Obituary: Phyllis Eileen (Hanks) Berger

by | Aug 19, 2014

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Phyllis Eileen (Hanks) Berger died on August 15, at St Elizabeth’s Home in East Greenwich, after a courageous fight with cancer, at the age of 78.

Born on Feb. 22, 1936, in New London, Iowa, the second of two children of Rex Leo Hanks and Catharine Marie Vance, Phyllis spent her first eight years on the family farm. When the farm failed in 1944, the family moved to a one-room apartment in Lombard, Ill. The Hanks family had deep roots in northeastern Iowa, and Phyllis returned frequently to the area throughout her early life; at root she was always a real Midwestern farm girl. Phyllis taught several generations of family and friends how to shuck, boil and enjoy fresh field-picked corn in the manner of her upbringing. In Lombard, the annual Lilac Festival was cause for a gathering of the extended Vance and Hanks families for many years.

Phyllis attended Glenbard High School, where she was an honor student and active in Junior Red Cross, the Pan American Club, GAA, Y-Teens and a thespian. As a freshman, Phyllis began dating the best friend of a young man her cousin Marlene was dating, senior John Berger, and this began a romance that continued throughout her remaining life. Phyllis graduated Glenbard in 1954, and briefly attended DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind., before returning to Illinois to marry John on Aug. 20, 1955, at which time the couple moved into their own one-room apartment in the same Lombard complex as Phyllis’ parents. Steve and Greg were born in these early years; Bill, Kathy and Diane followed after moving to a small house in Mt. Prospect. Phyllis, John and the five children settled in Northbrook in 1966, and under Phyllis’ watchful eyes the family thrived.

Phyllis was an active member of the Northbrook community, participating in PTA, Cubs and Boy Scouts, and Spartan booster clubs. She became a travel agent at Easy Travel in central Northbrook, where she developed an even wider network of friends in the local community. From her desk at Easy Travel, it was also easy to keep track of the comings and goings of the local junior high and high school kids as they strolled the shops – she was always extremely well informed about what her community and her own children were up to at any given time. As a travel agent, Phyllis had the opportunity to travel independently for the first time, which she used extensively. She developed a strong desire to see the world, and over the years was able to visit Japan, most of Europe and seemingly the entire Caribbean, often on brief, four or five day trips.

Her spirit of adventure and interest in travel was taken up by her children, who at times have lived in many different places around the globe, and who were always happy to welcome Grandma for a visit. Phyllis and John moved permanently to Naples, Fla., in 1995, when John retired from Karnes Music Company, where for many years they were regular hosts to visitors from the north and to an increasing pool of grandchildren. Following John’s death in 2003, Phyllis began splitting her time between her two daughters, Kathy in Tallahassee, Fla. (winters) and Diane in Amherst, N.H. (summers).

Phyllis is survived by daughters Kathy and Diane (Tim Rich), sons Steve (Shereen), Greg (Martha) and Bill (Anne), brother Rex Leo Hanks, Jr., and 16 grandchildren and was predeceased by her husband, John, and her grandson, Kris. Friends and family are invited to attend a funeral mass in memory of Phyllis to be held on Saturday, Aug. 23, at 1p.m. at Our Lady of the Brook Parish, 3700 Dundee Road, Northbrook, Ill. 60062.

Reception to follow at Hackneys, 1514 E. Lake Ave., Glenview. In lieu of flowers and in memory of Phyllis Berger donations may be made to Kris’ Camp, a therapy intensive/respite camp for children with special needs and their families founded by Phyllis’ daughter Kathy. You can find her online obituary and condolence page here.

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