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.
"Sara's passing is a tremendous loss to our community," said Curt Barrett,
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
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
"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
"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,