Lifelong Wicker Park resident parishes in fire: Geraldine Baginski

Date: 
05/23/2020
5-GBaginskiStrAntonia

Gerri Baginski talking with Sister Antonia at a St. Mary's and Elizabeth Medical Center Health Fair

In the early morning of Saturday, May 23, Geraldine (Gerri) Baginski lost her life in her Wicker Park home as a result of a fire, just a day before her 77th birthday.

BurnedOutBackPotomacBldg

Just feet away, the front building was untouched by the back building fire

The fire consumed the entire interior of the back building where she lived in the 2100 block of W. Potomac. It was where she had lived since she was six or seven.

She and her sister Gloria attended St. Helen's school, 2347 W Augusta Blvd., followed by the former Holy Family Academy, before going to college. Gerri went on to DePaul obtaining her teaching degree.

Gerri's pastor at St. Helen's Church, Father Edward Cronin, said that if one-third of his parishioners had her faith, there would be nothing their church could not accomplish. 

"She was one of our greatest lecturers…she beamed each time she gave a lecture," he said. "She was a leader of the seniors group and they will be devastated. She always said 'they are not seniors, they are Golden Agers.'" 

A retired Chicago Public School teacher, she regularly had former students recognize her. They would remind her of who they were and she would launch into a story about them or what happened in school at the time they were there. 

GloriaDerengowski

Gloria Derengowski, Gerri's sister, Saturday afternoon was still in shock as she stood in front of the home in which she and her sister grewup

Among the schools at which she taught over the years were William H. Wells, 936 N. Ashland Ave., and Carl Schurz High School, 3601 N Milwaukee Ave. But her educational involvement went beyond the classroom. Her passion for CPS and its teachers even continued after her retirement. 

Beyond the world of education, she traveled around the globe for many years. She was petite, fit and stylish, concealing her chronological age.

Her regular activities after retirement were varied and included many different groups of people with different interests. The activities included going to a gym on Clark St.; staying involved in protesting on behalf of many causes; speaking up on behalf of the preservation of the Wicker Park neighborhood; keeping track of what was going on in the community and City Hall; expressing her opinions at police Beat Meetings, the Wicker Park Committee meetings and other community meetings; having fun with many friends; and expressing her opinions to politicians who she felt needed to be better educated on a multitude of issues that she was passionate about.

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Nephews Ronald (center) and Michael (right) Derengowski were cleaning up at the back of the property Saturday afternoon

"She was never insulting in her criticism, like many others were," said former 1st Ward Alderman Proco "Joe" Moreno. Though never her alderman, Moreno lived around the corner from her.  She often shared her knowledge as well as challenged some of his actions. 

Baginski was energetic and ever curious in addition to being concerned and passionate about education, Chicago, her neighborhood and most importantly, her faith, family and friends. 

She is survived by her sister, Gloria Derengowski; her two nephews Ronald and Michael and their families; and her many friends and neighbors. 

Arrangements to honor her life will be announced at some time later. 

Note: I have known Gerri since I moved into the neighborhood 44 years ago. Like so many others, I am totally shocked about losing another longtime involved community member and friend

I invite everyone who has a story or tribute to share about Gerri to send it to me. It will become part of a longer, more in depth story in her honor to be published later. If you have photos, that would be awesome too! 

Please send words and images.

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Comments

Geri Baginski

I am shocked and heartbroken by the loss of Geri, a friend and colleague. I had just spoken to her a week before this tragedy, as we commiserated about a mutual friend, who had passed away about a week before this, and which had left both of us saddened. The three of us met at the University of Chicago, and, although we taught in different disciplines, we did stay in touch over many years, enjoying a variety of activities, from exhibits at the Art Institute to excursions out of town for swimming, to dancing, spending many a night dancing well into the morning hours, seemingly, without a care in the world. During the Wicker Park Festival, her annual house sale on the sidewalk, strewn with an eclectic array of items from a bygone era, was something of an event, most of all for the enjoyment of the people, who would stop to look and talk, rather than for the actual transactions. Bastille Day, we often spent at Le Creperie or at an Alliance Francaise fete. Both of us being night owls, she was one friend I knew I could call at midnight or later and she would not fail to answer. My heart goes out to Gloria, her two sons, and grandson. Lynn Fitzgerald

Gerri Baginski

Shocking tragedy. I hope she succumbed by smoke and did not suffer. She was such a sweet, good person and deserved all the best of everything. I have known her for about fifty years and have so many delightful memories. My heartfelt condolences to Gloria and her nephews, with much love. Blessings to all and mostly to her. May God bless you and keep you Gerri. Would like to know what caused the fire. And were there smoke detectors etc. just for closure. MB

I really got to know

I really got to know Geraldine well when my family moved to Leavitt around the corner from her house seven years ago. I had known her for years prior as we lectored together at St Helen church. She became a staple at our annual pig roast, fitting right in and mingling with all the current St Helen school families. I remember when she told me that everyone calls her Gerri, but I insisted on calling her Geraldine because it was such a beautiful name, this would always make her smile. Every year on Halloween she would walk 3 bags of candy over for my kids. They loved seeing her around the neighborhood and in the sacristy prior to Sunday mass. She was one of the kindest and sweetest people I've known in Chicago, and her involvement in the community was a huge asset to us all. I will miss lectoring with her, seeing her at her occasional yard sale or around the neighborhood, and welcoming her into my home. Rest in peace Geraldine you have left a void in Wicker Park and St Helen that will not be filled.

Gerri Baginski

My husband and I met Gerri at St. Helen church and we are deeply saddened by her passing. I last spoke to Gerri by phone around Easter and I last saw her when I took my Dad to the Golden Agers Club last fall. My Dad passed away last month, so I like to think that Gerri and Bernice Jachim are teaching my Dad how to play bingo now in heaven. We miss her. God bless Gerri and her dear family. May she rest in peace and may God hold her in His loving heart.

Gerri Baginski

I was shocked to hear a story on WGN-TV on the coachhouse fire with a photo of the woman who perished. I wasn't sure but I thought I knew the woman and finally learned her name. Sure enough, I met Gerri at a meeting of Chicago Public School teachers at Navy Pier and we had lunch together after the meeting. We exchanged email addresses and Geri later joined a few of my friends and me for a play and dinner afterwards. She was very talkative and I enjoyed her company. I had no idea how much of an activist she was and wish I had had a chance to get to know her better. My sincere condolences to Gloria and Gerri's other family. I am so sorry that she has passed and know her lively spirit will be missed. I would very much like to be notified of any memorial that is planned. Love and peace, Diana

Señorita!

I send my prayers and condolences to her family and friends! I will always remember my high school Spanish I & II Teacher. Señorita Baginski! The only name we were allowed to call her, lol! Señorita Baginski was a diligent and passionate educator! Rest in Heavenly Peace.

Gerry Baginski

I met Gerry Baginski in 1985 when we went to Costa Rica as part of Northeastern IL University’s Spanish language program. We became fast friends and worked together on many projects. She was a lot of fun and I will miss her. Condolences to her sister Gloria and her two nephews!

A great teacher

I remember Ms. Baginski She was my spanish teacher at Schurz high school from 1977 -1981. She was a wonderful mentor. There were many things that I remember about her but one in particular was when I was in her class and how she would annunciate/express the Spanish language, she would stomp her feet to have us feel the pronunciation of words and that was enjoyable. God bless her. She will be missed but always remembered. ❤️

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