'He left the world a better place': Former District 128 superintendent remembered as caring educator

Don Gossett returned home to southern Illinois 14 years ago, but his legacy as a caring educator with a passion for learning remains strong for many in Libertyville.

In a 33-year career at Libertyville High School and Libertyville-Vernon Hills High School District 128, Gossett interacted with generations of students. He spent the last 18 of those years as superintendent before retiring in 1998.

He used to say his blood ran orange and black - the Libertyville High School colors.

"It's been overwhelming to hear the stories and all the lives he touched," said his daughter Lindsey Kazian. "The outpouring of love has been unbelievable."

Last Thursday, Gossett took a nap in his favorite chair at home in Eldorado and died peacefully in his sleep, she said. He was 83.

Hired as an English and speech teacher at Libertyville High in 1965, Gossett went on to earn a master's degree in educational leadership from Northern Illinois University and a doctorate of education from Loyola University.

He grew with the district and was at the helm for eight referendums. The last request, approved by voters in 1997, allowed the district to borrow $48.5 million to build Vernon Hills High School and make major renovations at Libertyville High.

It was a divisive time between the villages with some resentment over the referendum in both communities, said Scott Adams, a current Libertyville village trustee who was a District 128 board member from 1997 to 2005.

Amid all that, Gossett was a strong leader, Adams added.

"Don did his best to navigate the waters with a board that was split on issues, but in the end he made it work," Adams said.

Ron Bjurstrom, who was hired by Gossett in 1978 and served as director of guidance and student services, described him as a visionary.

"Dan knew we needed a second high school," Bjurstrom said. "So he started on the Vernon Hills project probably a decade before we got it up an running."

At his core, Gossett was "absolutely passionate" about learning and leadership training for the administrative staff, Bjurstrom said.

A people person, Gossett strove to develop relationships with everyone in the school community regardless of position, Bjurstrom added.

Whether in the office, cheering on one of the school's sports teams or out in the community, Gossett was immersed in his work. The students and district were front and center.

"He wanted to everybody to live up to their potential," Kazian said. "If you knew my dad, you knew how much he cared about you and how much he loved you."

Upon his retirement from District 128, Gossett told the Daily Herald being superintendent was more than a job.

"I looked at it as a mission. It's 24 hours a day, seven days a week. I've enjoyed it," he said.

His advice to his successor was to get to know and understand the culture of the school district before making changes, keep a sense of humor, have an open door and show a willingness to listen.

Gossett also was civic-minded, a focus that didn't wane in retirement or after he left Libertyville. He served on boards that oversaw the pending expansion of a hospital and food pantry.

"He lived a life of service and spent his retirement making sure the needs of others were met," Kazian said. "All said and done, he left the world a better place."

He is survived by his wife, two daughters, two-stepchildren and 11 grandchildren. A celebration of life will be held from 4 to 8 p.m. Wednesday at Burnett-Dane Funeral Home, 120 W. Park Ave., Libertyville. Memorial contributions can be made to the 4C's Food Pantry in Harrisburg, Illinois,

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