Bev Thompson was a party girl.
She loved to have a good time and she loved to bring good times to others. On Saturday night, she was up until 1 a.m. Thompson was playing poker and enjoying the annual block party on Wilcox, where she had lived for 41 years. Sunday night, she hosted a barbecue in her back yard for neighbors and friends. That was her last party.
Thompson, director of the Howard Mohr Community Center, died of unknown causes in her sleep Monday morning. She was 65.
Forest Park will not be the same. Beverly Thompson was perhaps its best-loved resident.
She had been director of the community center for a decade. She succeeded Cindy Lyons, who 10 years ago died on the same date: Aug. 18.
Thompson made Howard Mohr the place for seniors to be.
“Bev was a remarkable lady who just did an outstanding job running our community center,” Mayor Anthony Calderone said. “I think she was terribly loved by both the young children and senior citizens, who absolutely adored her. Bev was a remarkable person who was loved by everyone that she touched.”
At the community center, Thompson was perhaps best known for the weekly trips she arranged for seniors. The trips, which left from the community center every Wednesday, often filled two coach buses.
At the community center, she also put on themed New Year’s Eve parties that drew crowds in the hundreds. Forest Park seniors were devastated when they heard the news Monday.
“She was the most marvelous person you would ever want to meet,” said Betty Schultz, president of the Forest Park Senior Citizen Club, whose members meet at the community center every Tuesday. “She was always busy doing something for somebody. Always sweet. Always with a smile on her face.”
For Thompson, who loved to have fun, the job at the community center was a perfect match.
“She loved doing what she was doing,” said Rich Barger, who directs maintenance at the community center and knew Thompson since their children were in Little League together 30 years ago. “I think she would have done it for nothing.”
Thompson was famous for her mystery trips, adventures she organized once a month. People would sign up without knowing the destination. They only knew they would have fun.
“She was the only person who I know who could get 101 people on a bus who would not know where they were going,” said Sandy Byrnes, her best friend.
Byrnes knew firsthand. Without telling her where they were going, Thompson would whisk Byrnes off to the airport for birthday trips.
“I wouldn’t know where we were going until we got the airport,” Byrnes recalled. Once they flew off to San Antonio; another time to Minneapolis, to go to the Mall of the America.
“She was a party waiting to happen,” said Brenda Powers, child care supervisor at the community center, who remembers Thompson as part of her own childhood. Powers was 7 when she met the woman who later became her boss.
Thompson loved three things above all.
“You think of Bev, you think of Bobby Vinton, the Cubs and her cats,” said Terry Meffley, who worked with Thompson at the community center.
Her son, Michael, said that his mother attended 22 Bobby Vinton shows. She saw the Pennsylvania crooner in Chicago, in Indiana, and in Branson, Mo. Vinton would recognize her in the crowd and invite her onstage. On her desk, she kept a snapshot of herself with Vinton. When her husband, Lou, got sick of seeing Vinton, she would corral friends like Byrnes to accompany her to his shows.
She was a diehard Cubs fan. She was so sure that this was going to be the Cubs’ year that when an appliance store offered to refund the purchase price of a flat-screen TV if the Cubs or White Sox won the World Series, she rushed out and bought a set confident that she would get her money back. Last year, at a Cubs game with a group organized by Calderone, she got a baseball from Cubs pitcher Ryan Dempster. That, too, is on her desk.
She had four of them, when she died. She was forever finding strays and giving them a home. Her bimonthly newsletters always included an illustration of a cat.
Born in 1942, Beverly Yakus grew up on the southwest side of Chicago. At 12, she won a national bubblegum-blowing contest and appeared on the game show I’ve Got A Secret. She also appeared on The Tonight Show, with Steve Allen.
Her appearance on I’ve Got A Secret spawned a lifelong love of game shows. She watched the Game Show Network. Every evening at 6:30, she would stop and watch Wheel of Fortune.
She met her husband, Louis, at a dance hall on the southwest side. They got married in 1963. When the young couple came to Forest Park in 1967, they found home at a three-flat on Wilcox Street. They never moved from the three-flat. It’s a stone’s throw from village hall and a block from the community center.
Thompson was a full-time homemaker who got her start at the community center teaching a cooking class, her son recalled. Soon, she was working there part-time. She began to organize trips for seniors and then, when Lyons died, took over running the place.
She loved to travel. She toured Greece, China, Egypt and Iceland, just to name a few of the countries she visited. After beginning to organize the senior trips at the community center, she went to night school to pick up certification as a travel agent so she could book trips herself.
“She was fun-loving, with a good sense of humor. But she was also a dynamite administrator,” Meffley said. “She dotted every i and crossed every t. And if you didn’t, she would tell you.”
But her employees adored her.
Once when Meffley was bitten by a dog, Thompson showed up at 10 at night to take her to the emergency room.
“She was more than a boss. She was a friend to me,” Meffley said, echoing sentiment throughout the community center. 1001 Ways to Reward Your Employees sits on the bookshelf in her office.
Thompson lived practically across the street from the fire station; she adored firefighters. And they loved her. Four Forest Park firefighters stopped by the Wilcox block party Saturday night.
She also loved to gamble. She frequently would jet off to Vegas “to visit her money,” colleagues recalled. She loved Keno and would play it every chance she got.
She enjoyed a good cocktail.
Every Friday after work, she and her husband would meet up with neighbor Kathleen Ryan and her husband for drinks at Horan’s Snug.
Every week, she would give her waitress, Annie, the same order.
“A brandy Manhattan with a splash of sweet vermouth and a hunk of lemon,” Ryan recalled.
Ryan, 45, moved in two doors down from Thompson about 10 years ago. The two immediately hit it off, despite their 20-year age difference. Soon, they were part of WOW – women on Wilcox.
“She was like a second mother to me,” said Ryan, who thought of Thompson as a grandmother to her children and to all kids.
Thompson loved everyone, from 5 to 95.
She always had Cheetos (Flamin’ Hot), pop and ice cream handy for any child who dropped by. Every year for the block party, she rented an inflatable waterslide.
On the day that that she died, she’d had plans to take her granddaughter, Reid, shopping to celebrate Reid’s 14th birthday.
Thompson is survived by her husband of 45 years, Louis, who is 69; her son, Michael, 39, of Johnsburg; daughter, Julie, 36, of Berwyn, and three grandchildren, David, 12, and Kevin 7, in addition to Reid.
Michael Thompson said his mother had no known health problems and that the family had no plans for an autopsy. Funeral arrangements were pending as the Review went to press.
Ryan’s 13-year-old son, Dylan, told his mom:
“There’s a lot of people I don’t like sometimes, but I never didn’t like her.”
Monday afternoon, the staff of the community center sat stunned.
“Nobody will ever be able to fill her shoes,” Meffley said.
Thompson’s family will be receiving condolences Thursday from 1 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Zimmerman-Harnett Funeral Home on Madison Street. A funeral is scheduled for 10 a.m. Friday at the same location.