By Bob Uphues
Less than a week before he was killed in a head-on crash on I-57 near Bourbonnais, Riverside native Oscar Valdovinos visited his old music mentor from Riverside-Brookfield High School, Kevin McOlgan, at McOlgan's Forest Park home.
Apart from getting caught up, the 23-year-old Valdovinos had a request for McOlgan: Could the former high school music teacher learn a song to play for his mom on her birthday? The song was the Edith Piaf standard "La Vie en Rose," which translates to "life through rosy glasses."
"We always had a really good understanding of each other," said McOlgan, who said Valdovinos played alto saxophone in RBHS' concert band and marching band during his four years at the school. "He was someone all the kids just loved in band. He was such an important part of our family there."
On Feb. 11, Valdovinos was killed after he lost control of his vehicle while driving southbound on I-57 in Kankakee County and crashed head-on into a semi-trailer tractor.
The Illinois State Police identified Valdovinos as a resident of Champaign. Valdovinos, said McOlgan, had been attending the Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and was excited to be finishing up his degree this semester.
"He said he had one class left to complete," McOlgan said. "I'm really distraught over this."
State police reported that Valdovinos was driving a 2006 Honda Accord on I-57 at about milepost 317, near Bourbonnais at about 7:25 p.m., when the vehicle went off the roadway across the center median and into the path of a northbound 2007 Freightliner semi driven by a 48-year-old Ypsilanti, Michigan, man.
Valdovinos was pronounced dead at the scene. The semi driver was not injured.
McOlgan described Valdovinos as smart, sensitive and a deep thinker who loved American jazz standards, like Chet Baker's version of "My Funny Valentine," which the two listened to during Valdovinos' visit a few days before his death.
During Valdovinos' senior year at RBHS, McOlgan said, Valdovinos had the opportunity to move up into the top band at the school, but decided to stay on with the concert band, "because they needed a leader."
"He mentioned he wanted to come back for lessons even last week," McOlgan said.
James Baum, RBHS' present band director who was the program's assistant when Valdovinos was at the school, called Valdovinos "a great kid."
"He had a ton of friends in band and in school," Baum said. "I ran into him about a month ago, and he told me he was still playing every once in a while.
"He was very laid back and cool, but had an energy about him. Kids wanted to be around him."
A memorial visitation for Oscar Valdovinos is being held Friday, Feb. 15 from 3 to 8 p.m. at Heritage Funeral Home, 3117 S. Oak Park Ave. in Berwyn.