Jim Boushay (right) with Rickey Sain and Rebekah Levin at the 2002 OPALGA gala.File 2002/Staff

Jim Boushay was the ultimate people person. Warm, engaging, chatty and determined to connect people, Boushay and his partner Rickey Sain organized their lives around connections. Mr. Boushay died unexpectedly on Sept. 21, 2011 at the age of 63 in his home in Harvey, Louisiana, just outside New Orleans. Boushay and Sain had moved to New Orleans two years ago after spending decades in Oak Park.

Best known in Oak Park for organizing an annual potluck dinner that attracted hundreds of friends, enemies, and those in between, Boushay and Sain also built a business, Resources Unlimited, around the art of linking civic engagement and volunteerism.

Born the fourth of seven children to Joseph and Mildred (Mannato) Boushay in Jersey City, NJ, Mr. Boushay spent most of his life after high school in the Chicago area. Mr. Boushay graduated with honors from DePaul University in 1970 and then pursued a Masters Degree at Northwestern University. He taught high school English for two years at Lake Forest Academy and at Marmion Military Academy in Aurora for another six years. Over the next 13 years, Mr. Boushay served as official spokesperson and development director for several organizations including the Menninger Foundation in Topeka, KS, Provident Hospital in Chicago, and the Chicago Historical Society.

Mr. Boushay married Catherine in 1969. Early in their marriage they enjoyed summers teaching at a camp in North Bridgeton, Maine where they hiked in the White Mountains and water-skied . “It was like a working vacation in Maine for three summers,” said Catherine.

The couple moved to Galewood and joined St. Giles parish, where they quickly joined the liturgical singers, singing together for 20 years. “Jim used to say, ‘Good music is normative to good liturgy.'” said Catherine. The couple split amicably in 1992 and remained friends throughout Jim’s life. “I was just speaking to him on the phone [about our long friendship] and he told me, ‘I’ve known you longer than anyone else. We have a history,'” she said.

Around 1993, he established Resources Unlimited Foundation and began his life’s work, focusing on “grassroots education of thought and action in community service and volunteerism.” Being a prolific writer, Mr. Boushay, along with his partner, Rickey Sain, Sr., was involved in extensive consultation on improving civic, social, educational, and religious engagement in service to others.

Boushay and Sain were also very proud of their multimedia presentation, “Faces of Community” which was shown during the Oak Park Exchange Congress in 2000. The visual and musical presentation, which featured photographs of over 6,000 faces “put a face to what abstract words and concepts of diversity or activism or leadership mean,” Jim Boushay told Wednesday Journal. “Community is made up of differences,” Boushay said. “We need to make difference work for us because it’s not going away.”

According to Cathy Boushay, “Jim affected a lot of lives all over the place. Everywhere he went, people knew him.”

Village Trustee Ray Johnson says that Boushay and Sain were an integral part of the Village Manager Association and gave him great advice when he first considered going into politics: “We had conversations at the kitchen table about local politics over coffee or a bowl of soup.” Johnson said he took to heart Boushay’s observation that constituents could both agree and disagree with you. “It was important to just listen – keep the lines of communication open on both sides. “

Two years ago, Boushay and Sain moved to New Orleans to continue their work in that community and to study the resiliency of the human spirit in the face of extreme tragedy and loss. He died before being able to complete his book which chronicles the many experiences he and Mr. Sain had as they traveled across the country in their “Motor Home of Miracles,” as he called it.

Another accomplishment of which Mr. Boushay was very proud was the creation of the Oak Park Festival of Potluck Foods in 1995. The annual event attracted hundreds of Oak Park residents for the sharing of food, fun and music. He described it as “a cultural celebration bringing together diverse neighbors and friends, making everyone feel included.” Boushay said the attendees were “from every walk of life: black, white, gay, straight, millionaires, struggling artists,” Co-hosts were encouraged to “quietly talk this feast up, and find ways of including people they didn’t like.” Together he and Mr. Sain, and a cast of supporters, repeated the annual “party” for 12 years. The festival had three rules: First, no planning. “‘When does God laugh at us the most? When we’re planning,” said co-host Sain. The second rule was no paper and no plastic. “We use ceramic plates, cloth napkins and flatware,” Boushay told Wednesday Journal. “That demonstrates our own understanding of how we respect people’s food. It gives that elegant feel [as well].” The third rule? Good weather was mandatory.

“[The potluck feast] was always so fascinating,” said Johnson, “It was a wonderful Oak Park quilt of many colors coming together… You always left that event meeting new people. Hats off to them for keeping it going so long.”

James Michael (Allen) Boushay is survived by his daughters, Therese (Tracy) of San Salvador, El Salvador and Rachel (Paratore) of Chicago, and their mother, Catherine (Cathy) of Arlington Heights; his siblings, Maryann DeStefano of Queen Creek, AZ, Maureen Rossilli of Englewood, FL, and Jerome (Jerry) of San Diego, CA (and their spouses); and his partner, Rickey Sain, Sr.

He was preceded in death by his parents, his sister, Michelle, and two brothers, Joseph and John. His body will be cremated in New Orleans and a memorial service will be planned for sometime in the near future.

Memorials may be directed to Seguin Services at 3100 S. Central Ave., Cicero, Illinois 60804.

Join the discussion on social media!

Jean Lotus

Jean Lotus loves community journalism. She covers news, features, two school boards, village council, crime, park district and writes obits for Forest Park Review. She also covers the police beat for...

17 replies on “Jim Boushay, 63, quiet activist, talkative connector”