December 14, 2012
By Chris Dettro
When the sons and daughters of the late Richard “Dick” Gillespie gather this Christmas, they’ll have a special reason to celebrate and remember the life of their father.
On Friday, Richard Gillespie’s son and daughter represented the family in receiving two items — a bronze plaque and a large framed photograph — that honored their father for his involvement with the recently closed Jacksonville Developmental Center.
The plaque and photograph were obtained from the center by the office of Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon through the state Department of Human Services.
“We’re quite pleased,” said Carol Forestier, one of Richard Gillespie’s daughters.
The family — sons Tom and Tim, daughters Carol and Mary Kohlrus and sons of their late brother, Mike — plan to put the plaque on their father’s tombstone at Calvary Cemetery in Springfield. The photograph, which hung in the administration building, likely will end up with Mary, who lives in the family home, Carol said.
Dick Gillespie’s brother, Donald, was a resident of JDC, and Dick and his wife, Lorraine, would go with their children every Saturday to visit “Uncle Donald.”
“He became very involved in the whole system for the mentally challenged because of that,” Tom said. Both Gillespie and his wife served on the board of SPARC in Springfield.
“He would do anything for the residents,” Tom said. “He knew them by name, and he’d always go with a goodie bag of whatever they liked. He knew who liked spearmint gum, for example.”
Gillespie also would take Donald, his friends and other residents to McDonald’s and help them celebrate birthdays.
“We were devastated for the families when we heard the center was going to be closed,” Carol said. “We knew what it was like be the family of someone who is mentally challenged.”
Tom said the family started trying to acquire the plaque, which reads “In memory of Richard ‘Dick’ Gillespie for years of service as a true and faithful friend” — as soon as they heard JDC would be closing.
The residence hall that bore the plaque was built in World War II to house disabled veterans, Tom said. It was dedicated to Richard Gillespie in 1982, a year after his death.
“It was our big concern that when something empties, stuff starts getting stripped from it,” Tom said. He said the last 13 residents to leave JDC lived in the residence hall dedicated to his father.