It would be a challenge to find a local community group that did not benefit over the decades from the generosity and the active involvement of Marge Houck. Mrs. Houck died peacefully last Friday, Aug. 31 in her Oak Park home.

“What a wonderful lady. Caring. Outstanding,” said Sherlynn Reid, president of the 19th Century Club, one of the organizations that benefited notably from Margaret Houck’s involvement. “She did a lot of things for a lot of people without fanfare. She was the last of an era. She really felt it was important for the needs of this community to be met by those who could afford to help. She knew that the community needed to be preserved or the bad things needed to be fixed,” said Reid.

Mrs. Houck was born in the Austin neighborhood of Chicago on Sept. 18, 1906, the daughter of the late George H. and Margaret (Smith) Ratledge, she had lived in Oak Park since her marriage in 1930.

Mrs. Houck devoted her time, talent and resources for over seven decades to the Oak Park-River Forest community. Her major areas of focus were health, education, culture and religion.

In 1962, she joined the auxiliary board at West Suburban Hospital and remained a dedicated volunteer. In 1981, she became the first woman ever elected to the hospital board of trustees, and in 1984 was designated a life trustee. Mrs. Houck was instrumental in the creation of the hospital’s Pastoral Care Center, including a meditation room as well as the Irvin and Margaret Houck Family Birthing Center, in 1988.

She served on the board of directors of many community organizations as well, including the Community Nursing Service and the Oak Park-River Forest Symphony Orchestra. She was the first woman director of Oak Park Trust and Savings Bank and was a past president of the Oak Park-River Forest Infant Welfare Society, the Community Welfare Council, and the Nineteenth Century Club, of which she had been a member since 1930.

Mrs. Houck was a founder of the Community Nursing Service and the Women Leaders in Philanthropy. She has also been an important benefactor of the Oak Park-River Forest Family Service and Mental Health Center, Hephzibah Home, the Oak Park-River Forest Day Nursery, the Community Chest of Oak Park-River Forest, the Historical Society of Oak Park-River Forest, the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio Foundation, the Ernest Hemingway Foundation, and First Congregational Church (now the First United Church of Oak Park), Grace Lutheran Church, and Douglas Community Church (near her lakeshore home in Fennville, Mich.). She was a charter member of the Oak Park-River Forest Community Foundation.

Mrs. Houck was also among the early shareholders in Wednesday Journal, Inc. after its founding in 1980.

In addition to her commitments to the Oak Park community, in Chicago she was past president of the Junior Board of the Northwestern Settlement House, on the board of Chicago Infant Welfare and the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, and a supporter of the Art Institute of Chicago, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and Ravinia. With her husband, Irvin Houck, who died in 1970, she was a lifelong supporter of Oberlin College.

In recent years, Mrs. Houck was recognized by the Oak Park-River Forest community for her dedication and commitment. In 1992, Family Service and Mental Health Center of Oak Park-River Forest presented Mrs. Houck with the Rita Johnson Humanitarian Award. In 1998, the West Suburban Hospital Medical Center and the Foundation of West Suburban Hospital Medical Center established the Margaret R. Houck Award for Volunteerism and Stewardship. This award, honoring her for her leadership, her extraordinary commitment and service to her community, her vitality and high standard of moral conduct, is awarded annually to a deserving member of the community.

In 2002, Dominican University presented her with the Bravo Award for her distinguished contributions to the community and the arts. The following year, 2003, she was the first recipient of a humanitarian award from Concordia University. On two occasions she received awards from the Rotary Club of Oak Park. In 2003 on her 97th birthday, the Nineteenth Century Club honored Mrs. Houck for her years of service and benevolent spirit, and named the auditorium after her. They paid tribute to her again this past year on her 100th birthday.

Irvin and Margaret Houck were longtime members of the Oak Park Country Club and the University Club of Chicago. Mrs. Houck was a member of the Women’s Athletic Club in Chicago, and the Hillsboro Club in Pompano, Fla.

Margaret Houck was the mother of Dr. Richard I. Houck and his wife, Janet; Margaret (Peggy) Houck Smith and her husband, Eric; and Mary Houck Olson and her husband, Jon. She was the grandmother of Carole Pleis, Susan Sites, James and David Houck, Derek and Deirdre Olson, Caroline, Eric and Andrew Smith, and the great-grandmother of 10. She is also survived by Miriam Houck, nieces and nephews, and Tineke Schouten, a longtime special member of the family. She was preceded in death by her two sisters, Eleanor Tench and Evelyn Schoeneck, and a brother, Warren Rutledge.

A memorial service will be held at 11:30 a.m., Sept. 22, 2007 at Grace Lutheran Church, Bonnie Brae and Division Street, in River Forest. In lieu of flowers, gifts may be made in memory of Margaret Houck to any of the organizations with which she was involved, or to Rainbow Hospice, Inc., 444 N. Northwest Hwy. Suite 145, Park Ridge 60068. Arrangements were handled by Drechsler, Brown & Williams Funeral Home.

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