Please offer your prayers and condolences to the family of Mark Whittinghill. Mark died suddenly Sunday evening of a heart attack. Mark was the Quarterback, Captain and team leader of the 1977 Public League Championship team and was the All-State selection at Quarterback that year. Mark served as an Assistant Coach at Lane for the better part of the last decade. Mark's passion and enthusiasm filled every room that he entered and the Lane Tech Family will miss one of its key members.
Mark's full-page obituary in the Chicago Sun-Times can be found here:
Mark A. Whittinghill and loving companion, Michelle Levy, shared a passion for Lane Tech High School football.
When daybreak dawns tomorrow, how will my love find me?
Will it be in the warm sunlight that touches my cheek and welcomes me to another day?
Will it be in the hearty embrace that lets me know how deeply I am loved by thee?
Will it be in the reassuring voice that gives me protection from whatever troubles may find their way to me?
Or, will it be in the enduring smile that touches my very soul and the kiss upon my cheek that assures me of thy own true love?
When daybreak dawns tomorrow, each of us gathered here this morning will share a commonality.
We will miss the tender touch, the hearty embrace, and the reassuring voice.
We will long for the enduring smile and the kiss upon our cheek.
For when daybreak dawns tomorrow we will have somehow made it through the first full week since we bid farewell to Mark Anthony Whittinghill.
Not much of a milestone. But, considering all that we have been through since Father’s Day evening—when Mark was called back home so suddenly to Our Father—perhaps we must count on our ability to cope with this great loss in days at a time rather than trying to see too far, or deal with too much, into the future.
And so, we gather together this morning to remember, honor, and celebrate the life of our beloved Mark: a devoted father, son, brother, nephew, cousin, colleague, friend, and coach.
On behalf of this congregation here present, I extend my heartfelt sympathies to Mark’s children, Gabrielle, Kaitlyn, and Amanda; his mother, Annabelle; his brothers, Robert and Richard; his loving companion, Michelle, and to all his extended family.
We thank you for allowing us to reflect on the life of someone who was truly special; someone who had so many gifts and who shared them so freely with others; someone who has left an indelible mark on all of us.
As I span across the congregation this morning and reflect back on the hundreds of people who attend yesterday’s wake service; I see the faces of the people whose lives were forever changed by God’s unique gift to us—the gift of Mark Whittinghill.
I see the faces of Mark’s boyhood friends and family from Little Italy, Taylor Street, and the Near West Side. No matter what name you might prefer to give this place called “home” it bears a people that gather together like no other both in good times and in bad.
For it was here that the promise of who Mark was to be first took shape. From his childhood days at Our Lady of Pompeii School to the ball fields of Peanut Park, Sheridan Park, and McClaren School, Mark honed his craft as a future entrepreneur and as an athlete and more importantly endured the trials and tribulations of youth that would guarantee lasting friendships and lessons well learned that would carry on throughout his lifetime.
Life on Taylor Street in the 1970s was no picnic. We were years away from the Toney developments that have brought escalating home values and a yearning to move back into the City.
In fact, just the opposite was taking place. Families were still leaving the area in droves and what we lacked in sparkling gymnasiums, playing fields and after school programs, we made up for with a deep and abiding love for one another and a belief that we were somehow going to make it: TOGETHER.
I see the faces of Mark’s teammates and coaches from Lane Tech High School. Did anyone ever wear the colors of the green and gold any prouder than did Mark?
It has been said that once you have left it all on the playing field you develop a bond with your teammates that could only be rivaled by those in the military. A true “band of brothers” no doubt.
Who can ever forget that magical season of 1977 when, with Mark at the helm at quarterback, the Lane Tech Indians captured the Public League Championship with a stunning 49-6 victory over Prosser High School and finished the season with a stellar 11-1 record?
It didn’t matter that for the final game of the season it was twenty degrees out at frigid Soldier Field or that the Indians came up a bit short to St. Rita in the Prep Bowl. What mattered then, and what matters now, is that friendships were formed that have lasted for nearly thirty years and that legacies have been created.
I see the faces of co-workers and clients who benefited from Mark’s extraordinary work ethic, honesty, and integrity. With Sam Baldassano at his side and a friend’s borrowed station wagon to help make their first door-to-door deliveries possible, Mark and Sam set out on the American dream—to launch their own business.
After years of hard work their Chicago Area Distributing Co. merged with a company with over fifty years of success in Chicago—Sprague Distributing Co. led by Art Di Leonardi. Today, Sprague is one of the Midwest’s most successful distributing companies and stands for the finest qualities America’s small businesses have been most proud of.
I look out this morning and I see the faces of our youth.
