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William J. Sullivan, 1949-2014, Documented History of Oak Lawn

Recalled as a good husband and friend, Bill Sullivan was Vietnam War veteran, teacher and the charter director of the Oak Lawn Historical Society.

William J. Sullivan, 1949-2014, Documented History of Oak Lawn William J. Sullivan, 1949-2014, Documented History of Oak Lawn

William J. Sullivan, a long-time Oak Lawn resident and St. Catherine’s parishioner, passed away at age 64 on Jan. 13, surrounded by his family.

Bill Sullivan, as he was known to family and friends, was a Vietnam War Army veteran and a retired teacher from Ridgeland Dist. 122.

He was born in Chicago on Aug. 24, 1949 and moved to Oak Lawn with his parents in 1956. Mr. Sullivan had a passion for history and was considered a foremost authority of the Civil War.

READ South Suburban Death Notices for Jan. 21

Mr. Sullivan’s love of history began when he was 12 years old. He would go on to earn his bachelor and master degrees in the subject at Northwestern University. While a student at Northwestern, he worked for the Evanston Historical Society, according to a 1985 profile in the Chicago Tribune.

After earning his degrees, Mr. Sullivan taught at various elementary and high schools in the Chicago area, until he eventually landed a teaching assignment with Dist. 122 in 1976.

The year of the nation’s bicentennial, the budding Oak Lawn Historical Society was in dire need of a director.

"When I found out they were forming a historical society here, I just sort of walked in and never left,"  he told the Tribune. "I like to see things come alive, and I believe there is a real lesson to be learned from history."

Working out of the old Cook School, Mr. Sullivan documented Oak Lawn’s development from the late 1800s, when the village was known as Black Oaks Grove, to 1909, when the village officially became incorporated as Oak Lawn.

Mr. Sullivan loved the thrill of the chase, hunting down elusive treasures and researching Oak Lawn’s founding families in the pre-Internet age. He rallied residents into donating historic photographs, now included in the Oak Lawn Library’s community photo archives, as well as military uniforms and agricultural implements.

Through his endeavors, Mr. Sullivan provided a picture of early Oak Lawn residents, manufacturing “the glue that holds Oak Lawn together.”.

He interpreted the significance of Oak Lawn’s history for the Tribune as a “microcosm of the United States.”

“This is the place of the common people. We haven`t had any generals or presidents come from Oak Lawn--no one famous--but that`s good in a way because then we don`t have to go ga-ga over some famous person. Instead we can focus on the little people who get things done,” he said.

Mr. Sullivan was also the news director for Multimedia Cablevision Inc., a member of the Mensa International Society, and a frequent guest lecturer at various functions.

He was preceded in death by his beloved wife, Georgianna "Pepper" Sullivan. Mr. Sullivan leaves his brother-in law and sister-in-law, Alan Biedron and Carol Palmer.

Mr. Sullivan is remembered by those who loved him as a good husband and friend. His sister-in-law, Carol Palmer, noted in an online tribute:

“My sister (Pepper) loved him so. They had a very special relationship that was so special to the two of them. Bill helped her so much in life and in death. He will be missed.”

Services were held. 

Interment St. Casimir Cemetery. In lieu of flowers, his family asks that donations be made in his name to the National Kidney Foundation.

This article was updated and corrected. Our condolences to the family.

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