Mary Jo Kuenster, 58

Architect, active community volunteer

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Mary Jo Kuenster, 58, a life-long resident of Oak Park, died on Aug. 26, 2013. Born on Sept. 9, 1954, she earned an architecture degree with high distinction from the University of Illinois Chicago. Her thesis, "Strength Evaluation of Existing Buildings," continues to be used to this day. A licensed architect in the states of Illinois and Wisconsin, with certifications from the Construction Specifications Institute, she was a valued employee of, and consultant for, Teng and Associates of Chicago for over 30 years.

As a structural engineer and project manager, with first-class organizational, managerial, technical, and geotechnical skills, Ms. Kuenster contributed to many large, complex building and transportation projects within the Chicago area, including the Lake Shore Relocation Project, the I-55 Stevenson Expressway Reconstruction, the Automated People Mover System at O'Hare Airport, several major bridge rehabilitations over the Des Plaines River and many Metra Station redesigns.

A member of St. Edmund Catholic Church in Oak Park, she also contributed substantively to many civic endeavors. She was particularly devoted to the Savanna Restoration Project in the Cook County Forest Preserves, enjoying many hours protecting the local native prairie biodiversity. In 2001, she and her husband, Chuck Bassett, were recognized by the Huskie Booster Club as "Volunteers of the Year" for their involvement in the configuration of new athletic fields at Oak Park and River Forest High School.

Ms. Kuenster loved to read, enjoyed photography, art collecting and modern dance. Having pride in her local heritage, she would gladly give tours of Oak Park and the surrounding forest preserves to out-of-town visitors. People often were struck by her enthusiasm for a task and her willingness to give encouragement and recognition. She loved to host and frequently entertained friends, neighbors and family. She was a good friend to many, who valued her self-discipline, her willing helpfulness and her unfailing good humor. An intelligent, thoughtful and loving woman, she was a role model and mentor to new engineers and old colleagues alike. She simply loved life and brought joy to people through her presence and charm, living daily her life's theme: "Do what you can do to make things better for those around you, and for the seven billion other people you don't know."

Her children say they are grateful to her for "always being herself and showing us that it was OK to do the same, and that with hard work, careful planning, and persistence we can do anything."

Mary Jo Kuenster was the wife of Charles Anthony (Chuck) Bassett; the mother of Elliot, Thomas and Steve Bassett; the daughter of Helen McManmon Kuenster and the late Sylvester (Steve) Kuenster; the sister and sister-in-law of Ginny (Charles) Yarbrough, Lenore (Jerry) Siemer, Gregg (Songliu Rao), Maureen (Jean-Pierre Charmant), Mark, Margory (Skip Hobbs), Angele (Don Gardner), and the late John Joseph (Mary Fran) Kuenster; the daughter-in-law of Dolores Barbara Bassett; the father-in-law of Lyman Wesley Bassett (Frances); the brother-in-law of Larry Stephen Bassett (Julie); and the sister-in-law of Wendy Carol Bassett (Joe).

She was the niece of Mary Lenore McManmon CSJ, Eleanor McManmon Daly, and Lorraine (John) McManmon; the cousin of many, including Teresa Daly McCormick; the aunt of Katie (Jason Krozel), Scott (Shelli) Siemer, Ann, Ami (Kendall) Garrison, Maggie (Mike Karnick), John Jr. (Wendy), Lora Siemer, Michael (Siri), Chris (Ashleigh) Hobbs, Audrey Charmant, Jake Hobbs, David Charmant, Julia Yarbrough, Marie Yarbrough, Helen, and Kelsey; and the great-aunt of Mallory Siemer, Jackson Siemer, Brody Krozel, Ella, Caiden, Abby Krozel, JJ, Jake Karnick, Cameron, Charles, Shane Karnick, Lulu Garrison, Ava, Julius, Chris (Mary) Bassett, Cliff Blake, Lyndsey Bassett, Lily Bassett, Nick Jordan, and Trevor Gehant.

She was the life-long friend of Janet Nelson; and the friend, colleague and neighbor of many, including Mary Walsh, Dave Crossett, Brenda Karhoff, Vinod Patel, John McManus, Josy Bellalta, Marge Epstein, Colette Lueck, Pat Leavy, Claire Fitz, Adrian Fisher, Jean and Victor Guarino, Dave and Karen Muriello, Phyllis and William Walden, Roger and Fran French, and the late Rhona Harmon.

Relatives and friends are invited to attend a memorial visitation from 3 to 8 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 29 at Drechsler, Brown & Williams Funeral Home and a funeral Mass at 11 a.m. the following day, Aug. 30, at St. Edmund Church, 188 S. Oak Park Ave., Oak Park. Her family wishes to thank all of those who cared for her during her last few months. She asked not to receive flowers but that friends remember her by dressing cheerfully and wearing a smile.

In lieu of flowers, please consider a donation to Gilda's Club Chicago, 537 N. Wells St., Chicago, IL 60654 in Mary Jo Kuenster's name. She enjoyed the programs at Rush Medical Center run by Gilda's Club, such as drawing and yoga.

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Bob Israel from Northbrook  

Posted: September 2nd, 2013 2:48 PM

I had the honor of working with Mary Jo many years back at Teng. She inserted her human touch to all of our engineering work and brought smiles and laughter to an otherwise dry subject. In short, she succeeded at improving the world around her and left the world a better place for her being here. When the sadness passes, I'll remember her with a smile, as that is what she would have wished.

Jim Coughlin from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: August 28th, 2013 3:54 PM

A kind and gentle soul.

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