I see members of the Maine South High School and traveling soccer teams of which Gabrielle plays a lead role and which have been embraced over the years by Mark. As Gabrielle rose through the ranks and accomplished feats on the soccer field similar to her dad’s many years before, Mark embraced the many tournaments and road trips as if they were his World Cup, with every game having mattered.
I see the faces of Kaitlyn’s fellow cheerleaders and her courage to stand before us this morning and profess her love and that of her sister’s for their beloved father; and I see Amanda’s many classmates and all of the girl’s teachers throughout the years. They have come in gratitude for Mark’s dedication to his daughters and for his thoughtfulness in making every “Teacher’s Day” special with gifts of pizza for a job well done.
I see the current and former Lane Tech players who have benefited from Mark’s passion for the game of football, his knowledge of X’s and O’s, his devotion to his alma mater, and most importantly, his belief in giving back in order to make the world a better place.
I can envision his patience in teaching the three step drop and how to throw a tight spiral fifty yards downfield; the importance of being mentally and physically prepared for the next game; and the core belief that athletic talent is a God-given gift and that one should respect his body and not succumb to the pressures and lure of success in an age rampant with steroid use.
Finally, I close my eyes and I see the people who are most difficult to envision: the working poor, the destitute, and the marginalized of society.
I see people who had a helping hand extended to them: The same helping hand that we became so familiar with whenever we needed reassurance, protection, and guidance.
I see Mark offering someone a job and a second chance at life.
I see Mark putting his arms around a friend’s shoulder and softly saying, “I’ve been there. Come, walk with me. I’ll help you find your way back.”
And, I see things beyond my wildest dreams.
I first met Mark Whittinghill more than thirty years ago and like all of you, I loved him deeply and thought I knew him well.
Then Mark died, and I set out to write his obituary. And I started asking questions and I started hearing stories.
I heard Sam Baldassano tell about a stack of papers he found on Mark’s desk one holiday season complete with the names of families living in the Robert Taylor Homes. Mark had somehow gotten the list from the Chicago Housing Authority and set out on his own, quietly and without fanfare, to put together food and gift baskets for the needy and personally hand delivering them before Christmas.
Now, close your eyes for a moment and picture this: Mark pulling up to 19th and State, carrying a basket brimming with food and gifts, knocking hard on the door of complete strangers, and with that big, beautiful smile bellowing out “Merry Christmas!”
I heard current Lane Tech football coach Rich Rio tell the story of how, after his own brother and Mark’s football coach, Ron, had come out of retirement in 1997 for one more season, only to die tragically of a massive heart attack later that winter, Mark had gathered the captains of the 1977 team and asked Coach Rich to take over for his brother.
Coach Rio described Mark as “the most caring person I have ever been around in my life. I’ve never seen anyone enjoy giving to others more than Mark did.”
Coach went on to say that “Mark was compassionate, intelligent, and a smart businessman. He was a teacher and a mentor and he taught the kids not only within the framework of football but within the framework of life.”
I heard Joan Marcum Fernandez tell of how Mark would bound his way up to the back porch of her home looking for her son, Bobby, and call out loudly:
“Who’s your whoozit?”
And, Joan would answer, “and who’s your turtle-dove?”
Mark would reply with love and laughter, “You are!”
This past April 13, on what would have been Bobby’s 48th birthday, Joanie got a phone call. When she answered the phone, she heard someone ask, “Who’s your whoozit?”
Followed by five straight “I love you’s” and a story of how Mark went to the cemetery that morning on Bobby’s birthday and how he wanted to call and tell Joanie that he was thinking about her and how much he loved her.
I heard life-long friend Tony Acosta tell the story of the time he and Mark were driving aimlessly down West Madison Street one day when it was still Skid Row. Tony turned to Mark and asked, “Why are we driving down here by all these bums?”
Mark replied, “They’re not bums” and pulled over next to a Skid Row flophouse. “Wait right here,” he told Tony.
A few moments later Mark returned with a disheveled looking man.
“Go ahead, ask him a math question. A difficult one.”
Tony was puzzled but went along. “What’s 287 times 136?”
Before Tony could even begin to consider the answer the man had the problem solved.
“Now, ask him to divide for you,” Mark told Tony.
A few minutes later, over a hot lunch, Tony learned that he was speaking to a former highly successful LaSalle Street accountant who had fallen on hard times after his wife had left him.
“They’re not bums,” Mark reminded Tony.
Mark’s loving companion, Michelle, recalled the first time they met more than seven years ago.
“I was working at Lane Tech and I was gathering sponsors for the annual “Y-Me” Breast Cancer Walk, in honor of my mother, when I saw Mark sitting in the Athletic Department office. He asked me what I was doing and within seconds I had the largest gift ever for the walk-a-thon.”
I said to myself, “what an awesome person.”
