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.
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