Pen­sion depart­ment di­rec­tor pro­moted gar­den­ing, na­ture

Chicago Sun-Times - - TOP NEWS - BY NADER ISSA, STAFF RE­PORTER [email protected]­times.com | @NaderDIssa

Jean­nette Zeck loved gar­den­ing with her hus­band — so much so, the cou­ple de­cided to start a vol­un­teer or­ga­ni­za­tion from their Oak Park home to pro­mote the growth of plants na­tive to the area.

When her hus­band con­verted to Bud­dhism five years ago, she saw the im­pact the re­li­gion had on him and soon con­verted, too.

Ms. Zeck spent al­most three decades work­ing for the Chicago La­bor­ers Pen­sion and Wel­fare Funds, help­ing work­ers sort through their op­tions when it came time for their ben­e­fits to be paid out.

“My wife was the most sup­port­ive per­son you could ever imag­ine,” said Ms. Zeck’s hus­band, David Mur­phy.

Ms. Zeck died sud­denly on Wed­nes­day. She was 50.

Most re­cently a res­i­dent of Oak Park, Ms. Zeck grew up in Lake County, at­tend­ing high school in Grayslake.

She met her hus­band on their first day at Knox Col­lege in Gales­burg. Although the two took no­tice of each other right away, they didn’t go on their first date un­til the fol­low­ing year on March 5, 1987. They had been to­gether ever since and mar­ried in Septem­ber 1998.

In the early ’90s, while work­ing to­ward a mas­ter’s de­gree in psy­chol­ogy at DePaul Uni­ver­sity, Ms. Zeck took a job at a shel­ter for the home­less women in West Town. Work­ing shifts that ei­ther started or ended at mid­night, Ms. Zeck coun­seled and cooked for the women at the shel­ter and found deep grat­i­fi­ca­tion in ser­vice to oth­ers.

“She re­ally took great plea­sure and pride in help­ing people who needed help,” her hus­band said.

Ms. Zeck later started a job in the mail room of the Chicago La­bor­ers Pen­sion and Wel­fare Funds. She worked her way up to be­come di­rec­tor of the pen­sion depart­ment, over­see­ing a staff of 16.

Ms. Zeck also found she had a pas­sion for gar­den­ing when she and her hus­band be­gan grow­ing their own food at their Oak Park home while ex­per­i­ment­ing with new di­ets.

The gar­den­ing led to Mur­phy’s in­ter­est in en­vi­ron­men­tal­ism. With his wife’s per­se­ver­ing sup­port, they started the Deep Roots Project, an or­ga­ni­za­tion that pro­motes the use of na­tive plants and grow­ing healthy foods.

Work­ing to­gether last year, the cou­ple planted park­way gar­dens in front of 16 homes in the area.

And when Mur­phy, who grew up Catholic, de­cided to con­vert to Bud­dhism, Ms. Zeck saw the im­pact it had on his life and soon made the switch her­self.

“She was right by my side ev­ery step of the way,” Mur­phy said.

Ms. Zeck was pre­ceded in death by her par­ents Harold and Cather­ine Zeck, her sis­ter El­iz­a­beth Zeck and her brother Stephen Zeck. She is sur­vived by her hus­band David Mur­phy, her sis­ters Pa­tri­cia Carl­son and Theresa O’Reilly and her brother David Zeck.

Though Ms. Zeck and Mur­phy didn’t have chil­dren, Ms. Zeck con­sid­ered her five nieces and two neph­ews — El­iz­a­beth, Ni­cole, Me­gan, Shel­bie, Alexia, Michael and Louis — to be her own.

Vis­i­ta­tion is 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Mon­day at O’Neil Fu­neral Home & Her­itage Cre­ma­tory, 1105 E. 9th St., in Lock­port, with a ser­vice at 7 p.m. In­ter­ment will be pri­vate.

O’NEIL FU­NERAL HOME AND HER­ITAGE CRE­MA­TORY

Jean­nette Zeck con­verted to Bud­dhism af­ter her hus­band did.

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