Obituaries

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Francesco Ribaudo, 74, painter, art historian, expert restorer
To his neighbors and most fellow Oak Parkers, 74-year-old Francesco Ribaudo likely was just a fleeting curiosity as he passed them on the street, the top down on his candy apple red, 1973 Mustang convertible. But when he quietly passed away late in the evening of June 13, the community?#34;and the world?#34;lost an accomplished painter, art historian and expert restorer of priceless art.

Quiet had not been his style since long before he arrived in the United States in 1967 via a special act of Congress that allowed him to bypass immigration restrictions. His reputation in Italy prompted then-powerful Chicago Democratic Congressman Frank Annunzio to personally introduce special legislation to give Francesco easy entry into the country.

Cong. Annunzio's willingness to go to such lengths was not surprising. At only 36 years old Francesco's resume boasted being the third generation of an Italian family that had long ago debunked the stereotype of starving artists depending on the generosity of patrons. To the Ribaudos, art was a profitable business?#34;an attitude and point of view that would shape Francesco's work in Chicago for the rest of his life.

Despite his artist's inclination toward flamboyance and overstatement?#34;and coolness toward the typical conservatism of the church?#34;Francesco quickly became a favorite of the Chicago archdiocese and area Catholic churches. His skills were in demand soon after his arrival in America and he was commissioned to do portraits of John Cardinal Cody and the mother of Cardinal Joseph Bernardin and painted murals for the Italian Cultural Center in Stone Park.

The Galleria Italia, which he opened in a storefront on tree-lined Oak Park Avenue (100 block south, now Garland Flowers) became a venue for creating an active private teaching practice and art restoration business.

From 1967-77, he taught scores of budding artists the science, the math and the spirit of painting he had learned working closely with his father and grandfather, and through his professional training in Rome. His home on North Marion Street in Oak Park also became the site of frequent social gatherings of the region's art community, where he regaled his guests with original poetry and impromptu compositions on the piano.

Francesco was born in 1931 in Naples, Italy, the third of seven children of Bianca Sorrentino and Luigi Ribaudo. He knew no other life than that of a painter.

Luigi, an accomplished artist long before the birth of his third child, had learned his trade at the side of his father, Benedetto, whose skills immortalizing members of the Italian gentry in oils and decorating villas, public buildings, churches and museums with intricate frescos, had earned him widespread recognition and a comfortable living.

Benedetto's acclaim provided entry into the working world of art not only for Luigi, but for his other sons as well. Francesco stayed close to the traditional concept of art embraced by his father and grandfather.

He would go on to study at the Accademia Delle Belle Arti in Rome and join the family business that had moved to the Mediterranean port city of Genova in Northern Italy when Francesco was a young boy.

Ever the adventurer, Francesco already had big ideas when he met Mirella Traverso, who would become his wife in 1956 and bear him three children over the next four years. Mirella, the youngest daughter of a prominent Genova judge and a budding sculptor in her own right, provided balance in his life.

When a former student of his grandfather returned from a visit to New York City and told Francesco of the opportunities abroad, he knew he would have to see for himself. By the time Francesco came to the U.S. for a visit, the friend, Mario Spampinato, had moved to Chicago and begun to make a name for himself as a sculptor. Francesco and Mario remained fast friends until Mario's death in recent years.

Francesco arranged for the purchase of a portrait of Columbus by a wealthy patron and brought the painting to the U.S. from Italy, believing that it to be the only authentic portrait of the famous navigator in existence.

Gentle, soft-spoken, and always a romantic, he continued to paint and occasionally traveled to Italy, but in recent years, Mr. Ribaudo's pace slowed considerably. He died quietly at the University of Illinois Medical Center with his family at his side.

He is survived by his wife, Mirella; his children, Luigi (Josephine), Bianca, and Paola (Charles); and his grandchildren Angela, Gina, and Bianca Lisa.

A private service is planned. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in his name to UIC-Guild-UIF, College of Medicine, Office of Advancement, MC792, 1747 W. Roosevelt Road, Chicago 60608-1203.
?#34;submitted by David Powers

Donald Fort, 88, chemist, worked for the Rand Corporation
Donald Marion Fort, 88, an Oak Park resident, died June 16, 2005 after a series of health problems. A chemist, Mr. Fort worked for the Rand Corporation, researching economic and social issues for the U.S. government.

Mr. Fort moved all over the United States to pursue his interest in chemistry. Born in Mitchell, S.D., on Nov. 21, 1916, he studied chemistry at Grinnell College in Iowa and received a master's in chemistry from the University of Illinois in 1944. Later, he studied economics at the University of Chicago.

He joined the Rand Corporation in Santa Monica, Calif., where he met and married Joy Thoburn. Later they transferred to the Washington, D.C. area. He retired in the late 1970s.

After his wife passed away in 1979, Mr. Fort began to correspond with Sue Rizzo, a friend from the University of Chicago who had also lost her husband. They reunited in Oak Park in October 1982 and have lived and traveled together for the last 22 years.

In Oak Park, Mr. Fort continued to study subatomic particles and quantum mechanics. He also enjoyed traveling and participated in activities at Christ Episcopal Church in River Forest.

Donald Fort is survived by Sue Rizzo, his partner for the last 22 years, and his stepchildren, Billie Jo and Lee, as well as his brothers, Gerald and Richard Fort, niece Sandra Larson and nephew Michael Fort.

Services were held June 16 at Christ Episcopal Church in River Forest. Memorials to Christ Church, 515 Franklin Ave., River Forest 60305 are appreciated.

Estelle Navratil, 92, OP resident, great-great-grandmother
Estelle Navratil, 92, a resident of Oak Park and a former resident of Chicago, died in her home on June 8, 2005. She had five children, 15 grandchildren, 30 great-grandchildren and 2 great-great-grandchildren.

She was born on Dec. 9, 1912 to Anthony and Casmira Wilczewski.

Mrs. Navratil is survived by three children, Clara Ann (the late Paul) Owens, Carlene (the late James) McKinney, and Charlotte (Ronald) Newcomer of Oak Park; and her brother, Casimir Wilczewski of Chicago. She was preceded in death by her husband, Clarence Sr.; her son, Clarence Jr. (Elaine); and her sister, Florence (the late Arthur) Rhode.

Visitation was held June 13, 2005 at Drechsler, Brown & Williams Funeral Home. A funeral Mass was celebrated June 14 at St. Giles Church, followed by interment at St. Adalbert Cemetery.

?#34;Compiled by Diana Oleszczuk

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