By Bob Uphues
The late Lillian M. Baar, a longtime Riverside resident and the mother of the late Judy Baar Topinka, will be inducted into the Morton College Hall of Fame on April 20.
While most local residents are more familiar with Baar's daughter, who served in the Illinois General Assembly, as state treasurer and comptroller and was a Republican Party nominee for governor, Baar was pioneer in her own right.
The 2018 honorees will be just the second group inducted into the Morton College Hall of Fame. The inaugural group, inducted in early 2017, included musician/songwriter Jim Peterik and brothers Joseph and Paul Sisco.
A 1939 graduate of Morton College, Joseph Sisco was an expert on the Soviet Union and Middle East who worked in the U.S. State Department in the 1970s. Paul Sisco was a pioneering broadcast journalist, who during his career with UPI and ABC covered events including Lee Harvey Oswald's assassination by Jack Ruby and the resignation of President Richard Nixon.
In addition to Baar, the 2018 inductees include longtime Berwyn residents Ed and Mary Karasek, 1975 Morton College graduate Joni Phillips and 1951 graduate Bill Vendl.
The late Mary Karasek was a former Morton College trustee who was the longtime Berwyn city treasurer. Her husband, Ed, was a Berwyn Park District commissioner for 51 years prior to his death.
Phillips, a nursing graduate of the college went on to graduate from DePaul University and founded NovaStaff Healthcare services, a medical staffing agency, and is the most generous benefactor to DePaul athletics in the university's history.
Vendl is the only Morton College graduate to compete in the Olympics. He competed in the modern pentathlon at the 1956 Summer Olympics and is enshrined in the International Modern Pentathlon Hall of Fame in Stockholm, Sweden.
The daughter of Czech immigrants, Baar attended Morton College (then housed inside Morton East High School in Cicero) in the 1930s. She married William Baar in 1943 and founded Lillian Baar Realty while her husband served overseas in the U.S. Army.
"Lillian was the youngest woman to start a real estate business in the area at the time while also being, in effect, a single mother for her daughter, Judy, while her husband was serving his country," wrote Barr's grandson, Joseph Baar Topinka, in nominating Baar for the award. "She worked very hard at selling houses in a business where women did not typically work."
After the war, Lillian and William worked side by side at Baar & Baar Realty, and Lillian Baar threw herself into a host of business, charitable and service organizations. She served as president of the West Towns Board of Realtors and Dialogue with the Blind.
As a member of the Cermak Road Businessman's Association, according to her grandson, Baar and longtime Brookfield resident Norm Scaman founded the annual Berwyn-Cicero International Houby Festival and Parade, which continues to this day every fall on Cermak Road.
"It was always about immigrants," Topinka said, in assessing why the parade, in communities now predominantly Hispanic, still has meaning beyond its strong Czech roots.
Baar was the first woman to serve as president of the Cermak Road Businessman's Association, said Topinka, and was its only three-term president.
"She was an outstanding Realtor and public official," said Richard Dolejs, a fellow Realtor who became a fast friend over the years. "No matter who you talked to, Lillian Baar was known as a strong force and was respected among everyone in the community."
In addition, Baar was active in Ceska Beseda, Ladies Aid of the Bohemian Home for the Aged, the Riverside Chamber of Commerce, Sokol Tabor and American Legion Post 422.
Following her death at the age of 72 in 1988, Baar's husband and longtime Berwyn political figure Charlie Slezak created the Lillian Mary Baar Memorial Scholarship at Morton College. The $1,000 is given annually to a woman seeking an associate's degree with a focus on or concentration in accounting or business management.
"Lillian saw the importance of a college education, even though at the time it was uncommon for women to attend college," Topinka said in his nomination letter. "She took as many college classes as she could until she became one of the only income earners of her family during the Great Depression."
Judy Baar Topinka created the William Baar Memorial Scholarship after the death of her father in 1998 at Triton College.
Tickets for the Morton College Hall of Fame induction dinner go on sale next week. To purchase tickets, click here.
This story has been updated to include Bill Vendl as a 2018 Hall of Fame inductee, add a link for ticket sales and correct the date of the event.