Saturday, May 20, 2023

When every day was Thanksgiving

By Tim Hadac
Managing Editor
Southwest Chicago Post

Adapted from something I wrote in November 2015. 

Those who know me in the real world, as opposed to in newspapers or social media, know that I am an extremely private man. I typically do not talk about my personal life.

An example from long, long ago in my college years: one day, while in the campus newspaper office, a nice young woman innocently trying to make conversation asked me if I had any brothers or sisters.

My response: "Why do you want to know?"

That's me. Mr. Personality.

But today, I'm going to open up just a bit.

And to do that, I'll say a few words about that nice young woman I was so cold to on that day back in 1982.

Her name was Joan Heelan, and despite my best attempts to stay in my shell, I found I could not resist the sparkle of her eyes, the beauty of her smile and the warmth of her heart.
Joan Heelan in 1982.

I found myself liking her and then falling in love with her, although--me being me, idiot that I was--I fought it. But when I finally did admit it and mustered the courage to ask her on a date in 1983, I fell hard, fell fast and fell with absolute joy. Very early in our dating, I told her I loved her--so early in our relationship that I know it startled her and perhaps frightened her. (A lot of people would agree that I'm a bit frightening. Sorry about that, folks.)

Anyway, to my great fortune, Joan fell in love with me, over time. Why, I don't know. I just know how grateful I am that she did.

Things got better with each passing day, and then on a beautiful Labor Day weekend in 1984, we went to the town of Lake Geneva and stayed in this cool little motel cabin from the 1940s. (We are both fans of things that have a bit of history, a bit of character.)

I took Joan to a local supper club that had not changed much since its founding in the late 1940s, and which had the best food around.

Later, to cap off the evening, we took a brief stroll at the lakeshore; and next to a stately oak tree, I once again professed my love, this time adding a marriage proposal.

To my great fortune, she said yes.

We were married in 1985, in the church where she grew up--a beautiful old church. And in the years that followed, we built a life and were blessed with two spectacular daughters.
Joan on her birthday, September 2022.

Together, we built a love so broad, so deep and so solid, it got us through the bumps, bruises and rough patches common to any marriage. And today, our love is deeper and stronger than ever.

In many ways, she is what I only wish I were. She is a gentle soul with a warm and forgiving heart, yet strong and steady when she needs to be, including and perhaps especially in my hours of weakness and self-doubt.

Joan is a wonderful wife, mother, friend and so much more. And now we can add grandmother to that.

She is the blessing of a lifetime for me.

So before I sit down with her for our 33rd Thanksgiving dinner later today, I just want to say thank you, Joan, for everything. You are the love of my life, now and forever. I give thanks for you--on Thanksgiving and every day.

Post-script, 2023: Sorry about those last four paragraphs, folks. I’m still having difficulty changing the verbs to past tense. You see, earlier this year—the day before Valentine’s Day, to be specific--Joan was diagnosed with cancer. She died less than 90 days later.

Rest easy, dear. We’ll meet again. I’m certain.

# # #

Saturday, May 6, 2023

A ‘Kind and Giving Heart’

Family, friends remember community journalist Joan Hadac

Those who knew Joan (Heelan) Hadac never seemed surprised that she landed in jobs where she helped people. It was simply her nature, her kind and giving heart, they’d say.

A lifelong Southwest Side resident, Mrs. Hadac died at home, in hospice care on May 5, three months after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. She was 63 years old.

Mrs. Hadac joined the Greater Southwest News-Herald in 1987 as a news reporter but quickly earned a promotion to an editor’s post.

Later, she was promoted again, to founding managing editor of the Southwest Senior newspaper.

In recent years, she was best known as the front-page columnist of the Clear-Ridge Reporter & NewsHound, companion publication to the News-Herald.
Early years

Born Joan Heelan on Sept. 4, 1959, she grew up mostly in the Gage Park neighborhood, graduating from St. Clare of Montefalco School in 1973 and Lourdes High School in 1977.
She had her first taste of journalism at St. Xavier College, where she double-majored in English and Mass Communications and joined the Xavierite student newspaper. She earned a promotion to co-editor and later editor, and she spoke well of her instructors, most notably Joel Sternberg and Dennis Wheeler. Upon graduation in 1984, she was presented with the Distinguished Student Service Award.

