Paying respect to strong women

Opinion: Ken Trainor

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By Ken Trainor

Staff writer

While hundreds of thousands of strong, independent women (and supportive men) gathered in Chicago, Washington D.C., across the nation, and beyond to send a message to the Misogynist-in-Chief on his first full day in office, I was attending a funeral in Oak Park. 

I didn't know Kathy Schulze well, but her name and face are as familiar as family. She was a classmate at Ascension School for nine years, 1957 to 1966. When you share the same sphere of influence from age 5 to 14, you feel a bond.

So when I read the email outpouring from fellow classmates, I decided to attend her funeral, partly to learn more about this special person I missed getting to know. I missed getting to know most of the girls in my class, being shy and sisterless — and with so many kids in our baby-boom-peak class (c. 160), missing people was pretty much inevitable.

I learned that a lot of people admired Kathy. She was described as one of the smartest kids in our class, which she channeled into her sharp wit, yet was also unfailingly kind. Another classmate, Carol Joyce, provided a perfect example. She recalled being on the back end of normal in learning to tie her shoes, which in second grade would have been mortifying to admit. So she tried to think of someone she could ask to tie her shoes before and after gym class without drawing attention to it or making fun of her. She settled on Kathy, who said, "Sure," and performed her covert ministry until Carol mastered the skill. In second grade that level of kindness was pretty advanced.

Not surprisingly, Kathy became a nurse. She raised her son Jack one block south of the home she grew up in on Scoville Avenue. Jack delivered the eulogy and recalled her reading him the book Love You Forever almost every night, and with each reading she would cry, telling him they were "tears of happiness."

Kathy Schulze (her married name was Spohn) stayed close to Ascension, which she also forever loved, and Pastor Jim Hurlbert, in his homily, noted that her death was not just a loss for family and friends but for the parish, and its history, as well. 

She suffered from cancer and congestive heart failure, but she attended our 50th reunion last October, and her funeral, of course, was held in the sacred space we shared as kids, which was sad, but, as often happens, grace came to the rescue. I was there, I think, mostly to mourn the passing of our era. Instead, it brought that era alive again, what I call the "paradox of passing away." Kathy's death reminded me how lucky I am, how lucky we all are, to grow up when and where we did.

And with whom.

The back cover of the program quoted St. Francis of Assisi: "Remember that when you leave this earth, you can take nothing with you that you received — only what you have given: a full heart enriched by honest service, love, sacrifice and courage."

I like the part about giving, but I think we retain much of what we received. When you hear about an old grade-school classmate dying too young, it's dispiriting. But I left that funeral with a fuller heart.

"Death leaves a heartache no one can heal. Love leaves a memory no one can steal. What a beautiful difference a single life made," appeared inside the program beneath a Celtic cross interwoven with thistles, a plant that symbolizes the thorniness of life even as it produces flowers of great beauty.

Saturday morning, hundreds of thousands of women swelled Grant Park to overflowing — to demand respect from a new president who desperately craves respect from others yet doesn't understand how to extend it, especially to women. Don't be like Trump; tell the strong, independent women in your life how much you appreciate them.

The day was sunny, warm and hopeful, and the Loop must have been a glorious scene. But, I stayed close to home and paid respect to a woman who was smart, witty, loving and kind. I got to know her a little late.

But better than never.


Postscript: Just after I finished writing about Kathy Schulze, I received word of another life-loving woman, Nellie Schultz, who died last Wednesday of ovarian cancer. I met Nellie on a daylong "Labor of Love" volunteer work detail in Chicago's Austin neighborhood 10 years ago. We enjoyed toiling together so much, we arranged to be on the same detail the following summer.

Nellie was a gem. Over the years, I would see her at Farmers Market at her regular table near the musicians' circle and stop by to say hi. The second-to-last time I saw her, she told me I should do a story about how difficult Cook County Hospital made things for cancer patients. She was feisty.

The last time I saw her I was in a hurry, so we caught each other's eye and exchanged a wave and a smile. She had a great smile.

We didn't agree on some things politically, but when we worked together, we were solidly on common ground. She once told me she didn't want the Cubs to win the World Series because she was afraid they would lose their charm. Well, she lived to see the unthinkable happen. I'm guessing she wasn't too terribly disappointed.

The Cubs may lose their charm, but she never did.

Nellie and Kathy, Schultz and Schulze, taught me a lesson in living a fuller life. They taught me not to be shy around strong, independent women.

And that I was never really sisterless.


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Reader Comments

18 Comments - Add Your Comment

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Bill Dwyer  

Posted: January 29th, 2017 5:11 PM

Just to be accurate, Marty, Ray "will not let dishonest petty political hatred go unchallenged" except if it's from Trump or his minions.

Ray Simpson  

Posted: January 29th, 2017 4:54 PM

@ Mr Bernstein - Did you understand what I said. I complimented Ken on a nice tribute to two women from our community. I objected to Ken's inserting politics where it was disrespectful to both the ladies and the president. Your belief that his comments were proper and in good taste is OK with me. I just feel that it was an inappropriate statement that was demonstrably false and in bad taste, and I expressed my opinion. If I offended either family I am sorry, but I will not let dishonest petty political hatred go unchallenged.

