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For close to 50 years, the Northfield Township Food Pantry has been assisting residents of Northbrook, Glenview and part of Northfield who are unable to provide enough food for themselves and their families.
A big part of the credit for making the pantry happen belongs to Grace Lee, who died Nov. 27, 2019 at age 88.
The Northbrook resident was a township trustee from 1971-1973, then served as Township Supervisor from 1973-1981. Throughout her life, she considered creation of the pantry during her tenure as one of her proudest accomplishments.
“When the pantry started it was literally a supply closet,”said current Northfield Township supervisor Jill Brickman. “Now it’s like a small grocery store and serves between 550 and 600 households in the township. It is a lifeline for a lot of its users.”
Following her years with Northfield Township, Lee was Executive Director for the Township Officials of Cook County, representing township and local government initiatives and concerns at the state level throughout the 1980s and into the 1990s.
One of those concerns occurred in 1991, when legislation that could have killed township governments was being considered.
''We, in essence, feel that if this is passed, it would be disastrous,” said Lee, who pointed out that townships provide general assistance for families suffering short-term financial hardships and fund local social service agencies such as community mental health services and alcohol and substance abuse programs.''To think that Cook County would do all this is just laughable,'' she said.
The bill died in committee.
Remembered for her quick wit, sharp memory, and tenacity, Lee also worked for the creation of handicapped parking spots and placards in Illinois.
“She was pretty no nonsense. She was a just get the job done’ kind of a person,” Brickman said.
Lee “was incredibly kind and a strong leader," said Township of Schaumburg Supervisor and Township Officials of Cook County President Timothy M. Heneghan. "She was a fierce advocate for township government and was a great collaborator with other local government units as well as with our representatives in Springfield.”
Lee was born in the small town of Berlin, Wis. to Alma and Alvin Schadewald. She moved to Chicago in 1950, attended Loyola University, married and had a family and worked in public relations. She also served with the PTA in Northbrook and was a precinct captain and leader in the local Republican party organization for many years.
“She came to Chicago with nothing and really made a nice life for herself,” her son, Mark, said. “She raised four children and always pursued a career. She had a ton of energy and there was always a balance.”
Later in life, she focused much of her attention on her seven grandchildren, and continued to enjoy her favorite hobby, which was cooking. Her potato dish, in particular, has become practically legendary, said longtime township associate Patricia Damisch.
“Back in the 70s there used to be PTA potluck dinners and she would bring this potato dish that everybody loved,” she said. “She gave the recipe to my mother and (as Patricia would discover years later) to my mother-in-law and we both named it the same thing. We call it ‘Grace Lee potatoes.’ We still have it every Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas and I have passed it along to others.”
Grace Lee (Schadewald) was the wife of the late Robert Harold Lee; mother of Elizabeth Lee, Mark Lee (Rachel Lee), Susan Kelly (Thomas Stremlau) and Wendy Gorelick (Joe Gorelick); grandmother of Lauren, Hillary, Lukas, Nathan, Jeremy, Bobby and Rebecca; sister of the late Ruth Mullen (Schadewald).
A memorial service will be held at 4 p.m. Friday, Dec. 20, at Village Presbyterian Church, 1300 Shermer Road, Northbrook.