On a warm Saturday morning, a handful of Steve Bankes’ neighbors gathered in the front yard of his Oak Park home. The Bankes – who lived on North Grove Avenue – were known for their “conversation curve,” a small stone patio fixed in the front of the home, allowing couples and families nearby to come and hang out.
The block party on June 19 had just begun, and some adults cozied up on Bankes’ lawn chairs, while children sprawled on the sidewalk, scribbling with chalk pastels.
On a normal day, Bankes, a self-described extrovert, would be outside with them, mingling with old friends and making new ones. Bankes, 55, loved any excuse to meet people, but only a few days had passed since his wife, Carrie, died. And he couldn’t bring himself to go outside just yet.
Carrie died June 16 after suffering a massive stroke. She was 56 years old. She was an inveterate volunteer, a professional in nonprofit communications and a person who quietly cultivated a wide array of people within her network of kindness.
“So, I’ve been here,” said Steve, slouched on a chair inside his living room, his dog, Velma, beside him. A close friend had just stopped by, dropping off Polish food.
In the next room, floral arrangements for Carrie were lined up on the dining table. Steve said Carrie loved sending flowers, especially to elderly women she knew lived alone. “It probably should be no surprise all these flowers are coming home now,” he said.
Steve described his relationship with Carrie as “two puzzle pieces that fit perfectly together.” They were best friends – and complete opposites, he admitted – but that’s why they worked. “Anything I disliked doing or wasn’t good at, she was, and the opposite was true,” he said. “Together, we were a very good team.”
Unlike Steve, Carrie was an introvert. She wasn’t a fan of parties and loathed being the center of attention. He smiled, as he spoke about Carrie who didn’t enjoy the “conversation curve” as much as he did. “She would famously go out there and say, ‘I’m going to run in and get some ice’” and not return, but that didn’t mean she didn’t love people, Steve reassured. She liked to have alone time, a moment to recharge, he said.
“She was kind to everybody,” Steve said about his late wife. “You know, I really do think she loved everybody.”
He went on to say Carrie was good one-on-one. She stayed present with the people around her, remembering the little details of their lives and was always willing to lend a helping hand.
On Steve’s Facebook, tributes to Carrie from friends, family, co-workers and neighbors have continued to pour in. The words “caring,” “lovely” and “fierce” seem to follow closely behind her name. Pictures of Carrie are posted all over the page, her warm, inviting smile in focus.
“People I don’t even know are coming up to me and saying your wife did this for me,” Steve said.
For the last three years, Carrie worked as a communications coordinator at Housing Forward, an organization that sought to help people experiencing homelessness. Years back she was also a calendar editor and advertising coordinator at Wednesday Journal.
Erik Johnson, Housing Forward’s director of development and communications, said he admired Carrie’s patience, commitment and passion. “I know she’ll be incredibly missed here,” he said.
The Rev. Emily Gage also sought to honor Carrie’s life. For 22 years, Carrie, Steve and their three children have attended Unity Temple in Oak Park. There, Carrie was an avid volunteer, serving on the Board of Trustees, teaching children of all ages through the church’s sexuality education program and leading the Religious Education Committee for Children and Youth.
“She cultivated relationships with individual[s] and groups wherever she turned,” Gage wrote in an email sent to the congregation June 17. “She could be counted on for a creative auction event, new ideas for activities and bringing coffee hour food and making the tables look nice or whatever else was called for.”
“She did this all with humor, grace and wisdom, never drawing attention to herself, only to those around her,” she wrote.
Steve said it’s hard to name all the places Carrie volunteered. “Every night, every day and every weekend, she was doing something, you know, like some walk for this march or vigil or bringing somebody food. It was exhausting to me because I just couldn’t do that. I’m just not that kind of person,” he said.
“But she was,” Steve said. “She was a bright light.”
While Steve and Carrie have been married for 26 years, he talked about the first time they met like it was only yesterday. The story is simple: they met at a bar on Halloween night in 1992, “one of those things where the universe just decides,” said Steve, bursting into tears.
Steve, a Detroit native, was visiting his friend in Chicago. He remembered being dragged to a bar and being shy when he spotted Carrie and her friend. Steve said his buddy broke the ice between them and started chatting them up. Their friends partnered off, leaving Steve and Carrie together.
