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Chris Letchinger: One of a Kind

Updated: Apr 19, 2020

Lake Bluff has lost one of its most memorable villagers, Chris Letchinger, who fought ovarian cancer with courage and humor for two years before she died on April 16, 2020. She was 69 and was surrounded by her family, including her sons Daniel and David, her daughters-in-law Julie and Kristen, her grandchildren, and her beloved dog, Turnip.

Christine (nee Guibert) Letchinger was a woman who was short in stature and long in friendships and accomplishments. Born and raised in France, she moved to Lake Bluff more than three decades ago with her husband, Rob, who passed away in 2015 at the age of 60. Here they raised their two sons in a Victorian home near the beach and got involved in many village doings. Chris was a Village trustee for six years and president of the Village for eight years. She was on the board of the Lake Bluff History Museum and was working on the museum’s upcoming exhibit on Lake Michigan throughout much of her illness. She also served on the boards of Lake Bluff School District 65 and Lake Bluff Mosquito Abatement District.

Chris was always up for a good conversation, a dog walk, a glass of wine, and dinner over beef bourguignon, which she loved to cook. She had a loyal group of friends who walked to the beach every morning no matter what the weather was like. If you asked “Really, every single day?” She would reply, “No shit.”

She and her fellow beach walkers loved swimming. Every summer morning they would swim to the second buoy at the South Beach, often hanging on to it and chatting for a while about anything and everything under the sun before swimming (and still talking while they were swimming) back to shore. An assortment of dogs would join them on the swim, except for Chris’s dog Turnip, who would quietly stand guard until Chris returned to take the pooch for a boat ride.

“Turnip loves all manner of watercraft, just not the water,” Chris would say while she pushed off with her dog on a paddle board or kayak. (Beach walker Sue Raymoure took the photo at the top of this story at Sunrise Beach last summer. Turnip is the dog looking "out to sea", while her beagle-friend Ziggy looks at the camera. Chris had lost her hair to chemotherapy and was totally at peace with her new look.)

"One thing I admired in her life approach was her 'stick to the facts' modus operandi," said beach walker Nan Caldwell. "She was able to distinguish between emotional argument and factual record, balancing both to arrive at a logical solution."

And she was always up for an adventure -- in the water, on the water or out of the water.

Chris and her fellow "beach walkers" practicing water ballet last summer at Sunrise Beach. Photo by Sue Raymoure. In the photo below, Bill Raymoure and Al Trefts hoisted Chris to the top of the mast to rerun a halyard. Chris loved to sail.

Below, Chris and Penny Marsh, Cathy McKechney and Kathy O'Hara at a Christmas Tea

Two weeks ago when hospice was called and the end near, Chris’s good friends Cathy McKechney and Penny Marsh encouraged those who knew Chris to send her a letter, card or email, since COVID-19 prevented anyone from visiting in person. “Let’s flood her mailbox in the Lake Bluff way,” they said. Chris replied to the letters usually very quickly, with honesty and humor.

Here is a tribute to Chris written by her friend and neighbor Gary Doyle. After that is a copy of the letter Paul Lemieux wrote to Chris before she died. Both Gary and Paul are longtime residents of Lake Bluff.

The photos are courtesy of Cathy McKechney as well as Chris’s beach walker friends Joyce Foster, Sue Raymoure, Nan Caldwell and Cheryl Sachnoff. These were just a few of Chris's many Lake Bluff friends. She was close with many of the Lake Bluff History Museum board members and former village trustees, as well as with her neighbors, fellow volunteers and too many others to name.

Chris is already missed.

To: Chris From: Gary Doyle

By Gary Doyle

I first got to know Chris Letchinger through a cable-access television screen. I’d just moved to Lake Bluff and was experiencing a bit of North Shore suburban culture shock, and here was this sharp, fiery, French woman giving no quarter in Village Board meetings. I’m like, who is this person?

I found out who she was years later, when we moved next door to her. Chris was funny, honest and worldly (of course she was – she was born in Paris and studied at the Sorbonne). She swore like a sailor and played beautiful piano. She was blunt and unvarnished but showed great patience when our overexcited pug Lou would badger her dog Turnip. She was generous with her time, wisdom and her pressure washer.

Chris was a doer. When the exterior of our house needed painting a few years ago, I complemented her on hers, a large Victorian, and asked who painted it. “Me”, she said.

