Originally published Jan. 10, 1993
Hoping to gain a measure of independence and financial security, Dick and Lynn Ehlenfeldt raided their savings a year ago and bought a fast-food restaurant in Palatine.
The Brown's Chicken & Pasta franchise they bought quickly became the focus of their lives, and they worked doggedly to make their investment pay. Their hard work was paying off with a successful business, friends and neighbors say, but their dream took a deadly twist Friday when they were gunned down with five employees in their restaurant.
As the shock of their deaths hit Saturday, neighbors, friends and business acquaintances recalled a couple willing to work hard to see their dreams realized.
"The whole family was involved in working there," said neighbor Colette Urban. "They've been very busy with the restaurant, they were there constantly."
The Arlington Heights couple, natives of Wisconsin, bought the business last year after Dick Ehlenfeldt had been laid off from his job with a Chicago cable television company.
"He wanted to go into his own business to earn his livelihood," said neighbor John Bruce. Before moving to Illinois in the mid-1980s, Dick Ehlenfeldt was active in Wisconsin politics. He served as a top aide to Wisconsin Gov. Martin J. Schreiber in the late 1970s, and in 1976 Ehlenfeldt helped run Jimmy Carter's successful election campaign in Wisconsin.
He later began working for Westinghouse Broadcasting in its cable television operations before being laid off. Once he entered the restaurant business, Dick Ehlenfeldt, 50, tackled his new job with tenacity, typically working 12 to 14 hours a day.
"He'd practically live there. I'd see him leave here about 9a.m. and he'd get home about 10:30 or 11 p.m.," Bruce said, whose son shoveled snow for the couple. Lynn, 49, a former saleswoman, also worked long days at the restaurant.
"Both Lynn and Dick ran the place," said Bruce's wife, Patty.
The Ehlenfeldts' two younger daughters, Joy, 18, and Dana, 20, both college students, sometimes helped out at the restaurant as well during breaks from school, neighbors and relatives said. A third daughter; Jennifer, 23, lives in Wisconsin.
"They're a close-knit family," Patty Bruce said, "and a very, very hard working family." Urban and others said the couple, who had lived in the neighborhood for about nine years, was outgoing and friendly.
"They were terrific people. I'm just numb," Urban said. "I just feel terrible. I wish there was something I could do." A restaurant employee said Dick Ehlenfeldt went out of his way to accommodate his workers when they wanted to change shifts or take a day off.
"He's a really nice guy," Jason Georgi, 17, said. "He doesn't give anyone a hard time. He's always trying to make people feel comfortable."
"I don't know of anything they could have done that could have provoked something like this," Patty Bruce said. "It really saddens me. The world is not a pretty place sometimes."