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Legendary Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi liked to say: “The dictionary is the only place that success comes before work. Work is the key to success, and hard work can help you accomplish anything.”
Allen John Bassel, a longtime Northbrook resident who died May 31, 2019 at age 86, had the same attitude. His mantra: “Work hard and you will do well.”
And work hard he did, the last 45 years of his life as the hands-on owner of Burgess Manufacturing Corp. in Libertyville, which manufactures custom engineered products for a wide range of markets and industries.
“He just wanted to work, and that is what he did his whole life,” said son-in-law Jeff Sherman, who runs the day-to-day operations at Burgess.
In March, Bassel had elected to have heart surgery because he wanted to keep working.
“The day before surgery, he was at work, standing there surface grinding on a grinder,” Sherman said. “He had no quit in him. He was a fighter.”
That can-do spirit was set early on.
“He came from nothing,” said his daughter Kathleen Thomson. “His father died when he was 5 and his mom couldn’t take of him and his sisters so he went to live on farm in Wisconsin with his grandpa and uncle.”
He moved back to Chicago at age 14 when his mother remarried and was soon helping out in his step-father’s small machine shop.
From 1952-1954 he served in the Army, stationed stateside. When his service was completed, Bassel married Ann Shafer, started a family and they were together for the rest of his life.
“They did everything together. They were a loving couple,” said his daughter, Nancy Sherman.
After working in several other jobs, he started Burgess in 1974. He began by renting the back portion of a building, then eventually buying the other business, hiring some of its employees, and then buying the entire building. He was also happy to take on jobs others didn’t want.
“He never said ‘no’ to any job. He’d say ‘we will get it done. That is what we do,’” Jeff Sherman said.
While Bassel was a savvy businessman, he also ran a very family-oriented company.
“I always refer to it as a mom-and-pop company. Everybody feels like it is one big family here,” said Jeff of the 15-employee firm. “All of our guys have been here 20 and 30 years. One guy started when he was 18. Now he’s 61.”
And when there was a lull in business, and some of the employees needed to pick up extra work on the side, he’d help them out with a loan.
“He made an impression on everybody,” Kathleen said. “He was fun loving and smart and loved to have a good time. The employees loved him, the customers loved him, he didn’t have an enemy anywhere. The guys at work, they felt like he was their second father. He was everybody’s father. He treated everyone like they were his.”
Bassel’s generosity was widespread.
“He loved to take care of everybody,” Kathleen said. “He took care of his mother, his sisters, his family. He made sure everyone had what they needed.”
He and his wife and young family moved to Northbrook in 1967 and in 1968 became founding members of Our Lady of the Brook, which John Cardinal Cody organized as a new parish in 1968 to meet the needs of Catholic families who lived in the rapidly developing west end of Northbrook.
“He was just a very giving man and when the church needed help, he helped,” said his daughter Susan Cooperman.
A part of that help came in the form of fabricating a number of products for church.
Bassel was also a loving grandfather and great-grandfather, said grandson Kyle Thomson.
“I think that his father dying when he was five — he always wanted to be there for his children and grandchildren since he didn’t have that.”
Holiday gatherings were a big deal, which often included getaways to the family house on Paddock Lake in Salem, Wisc.. “He loved his family and he was always there for us,” said Kyle.
Bassel is survived by his wife of 64 years, Ann Bassel; children Allen Bassel, Kathleen Thomson, Susan (Marc) Cooperman and Nancy (Jeff) Sherman; grandchildren Allen III, Jordan (Melanie), Sean (Rene), and Joe Bassel, Clint (Kelly) and Kyle (Clair) Thomson, Brian (Sarah) and Cali Sherman; 13 great-grandchildren; siblings Jean (late John) Dubiel, Georgia (late John) Szilagy, and Wally (Chris) Markowski; and many nieces and nephews.
Northbrook native remembered for service to Lake Bluff
Mr. Lake Bluff. The Mayor of Scranton Avenue. Big Red.
