2021's most notable deaths: DuPage County, Fox Valley
Trailblazing politicians. Dedicated community servants. Business leaders whose philanthropic work enriched their communities. And a Tuskegee Airman who participated in the civil rights movement and became a longtime educator.
These are among the residents from DuPage County and the Fox Valley we said farewell to this year.
As we move ahead to the promise of a new year, let's first take a look back at some of the important and influential people we lost in 2021.
The Naperville police officer died Jan. 1 at age 52 after a seven-year battle with cancer. Rios, a 25-year veteran of the department, was known for his solid character, strong work ethic, friendly demeanor and integrity. During his tenure with the Naperville Police Department, Rios served as a D.A.R.E. officer and later became a school resource officer for more than a decade. He managed the Citizen Police Academy for seven years and led the department's effort to gain its ninth accreditation status.
The Naperville attorney and former councilman died unexpectedly at age 57 on Jan. 4. City leaders said he exemplified public service at its finest through his cheerful demeanor and positive community contributions. Wentz served as a Naperville Township trustee from 2009 to 2013 and on the Naperville City Council from 2013 to 2015. He was active in the Exchange Club of Naperville, the Naperville Rotary Club, the Naperville Heritage Society and the Naperville Citizens Appreciate Public Safety organization.
The 77-year-old Carpentersville man, who was remembered as "a modern take on the Renaissance man," died Jan. 14 from complications related to COVID-19. Kopp spent most of his life working with computers, but his life was far more varied and diverse than that. At one time, he ran the second-largest goat farm in Arizona. He also once owned Cats, a specialty cat-themed gift shop in Evanston.
Kane County Board Chair Corinne Pierog and her husband, Robert Krawczyk, attended the 2018 Women's March in Chicago.
- Courtesy of Corinne Pierog
Robert J. Krawczyk
The 71-year-old husband of Kane County Board Chair Corinne Pierog died Jan. 27 at the couple's home in Batavia. Krawczyk was a professor in the College of Architecture at the Illinois Institute of Technology. He began his career with the university in 1988. The courses he taught recently included 3D animation and computer automated design programming. He was an artist and founded a business called BitArtWorks.
- Daily Herald file photo
The 44-year-old general manager of the Ivy restaurant in Wheaton died of a heart attack on Feb. 8. The Geneva resident, who had worked at Ivy since it opened in March 2009, was active in local business organizations. He won the Downtown Wheaton Association's Volunteer of the Year award in 2014. Sandquist was known for his love of helping others. He co-founded the Naperville-based charity Sneaker Heartz.
William "Bill" Rosenfelder Jr.
The former chief of the Geneva Fire Department died Feb. 24 at age 86. Rosenfelder was a lifelong resident of Geneva, except for a stint in the Army, where he was trained as a medic. He pursued that passion as a volunteer emergency medical technician for the Geneva Fire Department, where his father had served. Rosenfelder joined the department in 1959. He retired in 1980. He also joined the family's hardware business. Rosenfelder was involved in many charitable causes.
The longtime educator, who spent 35 years as an eighth-grade teacher at St. Thomas More Catholic School in Elgin, died Feb. 27 in her South Elgin home. Craig taught English and history. She had a lifelong love of history and took great pride in the many students she guided to the national finals of the National History Day contest. She also loved travel, baking, sewing and animals.
The vice president of sales and digital strategies for the Daily Herald Media Group died unexpectedly on March 28 during a family vacation in Florida. Known for his quick wit, energy and compassion, Rosengren, 42, also was remembered for his heroism after he hurried into dangerous Gulf of Mexico waters to save his sons and other children being carried out to sea by a rip current. Lifeguards performed CPR but were unable to revive him. Associated with the Daily Herald for more than 20 years, the Batavia resident was appointed to his position in December 2020 after serving five years as vice president of advertising.
Arnold Hoving, a former Timothy Christian Schools superintendent, died in April.
- Courtesy of Timothy Christian Schools, circa 1984
The former superintendent of Timothy Christian Schools in Elmhurst died April 7 at age 84. He started as a math teacher at the schools in 1958. He served as the high school principal from 1969 to 1978 and then as superintendent until his retirement in 1994. In retirement, Hoving was active on the board of the Timothy Foundation.