It was at SXC where she met Tim Hadac, a fellow student journalist, her future husband and love of her life. They were wed in 1985 at St. Clare of Montefalco Church.

Early in her career in newspapers, Mrs. Hadac’s work earned acclaim, including a nomination for the prestigious Lisagor Award for a story she wrote examining racial change in Gage Park through the prism of religion.
Her proudest role
Mrs. Hadac took a break from community journalism from 1991-98 to bear and raise the couple’s two daughters, Johanna Grace and Mary Sheila. For the rest of her days, she would refer to that time as “the best seven years of my life.”

“Joan had so much to be proud of in her professional life; but by far, she was most proud of being a mother and later a grandmother,” her husband said.

“She loved and was always proud of our daughters. She absolutely doted on our four grandsons and looked forward to when they were in town for a visit.”

She and her husband raised their daughters in the Garfield Ridge neighborhood, where they still lived at the time of her death.

Back to the newsroom

In 1998 she returned to community journalism, covering beats in Downers Grove and Clarendon Hills for the Suburban Life Newspapers. She was a key member of a team of reporters and editors that won awards from the Illinois Press Association and the Suburban Newspapers of America for riveting coverage of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, and for coverage of the Downers Grove High School District 99 teachers’ strike in 2002.

In 2012, Mrs. Hadac and her husband founded the Southwest Chicago Post, an online news service. She anticipated that the endeavor would be small, with an audience of about 50 people; but over time it became one of Chicago’s largest neighborhood-based news services, with more than 3.2 million cumulative hits on its website and more than 22,000 followers on its Facebook page.

Her kindness was evident in what she wrote as a news and features reporter.

“Most news reporters I’ve met can be kind of hard edged,” said Garfield Ridge businessman and community leader Al Cacciottolo. “But not Joan, not ever. She was a reporter with a heart and was at her best when she shared human-interest stories with her readers, stories about interesting people making the community a better place. And by doing that, she made the neighborhood a better place, year after year, story after story.”

Outside of journalism, Mrs. Hadac served as parish secretary at St. Joseph Parish, helping people with a wide range of needs, including informal grief counseling to men and women who had recently lost their loved ones.

Most recently, she was employed by Chicago Glass Blocks. Her value to the company was appreciated by the Basic family, founders and longtime owners of the company.

“Joan was the face of our neighborhood family business,” the family said in a statement. “Always greeting customers pleasantly, friendly and with the wonderful sound of her smooth-jazz station playing in the background. Numerous customers continue to ask about her. Our sincere condolences to her family. She will be greatly missed by our family, her co-workers and customers.”

Mrs. Hadac also was a former president of the Lourdes High School Alumnae Association and a former two-term school board president at St. Joseph School.

Mrs. Hadac was preceded in death by her father, James R. Heelan; sister, Sheila Forsner; and infant nephew, Alexander Edward Forsner. In addition to her husband, she is survived by her daughters, Johanna Grace (Michael) Smith and Cosmo Mary Sheila; grandsons, Raphael Elijah, Anthony Blaise, Aran Joseph and Patrick Fulton Smith; mother, M. Eileen Heelan; sisters, Eileen (Edward) Forsner, Bernadette (Lynda Smith), Patrice (Joseph Monaghan) and Monica (Brian) Swift; and aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, nephews, friends and many others.

Visitation is Friday, May 19 from 4 to 8 p.m. at Foran Funeral Home, 7300 W. Archer Ave. (55th street just west of Harlem), Summit. Visitation at the funeral home on Saturday, May 20 from 8:30 a.m. until time of prayers at 9:30 a.m. Procession from the funeral home to St. Mary Church, 105 Herrick Road, Riverside, for a 10 a.m. funeral Mass. Interment at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery, near the graves of her maternal grandparents, Edward and Joan McGee.