Ernie Mueller

So many left us in 2010, too many to list. Here is a small selection of those who had an impact and will be missed:

Thomas DeCaro, 86, longtime owner of the Frank Lloyd Wright Hills-DeCaro House in Oak Park. A printer by trade, he owned and operated a typesetting/printing operation for 40 years. He was an avid supporter of Boy Scouts and local Catholic schools. But his principal legacy was rebuilding the Edward Hills House, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. During restoration, the home suffered a devastating fire on Jan. 3, 1976. A subsequent housewalk to raise funds for the rebuilding effort was one of the inspirations for the annual Wright Plus Housewalk.

Joan Bowman, 82, executive secretary to Dr. Percy Julian. Norb Teclaw, president of the Institute for Science and Technology, described her as an “unsung heroine.” Her attention to detail was critical in documenting both Julian’s career and his scientific discoveries. She was instrumental in the effort to get public recognition for Julian’s contributions after he died. She was also a volunteer at Oak Park Hospital for over 10 years.

Ernie Mueller, 82, former District 97 superintendent. When the elementary school district needed a strong superintendent in the early 1980s, Mueller fit the bill. He had definite ideas when he arrived in 1982, and his “my way or the highway” approach rubbed some the wrong way. His most controversial innovation was “rescheduling,” an attempt to address declining enrollments. Mueller reduced class sizes to 15 (or less) and assigned gym teachers, media specialists and special ed instructors to teach reading and math. His ideas weren’t always well received and his style could be abrasive. He was also a proponent of year-round school and later designed a program for Loyola University that connected low-income students with corporations to learn career skills.

Dick Kelly, 71, teacher, cab driver, freedom rider. Uncompromising in his principles, Kelly walked the talk. He traveled to Mississippi in 1964 with other idealistic young adults to take part in voter registration efforts. Described as “gregarious, intense and passionate,” he campaigned for progressive candidates and backed numerous social justice causes. He taught in the Chicago Public School system and later drove a taxi in the Oak Park area. An avid Notre Dame fan, he was a longtime member of the St. Giles Family Mass group. “Dick never gave up on making this a more just country,” said Geraldine Delaney, who worked with him on various political campaigns.

Peg Studney, 84, teacher, human rights activist, VMA campaign volunteer. Marguerite “Peg” Studney was a professional chemist, a teacher at Loretto High School in Chicago, a Great Books leader at Ascension School, and a longtime book club member who insisted on including the classics, Plato in particular. She worked on several VMA campaigns and served on the village’s Community Design Commission, spearheading the innovative corner garden program which encouraged the planting of flowers in exposed parkway patches. She also headed an annual “Keep It Clean” campaign each spring, collecting litter along Lake Street and South Boulevard. “She was all about earthiness and beautification,” said her son, Tom.

Hugh Helfer, 84, District 97 board member, conservatory volunteer, contrarian. The first to serve three terms on the elementary school board (in the late 1960s and 1970s), he was committed to racial integration in the schools and supported the switch to a junior high system, which helped achieve that. He was also a fixture and tireless activist in his south Oak Park neighborhood.

Dick Buckley, 85, the voice of radio jazz. The longtime Oak Parker was the host of Jazz Forum on Chicago’s National Public Radio affiliate WBEZ-FM for more than 30 years. He worked at several Chicago radio stations before that and also did voiceovers for Schlitz beer commercials.

Judy Jasculca, 60, project manager for Jasculca Terman and school volunteer. Judith Jasculca managed a number of high-profile projects for her husband’s public affairs firm, Jasculca Terman, including the 1979 visit of Pope John Paul II to Chicago and the Democratic National Convention in 1996. She volunteered at St. Luke School and Trinity High School in River Forest and was a member of the board of directors for After School Matters.

Glenn Toppen, 62, kidney donor, advocate for the poor. Toppen saved the life of his neighbor across the street when he volunteered to give 21-year-old Cynthia Sanders one of his kidneys in 2001 after hearing about her condition at the annual block party. He worked for a time as a Realtor, then moved into marketing, working for Neighborhood Housing Services of Chicago, a non-profit that provides low-interest loans to low-income families. He served on the boards of organizations that focused on homelessness and financial education for the poor. He also volunteered with PADS and Habitat for Humanity.

Betty Van Wyk, 71, reporter, township clerk, Zonta member. An education beat reporter for many years for the Oak Leaves, she ran as an independent and was elected as a township trustee (1981-85), followed by a long tenure as township clerk (1985-1997). She became communications director for Oak Park and River Forest High School, where she served as advisor to Tau Gamma, the high school’s service organization for girls. She later became a certified financial planner until retiring in 2005, then volunteered with Township Senior Services, offering her financial knowledge to senior citizens. She was a tireless advocate for the local chapter of Zonta International. A Unity Temple member, she also supported the Oak Park Conservatory and the Oak Park Regional Housing Center.

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