The former St. Charles school district superintendent died April 12 after a long battle with pancreatic cancer at age 83. Vanko, who had a lifelong passion for education, was a teacher and principal at Joliet West High School before being named associate superintendent in St. Charles Unit District 303 in 1976. He served as superintendent for District 303 from 1991 to 1996. After his retirement from District 303, Vanko taught at Aurora University until 2008.
The former Elgin and South Barrington police chief died April 26 at age 74. Gruber, who was a St. Charles resident, was remembered as being ahead of his time in implementing the community policing approach that now is front and center in law enforcement. He spent more than four decades in law enforcement, starting as an officer in Addison. He served as Shreveport, Louisiana's chief from 1987 to 1990, returning to Illinois to take over as Elgin's chief in 1990, where he stayed until retiring in 1998. In 1999, he took his final job as a police chief, working in South Barrington until 2008.
Robert J. Nunamaker
The former Fox River Grove village president died on April 26 at age 86. Nunamaker was village president for 12 years before stepping away from the role in March due to health concerns. Village officials credited Nunamaker's leadership for a number of positive developments for Fox River Grove, including securing a new Metra train station facility and facilitating the construction of a public works facility.
Attorney Mathias Michael "Mickey" Mattern, left, was the assistant corporation counsel for the city of Chicago from 1962 to 1972 during the administration of Mayor Richard J. Daley, right.
- Courtesy of Mattern Family
Mathias Michael "Mickey" Mattern
The Naperville attorney died on May 2 at age 87. Mattern notably worked for the city of Chicago as assistant corporation counsel for public utilities from 1962 to 1972. Along with his work for Chicago, Mattern practiced law for more than 55 years, most of it in private practice. He was a corporate attorney for Joe Aurelio and was vital in helping to create the franchise structure for Aurelio's Pizza starting in the 1970s.
Jane Barbosa was an influential and well-known member of the Mexican and Latino community in Elgin.
- Courtesy of Gil Feliciano
The influential and well-known member of the Latino community in Elgin died on June 25 at Advocate Sherman Hospital. She was 75. Barbosa and her family migrated from Mexico when she was a child. The family settled in Elgin in 1957. Barbosa worked at Chicago Rawhide and ReMax Horizon before spending almost 20 years at Elgin Community College as a recruiter and minority affairs coordinator. At ECC, she founded the Organization of Latin American Students and the annual Latino Heritage Breakfast.
Melvin Copeland of Elgin served with the Tuskegee Airmen during World War II, marched with Martin Luther King Jr. during the civil rights movement and later taught in Elgin for 40 years.
- Courtesy of Carla Khan
The Elgin resident, who served as a Tuskegee Airman in World War II, died on June 25. He was 96. Copeland was a scholarship college athlete when he volunteered for the Army to fight in World War II. He initially attended officer training but was eventually told they wouldn't accept Black officers. He joined the Tuskegee Airmen, hoping to be a pilot. But at 6-foot-5, he couldn't fit in the cockpit. So he became a munitions specialist with the 99th Fighter Squadron. Copeland later earned two master's degrees and participated in the civil rights movement. He taught in Elgin Area School District U-46, Elgin Community College and Aurora University for 40 years before retiring at age 70. Copeland then started a new 20-year career as a social worker and therapist before retiring at age 90.
The former Oak Brook village president died on Sept. 7 at age 54. Quinlan was elected village president in 2003 and held office until 2007. Before entering politics, Quinlan worked for about 15 years with the Coca-Cola Co. He rose in the corporate ranks to become a marketing executive. Quinlan's job also took him to Ireland for two years in the 1990s, where he helped Coca-Cola launch its multi-flavor Fanta brand on the island.
The former St. Charles official died on Sept. 7 at age 75. Maholland was appointed city administrator in 1997. He held the position until he retired from the city in 2005. Before being appointed city administrator, he worked for St. Charles as finance director from 1982 to 1997. In retirement, he stayed active with a St. Charles Rotary Club and was an emeritus director of the St. Charles Public Library Foundation.