“Then, we ended up talking until 4 o’clock in the morning,” Steve said. “I knew instantly.”
Steve said he sees glimmers of Carrie’s – and his – personality in their three children, Julia, Abby and Will.
As the late Saturday morning turned into early afternoon, the sound of chatter and laughter from Steve’s neighbors grew just a little bit louder. Steve said maybe it was time for him to finally step outside and surround himself with people. Reflecting on Carrie’s life, he found it hard to sum it all up and strung together more small stories showcasing her grace and her heart – and the impact she left on her family and community.
“She was everybody’s mom on the block, everybody’s sister, everybody’s partner,” he said. “We all lost somebody. It wasn’t just me.”
The following was submitted by Carrie Bankes’ husband, Steve:
Carrie died peacefully June 16 after suffering a stroke in her home.
Carrie loved reading obituaries. And now, here is hers:
Carrie was born at Sparrow Hospital in Lansing, Michigan although her family, Bill and Mary and sister Jennifer soon moved from Michigan to Connecticut before finally landing in the Chicago suburbs. Bill passed in 1993, and Mary and Jen stayed close until Mary passed in 2017. Jen was at her side her final day.
After high school she attended Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa and graduated with a degree in graphic design and journalism. She stayed in Des Moines for a couple of years before moving back to the big city, the Lincoln Park neighborhood of Chicago. Halloween night of 1992 she met a boy named Steve, fell in love, got married and had three kids (Julia, Will and Abby) and four “second hand” dogs (Jack, Sadie, Velma and pandemic pup Khloe) whom she raised in Oak Park under two maple trees on Grove Avenue surrounded by neighbors who became close friends.
Carrie was an introvert but loved people. She was kind but you wouldn’t want to test how far you could push her. She wouldn’t tolerate bad manners but begrudgingly accepted the occasional bad-manner night where all rules would be suspended for a single dinner. She was stoic but could laugh so hard she would run to the bathroom. She loved to stop at farm stands along the highway although her grouchy husband was too worried about making good time to show any interest in buying peaches and berries. She followed elderly pet adoptions on Instagram and would cry when one of them would die even though we knew it was inevitable that a blind, deaf 16-year-old chihuahua wasn’t long for this world. She stopped eating pork because she believed pigs were smart and felt emotion. Same for the octopus. She loved gardening but was slow to pull some weeds in case they would flower and bring a little joy into the world. Carrie spent little money on herself but wouldn’t hesitate to send flowers to an old lady living alone (which really adds up were you to ask her husband).
To so many, Carrie was the embodiment of kindness and strength. She quietly touched many lives but never sought help or recognition.
She and Steve were married 26 years, together for 29 and like two pieces of a puzzle fit perfectly and were very different. But the true loves of her life were her kid, Julia, 23; Abby, 20; and Will, 17. To them she said, “I don’t want to be your friend, I want to be your mom.” And by that she meant, my love for you is unconditional, unwavering and no matter what you do I will always love you. Friendships come and go, but a mom will always love you with a certain purity no friendship could match. When each would speak, she listened, really listened to each of them and when they made her laugh — which was often — the laugh was different. It was pure … like her love for them. She couldn’t sing, but her laugh was her song and it was beautiful.
If you feel called to bring some joy into the world in Carrie’s memory, pull some flowers from the garden, wrap some wet paper towel and foil around the bottom and give them to your neighbor who lives alone. Or maybe volunteer at an organization to help someone. Still looking for ideas? Carrie was deeply committed to Housing Forward and their work to end homelessness. She also supported Planned Parenthood as well as FORA, an organization that she loved that helps refugee kids get caught-up in school and ready to tackle life’s challenges in their new country.
As was Carrie’s wish, she wanted to pass with as little fanfare as possible but also wanted to do some good and was an organ donor. So consider becoming an organ donor, too, because you might continue helping others even after you are gone.
An informal gathering to celebrate Carrie’s memory is being planned. More information to follow.
Donations may be made to:
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the dog’s name was Velman. The dog’s name is Velma. Wednesday Journal regrets the error.