Remembering Louise Varnes: Oak Park's heart and soul

Opinion: Columns

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Jerry Delaney & Dan Lauber

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Louise Varnes died last week at the age of 84. Two of those who knew and worked with her submitted their remembrances:

Jerry Delaney:

I met Louise Varnes some 40 years ago when six Oak Park women formed a circle of friends eventually named "The Crazies." We were all crazed mothers, with 33 children among us, and gifted with wicked senses of humor. Over time we became "sisters" to each other.

We supported each other through births, child-raising, personal crises, illnesses, divorces, and growing professional lives — always with the focus on laughing at the twists and turns of life!

Louise's calm, pleasant, and loving spirit became a core strength in our group. Her smile would light up our gatherings as she tempered us with her wisdom. She liked to stay more in the background and rarely told us about her great accomplishments at the Oak Park Regional Housing Center. It wasn't until she retired some years ago that we found out the extent of her role at the Housing Center over a period of 45 years. 

She was happy sharing with us her love of movies from the 1940s and '50s, being proud of her family, taking us on field trips to where she grew up in Chicago, laughing hysterically with us when we gathered or went out to dinner, and gently calming down some of our high antics. We always knew she would be there for a listening session with some pointed reminders to laugh and be more grateful. 

Louise died Sept. 6 — she would have turned 85 in November. In my life, I've never met someone with such regal, physical and internal beauty. She was as beautiful at 84 as when I met her 40 years ago!

She has left a hole in the hearts of all who cherish her and in a community that she so enriched with her efforts to create justice in housing.


Dan Lauber:

Louise Varnes was one of the kindest, nicest, and steadiest people I've had the privilege to know — I never imagined she was one of the legendary "Crazies." Long ago my wife Diana and I partied a few times with The Crazies, unaware that Louise was actually one of them. Her demeanor was just so low key and calm in contrast to the rest of the group. I had known her only from her clear-headed and dedicated work at the Oak Park Regional Housing Center.

Just two years ago, Louise retired after 45 years with the Housing Center, first as a volunteer and then as a housing counselor. She always seemed like the heart and soul of the Housing Center as she frequently applied her personality and institutional memory to bring calm and reason to all around her — I guess much like she did with The Crazies. Despite her vast knowledge of the Housing Center's workings, she was incredibly low key and modest. She fully understood that the Housing Center remains essential if Oak Park is to maintain its hard-earned stable racial diversity.

Louise proved you don't have to head an organization to make a huge impact on Oak Park. She remains an inspiration to everybody working in the trenches for social justice and equity in housing.

Jerry Delaney is a longtime stalwart with the Democratic Party of Oak Park. Dan Lauber served as an Oak Park Regional Housing Center Board member, 1995-2003.

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