The 94-year-old Elgin resident died on Oct. 15. Blizzard worked for Muncie Construction Co. in Indiana before moving to Elgin in the 1950s, eventually forming his own business, Harry Blizzard and Associates, in 1961. He was elected a founding member of the board of trustees for Elgin Community College in 1966. In 1981, when the college ended its financial backing of the Elgin Symphony Orchestra, Blizzard became a founding member of the orchestra's board.
Gerald E. "Jerry" Ruzicka
The former Winfield Township trustee and longtime Warrenville resident died on Oct. 11 at age 81. Ruzicka became a Winfield Township trustee in 1994 and held onto the office until 2017. Ruzicka was also known for working at the family business, Ruzicka Drugs. The downtown Warrenville store was a fixture from 1945 to 1981.
The 27-year-old Naperville firefighter died on Oct. 30 in a single-vehicle car crash in Wisconsin. Gard joined the Naperville Fire Department in 2019 and worked out of Station 2. In a social media post announcing his death, the department said Gard was "respected by all."
Jacob Jurinek and Franco Patino
The two Naperville friends were among the 10 young people killed Nov. 5 in the crowd surge at the Astroworld music festival in Houston. Patino, Jurinek and the other victims died in the chaos that unfolded during a concert by rapper Travis Scott. The 20-year-old Jurinek was a journalism student with a specialty in advertising at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale. Patino, 21, was majoring in mechanical engineering technology at the University of Dayton in Ohio. He played rugby and served as the treasurer of Alpha Psi Lambda, a Hispanic-oriented fraternity.
- Courtesy of Falco Family
The 81-year-old Bensenville resident, affectionately known as "Nick the Barber," died on Nov. 9. Falco operated Nick's Barber Shop for decades at 18 E. Green St., Bensenville, starting in the late 1960s. Generations of families were regular patrons. The barbershop was a downtown mainstay until ill health forced Falco Sr. to retire in 2016.
The man who was both a big part of Elgin's history and one of its most well-known chroniclers died on Nov. 22. He was 96. Alft moved to Elgin in 1950 when he was 25 to take a job teaching social studies at Dundee Community High School. Three years later, he took a job teaching economics and civics at Elgin High School, where he taught until 1994. Alft served on the Elgin City Council from 1963 to 1967, then ran for mayor and won in 1967. He served as mayor until 1971. But his biggest contribution may have been sharing what he learned about Elgin's past. Alft wrote 17 books and numerous smaller pamphlets about Elgin over the years.
- Courtesy of the Thelin family
The attorney, developer and volunteer died on Nov. 28. He was 92. Thelin was a former Aurora city attorney who assisted in the formation of the Aurora Civic Authority and Paramount Arts Center. He also was a founder of the Batavia Park District. In addition, he became involved in the community as a volunteer, serving on the board of directors for Aurora University and as president of the Greater Aurora Chamber of Commerce. He belonged to the Aurora Lions Club.
The lifelong Elginite and American Legion Post 57 mainstay died Dec. 7 at the age of 92. Often referred to as "Mr. Elgin Post 57," Sleeman had been a member for over 66 years and held nearly every post leadership position, including three stints as commander. In addition to his work with the American Legion, Sleeman was a member of the Elgin Patriotic Memorial Association for more than 60 years and served as president for more than a decade. He coordinated Memorial Day events and instituted the Avenue of Flags at the Bluff City Ceremony.
The former Winfield village trustee and community newspaper publisher died on Dec. 15. He was 77. Zegel was remembered for his love of local politics. Zegel served one term as a village trustee starting in 1995. He later founded The Winfield Register in 2007.
Donald "Don" Feldott opened The Lantern Tavern & Grill in Naperville in 1966.
- Courtesy of the Feldott family
Donald "Don" Feldott
The founding owner of The Lantern Tavern & Grill in Naperville died on Dec. 18. He was 88. Feldott was remembered as a hardworking neighborhood bar owner and an avid Chicago Bears fan. He opened The Lantern at 8 W. Chicago Ave. in 1966.
The 89-year-old Glen Ellyn resident died Dec. 19 after decades of service to the village. Wark, a former village trustee, was elected village president in 2001. He continued to stay active in the village after his tenure ended in 2001, serving with multiple environmental organizations including the DuPage County Stormwater Committee and the Conservation Foundation Advisory Board. Active in village beautification and environmental improvement efforts, he was chairman of the Glen Ellyn in Bloom program.