Holidays can bring joy or sorrow, togetherness or loss. Our Forest Park family lost a gentle soul, when longtime crossing guard, Karen Stuart, passed away from cancer on Nov. 22 at the age of 59. Karen had manned her post at Desplaines & Jackson for 15 years.
She was our neighbor and we frequently saw her. Sometimes she would walk with us to festivities at The Park. Last summer, Karen and I sat with Mayor Hoskins at the No Gloves Tournament and chatted through an entire game.
Not that Karen said much. She rarely talked about herself. Her cousins, Mary Carnis and Dorothy Stuart, recounted Karen’s life for me. Mary still remembers the day “Karie Lou” was born. She was the only child of Tom and Joan Stuart.
Karen’s father was a pioneer in computer programming. Her mom was a homemaker who also suffered from cancer. Because of her mom’s poor health, Karen was initially raised by her grandparents. When she was 5, she rejoined her folks in Forest Park and attended the public schools. Joan died when Karen was 10, and she moved with her father to Oak Park.
A graduate of OPRF High School, she attended Word of Life Bible College in Pottersville, NY. Karen wasn’t preachy or pious but she was deeply religious. It ran in her family. Her grandfather, Benjamin Stuart, was a prominent Presbyterian minister, who toured with Billy Sunday (now buried in Forest Home Cemetery). Karen became a churchgoer after attending a Bible camp as a teenager.
The camp was near Green Bay, Wisconsin, where Karen spent summers with her cousins. During these visits, Karen displayed her artistic talent at drawing and painting. She painted words and logos for an awning company and also sold artwork at the Women’s Exchange in Oak Park.
Karen never married but developed many friends. She was a member of Calvary Memorial Church in Oak Park, where she met her lifelong friend, Beverly Andre. They were roommates in Forest Park for seven years. Karen showed Beverly how to get around on the CTA.
Karen never drove. She walked everywhere, or took public transportation. She didn’t smoke, rarely drank a beer, and cooked wholesome meals. Karen hadn’t seen a doctor in 40 years. So when Dorothy called Beverly because she couldn’t reach Karen, her old friend became concerned.
When Beverly visited her, she found Karen in bad shape and she was immediately admitted to Loyola Hospital. Beverly assumed Power of Attorney and became her caregiver.
Karen inherited her mom’s happy-go-lucky attitude and told people not to worry about her, that she would be fine. But the cancer progressed rapidly and she entered hospice. Even then, she remained in good spirits.
This time of year was Karen’s favorite. She loved going downtown to see the department store windows, was very outgoing and loved to laugh. Nothing seemed to bother her. She was very excited about moving from her garden apartment to a newly-constructed apartment at Forest Oaks.
Karen was ever-vigilant about our village. She talked often about the students she safeguarded and complained about goofy drivers, ugly graffiti and rowdy funeral processions.
Last week, the police department invited residents to write messages to Karen on her crossing guard stop sign. Mayor Hoskins and Karen’s colleague, Dora, were planning to present it to her but this wasn’t to be.
We will have another chance, though, to honor Karen. Forest Park Baptist Church, which Karen attended for 15 years, is hosting a memorial for her on Dec. 7, from 3 to 6 p.m. Family, friends and residents are invited. It will be the kind of get-together that Karen wouldn’t have missed.
John Rice is a columnist/private detective, who has seen his business and family thrive in Forest Park. He thoroughly enjoys life in the village and still gets a thrill smelling Red Hots, watching softball and strolling through cemeteries. Jrice1038@aol.com