Gene Callahan, 80

Village trustee, affordable housing expert

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Eugene Joseph Callahan died on Dec. 2, 2017, in Sister Bay, Wisconsin. A respected champion of the less fortunate and a man known for his extraordinary moral compass, he passed peacefully, surrounded by his family. 

He often said: "Don't tell me what you believe. Tell me what you do. Then I'll know what you believe." 

Born to Francis and Loretta (Brennan) Callahan in Oak Park on May 31, 1937, Gene grew up in Austin, on Chicago's West Side, where he attended St. Angela School. He graduated from Fenwick High School in Oak Park in 1955, and received a bachelor's degree in history from Loyola University Chicago in 1959. 

He met Mary Jean Byrne, the love of his life, at a dance at St. Angela's in 1953. They were married in 1960, moved to Oak Park and had four sons: Kevin, Michael, Daniel and John. Their house on South Euclid Avenue was the family's home base for over three decades. 

Throughout those years, he pursued a career in social justice, with an emphasis on affordable housing. After college, he worked for the Chicago Commission on Human Relations in the Civil Rights Department for two years, followed by four years as director of the Chicago Conference on Religion and Race. 

His work in Chicago real estate began when he took a development job with M. Myers Properties in 1967. He later founded Income Properties Inc., creating numerous FHA-insured apartments for families and seniors. He took over as president of Interfaith Housing Development Corp. in 1992, overseeing provision of affordable housing for low-income families and individuals until his retirement in 2000.

As a man who believed in the power of action over words, he was generous with his time and expertise. His volunteer work ranged from civic involvement as an Oak Park village trustee from 1973-1977 to his longstanding support for Chicago's Little Brothers of the Poor. He was chairman of Lyons Federal Savings Bank's board of directors during the tumultuous years of its takeover by the Federal Home Loan Bank; chairman of HOME (Housing Opportunities and Maintenance for the Elderly) for 14 years, creating housing for seniors; president of Neighborhood Housing Services of Chicago Redevelopment Corporation; and a member of the Chicago Community Loan Fund board of directors. 

His military service included six years as a reservist in the Illinois Air National Guard.

After retirement, Gene and Mary Jean moved to Washington Island, Wisconsin. He had always savored time spent with a good book and loved poetry, and retirement gave him more time to indulge that passion. He balanced that with his enthusiasm for the outdoors. He was a runner of roads. A climber of mountains. A diver of reefs. A paddler of waves. 

And, together with Mary Jean, he was a traveler of the world, visiting 31 countries in all. 

He was an example to us all. A generous and loving husband, father and grandfather, an unceasing advocate for the less fortunate, and a man with an insatiable curiosity about the world around him. He taught us that whatever you do, it should make a difference.

He was preceded in death by his parents, Francis and Loretta (Brennan) Callahan, and his twin, who died shortly after their birth. 

He is survived by Mary Jean (Byrne), his wife of 57 years; and his four sons: Kevin, father to Aleisha and Ryan; Michael, wife Margaret (Elam) and their daughters, Rose and Maeve; Daniel and his son Liam; and John. 

A celebration of his life will be held in the coming months. 

The family extends a special thanks to the caring staff at Unity Hospice and Good Samaritan Society-Scandia Village in Sister Bay, Wisconsin. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made in Gene's name to Unity Hospice, 2366 Oak Ridge Circle, De Pere, WI 54115.

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