With Laureen Thornton, you always knew where you stood. She was never afraid to speak her mind and tell it like she saw it.
“She had a personality that could be very matter of fact, but she cared a lot about people and making things better for people,” said her son, David.
Laureen Thornton, former village commissioner, longtime community activist and resident of Forest Park for more than 50 years, died on Dec. 1, 2010 at the age of 78.
Her long public service included the unusual distinction of having been elected to both the village council and the District 91 Board of Education, where she served for a time as board president. Beyond elected office, Thornton was an active volunteer throughout the village and was past president and current treasurer of the Forest Park Kiwanis Club.
“My god, what didn’t she do?” said her good friend, Sue Bothie, deputy clerk of Forest Park. “She just loved the village.”
As commissioner of the Health and Safety Department from 1995 to 2003, Thornton played a vital role in many “game-changing votes” for the village, said Forest Park Administrator Tim Gillian, who sat next to her on the board at that time.
“She had the best interest of this community in her mind and in her heart on every single vote I heard her take,” Gillian said. “We would argue like cats and dogs, but we’d always walk away good friends. She would not be mad if she didn’t win and not gloat if she did win. She was really an exceptional person.”
Mayor Anthony Calderone, who also served as a commissioner during part of that time, said Thornton was a “consummate, good politician” who had “a lot of character.”
“She would absolutely let you know how she felt, but then she would say, ‘Let me hear what’s on your mind’ – and then she’d listen,” he recalled. “She was always, always, always willing to listen to the other side.”
Thornton owned a tax and accounting service in Forest Park and often volunteered her time as an accountant for the Chamber of Commerce. She also served on the 911 board for the police department and started a health committee in Forest Park.
Laurie Kokenes, director of the Chamber of Commerce and a good friend of Thornton, called her the “Queen of the Summerfest volunteers.” Every year “Mrs. T” ran the main ticket booth and kept everyone in line, Kokenes said.
“She just kept growing her family by becoming involved and making new friends,” Kokenes said.
Born in Chicago, Thornton grew up on the near West Side and attended Catholic schools, including Holy Family Academy high school. She met her husband, the late Donald Thornton, while they both worked at CNA Financial, and the two got married on New Year’s Eve 1960.
“She always said my dad said the church was already decorated, so that’s why they had to get married on that day,” said her son, Chris, 47.
Thornton, the mother of two sons, loved to cook and bake, especially for family dinners on Sundays.
One of her favorite things was being out in the sun during the summer, when she enjoyed gardening and growing vegetables. In fact, she would plant tomatoes wherever she could find a spot, according to David Thornton. Last summer she had 25 tomato plants in her yard.
“The plants didn’t always do so well,” said David, 48. “There was a problem with squirrels. She fed tomatoes to a lot of squirrels over the summer.”
Countless people in Forest Park have said that Thornton will be sorely missed.
“She was just a really great lady,” Bothie said.
Services have already been held, with arrangements handled by Zimmerman-Harnett Funeral Home.