Veteran played key role in establishing memorial
By Sandy Illian Bosch email@example.com October 25, 2011 11:22AM
World War II veteran and Burr Ridge resident Steve Zaher, here pictured in 1998, died Oct. 20. Among Zaher's various military commendations was the French Legion of Honor. | File photo
Decorated World War II veteran Stephen Zaher of Burr Ridge wasn’t afraid of much. But the 92-year-old said more than once that he feared he wouldn’t live to see his longtime dream of a Burr Ridge Veterans Memorial come true.
“He did see it,” said Leonard Ruzak, who served on the Veterans Memorial Committee with Zaher.
Zaher died Oct. 20, four months after the dedication of the memorial outside Burr Ridge Village Hall.
Zaher was an original member of the committee, which worked for more than a decade to raise money and plan for the memorial.
“He played an important part,” said Ruzak, bringing in some large donations.
“We’re all going to miss him,” Ruzak added.
Shirley Zaher said her husband was a wonderful, faithful man who, despite his many military commendations, was never comfortable being called a hero.
“He really didn’t like being singled out,” Shirley Zaher said.
Of the many honors he received, Shirley said her husband was most proud of his bronze star and the French Legion of Honor, awarded to him in 2008, 63 years after returning home from the war.
The medal, the French equivalent to the U.S. Medal of Honor, is given to those who defended French freedom on French soil. Daughter Stephanie Zaher said the medal would be displayed on her father’s lapel during his visitation and services.
Despite the human tragedy her father saw as an Army Ranger, his daughter said Zaher never lost his childlike sense of humor. The eulogy she prepared for his funeral Mass includes a story about what she long believed to be a cookie-eating Teddy bear.
Whenever she had to leave her beloved stuffed bear behind, her father would give her bear a cookie. When the family returned, the cookie was always eaten.
“One day I caught him, stuffing that cookie into his mouth as quickly as he could,” she said.
“He would do things for me that were so magical,” she said. Years later, he would share that same love and sense of humor with his seven grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.
Zaher was preceded in death by his wife, Helen, nee Stalmasek. He is survived by his second wife, Shirley, nee Gorski; his daughters, Lois (Jim) Bartunek, Carol (Tony) Kopta, Mary (Eric) Norton and Stephanie Zaher; his brother, George (Suzanne) and many nieces and nephews.
Visitation is from 3 to 8 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 25, at Adolf Funeral Home & Cremation Services, Ltd., 7000 S. Madison St., Willowbrook. Services will begin with prayers at the funeral home at 9 a.m. Wednesday, Oct. 26, before proceeding to St. John of the Cross Church for Mass of Christian Burial at 9:45 a.m.
Zaher will be buried at the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery in Elwood.
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Stephen Zaher, Army Ranger Veteran, WWII, age 92, at rest Oct. 20, 2011. Beloved husband of Shirley, nee Gorski and the late Helen, nee Stalmasek; loving father of Lois (Jim) Bartunek, Carol (Tony) Kopta, Mary (Eric) Norton and Stephanie Zaher; dear grandfather of seven and great-grandfather of eight; loving brother of George (Suzanne), the late Charles Zaher and the late Goldie Snoble; fond uncle to many nieces and nephews; great friend to many. Visitation Tuesday, Oct. 25 from 3 to 8 p.m. at Adolf Funeral Home & Cremation Services, Ltd., 7000 S. Madison St., Willowbrook, IL 60527. Funeral Wednesday, Oct. 26, prayers 9 a.m. at the funeral home, proceeding to St. John of the Cross Church for Mass of Christian Burial at 9:45 a.m. Interment; Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery.