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Alice Racher

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Alice Racher Obituary
Alice Bro Racher, M.D., anthropologist, physician, lover of literature, and long-time Park Forester, died Sunday, July 20, 2014. She was 90. Born to educational missionary parents in the alpine village of Kuling, Jiangxi Province, China, Alice traveled the world but always returned to Park Forest, the community she lived in and loved for 56 years. She was raised and went to high school in Hyde Park on Chicago's south side. Her parents, forced by the Great Depression and its impact on church economics to leave their mission school in China, were working at the University of Chicago, making friends among scholars and exposing Alice and her brothers to teachers and thinkers and the world of academia. She began college in Mt. Carroll, Illinois, at Shimer College, then an all-girls junior college where her father then served as president. She earned a B.A. at age 19 from Drake University, where her uncle was president, and an M.A. in anthropology from the University of Chicago in 1948. Alice played basketball, golf and tennis at various points as a youth and young adult. Her ultimate sports passion was the Chicago Cubs. Alice was an enthusiastic fan of the 1930s-40s Cub third baseman Stan Hack and generations of successive Cubs players. As a young anthropologist in training at the U. of C., Alice consulted with the Chicago police helping identify human skeletal remains. She taught university anthropology courses and was influenced by psychologist William Sheldon and his theories about the connections between human morphology and human psychology, intelligence and behavior. Her interest in physical anthropology ultimately led her to the College of Medicine at the University of Nebraska in Omaha, where she graduated in 1953, one of a handful of women in the graduating class. Alice entered graduate school and medicine at a time when women were uncommon or shunned in many professions. She remembered the sting of being denied research or teaching jobs that were reserved for men. As an applicant for medical school, Alice was told by one dean that she was being denied admission despite her academic eligibility as the university already had filled its quota of two women for the entering class (Alice's husband, Manny Racher, who had sought admission to that same medical school, was admitted). Discrimination helped mold Alice's feminist ideals. She assessed political candidates based largely on their support for women's rights and racial equality. She supported the League of Women Voters and EMILY's List, contributed to campaigns of women politicians, and served the Park Forest Women's Conference and the National Council of Jewish Women. She mentored many young Park Forest women considering professional careers, encouraging them to persevere despite discrimination in the workplace and academia. Alice and Manny married September 7, 1947. They first visited Park Forest in 1949. Years later, Alice recalled the mud and construction camp look of the village that vintage year, but she and Manny liked the openness and egalitarian spirit of village pioneers and the easy access to inexpensive housing, good schools, and other amenities. The Rachers moved into a rental unit on Dogwood in 1954, joined Congregation Beth Sholom, and four years later settled on Monee Road where they resided for the next 52 years. Alice practiced medicine in the Chicago area for nearly three decades. She divided her working schedule between the University of Illinois Hospitals and the Cook County Public Health Department and at Project Head Start day care programs and children's clinics in East Chicago Heights. Alice provided medical care for generations of women and children in some of the poorest neighborhoods in the south suburbs. Officially, the Rachers raised only three children. But there is a long list of foreign exchange students, teens and young adults who sojourned through the Racher residence and regarded Alice and Manny as surrogate parents. Alice attracted young people because of her interest in their ideas, her tolerance, and her humor and optimism. Alice was an inveterate volunteer. She held leadership positions in PTAs at Park Forest schools, served on the Park Forest Health & Welfare Advisory Committee, actively supported the Park Forest Art Center (now known as the Tall Grass Arts Association), chaired the social action committee at Beth Sholom, and served on the board of Shimer College, among other activities. Alice and Manny were inducted into the Park Forest Hall of Fame in 1996. The organization to which Alice gave her most devoted volunteer service was the Park Forest Public Library. Alice was a ravenous reader. She served nearly 30 years as an elected member of the library board of trustees and also served as board president. In 2011, library colleagues, having already awarded Alice the title "Trustee Emeritus," named one of the library reading rooms in her honor. Alice wrote book reviews for Footnotes, the quarterly newsletter of Friends of the Park Forest Library. She began one review as a menu: fiction for appetizer, nonfiction for the entrée, mysteries for dessert. Her concluding line: "OK, your literary meal is over. Go get an after-dinner drink." Fellow library board member Joan Larsen described Alice at her retirement from the library board in 2004: "Her quiet dignity, her intelligence, her ability to get down to brass tacks and move ever forward made her a shoo-in for Library Board president by the early `80s. Alice's forthrightness in speaking up on her strongly held beliefs have always kept the board on its toes in vital times. There was no doubt: when Alice spoke, everyone listened - and no one forgot. But when things were tense, or the board was lagging a bit on a late night, we could always count on Alice for a sudden dose of much needed levity with her flashes of the wildest wit ever heard in the Ringering Room of the library." Alice loved poetry. She assembled an extensive poetry and literature library, with volumes by and about modernist and pre-modernists poets. She collected poetry in Russian and Chinese, believing that literature of other cultures revealed the world's diversity as well as its commonality. She often recalled that as a child she had met the Springfield, Illinois poet Vachel Lindsay and heard him recite his work while holding her on his lap. She team-taught adult education poetry classes at Governors State University. Alice visited almost every continent and every U.S. state. She eventually returned to her birthplace in China, encountering the village where her family had lived and the town where her parents ran their mission school. Alice's favorite summer destination was the rural community of Cable, Wisconsin, 500 miles from Park Forest, where her grandfather had served twenty years as pastor of the U.C.C. Church and where she spent part of her childhood and retained life-long friendships. Alice and Manny owned a summer home on Cable Lake and spent many summers congregating with their children, friends, and a large extended family. Alice was uncommonly devoted to friends and considered friendship to be among life's greatest blessings. She also treasured family. In 2000 she edited "Blest Be The Ties That Bind," a collection of writings about her family history, which she gave everyone in her extended family with a connection to Cable, encouraging all to cherish their history and linkage to that place and to one another. Alice never held elective office, other than as trustee of the Park Forest library, but she volunteered in multiple campaigns for local, statewide and national office seekers, often hosting campaign fund raisers at her home on Monee Road. In 2010, when physical ailments made it impossible for the Rachers to remain at home, they moved to Sunrise of Flossmoor, an assisted living facility north of Park Forest. The Rachers received extraordinary care from the devoted Sunrise staff and made new friends among residents and care givers. Manny died in 2011. Alice missed him beyond words. She continued making the annual summer road trip to Cable Lake but in 2013 she fell, broke a leg, and was unable to make her northward pilgrimage. In recent months Alice had spoken with increasing urgency of the need to pack her bags, catch her next flight, and be on her way. Alice is survived by a brother, Andrew H. Bro of Lake Carroll, Illinois; sister-in-law Lu Bro of Lake Carroll; sister-in-law and life-long friend June Avis Bro of Virginia Beach, Virginia; three children: David (and Susan) Racher of Miami, Anne Boguslavsky (and Mario Cesare) of Glenview, Illinois, and Peter Racher (and Sarah Binford) of Indianapolis; seven grandchildren; one great granddaughter; another great granddaughter due in January; and a large number of cousins, nieces and nephews. A memorial to Alice Racher will be held at 11 a.m. on Sunday, August 24, at the Park Forest Public Library, 400 Lakewood Blvd., Park Forest, IL 60466. In lieu of flowers, the Racher family asks that contributions be made to the Friends of the Park Forest Library, or to the Cable Lake Association, c/o Treasurer, 11217 North Oakwood Dr., Unit 27, Peoria, IL 61615.
Published in a Chicago Tribune Media Group Publication on July 29, 2014
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