Wednesday, November 26, 2014

R.I.P. Jon Mendelson

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For much of my life, I've remembered November 22 as the day John F. Kennedy was assassinated. From this day forward, that event is dwarfed by a more recent loss--the day the world lost Jon Mendelson.

I just learned of his passing. I am profoundly saddened for his family, especially his wife Judy who was in every way his soul mate. This is such a loss not only to Jon and Judy's friends, and everyone who knew him but to those who hadn't yet had the pleasure. 

Jon Mendelson was a retired biology professor at Governors State University, University Park, IL. He was a teacher who embodied the true meaning of the word--as both the noun and the verb. Everyone, with whom he came in contact, was better for it. He exuded knowledge like no one else I've ever met. He easily shared what he knew. Moreover, he not only talked the talk, but he walked the walk. 

Jon was a driving force, not just for education, but for conservation, preservation, and the very connection of man to nature, obvious in the nearly 1,000 acres of Thorn Creek Woods in Park Forest. Jon was personally acquainted with the trees, bushes, ponds, streams, native wildflowers and wildlife within the now-preserved forest. Jon and Judy followed in the footsteps of the late Jim and Mary Lou Marzuki, who were instrumental in the early protection of this unique urban sanctuary. Jon was not just knowledgeable about the gullies, ridges, and waterways created thousands of years ago; he was the expert.

I first met Jon when I was studying the environmental effects of the proposed airport development near Peotone. Though we were just acquaintances, I felt a profound connection to him and all he stood for. Jon was inspiring. He made me want to know more about the environment. He was a good man who cared about all the right things. He was humble, brilliant, and hard-working. Nature was his passion. In my view, he represented the very best of the human race. 

I specifically remember one year in the mid-90's. It was Earth Day. I had recently been awakened to global environmental issues such as destruction of habitat, oil spills, and potential nuclear calamity, to name a few. I felt a need to renew my own connection with nature, so I decided to go for one of the many walks/tours Jon conducted through Thorn Creek Woods. I was so impressed by his knowledge and mesmerized by the way he communicated with the mid-sized group on the tour, especially the children. He changed my own focus of individual destructive acts by mankind toward the larger, more serene picture of the earth and its life cycle. He pointed out rocks that have stood for centuries, since the glaciers dropped them right where they stood. He spoke of oak and hickory trees planted in the 1800's. He spoke of the flora and fauna as if they were his dear, old friends. I left that day feeling exhilarated and anxious to learn more about the world around me. 

I no longer live in the area. I haven't seen Jon in years, but I will always remember the sound of his voice, the way he laughed. I will forever be touched by the fact that I knew him, a fact that makes me proud. 

It is with great sadness that I recognize his passing. Rest in peace Jon. We are all better for having known you.
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