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Area leaders in business, charity, sports and medicine passed in 2018

December 30, 2018

There were many notable area persons who died during the past year.

The list includes persons who excelled in charity, in business and in sports. The list is chronological, working backward, with the most recent deaths listed first.

Bert Dear Sr. 89, died Dec. 22. A community activist and well-known proponent of equal rights and civic responsibility, he established the NAACP chapter in Kankakee and served as its first president. He was also a five-term Kankakee Township trustee.

Ralph Hodge, 65, died Nov. 29. Known as a molder of men, he was the men’s basketball coach at Olivet Nazarene University for 40 seasons. His teams won 775 games and went to 18 NAIA tournaments,

Bill Leiser, 83, owner of the Leiser Furniture store in Herscher, died Nov. 22. He was actively selling, still opening and closing the store until he fell ill Labor Day weekend. He had a ready story for all customers and was the proud owner of a family business started by his grandfather Wolf in 1892. That firm now passes on to a fourth generation.

Cleva Dyon, 102, died Oct. 21. A former Samaritan of the Year at Riverside Medical Center, she was a part of the early fundraising drives to start the hospital. Her late son, Bill Dyon, was also a Riverside Samaritan winner. She was part of the Sandfleas musical group in the area for many years.

Irish O’Reilly, 74, died Oct. 15. A great baseball player when young, he became a stellar coach at Kankakee Community College and Lewis University. He was also known as a fundraiser for education and charity.

Frances Jackson, 80, died Oct. 5, in Memphis, Tenn. She had served eight years on the Kankakee City Council and nine years on the Kankakee County Board. She was known as a strong-willed representative, unafraid of giving you her opinion.

Willard Ray DeWitt, 86, died Sept. 25. He was principal of Bradley East for 23 years, then went on to serve on the Bradley-Bourbonnais Community High School Board and advise at the Kankakee Area Career Center. He was on the board of the First Church of the Nazarene in Kankakee for many years.

Judge Robert Dannehl, 92, died Sept. 23. Born in Thawville, he played basketball for the University of Illinois, served in the U.S. Navy in World War II as an anti-submarine specialist and was twice elected Iroquois County State’s Attorney. He served 18 years on the bench and was on the Illinois State Bar Association committee to rewrite the state’s criminal code.

Ken Bade, 93, died Sept. 19. He was the music director at Asbury United Methodist Church for 37 years. As president of the Kankakee Valley Symphony Orchestra, he was one of the founders of the Fourth of July Symphony Concert preceding the Kankakee Fireworks. For many years, he was the organizer of the symphony’s popular Midwest Piano Competition.

Grace Bydalek, 99, died Sept. 17. She taught school for 45 years, including 40 years in the Kankakee School District. She was president of the Kankakee Federation of Teachers during the 1975 school strike. She was president of the Kankakee Valley Symphony Orchestra Women’s Board and also president of the Kankakee Kultivators. She was one of the community volunteers of the year in 1996.

Bernie LaReau, 81, died July 5. Originally from Beaverville, he had a 52-year career as a professional athletic trainer. Among college and other professional teams, he trained the Chicago Bears, San Antonio Spurs, Indiana Pacers and the Los Angeles Clippers.

John and Reta Dowling, both 84, died June 17 in a car crash. Both were well-known in Iroquois County. He had been on the Iroquois County Board for 26 years, served 34 years as a teacher and was the Middleport Township Supervisor for 34 years. He helped coordinate sesquicentennial histories for Iroquois County townships. She also taught school, ran a daycare and volunteered at Iroquois Memorial Hospital.

Tim Lee, 68, died June 3. A successful businessman, he owned 20 Bumper to Bumper auto parts stores in Northern Illinois.

Lillie Ford, 90, died May 24. She was a 34-year teacher and remembered as a strong member of the Kankakee School Board, where she was an unfailing advocate for children. She had also been honored by the Duane Dean Center for Lifetime Achievement.

Dennis Millirons, 66, died April 2. He was only the second CEO of Riverside Medical Center, but he made dramatic differences during his 12-year tenure. He was instrumental in driving the hospital toward becoming a cardiovascular surgical center. He also transformed it into a regional presence, with more locations. In the community, he was one of the forces that helped bring the Chicago Bears training camp to Bourbonnais.

Jean Thomas, 90, died Feb. 28. A pioneering woman chemist, in 1953, she was one of the founders of Pentex, a local medical chemical firm. It was later sold to Miles and then to Bayer. She was a president of Zonta and the 2008 Samaritan of the Year for Riverside Medical Center.

Jorge Trevino, 54, died Feb. 20. He had been the manager of La Siesta restaurant for 20 years.

Tim Leader, 64, died Feb. 17. A Vietnam veteran, he was a pioneering teacher of paramedics in the area and had led the emergency services at Presence St. Mary’s Hospital for much of the 1990s and the early 2000s.

Bill Breeden, 57, died Feb. 11. He was a devoted special education teacher and golf coach at Bradley-Bourbonnais Community High School.

J.R. Black, 78, died Feb. 2. Black is honored in the Illinois Outdoor Hall of Fame for his conservation efforts. He was the founder of the Kankakee River Fishing Derby and a noted spokesman for the river and on outdoor issues. He was also a coach and educator at Herscher, Kankakee and both Eastridge and Westview high schools, dating back to the days when Kankakee had two high schools. He had been a scholarship athlete at Illinois State.

Pete Cotsones, 79, died Jan. 8. He was an area restaurateur, including running The View in Meadowview and Town and Country restaurant.

Dr. James Pinski, 83, died Dec. 30, 2017. Voted a best doctor on several occasions, he was a leading dermatologist.

James Kroha, 97, died Dec. 30, 2017. One of the area’s last World War II veterans, he went ashore with the first wave at Omaha Beach on D-Day. Professionally, he was a kennel manager for Gaines.

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