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Irene L. Custer, nee Macarow, has passed on at 88 after a long neurological illness. A lifelong Chicagoan, she lived most of her life within a few blocks of her birthplace on 55th Street in Hyde Park. She was born to Polish and Russian immigrants in an enclave near the Lake Park streetcar turnaround, where her parents ran a speakeasy out of their apartment. She learned English when she started school at Ray Elementary School eventually entering the University of Chicago after working five years to pay for it. There she met, and after graduation married, Charles Custer of WaKeeney, KS with whom she recently celebrated their 61st wedding anniversary. After college, Irene and Charles traveled the country taking pictures in small city business districts. Then Charles started a TV repair and sales business back home in Hyde Park, in partnership with her late brother Ed. Charles turned his attention to the University of Chicago Law School and Irene took over the store. She also co-founded the first profitable business in Harper Court, Hyde Park's refuge from the urban renewal that had torn down every building she had grown up in. Irene's Harper Galleries was distinctive in renting paintings with credit towards purchase, so customers could live with art that interested them before committing to buy it. (Pictures were hardly ever returned.) Charles boasted that she was a natural business and marketing genius, whose gifts also contributed to the creation of the Ancona Montessori School and NOHA, and many years of fundraising and service as well to the University of Chicago Cancer Research Center Women's Board. She also nourished a lifelong interest in alternative medicine and natural health, while nurturing her family with natural foods and passionate, all-embracing life. Her many parties and joys are memorialized in hundreds of 8-millimeter movies and volumes of "baby books" that followed her children well into adulthood. She is survived by her husband Charles; her daughter Shannon and husband Bob Nelson and grandchildren Emma and Jack; her daughter Kelly Custer and grandchildren Darius and Alaris Todar and her son Charley Custer and wife Liz Davidson, along with her brother Ed's progeny, her niece Monica Van Fossen and grand-niece Sarah; her nephew Mark and wife Jeri Macarow and grand-nephew Mo, and her niece Lisa and husband James Lani. Her son Murray Custer predeceased her two years ago. A memorial service will take place at the United Church of Hyde Park, 1448 East 53rd Street, Chicago, IL 60615 at 3 p.m. on Saturday, February 19 to be followed by a reception. Memorial gifts may be made in remembrance to the United Church or the University of Chicago College Fund, 5801 South Ellis Ave., Chicago, IL 60637.
Published in a Chicago Tribune Media Group Publication on Feb. 13, 2011
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