities at Work process. He wrote several books, including the best-selling "Professional Learning Communities at Work," "Learning by Doing" and "In Praise of American Educators."

DuFour was named one of the Top 100 School Administrators in North America by Executive Educator magazine, was presented the Distinguished Scholar Practitioner Award from the University of Illinois and was the 2004 recipient of the National Staff Development Council's Distinguished Service Award.

Adolph Kiefer

Adolph Kiefer
Adolph Kiefer -

Adolph Kiefer, who swam on his back because as a child he disliked getting water up his nose, went on to become an Olympic backstroke champion and a pioneer in the sport.

Kiefer died May 5 at his house in Wadsworth. He was 98.

He was the 100-meter backstroke champion at the 1936 Berlin Games as a 17-year-old, with an Olympic record that stood for 20 years. He was also the first man to break 1 minute in the 100 backstroke, doing so as a high school swimmer in Illinois. He later competed for the University of Texas.

When he died, he was America's oldest living Olympic gold medalist in any sport.

Kiefer started a swimming equipment company in 1947 with his wife, Joyce, that invented several performance and safety products, such as the first nylon swimsuit, which was used by the U.S. Olympic team, and a patent for the first design of the non-turbulent racing lane line.

"There will never be another like Adolph Kiefer," said Bruce Wigo, president of the International Swimming Hall of Fame. "Not only was he a great swimmer and businessman, but he was a great human being, husband and father whose memory will live on as a model and inspiration for future generations of swimmers and non-swimmers alike."

In 1944, Kiefer enlisted in the Navy when it was losing thousands of lives to drownings. Kiefer was appointed to establish a safety curriculum and train officers how to survive in the water. His "victory backstroke" was credited with helping save thousands of lives in the final years of World War II and later was adopted by the American Red Cross.

"He considers it to be his greatest achievement, hands-down," his daughter, Robin Kiefer, told The Associated Press.

Kiefer was inducted into the inaugural class of the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 1965. He served on the President's Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition for three presidents.

The Rev. Ron Lewinski

The Rev. Ron Lewinski
The Rev. Ron Lewinski

The Rev. Ron Lewinski, the former pastor of St. Mary of the Annunciation Church near Mundelein, was known as a "model of a parish priest."

Lewinski died July 19 in the rectory at St. Theresa Parish in Palatine where he lived. He was 71.

Lewinski was pastor of St. Mary of Annunciation Church from 1996 to 2014. During his tenure, the church grew from 200 to 1,600 members, according to the University of St. Mary of the Lake in Mundelein.

He also was at St. Mary during construction of a new glass-and-steel church building completed in 2002 that was significantly larger than its predecessor.

"Our beautiful church bears witness to his vision and to his passion for the sacred liturgy," said the Rev. Jerry Jacob, St. Mary's current pastor, in a statement on the church's website. "I consider Father Ron a beloved friend and mentor and will greatly miss him."

Before leading St. Mary, Lewinski served at parishes in Cicero, Chicago, Schaumburg and Evanston.

Lewinski held other jobs in the archdiocese through the years, including director of the Cardinal Stritch Retreat House in Mundelein. He most recently served as co-director of the department of parish vitality and mission for the archdiocese.

In 2011, he was honored as a Distinguished Pastor of the Year by the National Catholic Educational Association for leading three neighboring parishes to create Frassati Catholic Academy in Wauconda. The school opened in 2010.

This spring, Lewinski received an As Those Who Serve Award from the University of St. Mary of the Lake.

The Rev. John Kartje, rector and president of the university, called Lewinski "An exemplary model of a parish priest."

Greg Murrey

Greg Murrey
Greg Murrey

Fox Lake Trustee Greg Murrey was remembered as a loyal friend, gifted public servant, and an excellent Santa Claus.

A village trustee for 20 years and retired 30-year member of the Fox Lake fire department, Murrey died Nov. 14. He was 61.

"Not only was Greg a colleague, he was a good friend," Mayor Donny Schmit said. "He always had Fox Lake in his heart. There was no other place he wanted to be. Everything he did was to make the village better."

Murrey, a lifelong village resident, was a 1975 graduate of Grant High School and the "doctor of motors" for the Grant Township Highway Commission for more than 39 years. He also served 30 years with the Fox Lake Volunteer Fire Department, retiring in 2007 as chief engineer, said Fox Lake Fire Protection District Chief Rob Hoehne.

Murrey was Fox Lake's senior trustee, Village Administrator Anne Marrin said.

He was appointed to the board in 1994 and served until 1995. He won election to a seat in 1997, serving until 2001. Murrey ran for the board again in 2003, and remained a trustee until his death. He was considered an expert of the village's Northwest Regional Water Reclamation Facility, and served most of his years on the village board as the head of the sewer and water committee.

