A straight-shooter. Free spirit. Kind-hearted. Former colleagues and students of retired District 97 teacher Elizabeth Bruhns described her in those ways and more.

Bruhns, 72, died last Wednesday at Loyola Medical Center a day after falling down stairs, following a banister collapse in her Oak Park apartment building. She suffered injuries stemming from the fall, which was ruled an accident by the Cook County Medical Examiner’s office.

Bruhns began teaching at Mann Elementary in 1974, spending most of her Dist. 97 career there before going to Irving Elementary in 1989. She retired from teaching in 1999. Rosemarie Dagostino, a teacher at Mann, recalled first meeting Bruhns when the two traveled together for a teachers retreat in Wisconsin.

“I didn’t have a ride up and she said, ‘I’ll take you.’ She didn’t know who I was, but she just showed up at my doorstep,” said Dagostino. “She cranked up her country music and we were off. She was a free-spirited person and a strong woman, very opinionated. She was quick to speak her mind but was never threatening.”

Former Irving student Richard Bloomfield remembers his fourth-grade teacher as caring, and originally thought she’d be tougher than she was.

“I was going into the fourth grade and she was older than the rest of my teachers. You have this stereotype of the older teacher with the white hair who would be tough on students. She wasn’t like that at all. She was a real gentle person and fair to everyone.”

Bloomfield, an Oak Park native who graduated from Irving in 1996, recalled a fight he had with another student in class. It was the first fight ever in Bruhns’ classroom.

“I can say I was one of her favorite students, but I got into a fistfight with another student. She never looked at me like I was a trouble-maker. She sat us down and talked to the both of us. And after that, everything was all right. She was straightforward but would take time to listen to students.”

Shortly after retiring from teaching, Bruhns became a volunteer in the University of Illinois Extension Division’s master gardening program. She called it her dream job, said Ron Wolford, an urban gardening educator with the program. Bruhns, he said, became one of their most dedicated organizers, helping to recruit more than 200 master gardeners after starting in 2002. She was later hired on staff after becoming a certified gardener, overseeing volunteers.

“She was tough and passionate about her job,” said Wolford. “With 240 volunteers in Chicago and surrounding suburbs, there can be some personality conflicts. She had a way of setting them straight without being confrontational.”

Wolford was also amazed at her organizing ability. He recalled receiving e-mails from her in the wee hours in the morning when she would contact her volunteers, sending information or scheduling events.

“You need 30 hours of volunteer time to remain certified, but she put in way more than that. She just loved it,” Woldford said.

Bruhns was born near Hancock, Iowa in 1936. She was divorced and has two sons and one daughter. During her nearly 25-year teaching career, Bruhns served as president of the Oak Park Teachers Association.

Services for Elizabeth Bruhns

Services for Elizabeth Bruhns took place last Sunday, October 25. There is no service taking place this Sunday, Nov. 2 as previously reported. Wednesday Journal respectfully regrets the error.

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