Downers Grove customers rally around beloved baker in critical condition with COVID-19

  • Chuck Kalousek of Downers Grove, here with wife Katie, and their children Charlie and Kayla, is in critical condition at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago.

    Chuck Kalousek of Downers Grove, here with wife Katie, and their children Charlie and Kayla, is in critical condition at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago. Courtesy of Katie Kalousek

  • Chuck Kalousek of Downers Grove, here with wife Katie, and their children Charlie and Kayla, is in critical condition at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago.

    Chuck Kalousek of Downers Grove, here with wife Katie, and their children Charlie and Kayla, is in critical condition at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago. Courtesy of Katie Kalousek

 
 
Updated 5/6/2021 6:56 AM

No kid leaves Ingram's Busy Bee Bakery in Downers Grove without a free butter cookie.

That's a good thing because the rainbow array of sprinkles behind the traditional glass case at eye level for toddlers on up is pretty much irresistible.

 

But Downers Grove residents and Busy Bee afficionados are pausing their cravings as owner and baker Chuck Kalousek battles COVID-19 at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago.

The 55-year-old contracted the respiratory disease in March and the iconic downtown bakery has closed for now, because without Kalousek there are no doughnuts, strudels or atomic cake.

"We love serving the community, so this just breaks my heart," said Kalousek's wife, Katie.

Kalousek is on a ventilator and a machine to assist with heart and lung functions, and he may be a candidate for a lung transplant, the family said.

Northwestern Memorial Hospital officials on Wednesday confirmed Kalousek was in critical condition.

In general, "COVID-19, unlike other infections such as influenza, has a unique 'attach and attack' mechanism using certain receptors on the lung tissue which are universally present even in young and healthy people," said Dr. Ankit Bharat, chief of thoracic surgery at Northwestern Medicine.

by signing up you agree to our terms of service
                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 
Outside Ingram's Busy Bee Bakery in Downers Grove, a half dozen large posters are filled with good wishes, promises of prayers and hand-drawn hearts for baker and owner Chuck Kalousek, who is in the hospital with COVID-19.
Outside Ingram's Busy Bee Bakery in Downers Grove, a half dozen large posters are filled with good wishes, promises of prayers and hand-drawn hearts for baker and owner Chuck Kalousek, who is in the hospital with COVID-19. - Marni Pyke | Staff Photographer

Outside the bakery, a half dozen large posters are filled with good wishes, promises of prayers and hand-drawn hearts. A fundraiser also is underway for the family's expenses.

The Busy Bee "is like the heart of the central business district," said Kathy Bauer, who owns Louisa and Millie's Chocolates across the street.

"In the run-up to Easter when they were closed, people were coming in and obviously very distressed about not getting their lamb cakes. It made me think about how important a tradition it is in Downers Grove," Bauer said. "They've really woven themselves into the fabric of the community."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The Kalouseks have owned the Busy Bee for 22 years and Chuck has worked countless overnight hours to supply the town with paczkis in spring, pumpkin pies at Thanksgiving and birthday cakes for all ages.

"His two favorite things are roller coasters and Star Wars," Katie said. "It was always such a joy for him to do Star Wars cakes. He had that joy knowing these are special moments in the lives of so many kids."

Ingram's Busy Bee Bakery in Downers Grove is temporarily closed as baker and owner Chuck Kalousek is hospitalized with COVID-19.
Ingram's Busy Bee Bakery in Downers Grove is temporarily closed as baker and owner Chuck Kalousek is hospitalized with COVID-19. - Marni Pyke | Staff Photographer

The Kalouseks also gave back to the Downers Grove community, donating goodies to Scouts, churches and the local FISH food pantry.

Kalousek learned to bake 36 years ago. "He was taught by old-time bakers and continues those traditions," Katie Kalousek said.

The shop "hasn't changed that much, and we like to keep it that way. People come in and say, 'I remember coming here with my grandma when I was little.' Everybody has their favorites."

It's been a rough year for the family. Katie's mother was very ill with non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma in late February and died. While Katie was caring for her mom, Chuck contracted COVID-19.

"When my husband fell ill, he didn't want to call me, he did not want to bother me," Katie said. "He said, 'I know this is your time with your mom.' That also breaks my heart."

The shop closed on St. Patrick's Day, and when Chuck was hospitalized he worried about disappointing Easter customers, telling his wife, "People are expecting to get lamb cakes," Katie said.

"I'm trying to keep it together. I've got two kids I have to be strong for," she said. "My daughter is in eighth grade preparing for that big transition to high school. My son is a junior planning for college. This has blown his world apart."

Chuck Kalousek's father died when he was young. "It's always been in the back of my husband's mind that he never wanted his kids to lose their dad because he lost his dad when he was a sophomore in high school," Katie said.

A GoFundMe site organized by a friend to help the family has raised over $175,000 with many donations coming from the community.

"We're so grateful," Katie Kalousek said. "It fills my heart."

0 Comments
                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 
Article Comments
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.