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Local News

An Extraordinary Life: Joliet woman's gift was service and she had fun doing it

Sue Klen understood the golden rule

This photo of Sue Klen from the 2013 Witches Night Out captures both the fun and helping aspects of Sue's personality.
This photo of Sue Klen from the 2013 Witches Night Out captures both the fun and helping aspects of Sue's personality.

JOLIET – Whether she was advocating for pot-bellied pigs or zombies, Sue Klen loved helping, had fun doing it and was extremely proud of being a fourth-generation Joliet resident.

And, being a leap year baby in 1964, Sue also loved leap year trivia.

“It takes the Earth 365 days, five hours, 49 minutes and 16 seconds to complete an orbit,” Sue said in a 2016 Herald-News story. “So, since it’s less than six hours, if you were to add a day every four years, it’s going to be snowing in July eventually. So every 100 years, we skip leap year unless that year is evenly divisible by 400.”

Her spirited side notwithstanding, Sue was serious about service, and her obituary showed it. She was a former Joliet Junior College trustee, a member of the board of directors for both the Joliet Township High School Foundation and the JTHS Alumni Association, a member of the Zonta Club of Joliet, a supporter of the Will-Grundy Center for Independent Living and a committee member for Witches Night Out.

In the 1980s, Sue also was a docent for the Brookfield Zoo, said Barbara Meurer of Joliet, Sue Klen’s mother. But that was Sue, a compassionate person who never bragged about “doing good,” Barbara said.

“She did everything for others and truly cared about making someone else’s life better, even though she wasn’t feeling well herself,” Barbara said.

But Sue’s involvement went beyond mere volunteering.

“She did the right thing for the right reason,” said John Leeson of Joliet, Sue’s husband, adding that he was proud of all her charitable efforts.

In addition to being caring, Sue was smart, Barbara said. Sue had been recruited for an accounting job before she graduated from the former College of St. Francis in 1989, Barbara said.

And not one to let grass grow under her feet, when Sue was later laid off, she went back to school and earned a degree in horticulture from Joliet Junior College, Barbara said.

At school or at work, Sue was the type to welcome new people, to say, “Come have lunch with me.” She “lived by the golden rule” and “treated others the way she wanted to be treated,” Barbara said.

But Sue also understood the lighthearted side of life. She was the child who hosted the Halloween body parts guessing game, where the blindfolded attendees would touch grape “eyes” and noodle “brains,” Barbara said.

It was Sue’s fun side that first attracted John, who married her in 2004. He’d met her while playing pool and felt immediately drawn to her playfulness, friendliness and sense of humor.

“She was a down-to-earth girl,” John said. “She didn’t put on any airs.”

The last time John saw Sue was when he left for his pool league and then went to work. But before Sue died March 7 at age 53, she and John made many happy memories.

They sparred over baseball (John was an Indians fan and Sue was a Cubs fan), and Illinois road trips because they both “got a kick” out of historical markers. But even when they didn’t share an interest, Sue found a way to share it.

Take the case of Formula One racing. Sue had no interest in watching races, but she did plan themed meals for John to complement the world racing schedule – chop suey when teams raced in China, paella when the location was Spain and Vienna sausages for Austria.

In turn, John loved stopping at Euro Homeland Delicatessen in Romeoville after work to pick up items Sue needed.

“Polish sausage and pierogies,” Barbara said. “Those were her specialties.”

So was stroganoff, John said. Sue was such a great cook, she even boiled water better than most people, he added. Sue cooked for John, she cooked for friends, she cooked for neighbors when they were ill.

“She enjoyed pleasing people,” John said. “Her goal was to make them happy. Her signature line on her email address said, ‘Have a great day.’ And she meant it.”

Maybe that’s because Sue herself was a happy person, someone who found joy in daily life. She loved polkas at St. Joseph’s Park in Joliet, KC and the Sunshine Band concerts, reading Stephanie Plum mysteries and picking tomatoes from her garden.

“She’d eat three of them before she got into the house,” John said.

• To feature someone in “An Extraordinary Life,” contact Denise M. Baran-Unland at 815-280-4122 or

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