Susan Anderson, 62, local gay rights advocate


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By Marty Stempniak

Staff Reporter

Editor's note: This is a corrected version of an obituary posted week.

Susan Anderson — a gay rights activist who has been actively involved in the Oak Park community for years — didn't succeed in becoming Berwyn's first openly gay alderman. But she had a powerful influence on the woman who did.

Marge Paul, who was elected in 2009 after running with Ms. Anderson, said she was a source of courage. Seeing another lesbian step up to run for office pushed Paul to take the plunge into local politics.

"There's always something in the back of your mind that your candidacy might not be as welcome as you think," Paul said. "I give her 100 percent of why I made the final decision."

Ms. Anderson, 62, died unexpectedly of natural causes on Oct. 2 at her apartment in Berwyn, according to her niece, Melissa Moeller, of Roselle. She "enjoyed the public eye," and was involved in numerous local organizations, acting as chairwoman of the board at Visit Oak Park, a local tourism agency, at the time of her death. Ms. Anderson also held positions with two prominent local gay rights groups — the Oak Park Area Lesbian and Gay Association (OPALGA) and the Berwyn United Neighborhood Gay and Lesbian Organization (BUNGALO).

Oak Parker Brad Bartels, who previously helped put together OPALGA's annual gala with Ms. Anderson, called the Berwyn resident a "champion" of gay rights. She helped navigate the 22-year-old organization through troubled financial waters and always did it with a smile and a positive disposition.

"She was not one who would go to a meeting and sit in the background and let other people do the work," Bartels said. "She wanted to be someone who was in there helping to get things done."

Ray Johnson, an Oak Park village trustee who is gay, said he chatted with Ms. Anderson about the life of a gay politician when she ran for alderman in Berwyn's 6th Ward a few years ago. He thought of her as a "gem" in Berwyn and Oak Park.

"She didn't win, but she gave it a good run and always supported me and my efforts," Johnson said. "She was just a dynamic, caring and engaging person."

Ms. Anderson grew up in Des Plaines and was working as a research technician at the University of Illinois at Chicago at the time of her death, according to her niece. She was preceded in death by her parents, Leonard Anderson Sr. and Ruth Anderson, and her three older siblings Leonard, William and Carol. She is survived by her 16 nieces and nephews and many great nieces and nephews.

Unity Temple Unitarian Universalist Congregation, Ms. Anderson's church, will hold a memorial service on Sunday, Oct. 16, at 1 p.m. at Unity Temple, 875 Lake St. in Oak Park.

Reader Comments

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David from Berwyn  

Posted: October 8th, 2011 11:19 AM

So many of us in Berwyn know of Susan's contributions to our community. We will remember her with great fondness, and will miss her. Thank you, Susan, for being an important person in our lives.

michelle from oak park  

Posted: October 5th, 2011 8:32 PM

the OP area was better because of Susan. I am a better person for knowing her. RIP, and may we all carry her peace, patience and smiles forward.

Georgian Spata from Albuquerque, NM  

Posted: October 5th, 2011 5:54 PM

I was saddened to hear of Susan's early departure. She was a wonderful person and my life has been enriched simply by knowing her. My favorite memory was when she and two other Susans came to a halloween costume party dressed as Black Eyed Susans. Rest in peace Susan. Georgian

Susan Matta from Oak Park  

Posted: October 5th, 2011 10:03 AM

I had the privilege of knowing Susan. Her early departure is a true loss to her friends and the community.

Alan Amato from Chicago  

Posted: October 5th, 2011 7:50 AM

Susan was a dear friend who I will sorely miss. Her fierce dedication to equal rights, community improvement and loyalty will be a loss for our entire community.

Lori Malinski  

Posted: October 4th, 2011 10:31 PM

I'm honored to have known Susan. Her commitment to the community in which she lived was/is inspiring!

Adam Salzman from Oak Park  

Posted: October 4th, 2011 8:28 PM

I so enjoyed meeting and speaking with Susan on many occasions during the Spring campaign. She had such great advice for handling the strains of campaigning for local office, and had a great sweetness and sense of humor about her. I am very sorry to hear of her passing and send condolences to her family.

Dawn from Chicago  

Posted: October 4th, 2011 7:03 PM

My dearest Susan, I wish you were here now to help me process this - You are one of the people I can always turn to in sadness. You have been my hope on many occasions. I am so proud of you for everything you attempted and completed. You are one of my favorite people - ever. I will always carry you in my heart. The Tuesday night ladies love you! To Melissa: Susan always talked so fondly of you and your family and my heart goes out to you.

Gail Moran from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: October 4th, 2011 6:28 PM

Susan was more than a "gay rights activist". She was an engaged public servant and community organizer. I first met Susan at a League of Women Voters convention in Chicago many years ago, and have crossed paths with her over the years at many community events. In particular, I value her great service for Visit Oak Park at a time when it was in dire financial distress due to State irresponsibility. Susan is a tremendous loss to our communities.

Cheryl E Haugh OPALGA co-chair from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: October 4th, 2011 4:55 PM

Susan was a common sense thinker who showed diplomacy and good will in her decisions and actions. She was always there with her sleeves rolled up and a smile on her face. OPALGA and theurrounding community will miss her.

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