For many Forest Parkers this year, all of the heart-themed displays for Valentine’s Day carry a double meaning. We are reminded of how many hearts were broken last Feb. 22, the day that Catherine O’Connor Trage died so suddenly in Mexico at the age of 44. Rather than marking it as a sad anniversary, Catherine’s family and friends are holding a fundraiser at Fitzgerald’s on Feb. 21. It will be a chance to celebrate Catherine’s fun-loving spirit and generous heart, as all proceeds go to the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

Fundraisers – Catherine was always up for those. She contributed to the cause when a Forest Park student was stricken with cancer and attended galas to fight diabetes.

Supporting worthy causes, however, was just one aspect of Catherine’s giving soul. She volunteered for the Girl Scouts, served as PTA president at Lincoln School in River Forest and coached Little League. She also helped out Forest Park’s Main Street Association.

For family members, Catherine was the glue that kept the O’Connor clan together. She organized family parties and planned her parents’ golden anniversary celebration. Last year, she hosted a gathering of cousins at Molly Malone’s.

So many people knew and loved Catherine that 1,200 paid their respects at her wake. Now, the family hopes there will be a large turnout for a much happier event. The fundraiser will feature live music, dinner, a silent auction and raffle. More importantly, it will provide an opportunity for those that miss Catherine to swap stories about her.

Catherine’s friends remember her as a great people person: a “sister” they could check-in with daily. They admired the patience she showed with her four kids and how she wasn’t flustered by small setbacks. They also appreciated her accepting attitude and the way she chose praise over criticism.

Catherine’s brother, Dan O’Connor, said, “Her whole life was so powerful, her example changed everyone’s life for the better. She was just a gem.” Dan and his family believe that raising money for Make-A-Wish is exactly the kind of thing Catherine would be doing if she were still with us.

One of Catherine’s friends recalled how passionate she was about helping children and how devoted she was to her own: Lauren, Jack, Alex and Regan.

Catherine was raised in south Oak Park, back when the area felt like an extended family. She married John Trage and grew to become an integral part of this social network. She’s the reason hundreds waited in the cold outside of a funeral home last year. And she’s the reason Fitzgerald’s will be filled with warmth this February.