Chris loved Lake Bluff. A 33-year resident of the Village, she was a Village Trustee for six years, and Village President for eight. She also served on the boards of the Lake Bluff History Museum, Lake Bluff School District 65 and the Lake Bluff Mosquito Abatement District. Unlike many politicians Chris listened, collaborated and maintained her sense of humor throughout. For a person barely five feet in heels, she always stood tall.

When Chris became sick, and visiting her became difficult with COVID-19, her close friends Cathy McKechney and Penny Marsh thoughtfully asked people to write Chris a letter telling her what she meant to them. I wrote Chris that I wished there were more people around here as interesting as her. She replied, “you must give them credit for voting for this crazy French person four times. In my book, that makes them brilliant.” That was Chris. She passed away on April 16, her family by her side.

Chris had a horse chestnut tree in front of her house “which are all over the place in Paris,” she said. "There was another tree with little red and purple buds and a couple of oak trees. My grandmother's house — she lives outside of Paris — had oak trees. When we pulled in the driveway of the house, it felt like it was home."

Chris, you are home now. And you are loved and missed.

Chris and Rob raised their two sons in the Victorian house on the right. Her sons, daughters-in-law and grandchildren were staying at the house with Chris in her last weeks.

To: Chris

From: Paul Lemieux

Dear Chris:

Parts of this may not be suitable for more sensitive readers. Obviously Chris, this does not apply to you. Etiquette suggests that a note of this kind be handwritten but my handwriting is for shit so here it is typed. As you may recall, we first met in the middle to late '90s, at a dinner party at the home of Rick and Janie Jerch. Within about three milliseconds of meeting you, you launched into a diatribe about the stupidity of the Knollwood annexation that was to be decided in an upcoming referendum. As you talked, OK lectured is a better description, I felt just like the guy in this photograph.

To my great good fortune our paths converged in the ensuing years, and I came to recognize that this first encounter was oh so typically you. Well informed, passionate, engaged and ever ready to call bullshit when you see it. And, as is also typical, you were right. (Cue Daniel and David rolling their eyes if they read that last sentence.) That first meeting had consequences that still echo 20-plus years later. As an Air Force brat and then corporate warrior I was used to being in a location for a short time. The thought of engaging in a community never crossed my mind. But you changed that. It dawned on me that night that I should be paying more attention to local affairs. Sometime after that the Zoning Board of Appeals took up zoning that potentially impacted my property so I attended the meetings, provided input that was incorporated in the subsequent changes and in the process learned that the Village runs on the backs of engaged volunteers who were more or less like me. A lesson you already understood. You went on to be elected to the Village Board in 1999 and would stop and talk shop on my front stoop after Village Board meetings. With your encouragement, I ran for and was elected to the Village Board in 2001. As a new Trustee what I learned from you was to look beyond the flow of agenda items and question whether other issues should be getting attention. You had a far-reaching vision that enabled you to see issues before they were evident to others and taught me to do likewise, although I was never as good at it as you are. An example of your teaching me to look beyond was Home Rule. With your support and encouragement, we succeeded in achieving that via a referendum in 2005. I continue to pass your “look beyond” teaching to new Trustees, when the opportunity arises. As Village President, you displayed incredible vision and raised the bar for Village governance. Your tenure was an inflection point and the Village continues on the path that you set. I have always admired your courage and your willingness to make tough choices. As such, I found your recent choice entirely consistent with your no bullshit approach. I could go on about your many accomplishments but at the risk of your getting a swelled head I’ll skip that and mention two other things I learned from you. The first is how to actually pronounce my last name and the second is that “what-the-fuck?” is actually pronounced “what-dey-fuck?” A huge (or is that now pronounced “uge”) improvement.

The photograph above was taken on July 4, 2010. This was 100th parade and you had graciously agreed to speak as it got started. When you saw this photo you laughed, exhibiting yet another wonderful characteristic. Despite your intensity you never take yourself too seriously and always manage to see the humor in a situation. My take on this photo is small stature – yeah maybe. Giant impact on our community and those you so generously served – absolutely. It is an honor to have known you, served with you, argued with you and laughed with you. Thank you.

With great affection, your friend, fan, admirer and student, Paul Lemieux

Here are some more photos of Chris Letchinger of Lake Bluff via Paris, France:

Chris with her sons, daughters-in-law and grandchildren.

Chris was a shaman in the 2014 Lake Bluff History Museum Ghost Walk.

She was always quick to pitch in. Here she is in the LBHM storage room with fellow board member John Caton.