Friday, May 30, 2008

Sara Lee - my sister in law

We've spent the week in Chicago, owing to the sudden passing of my sister in law Sara. Sara was diagnosed with a non-specific neuro-endocrine cancer in March of this year. An initial attempt of chemo was ineffective, yet no one expected that she would succumb so quickly.

Last Saturday Margie flew up to Chicago to visit, but again, there was no expectation that Sara was close to the end. On Sunday night Margie reported that Sara looked quite good; yet she took a downward turn that night and only made it to Monday afternoon.

Sara was the lone in-law to the Lee family for many years, until Margie and I were married. Sara and I bonded quickly and reveled in our mutual roles as outside family observers. Given how passionately Sara took to her avocations, we were always close, especially in our shared love of cooking.

For someone close to die young and unexpectedly is a shock, and causes one to take stock of family, friends and self. The process and thoughts will continue to roll through our consciousness for some time, and there will surely be no adequate conclusions reached. The primary thing I have been considering is the dedication Sara showed for her children, and how well prepared they are to make their way in the world as adults (the youngest currently being in college). To follow her example and achieve a portion of her results would be an accomplishment for anyone.

And what was her example? While it was not likely an explicit plan, I think Sara's approach to securing her children in the world was to establish them in a safe and productive environment. Normally that would imply her household and that which was close at hand to her family. But the environment that Sara protected and improved was much larger. It was her community at large that she nurtured, clearly with the intent to providing a healthy and productive environment for her children. As she connected with the causes that struck her, she increased her involvement and leadership, to the point that she had integrated herself deeply into the community. She involved herself in the schools, strategic planning and village government.

In this manner, she taught her children about leadership and activism, by her own example and actions - a powerful method indeed.

Yesterday at her memorial service, the lines stretched outside the funeral home, into the parking lot and wound around rows of parked cars. The 100 seats planned for the formal service were inadequate and an impromptu move the church next door was enacted. By my estimation 250 people or more attended the fitting tribute to Sara.

Her obituary from the Chicago Tribune follows.

Sara Stassel Lee 1957 ~ 2008

Glen Ellyn trustee and civic leader

Volunteer was active in numerous village organizations

| Special to the Tribune
May 29, 2008

Sara Stassel Lee, 50, whose passion and vision for Glen Ellyn led her on a civic path from school volunteer to village trustee, died Monday, May 26, in her home after a three-month battle with cancer.

"Sara's a great example of a mom who stayed at home to raise her children but still found ways to serve and become a very vital part of her community," said her husband, Peter "Chip" Lee.

Elected a Glen Ellyn trustee in 2005, Mrs. Lee previously was as a member of the Planning Commission and Comprehensive Plan Committee.

"Sara's passing is a tremendous loss to our community," said Curt Barrett, Glen Ellyn's acting village manager. "She was a wonderful, warm and vibrant woman who brought a wide mix of talents to her role as a civic leader. Her contributions were well-rounded and many and included schools, churches and recreational activities. She had a true love for our village and reveled in serving it in any way she could."

An Indiana native, Mrs. Lee was born and raised in La Porte and attended local schools.

She graduated in 1979 from Purdue University, where she majored in consumer and family services.

In 1980, Mrs. Lee married her husband, with whom she had three children.

The couple lived in Wheaton before moving to Glen Ellyn in 1995.

While raising her children, Mrs. Lee was a member of the St. Petronille School Parent Organization and the Glenbard High School District 87 Strategic Plan Committee, for which she was named Volunteer of the Year. She was a member of the Citizens Advisory Council for Glenbard South High School and the DuPage County Regional Office of Education's Advisory Board.

"She found time and energy to invest in our children's schools," her husband said. "Whether you agreed with her or not, she always did her homework and came prepared to any meeting she ever attended."

Mrs. Lee was a member of other civic groups, including Keeping Educational Excellence a Priority, the Community in the Park Committee and the Glen Ellyn Vision 2000 Youth Committee. She was a longtime member of the League of Women Voters and a volunteer voter registrar for DuPage County.

"So often, people figure out their interests, find their niche and then volunteer their time and energies accordingly," Barrett said. "With Sara, there were no limits to her contributions. She stepped up for just about everything."

Other survivors include two sons, Peter and Jonathan; a daughter, Jennifer; her mother, Lucille Stassel; and a brother, David.

A memorial visitation will be at noon Thursday in Williams-Kampp Funeral Home, 430 E. Roosevelt Rd., Wheaton, immediately followed by a 2 p.m. service at the funeral home.

Sunday, May 18, 2008


Still woefully lax about blogging lately. But I just sent this note out to the 220 families on our local swim team, and would like to snag it for posterity by throwing it in to this post.


Sorry for a second message tonight. But I'd like to touch on the important subject of sportsmanship, which is especially relevant this week. Our meets each year with the Greentree and Sand Creek teams are always strongly contested. This strong spirit of competition is one of the great dimensions of participation in the summer swim program.

Please encourage your kids to live up to the challenge of great competition by also showing great sportsmanship at our meet this week - and for the entire season.

We all know that some of the fiercest competitors are also among the greatest sportsmen on and off the field of play. My background is golf, not swimming - so I point to Bobby Jones, Ben Hogan and Jack Nicklaus. These great athletes were known for significant achievements; accomplished through a relentless personal drive to achieve greatness and to dominate their opponents. Yet at the end of every competition - and it's worth repeating - every competition - they were gentlemen who respected the challenges presented by their opponents.

Will you indulge me in two stories from yesterday's meet that bear repeating? Thanks.

A young Wahoo swimmer was mouthing off a bit on the ready bench, taunting the Waves swimmers nearby. One of our Waves was trying to respond, but couldn't get much past "Oh yeah, well...., well....". A board member quietly spoke to the Waves swimmer and said "How about if we are more polite today than they are?". His eyes lit up and he nodded his head. In part, he seemed relieved that he didn't need to find a way to trash talk back to his opponent. When he started his race, he took off on a tear and from 4th seed in his heat, he won handily. The trash talker followed in the next heat, and not surprisingly, finished last.

Another exchange was between two girls from the Wahoos. One teammate looked to the other at the start of the race and quietly whispered "good luck". Her teammate was a little surprised, and asked her to repeat what she said, then understood. The first girl swam hard, but didn't finish ahead of her teammate. As she got out of the pool, she looked at me and said "I really wanted to beat her today, but at least I improved my time.".

Good sportsmanship already abounds at our meets. But in the heat of our strongest battles it is easy for kids, or even parents, to lose sight of this. So - talk to your kids about how awesome it is to face a challenge, try their hardest and then see what the results bring. But most importantly, share with them that how they behave during and after the battle is what will make them a great person.