Michelle recalled how Mark would enjoy inviting their 86-year-old and 88-year-old neighbors over for dinner and how he would just enjoy listening to their stories and admired how much they still were in love with one another.
Michelle told me that Mark’s favorite book was Dr. Seuss’s “All the Places We Could Go.”
And, indeed he did his best to follow that dream. How he enjoyed taking his three daughters on vacation with family members and Michelle along as well.
Artie shared with us some wonderful fishing stories and Tony recalled
leading a bewildered Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame quarterback Bart Starr through some twenty something train cars during the Bears 1986 Super Bowl appearance in New Orleans so that Mark could meet his boyhood idol.
Many of you know how hard Mark had worked recently on the renovation of his home. Last night, many of the laborers who helped to complete the home over the past eleven months attended the service and with tears in their eyes, told Michelle how much they had loved Mark because he had treated them like family.
One of the crowning touches to the home was a piece of stained glass which Mark designed.
It bears the colors of green and gold (no surprise there) and depicts the image of two turtle doves carrying a ribbon with the inscription: “Live, Laugh, Love, and Learn.”
Did anyone follow this creed better than Mark?
Did anyone live life to the fullest more than he did?
Mark had a boundless energy and a determination to strive for being the best. He found a way to enjoy life through each life that he touched and each life that touched him in return.
Did anyone laugh more heartedly than Mark?
His presence filled a room, but more importantly, when he set his eyes on you, you were the most important thing in his life. Mark not only laughed the loudest but took us along for the ride—sharing his zest for life with us.
Did anyone ever love better than Mark?
In February, a large group of us gathered at Notre Dame Church just up the street for a Mass commemorating Bobby Marcum’s 20th anniversary of his death.
I had not seen Mark in some time but when he embraced me during the “sign of peace” I couldn’t have felt more loved in my life.
At the cemetery, Mark shared with us some eloquent words about how he kept Bobby’s memory alive in his heart each and every day.
He also spoke of his relationship with God and how much he felt loved by Him.
Mark hugged and kissed everyone he knew. That unabashed love extended beyond the love he had for his children, his family, and especially the tenderness he showed over the years to his nephew, Mathew. And none of us ever felt the least bit ashamed—not the toughest or most macho amongst us.
Did anyone ever learn more than Mark?
He took the hard scrabble lessons of life and molded himself into an “A-plus” father, family member, businessman, mentor, and friend.
He was a self-learner and knew the ways of the street.
Mark took family values and brought them to a whole new level.
And so, in closing, where does all of this leave us?
I wish I had the answer for I would gladly share it with you.
But, I too, struggle with his sudden passing and that fact that I must face tomorrow without him physically at my side.
I would like to offer this suggestion and ask you for a special favor:
Early on, I spoke of how that magical football season in 1997 created legacies.
Starting today, and going forward each one of us here present must be responsible for something: preserving and emulating the legacy of Mark Anthony Whittinghill.
The Book of Psalms says: “All the days ordained to me were written in Your book before one of them came to be.”
Yes, indeed, Mark left us too soon. We are shocked by his passing and saddened that we will not have him in our physical presence in the days and years that follow.
Yet, if we recall all of the gifts that Mark gave us in his short but impactive life, we will get through the pain and suffering, and more importantly we will carry Mark in our hearts forever.
Now for that special request. I know in my heart that Mark is with us here this morning. He has heard the prayers and petitions and our remembrances.
All through his life, Mark showered us with gifts. It is only fitting to return those favors.
From this day forward, I ask that every time a kind deed comes your way, think of Mark.
Every time you have the opportunity to help someone in need—do it! And, think of Mark.
Every time someone showers you with love—be grateful! And, think of Mark.
Stay close to Mark’s family. Encircle your love around Gabrielle. Kaitlyn and Amanda. Nurture them and protect them as Mark would have done.
Stay close to them and to one another. Enjoy the days that follow for they will get easier and brighter. Lean on one another when the storm clouds reappear. For they will and it is much easier to face them together than alone.
Finally, be good. Be good people. Be good to one another and to others.
Sometime down the road, when the Good Lord calls each of us home, there will be someone peeking out from behind the pearly gates. He won’t be able to hold back his excitement when he sees you approaching.
St. Peter will say to him, “be patient.” And there, with open arms (right behind the Lord, or course!), will be Mark.
Mark, I know you can hear us. Thank you for all that you have done for us: For the many gifts of friendship, laughter, courage, and generosity.
Know that we will continue to depend on you for guidance and love.
Thank you again, Mark. Thank you for everything.
May the Good Lord bless you and keep you close to His heart. We promise that we will always do the same.
Coach Mark Whittinghill at the 2004 Prep Bowl