Bill Cassin, 86, Hemingway Foundation supporter

Longtime Hemingway Foundation supporter Bill Cassin died Tuesday morning, June 30, following a lengthy battle with Guillain-Barre syndrome.

Cassin, a lifelong Oak Parker, was the husband of former village clerk Virginia Cassin and her partner in sustaining the Ernest Hemingway Foundation since 1989. They were married for 64 years.

A World War II vet who fought in France, he was an avid outdoorsman, and it was during a weekend outing to Indiana last summer that a mosquito bite led to his protracted illness, leaving him virtually paralyzed.

“He spent his whole 86 years under the shelter of Oak Park’s trees,” said his wife. “He was nurtured by the ambiance of this wonderfully unique village and gave back to it with all his heart.”

The first-born child of Ruth and Bill Cassin on June 22, 1923, he grew up at 832 S. East Ave., across the street from Ascension Church, where he received first communion, sang in the choir, drew airplanes on his Ascension School papers (much to the nuns’ disapproval) and, after graduating, entered Fenwick High School. Crazy about airplanes, he was an avid member of the Oak Park Recreation Department’s Aviation Club.

In 1942 he went to Notre Dame for an all-too-brief freshman year, interrupted by WWII. He always considered ND to be his alma mater, and the school itself designated its departing student/servicemen as bona fide alumni.

Two days after he returned from WWII in Europe, he and Virginia Robie, his high school sweetheart, took their wedding vows under the same Ascension Church dome.

Bill’s lifelong hero was Charles Lindbergh, and two quotes from his beloved Polish grandfather – “We not only fix it, we improve it,” and “Hew to the line; let the chips fall where they may” – governed Bill’s life.

He served in reconnaissance with the 20th Armored Division during World War II. He helped liberate the Dachau concentration camp outside Munich, Germany, and received the Bronze Star for “heroic service.”

Beginning in 1948, Bill and Virginia increased the population of Oak Park by eight children. They moved from 743 Gunderson to a spacious old turn-of-the-century house at 206 S. Grove, where beloved in-laws and 25 grand- and great-grandchildren now lovingly gather for special times together.

At St. Edmund Church and School, Bill led the Christian Family Movement, got involved in scouting and football coaching, co-chaired with Ginie the Catholic Archdiocese Cana and Pre-Cana movement and worked two jobs to support his burgeoning family.

Hunting with his growing sons and camping in the North Woods created lifelong happy memories. At an old house in Elkhorn, Wis., summer fun and water sports brought the extended family together.

Bill was a commercial photographer by profession and later the photo editor for major encyclopedias, ending with Encyclopedia Britannica and Laidlaw Publishing, connecting him with camera and pictorial professionals all over the world.

When Ginie joined the staff of the Village of Oak Park in 1964 and was later elected village clerk in 1973, Bill was always at her side. In 1989, both became actively involved in The Ernest Hemingway Foundation of Oak Park and helped establish the Hemingway Museum and restore the Birthplace Home. Bill became the devoted, tireless presence behind the scenes for 20 years. Each project and every day-to-day task bore his fingerprints.

In 2002, he received the Carl S. Winters Community Service Award from the Oak Park Rotary Club. At the time, friend and fellow Hemingway board member Redd Griffin said, “Those who know our villages well, know how much they offer, but also what they ask. Through seven decades here, Bill has absorbed the best Oak Park and River Forest offer, physically, mentally and spiritually and has given the best of himself – body, mind and spirit – back to the community.”

Another longtime friend, Lee Brooke, recalled, “I met the Cassins during the civil rights and fair housing movement in 1963 when we were organizing the Citizens Commission for Human Rights. Ginie would not say no. She always volunteered. Wherever she went, he went, incredibly loyal, always in the background.”

Among his last undertakings was making sure, with Ginie, that the ceremonies for Veterans Day at Scoville Park continued.

During 10 months of hospitalization for West Nile Virus and Guillain-Barre Syndrome, he never complained. Ginie and family surrounded him with loving optimism.

At the end of Bill’s days, a good friend, Chuck Bednar, made a small model “Spirit of St. Louis” plane to hang over his hospital bed, with the door open so, as Chuck put it, Bill could “jump right in and fly away with Lindy.”

His old hunting partner drove seven hours from northern Wisconsin to visit on the last day of Bill’s life, and received his last full smile.

Bill Cassin was the husband of Virginia (nee Robie); the father of Michael (Barbara), Patrick, Sharon Frame, Sheila (Richard) MacLaughlin, Timothy, Sean, Brian (Donna) and Kieran (Jeri); grandfather of 20; great-grandfather of five; brother of Phyliss (James) Donahoe, Patricia (Michael) Graft and David (Sara) Cassin; brother-in-law of William (Sally) Robie; and the uncle and friend of many.

Memorial visitation will take place at Ascension Church, 808 S. East Ave., on Saturday, July 18, from 9 a.m. until the funeral Mass begins at 10 a.m. Interment is private.

In lieu of flowers, memorial donations to the Ernest Hemingway Foundation of Oak Park are appreciated. Arrangements were handled by Drechsler, Brown & Williams Funeral Home in Oak Park.

Gordon Todd, 60, Vietnam vet, OPRF co-captain

Gordon Bruce Todd, 60, formerly of Oak Park, died of a heart attack at his home in Montague, Mich., on June 27, 2009. Born and reared in Oak Park, he graduated from Oak Park and River Forest High School, where he sang in the a cappella choir and was co-captain of the basketball team. He also captained the Morton College team and attended Missouri Valley College. He served in the army in Vietnam and was a member of the American Legion Post in Whitehall, Mich., and the DAV Post in Muskegon, Mich.

Gordon Todd is survived by his wife, Mary (nee Englehart); his mother, Margaret; his brother, James; his daughter, Kelly (Andy) Soltys; his son, Brian Todd; his step-daughters, Jody Dietz, Stevie Lynn Glaspie and Sandra Malone; two grandsons and four step-grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held at Cornerstone Methodist Church, 171 N. Cuyler, Oak Park, on July 12 at 2:30 p.m. Because some people attending have sensitivities, please refrain from wearing fragrances.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the American Diabetes Association, P.O. Box 1833, Merrifield, Va. 22116-8033.

Vernon Henrikson, 84, Active member of Calvary Church

Vernon O. Henrikson, 84, a 52-year resident of River Forest, died on July 4, 2009. Born on Jan. 5, 1925 in Oak Park, he served as a sergeant in the U.S. Army Air Corps during WWII from 1943 to 1946. As a radio man, he accumulated over 1,100 hours of flying time.

He graduated from Northwestern University with a bachelor’s degree in business and was a longtime member of Calvary Memorial Church of Oak Park, where he served as deacon, elder, treasurer and choir member.

He was the husband of the late Marilyn “Pat”; father of Craig (Nancee) and Dawn (Michael) Dubovik; grandfather of Jason (Sarah), Jenna and Erik Henrikson and Daniel Pearson; great-grandfather of James, Nathan and Audrey Henrikson; brother of Arthur (the late Lois); and dear uncle of many.

Visitation will be held July 9 from 3 to 8 p.m. at Calvary Memorial Church, 931 Lake St. Funeral service will take place on July 10 at 10 a.m. at the church, followed by interment at Irving Park Cemetery.

In lieu of flowers, donations to Calvary Memorial Church are appreciated. Arrangements were handled by Williams-Kampp Funeral Home, Wheaton.

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