Murrey also served as a past board member with the Grant Township Republican Party, was a member of the National Association of Railcar Operators Association (NARCOA), the National Rifle Association and the sons of the American Legion Post 703.

Murrey was perhaps best known for serving as Santa Claus during the Fox Lake Chamber of Commerce's annual Christmas party.

Connie Schofield

Connie Schofield
Connie Schofield

Connie Schofield, who served as Lake Barrington village president and trustee, was described as a government leader who always saw the big picture.

She died July 6. She was 81.

Schofield served as Lake Barrington's village president from 1997 to 2005. She also served as a trustee from 1991 to 1997 and again from 2009 to her retirement from the board in August.

"From her efforts to modernize the Pepper Road Business Park through the installation of a new water and sewer system to her key role in enacting our village's first residential sprinkler ordinance to her highly effective leadership in crafting our groundbreaking intergovernmental agreement with the village of Wauconda that assured the protection and ongoing monitoring of the water quality in Fiddle Creek, Connie always saw the big picture and understood the importance of doing things that would benefit the village in the long-term," her successor, Village President Kevin Richardson said in a news release.

Schofield was on the board of the Barrington Area Council of Governments, serving as chairwoman from 1999 to 2000. She was a director of the board of the Solid Waste Agency of Lake County during the 1990s, serving as chair of the 40-member board from 1999 to 2004. She also served on the board for Barrington Area Council on Aging.

Steve Smouse

Stephen Smouse
Stephen Smouse

Steve Smouse had served as Antioch Township's supervisor since 1999, but his civic involvement extended well beyond that office.

Smouse, a longtime public servant and devoted family man, died Nov. 5. He was 65.

His involvement ranged from the Rotary Club of Antioch to serving on a steering committee for a Lake County dial-a-ride service.

"The people of Antioch knew he was a wonderful brother, he was a wonderful husband to his wife and (father) to his daughter, and he did everything he could for the township," said his brother, Jeff Smouse. "His record speaks for itself."

Friends and colleagues were stunned to learn of his death, just 16 days after he was diagnosed with cancer.

"I can honestly tell you it was a shock," said former state Rep. JoAnn Osmond, a Republican from Antioch Township. "It's so sad."

Osmond said it was her late husband, Tim Osmond, who appointed Smouse to the Antioch Township supervisor's post after he won election to the state House in 1999.

Steve Smouse had lived in the Antioch area since 1956 and graduated from Antioch High School in 1970. He served as a funeral director and a paramedic in Antioch, before taking over as township supervisor.

He also was a 25-year member of the Antioch Rotary Club, volunteered at the Antioch Historical Society and served as past president of the Hillside Cemetery Association and Antioch Rescue Squad.

Before being named township supervisor, he spent time on the Antioch plan commission and the Antioch Arbor Day committee, and served as a township trustee for about two years.

Rafael Soto

Rafael Soto
Rafael Soto

Veteran Warren Township High School District 121 administrator Rafael Soto was known for listening to students and giving them "wonderful advice."

Soto of Lake Zurich served as dean of students at the freshman-sophomore campus on O'Plaine Road in Gurnee for 20 years. He died Dec. 1 after a long illness. He was 58.

"He greatly impacted the lives of thousands of young people through his commitment to their futures," Superintendent John Ahlgrim said.

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.

He joined District 121 as a dean in 1997. He coached freshman football from 1997 to 2004.

Sandy Ridker, a fellow dean of students at the 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.

Thomas Waid Vanderpoel

Tom Waid Vanderpoel
Tom Waid Vanderpoel -

Thomas Waid Vanderpoel was known in the Barrington area for continuing his father's work with Citizens for Conservation, a nonprofit that's preserved thousands of acres of natural habitat.

Vanderpoel, who was a longtime board member and restoration director for the Lake Barrington based-group, died Aug. 8. He was 66.

Barrington-area naturalist Wendy Paulson, who leads the group's bird walks, said Vanderpoel was a "conservation luminary."

"I've never known anyone from whom I've learned so much, nor found so inspiring and motivating," Paulson said in a statement. "His impact on landscapes, the community and individuals is nothing short of extraordinary. While his work focused on the Barrington area, his influence on conservation and restoration extended far beyond."

Lake Barrington Village President Kevin Richardson said the preservation of about 30 acres of critical habitat along Flint Creek, at the northwest corner of Northwest Highway and Cuba Road, was a result of Vanderpoel's "farsighted vision."

Lake Barrington purchased what commonly was called the Gibbs property for conservation purposes and struck a deal in 2009 allowing the organization to buy a portion of the land over time. Richardson said the preservation and restoration of mature oak savannas, flood plain, flora and fauna became one of the village's most significant projects.

Vanderpoel's late father, Waid, helped to lead Citizens for Conservation, which operated under a different name when the village of Barrington started the group in 1971.

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