Kurt Gronau was all of those and more — a big personality with a kind heart, a can-do attitude, and a lights-out golf game, who poured his all into his community, his church and the family he loved.
Gronau died May 28, 2019 at age 82. On June 8, 300 friends and family gathered to celebrate his life and return some of that affection at First Presbyterian Church in Lake Forest, where as a 42-year member of the church he served as a Deacon and volunteer through PADS of Lake County.
“Kurt felt blessed to be a part of the Lake Bluff community,” said Rev. Kristie Finley, remarking that in every aspect of his life Gronau was a loving and welcoming person.
Gronau was born in Northbrook in the teeth of the Depression and learned independence early on. When he was 8, his father handed him a fishing pole and stuck a tag with his name and destination on his shirt, then put him on a train to Milwaukee. After switching to another train, he’d meet up for a visit with his grandparents.
Gronau attended a one-room schoolhouse in Northbrook through eighth grade. In 1955, he was in the second graduating class of Glenbrook High School.
After graduating from Bradley University he served in the Army Reserves. Embarking on a career in insurance, he lived and worked in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York City. In 1977, he returned to the North Shore, where he started his own insurance business and became actively involved in the Lake Bluff/Lake Forest communities.
For the past 18 years, Kurt has stood alongside his wife, Peg, as owners of Peg Ann Kompany, in downtown Lake Bluff.
Gronau was a long time member of the Lions Club and the Lake Forest/Lake Bluff Chamber of Commerce. Spurred on by his love of Lake Bluff and the game of golf, he joined the Lake Bluff Park District Board of Commissioners in 1997 and served a record 20 years. During his tenure, he helped push through the first renovation of the golf clubhouse, construction of the Recreation Center, beach improvements, driving range, irrigation system, reconstruction of the tot pool and more.
By all accounts, Gronau lived life to the fullest, and that included sailing, hunting, fishing, canoeing, cooking, music, and flowers.
But as much as he loved
all of those, his four children, eleven grandchildren and wife came first.
Daughter Jacki Gronau Michael recited some of the life lessons her father imparted.
“Be nice to everyone,” “have ‘a guy’ for everything,” and “live life to the fullest.” He pretty much had a smile on his face all the time,” she said. “And at the end of every phone call he said ‘I love you.’”
Then there was Peg, his wife of 36 years.
“He just loved her so much,” said close friend Dave Nash. He told the story of how Gronau had recently turned to his wife and said, “I love you even more today than I did yesterday.”
Kurt Gronau is survived by his wife, Peg (Coleman), four children, and eleven grandchildren: Gretchen (Michael) Wooldridge (Merritt and Calvin) of Morton Grove, IL, Jacki (Timothy) Michael (Harley and Sloan) of Lake Bluff, Rodd (Sarah) Specketer (Sadie, James, Miles, Elizabeth, and Wells) of Lake Bluff, and Melanie (Sean) Walsh (Molly and Jack) of Lake Forest, his two sisters, Carol (Harvey) Applegate of Omaha, NE, and Judy Duszak of Libertyville, IL, and nieces Michelle Blanchard, Kim Bezek, and nephew, Chris Duszak. He was preceded in death by his parents.
Dolores “Dee” Timmer, of Northbrook, died June 3.
She was the beloved wife of the late Raymond H. Timmer; loving mother of Scott Lewis (Shelley Ann) Brown and the late Lewis David Brown; cherished grandmother of Scott and Michael; proud great grandmother Kendal, Gabrielle and Camille; dear sister of the late Eugene Plaski.
Timmer was part of the North Shore Place Community for several years. She was very close to Christine DeConcilis formerly with North Shore Place and also Wendi Bergquist of Guardian Hospice. Wendi and the staff were very loving and attentive to her and she loved her time at North Shore Place.
Timmer was grateful to the very end for the loving care she received from Wendi, Justine, and all of the North Shore Place staff. Her hobby was her husband Raymond (who has passed) and her sons Scott and Lewis. She will be laid to rest next to Lewis Brown, her younger son.