Activist, civil rights worker, traveler

Elaine “Toddy” Van Wieren, 91, died on Dec. 12, 2019. Born on Nov. 2, 1928 to Gertrude Mary Hemwall (nee Jones) and George William Hemwall, in the Austin neighborhood of Chicago, she attended Nash Elementary School and Austin High School, where she was editor of the yearbook, on the staff of the newspaper, and belonged to virtually every club. She attended Wright Junior College, loved to draw, paint, and dance, and was an expert jitter-bugger. Beginning in her high school years, she had careers in retail and modeling. 

In 1950, she moved to Holland, Michigan along with her parents, where she met and married Kenneth H. Van Wieren on June 12, 1954. The couple had six children and moved back to the Austin neighborhood in 1964. There, she became an activist with the League of Woman Voters and the Organization for a Better Austin, as a Saul Alinsky-trained community organizer, civil rights worker, and worked to promote the ERA amendment in Illinois. 

In 1972, the family moved to Oak Park. After running several political campaigns, she ran for Oak Park trustee as an independent in 1978, and in 1980, received a B.A. degree in urban studies and art history from Elmhurst College. She also had interests in design and architecture, and they refurbished and lived in a number of houses in the area, including a Frank Lloyd Wright carriage house. She loved to go antiquing and loved to travel, touring Amsterdam, Sweden, and Wales, exploring family history. 

Following the death of her husband in 1995, she lived and worked in Oak Park near her children and volunteered for Hephzibah Children’s Association and St. Vincent De Paul. In August 2003, she married John “Jack” Hemwall of Philadelphia. The couple moved to Naples, Florida and traveled around the world, as well as making many friends at the Tower Pointe at Arbor Trace. 

When Jack died in 2017, she returned to the Chicago area and lived with her daughter Nancy in Elgin until her death. 

Toddy Van Wieren will be remembered by her brothers, Richard and Alan Hemwall; her children, Billie (Joseph Jordan), Laurie (Chris Holman), Nancy, Christopher (Teri) and Abigail (Patrick Strader); her grandchildren, Andrew Van Wieren and Rachel Van Wieren; and her many nieces, nephews, extended family and dear friends. She was preceded in death by her husband, Kenneth H. Van Wieren; her son, Kenneth D. Van Wieren; and her second husband, Jack “John” B. Hemwall. 

A memorial service and reception will be held at Oak Park’s Grace Episcopal Church on Jan. 18 at noon, followed by a reception. Her ashes will be interred, alongside her husband Ken’s, in the summer of 2020 at Grace Episcopal Church in Holland, Michigan. 

Memorial donations may be made to the Alzheimer’s Association, 225 N. Michigan Ave., Floor 17, Chicago 60601,

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