Constable: Why Vernon Township named pool after late Buffalo Grove man
When we name a public place in memory of a person, that honor often is reserved for someone who spent decades working for the institution. Today, Vernon Township is naming its swimming pool in memory of a Buffalo Grove resident who died in February at age 22.
"It is unusual," concedes Jon Altenberg, township supervisor. But Altenberg quickly adds that the Jacob Grossman Memorial Aquatic Center makes perfect sense to anyone who met Jacob, or knew him as Jakey.
"He inspired so many people with his optimism and joy about life while dealing with adversity," Altenberg says, noting Jacob was a presence in Buffalo Grove and Vernon Township. "This is about the community."
Jacob's community is a wonderful place, filled with music and mischief, Judaism and joy, fun and friends.
Jacob was born into the family of parents Rachel and Alan Grossman and big sister Talia. He spent his first 2½ months in the newborn intensive care unit with kidney failure and other issues caused by Fanconi anemia, a rare inherited disorder that prevents bone marrow from producing enough healthy new blood cells for the body to function properly, leads to an increased risk of cancer and other disorders, and causes premature death. This left Jacob with cognitive and physical issues, and lots and lots of pain.
"Jacob was every day in pain," Talia says. Jacob had a bone-marrow transplant at age 3 and a kidney transplant at age 10. But none of that stopped his family from giving him everything life has to offer.
"Jacob traveled around the world. He went on several cruises. He went to Israel twice," says Talia, 25, who donated bone marrow to her brother. "My parents made sure we lived a normal life to the extent we could."
Even during trips, Jacob made friends. During a trip to Israel with grandparents in the summer of 2011, Jacob made an impact at the Western Wall.
"There was a circle of Israeli soldiers dancing, and they opened up their circle just for him," Talia remembers.
She remembers once, when Jacob was about 9 years old, her brother asking their mother if she would say Kaddish, a sacred Jewish prayer for mourners, for him when he died. But his focus was on the thrill of living life to its fullest. The devastating effects of Fanconi anemia never defined him.
"In Jacob's world there was no room for disability," his mom says. To Jacob, the word "inclusion" best described his efforts to bring all his diverse friends together, waving over buddies from one part of his life to meet friends from another part of his life.
When the family went on ski trips, Jacob used adaptive skis to whoosh down the slopes. He loved swimming. He was deeply religious and loved Jewish music and, well, all kinds of music and karaoke. He sang Broadway tunes with him mom, 1980s rock songs with his dad, Taylor Swift songs with Talia, and had a special relationship with each of them. He made every friend feel as if he or she was his best friend.
"He knew what you liked, and he had a heart of gold," Talia says.
Jacob changed lives. Talia, about to graduate from the law school at DePaul University, already has done a lot of legal work on disability issues and health law. "A lot of people have gone into education or the medical field because of Jacob," she says.
Jacob died at home this year on Feb. 12, just after the start of Shabbos, the Jewish sabbath. Coronavirus guidelines limited the crowd at Jacob's memorial service, which featured tears, laughs and plenty of music. But that couldn't stop people from participating in the celebration of his life. The service at Congregation Beth Shalom in Northbrook, where Jacob was involved in many groups, was viewed online by 10,000 people.
"We didn't realize how many connections he had until he passed away," Talia says. "He connected with people."
Jacob was involved in the Best Buddies program at school, which creates one-on-one relationships between students with and without disabilities, and similar programs and camps through Congregation Beth Shalom. He was beloved at programs for children with disabilities, including Kids of Courage, Chai Lifeline and the National Ability Center in Park City, Utah.
A resolution passed by the Illinois House of Representatives honored Jacob's life and "his strength in character, his compassion, his love for his fellow humans, and his dedication to his family and friends; his life has served as a true inspiration to all in his community who have cheered him on and supported him through his many challenges."
At Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire, a tree has been planted in Jacob's memory. "Everyone knew him," says Talia, who was two grades ahead of him. "I was Jacob's older sister. He was a popular kid. He hung out with the cool crowd."
In his 22 years, Jacob made enough of an impact to have an aquatic center named after him. At Sunday's dedication, 100% of proceeds and donations will benefit the Fanconi Anemia Research Fund.
"It think it's just a beautiful thing that the community is honoring him in the way he deserves to be," Talia says. "He just had a personality that attracted a wide range of people. He lit up a room."