On Friday afternoon, Oct. 16, my dear friend, Ginie Cassin, peacefully passed away with most of her children at her bedside. Ginie leaves a lifetime of love and memories for her family and her many friends, and a rich and enduring legacy for the village she loved, and those whose lives she touched. Ken Trainor wrote an incredibly thoughtful tribute, capturing both the essence of Ginie and her many accomplishments. My compatriots, Dick Martens and Alex Alexandrou, wrote heartfelt letters describing not only Ginie’s wonderfully generous and kind nature, but also the strength and determination that underlay this gentle nature. They also spoke of her willingness to take on any project or task for the good of her village or to advance any of the many good causes she believed in.
These well-written tributes leave me free to instead share a couple of my treasured personal recollections. I do this to share a little more of this precious person with you and, also, for selfish reasons, sharing these recollections will help me grieve her loss. Maybe reading them will help you in the same way.
In June of 1975 a number of us were hired by the village of Oak Park within the same week to serve in a variety of capacities. I was hired as a law clerk for the Law Department. About two weeks into our employment, Ginie and a couple other village administrators invited us to a welcome lunch at a small restaurant on North Avenue. I had recently purchased an old Buick “beater,” put new license plates on it, and wired-up the muffler and exhaust pipe to the bottom of the car to keep them from falling. In my mind, I now had a roadworthy vehicle. I drove my “new” car to the restaurant for our welcome lunch. It was a nice lunch. Ginie welcomed us, told us about good government in Oak Park and reminded us that we were all now representing Oak Park. After lunch I offered to drive Ginie back to village hall.
We drove for a couple of blocks when Ginie mentioned that I had quite an impressive collection of old Oak Park vehicle stickers up and down the right side of my windshield. Thinking nothing of it, I agreed with her that it was a fine collection, and mentioned that I bought the car from an old Oak Parker. She smiled and said very nicely, “Well, Ray, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but I am pretty sure that three old village vehicle stickers do not equal one new one.” She caught me flatfooted, and she knew it, as I sat slack-jawed with no words coming out of my open mouth. Ginie, still smiling, very nicely said, “Don’t worry Ray, I think we can fix this when we get back to village hall.”
We drove a few more blocks and heard music in the distance. I don’t think it was a Good Humor Truck, but rather some generic equivalent ice-cream vending truck. When the truck came into view, Ginie asked me to pull over and park along the curb across the street from the truck. She asked me to walk over to the truck with her. She introduced herself as the village clerk and mentioned that one of her responsibilities was to issue permits to ice-cream truck vendors wishing to do business in Oak Park. The man smiled and turned off the music without being asked, I assumed so that he could hear Ginie clearly. She asked the man if he knew that ice-cream trucks were not permitted to play music while in the village. He said he was not aware of that. She was prepared for that response and, to my amazement, handed him literature containing the wording of the ordinance that she just happened to have with her. She then said that the village was happy to have him doing business in Oak Park. He responded by saying he liked doing business in Oak Park. Then very nicely, but clearly, she said that if he wished to continue doing business in Oak Park, he would have to follow Oak Park laws. Always wanting to end on a positive note, she reiterated that as long as he followed the rules, he was welcome here. I learned much on my first short car ride with her. I would learn much from her in this way over the next several decades.
These instances were quintessential Ginie. If it needed to be said, you could count on her to say it. If it needed to be done, you could count on her to do it. And whatever it was, you could also always count on her to say it or do it with kindness, understanding and respect.
I enjoy delivering Christmas wreaths during the holiday season to people who are special to me. One of my most cherished holiday memories over the last almost 40 years has been my annual visit to Ginie’s house to deliver her Christmas wreath to her. The wreath was an important part of our tradition and an excuse for a long visit.
We would not only talk for hours, we did so in the warmest, coziest room in all of Oak Park — the Cassin den/reading room in the northwest corner of the first floor, just off the foyer. First, we would hang the wreath in the foyer above the entrance to the den and then spend the next couple of hours sipping tea or cider and talking about anything and everything in my favorite room. The entire house, but that room in particular, exuded Ginie’s warmth.
While she was still living in that house on Grove, I had an opportunity to bring my then 3-year-old granddaughter, Serafina, to visit. They really hit it off. Ginie showed Serafina the beautiful small rocking horse that Ginie rode on when she was a little girl and told Serafina that she could ride it. Serafina was thrilled. A special connection was made that day. When we were leaving and headed down the front steps, Serafina stopped, ran to the storm door and stuck her head in to give Ginie a last hug and said, “Ginie, I love your house.” Serafina felt the warmth of her home as much as I did. Somehow, I managed to record that moment and I have that recording to treasure.
Last year, we still managed to do a good job of keeping our tradition going. I had a wreath delivered to Ginie’s place in Minnesota and we talked on the phone for a long time. This year will be different but we got our long visit in by phone a few weeks ago, and I feel blessed for that. Happy Holidays, Ginie! Serafina and I can still feel your warmth.
Ray Heise is the former Oak Park Village Attorney and ex officio Cassin family member.