Kathryn Jonas, a longtime community activist and champion of Oak Park’s urban forest, died on Sept. 19, 2018. So many friends and colleagues wanted to comment on her and her life that we decided to run a selection as a testimonial to her impact.
Jerry Adelmann, president & CEO of Openlands:
A certified arborist and Openlands treekeeper, Kathryn Jonas has been an urban forest advocate for decades. She was a member of the Chicago Region Trees Initiative, where she shared her expertise in preserving and protecting trees regionally and at home locally. She co-founded the Historic Oak Propagation Project (HOPP) in 2008 to preserve local oaks genetic material by collecting acorns, propagating them, and replanting with neighbors in Oak Park. Kathryn’s impact is evident through the trees she has planted, protected, and her dedication to educating others on the importance of green space for quality of life. She was literally a “force of nature” whose influence and legacy will live on for generations in the trees she saved and planted.
Bill and Deborah Roberts:
Her reach was wide and varied, her compassion for enhancing and sustaining life blossomed. What a legacy she created. How can we ever look at a tree again without thinking of her, or even a stranger — there never seemed to be any in her life.
Mike Iversen of Oak Park:
Kathryn was a person of utmost integrity, wisdom and perspective; passionate about her family, friends and interests, and one of those rare Oak Parkers I respected, admired and enjoyed.
Katy loved traditions. For 50 years she and I made each other’s birthday dinners. We always had the same desserts: rhubarb pie for her, chocolate cake for me. How will I be able to do the rest of my birthdays without her?
Julie Samuels of Oak Park:
We both cared about our world — the trees, the land, and the people. And we worried about them all, especially in Oak Park. But she always calmed me down because she knew so much that she never failed to find a way to plan and take the steps to bring about necessary change. She knew what to do and she did it! When we met to talk, I always enjoyed sitting across from her as she drank her half-filled cup of coffee so she could ask for refills — to keep it hot. In a way that describes how I think she lived her life: quietly taking the modest steps to save our world.
Kathryn fiercely defended the trees of Oak Park when a contractor and the village mismanaged a pruning contract. Kathryn could not abide this insult to the trees and the loss to beautiful Oak Park. She first sought me out to help with this messy battle when I was Community Trees Advocate for the Morton Arboretum. I dealt with a lot of advocates, but Kathryn was exceptional. She was strategic, tenacious, sophisticated and effective in changing the policies for tree care in Oak Park. The impact endures. It was only because Kathryn carried the idea from acorn to mighty oak that HOPP happened. She did so much thoughtful research and hard work. She was persuasive and passionate. HOPP is a standout project nationally, in my opinion. Kathryn was so influential, yet so modest. She left a beautiful legacy of trees and persuaded others to love trees.
Rima Schultz of Oak Park:
Kathryn was unique in the melding of her commitments to social justice issues and her keen sense that one of the “inalienable” rights for citizens in a democracy was aesthetic — we have a right to beauty in our surroundings, our community. She valued the natural environment and worked to conserve our trees; and she valued the craft and beauty of what humans built well. Kathryn had an uncanny ability to visualize the way public policy influenced the spatial relations of community, so she imagined what change meant in terms of our ability to live together in harmony.
Christine Vernon of Oak Park:
If you ever saw Kathryn testify before the village board, then you can imagine her strong voice and her stature. She had the facts before her and she had the best posture of any person I know. It was kind of a metaphor for her character. She stood up straight, had a strong spine, and spoke her truth. It takes perseverance and patience to make any inroads at all while challenging one-party rule. She found her successes in other areas of her life outside of politics — her devoted “other half,” Gary Johnson; her dear and talented daughter, Erika; the newest person in her family, her son-in-law; and her many friends and extended family. Hers was a rich life. Kathryn will always be one of the most interesting, inspiring, and courageous women I have ever known.
John Conroy of Oak Park:
Kathryn was an inspiration to all of us with her deep commitment to our environment. She didn’t just talk the talk. She truly walked the walk — and did so fearlessly.
I found her to be extremely poised, incredibly well-spoken, intelligent and worldly beyond explanation. Even with all that she was, she never looked down on anyone. She always found common ground.
She inspired me to use my voice to speak out for what I believed. She taught me about the beauty of pomegranates and oaks and homegrown tomatoes and freshly baked bread. She also cared about knowledge and I loved learning about the latest book she was reading so that I could read it too.
When you met Kathryn Jonas, you immediately felt that you were in the presence of a woman who was smart, solid, fun, and mindful. Passionate about the environment as well as her family, she was unafraid of taking strong stands, even in the face of resistance from those less progressive in their thinking than she. And she could win them over, as she won over all who knew her, respected her, and loved her.
Conner Shaw, owner of Possibility Place Nursery, Monee:
Kathryn was one of two women I knew I could talk about trees.
An unidentified attendee at her Pleasant Home memorial service on Nov. 4:
To know her was to love her and the things she loved.