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Sen. Adeline Geo-Karis; 'Always one of the guys'; wake set for Friday
Trailblazing Lake County senator dead at 89
By John Patterson | Daily Herald Staff

Adeline Geo-Karis

 

Legislators and dignitaries look on as former state senator Adeline Geo-Karis, seated left, examines paperwork during a 2000 bill signing with former governor George Ryan. Geo-Karis died Sunday.

 

File photo courtesy Sen. Adeline Geo-Karis' office

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Published: 2/11/2008 8:31 AM | Updated: 2/12/2008 11:37 AM

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SPRINGFIELD - It was the fifth inning and a youthful Richard M. Daley was on the mound for the Illinois Senate.

Into the batter's box stepped freshman Republican House member Adeline Geo-Karis. She looped a Daley offering into short left field, just beyond the fielders' reach, and stood atop first base.

It was early June 1973, and with that swing, Geo-Karis is believed to have become the first woman to get a hit in the annual Illinois House-Senate charity softball game.

While perhaps not her greatest civic achievement, it may very well sum up Geo-Karis' tenure in public life, a span of more than three decades during which she frequently found herself one of the few women in the room, but always ready to handle whatever the boys could dish out.

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Funeral services

The wake for Adeline Geo-Karis will be Friday and the funeral is scheduled for Saturday at the Illinois Beach Resort and Conference Center at Adeline Jay Geo-Karis State Park in Zion.

The wake is 4 to 9 p.m. in the Illinois Ball Room. The funeral is at 10:30 a.m. in the Grand Vista Ball Room, overlooking the beach and Lake Michigan.

Prior to the funeral, visitation is scheduled for 9:30 to 10:30 a.m.

Interment is at Memorial Park Cemetery.

Funeral services will be led by the Rev. Cosmas Halekakis of St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church in Waukegan.

The state park is located at 1 Lake Front Drive, Zion. Shuttle bus service will be made available for remote parking lots.

Geo-Karis died Sunday at the age of 89.

Colleagues and constituents remembered her for her trailblazing career, her devotion to her country and community, her calmness in the heat of political debate and her penchant for unabashedly and unapologetically speaking her mind.

"Adeline was very unique," said former Republican Gov. Jim Edgar. "You met her, you never forgot her. That's for sure."

She chose to study law at a time when few women considered that an option. In Lake County, she was the first woman to be named an assistant state's attorney and first woman elected to either the Illinois House or Senate. At the Capitol, she became the first woman - Republican or Democrat - appointed to Senate leadership. She had also served as mayor of Zion.

A gregarious personality during her decades in politics, Geo-Karis was a constant defender of equal rights and access for women, never hesitating to bluntly speak up when she thought the scales tilted toward men.

For instance, in 2003, lawmakers were debating requiring insurance companies to cover birth control. Several socially conservative senators sought to link the issue with abortion.

Geo-Karis cut to the chase in her usual manner.

"We have to have some real common sense around here," she said. "If we're going to provide Viagra for men, let me tell you, you cannot avoid being fair to the women."

State Sen. Susan Garrett, a Lake Forest Democrat, said she considered Geo-Karis a "true pioneer" for women in the General Assembly.

Garrett recalled driving the elderly lawmaker back to Lake County from the Capitol after the end of session about five years ago.

"I thought she'd just take it easy and snooze, but she was so alert. She told me her whole life story," said Garrett. "She, in a way, defied the odds and lived her life on her own terms, and because of that, I think she was always true to herself … She was really a woman's woman."

Other lawmakers recalled Geo-Karis' fierce patriotism for her adopted country. She immigrated to the United States from Greece at age 4. She later served as a lieutenant commander in the U.S. Naval Reserves, and in recent years said she remained ready for active duty if America needed her in the Middle East.

"I love my country - this is my adopted country," Geo-Karis said in a 2003 interview with the Daily Herald. "I'm subject to that call anytime they want me and I'll go. I might have to sit behind a desk because of my legs, but I think I could be helpful. I'm a good administrator. I'd go, absolutely, drop everything and go."

During her later years in office, the spring sessions frequently spilled over past the May 31 deadline and lawmakers would find themselves in session on Memorial Day. Geo-Karis organized an annual salute to the General Assembly's veterans, stopping proceedings to sing "God Bless America" and let those who served explain what military service meant to them.

State Sen. Bill Peterson, a Long Grove Republican and Army veteran, recalled one contentious session spilling past midnight and Geo-Karis patiently waiting for the partisan tempers to subside so the ceremony could begin.

"We ended up doing the program at like 2 o'clock in the morning. Everyone was kind of bleary eyed but she was raring to go," said Peterson.

But Geo-Karis' health had deteriorated in recent years, and she was hospitalized several times. In 2005 she spent five days hospitalized with pneumonia, only to immediately return to the Capitol, oxygen tank in tow.

"I got tired of the hospital. I'm not a hospital type," she told the Daily Herald.

It was also clear she had no plans of retiring.

"I'll retire when God retires me, not before," she told the Daily Herald during an interview marking her 85th birthday.

However, her political career ended unceremoniously in 2006. Fearing Geo-Karis could be ripe for political upset in an increasingly Democratic Lake County, Republicans fielded a primary challenger, in part due to an apparent misunderstanding over whether Geo-Karis was going to step aside. Instead, she ran again, creating a rift within Republican ranks.

When she lost the primary, she was so angered by her treatment she lent her support to Democrat Michael Bond, who went on to win the Senate seat Geo-Karis had held for decades.

Privately, many area Democrats said if Geo-Karis had been starting her political career this decade, she would have been an ideal suburban candidate. She supported abortion rights and had a moderate voting record on most social issues. Her legislative agenda focused almost entirely on local issues.

"She was a moderate Republican," said former Republican Gov. James Thompson, who described Geo-Karis as his "political mother." "Not a lot of those left these days, or not as many as there should be ... She was a great lady."

In 2006, Senate President Emil Jones Jr., a Chicago Democrat who began his career alongside Geo-Karis, led efforts to rename Illinois Beach State Park after Geo-Karis, saying the miles of trails were fitting for a suburban political trailblazer.

"She had a very fruitful and successful career that she thoroughly enjoyed," said state Sen. Terry Link, a Waukegan Democrat. "It was her life. I hope everybody remembers her for that and what she did for people and how she treated people."

Former state senator and Democrat Comptroller Dawn Clark Netsch hoped people would remember the Geo-Karis' flair for life. Netsch recalled the gala Greek parties Geo-Karis hosted at the governor's mansion during the 1980s, where lawmakers could put aside differences.

Similarly, Netsch found the 1973 softball game a fitting symbol of Geo-Karis' tenure. Netsch too played in the game.

"Just a sense of fun and camaraderie," she said of Geo-Karis. "Which is something that is absolutely essential to make the process work and I gather is lacking from the process these days."

Daily Herald staff writers Amber Krosel and Nick Shields contributed to this report