Marty Bernstein  

Posted: January 28th, 2017 12:16 AM

Kathy Spohn was a good friend of mine and my family. She would visit and play Scrabble with us. By the end of the evening we had laughed so much at made up Scrabble words and an endless stream of jokes that we felt wonderful and looked forward to the next time we would gather. Regardless of Ken Trainor's comment about President Trump the article was a tribute to Kathy. Ray Simpson, your comment is disrespectful to Kathy Spohn and you should be ashamed of yourself. If your need to speak is so great write your own opinion letter. You owe an apology to Kathy's family.

Bill Dwyer  

Posted: January 26th, 2017 6:04 PM

Thank you, Bridgett. Neat and concise.

Bridgett Baron  

Posted: January 26th, 2017 5:50 PM

I'm not understanding why the constant criticism of Ken for his columns. It's his column, it's his opinion, not a news story. And his columns, nearly all the time have something political in them. Politics that some don't agree with. And? To ask Ken Trainor to Be More Like Ray Simpson is like asking Ray Simpson to Be More Like Ken Trainor.

Ray Simpson  

Posted: January 26th, 2017 5:48 PM

@ Dwyer - So we are to judge a man by his words and ignore his actions? That seems to be how we have gotten into the trouble we have for the last 8 years. The point of this whole conversation relates to the propriety of using a memorial to two local women as a forum to slander the president. Even if what you claim was true proper decorum would require you to make your charges elsewhere. There is high class and low class - this is an example of no class at all!

Bill Dwyer  

Posted: January 26th, 2017 4:24 PM

Unfortunately for you Ray, Trump's on tape on numerous occasions refuting what you say. As I said before, you go right on believing what you want to despite the evidence.

Rani Dawn  

Posted: January 26th, 2017 4:10 PM

Barbara: It really makes one wonder, doesn't it? Having this bully pulpit--has someone told Ken to use it every chance he gets to promote something that was soundly rejected? And even in paying tribute to these women? Unbelievable! I love how these folks talk about "when they go low, we go high" and they seem full of vitriol--missing no opportunity to bash the newly elected POTUS, who won fair and square DESPITE an enormous amount of folks trying to besmirch him and keep him down. He really is something to behold. I didn't vote for him, to be honest. However, I am impressed with his streghth and focus. The march last Saturday was full of absolute vulgarity and HATE. They aren't fooling anyone.

Martin A. Berg  

Posted: January 26th, 2017 4:09 PM

I would like to go on record as being in support of the Ken Trainor/Bill Dwyer view of reality.

Dale Jones  

Posted: January 26th, 2017 4:05 PM

@Mike Hanline apparently you didn't read Mr. Trainor's piece. It was he who used the article honoring these women to take cheap political shots at the President.

Ray Simpson  

Posted: January 26th, 2017 3:52 PM

@ Dwyer - I laid out 3 examples proving President Trump is NOT a misogynist and you offer only insults to back up your disrespectful slander. Sorry no cigar!

Bill Dwyer  

Posted: January 26th, 2017 3:24 PM

You're the one who takes silly cheap shots, Ray, then complains about other people. "Ken, rookie reporters start their careers writing obit copy - you have even failed at that!" ? Ken Trainor won't ever talk about it, but he has a wall full of awards for his writing and editing, including, obituaries. As for Trump, he IS a misogynist. A real pig. So tough if you don't like hearing it.

Ray Simpson  

Posted: January 26th, 2017 2:47 PM

@ Dwyer - as usual you missed my entire point. A tribute to two women's lives is not a proper place to make crass slanderous political statements. Ken has never learned that lesson and you seem hell bent on insulting people with neither a reasonable argument or the style to engage and disagree. As simply as I can state my objection to this column - a testimony to someones life is no place to vent political hatred. even if based on truth.

Bill Dwyer  

Posted: January 26th, 2017 1:58 PM

Once again, Ray Simpson thinks he knows what he's talking about but hasn't a clue. I for one didn't start out writing obits, and legendary reporter Bob Woodward, who didn't have a day of journalistic training before the Washington Post hired him, was put on the crime beat his first day. As for Ken? He did do obits fora time, and he was very good at it as I recall. But you keep believing what you want to believe, Ray.

Barbara Joan  

Posted: January 26th, 2017 11:31 AM

Mike-Justice for disabled people is not something you care about-got it.

Mike Hanline  

Posted: January 26th, 2017 11:08 AM

@Barbara What is your real reason for trolling every article that Ken writes? Not everything needs to be about politics, the disabled, or you. It's your semi-coherent rants that are becoming tiresome.

Barbara Joan  

Posted: January 26th, 2017 10:39 AM

What is your real reason for writing this? You nonstop disrespect for our President and for the USA and it's people is tiresome.. Why do you also disrespect persons with special needs/ "She recalled being on the back end of normal in learning..."

Ray Simpson  

Posted: January 26th, 2017 10:27 AM

Kudos for honoring two Oak Park women upon their passing.Shame on you for using this as a platform to insult and disrespect the president of the United States! I assume you "cut and pasted" the 'Misogynist' term directly from your well worn Hillary campaign binder, without exploring either truth or relevancy. You are claiming Pres Trump has an extreme hatred of women, yet he has a daughter and several daughters-in-law who are smart good looking women not to overlook a wife who is an international model, who is, by the way, the First Lady of the United States. You claim Pres Trump has an extreme hatred of women, yet 43% of the executives in his organization are women and several of them are the highest paid in his company. You claim Pres Trump has an extreme hatred of women, yet when running for the highest office in the land ( or world) he turned that responsibility over to the mother of four. Ken, rookie reporters start their careers writing obit copy - you have even failed at that!

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