Bruce H. Conley

Bruce H. Conley, 60, passed away Saturday, Sept. 11, 2010, at his home,                        surrounded by his loving family. Bruce finished the race and claimed the promises of his Savior to whom he long ago gave his heart and who guided and sustained Bruce through all of his life. He has fought the good fight; he has finished the race.

Bruce Herbert Conley was born April 13, 1950, in Elburn, the youngest child of Charles and Winifred McMurray Conley. Though the family home was at the corner of Reader Street and Main Street, the whole block and the surrounding yards were open to being a young boy’s playground. Bruce would “hunt tigers,” play cowboys and Indians and spend hours swinging in his grandparent’s backyard, where sometimes he could be heard singing, “O, My Papa.”

Hayfever and allergies often limited his outdoors activities, which may have helped him learn to express himself through music and writing. In addition to dealing with his allergies, he worked hard to overcome a serious problem with stammering.

Bruce attended Elburn Grade School and Kaneland High School, where he excelled in music and graduated with the class of 1968.

He began playing coronet in the fifth grade and took private lessons at Dee Palmer’s in DeKalb. Hours of practice, in time, earned him his dream instrument, a Bach trumpet. He played it in high school and college, at many family “jam sessions” and until recently, in tribute to many veterans as they were laid to rest. As a teenager, his music took him another direction and he, along with three other boys, became The Uther Days, a rock band later also known as Denver Green. Bruce played lead guitar with Dave Johnson, Steve Gliddon and Bob Hamblen making up the rest of the band. Following graduation, he attended North Central College in Naperville, Ill., where he majored in music.

During his senior year in high school, Bruce began training as an aid at Delnor Hospital in St. Charles. There was a cute, petite blonde in the same class who quickly caught his eye, and then his heart. Kristine McConnaughay was a junior at St. Charles High School, and soon she and Bruce found that they had more in common than the aid classes at the hospital. It was young love that would one day grow into a lifetime of commitment; a love much deeper than either imagined in those early, teenage years.

Their courtship began while they were both in high school and grew as they both graduated and went off to college. After his freshman year at North Central, Bruce transferred to Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Ill., where he began studies in Mortuary Science.  Subsequently, he studied psychology at Wisconsin State University in Whitewater, Wis., and mass communication at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb before entering the U.S. Army Reserve in 1971. He returned home and was employed as an on-air announcer at WKKD-FM in Aurora.

On Oct. 7, 1972, Bruce and Kris were united in marriage at the Bethlehem Lutheran Church in St. Charles, where Kris sang to him the words he had written to the melody of “Bless This House.”

They settled into their home on South Main Street in Elburn and the everyday workings of married life. That same year, Bruce made the decision to return to his mortuary science studies and began attending Worsham College in Chicago, where he graduated in 1973 and joined his parents in the family business, becoming the third generation to do so.

Bruce and Kris moved to his grandparent’s former home, north of the funeral home, and Chuck and Winnie moved into the house on South Main Street, where Sunday dinner found four generations gathered around the table each week.

On Oct. 11, 1975, Bruce and Kris were blessed with the birth of their son, Benjamin Hale. In 1982, the birth of their daughter, Sarah Louise, made their family complete and quickly outgrowing the home they were in. In 1983, when the opportunity arose to obtain the Reeves house, Bruce moved his family across the backyard to their new home on Main Street.

Like the generations that preceded him, life was built around family (which included a large extended family and the countless families that he served), faith and Bruce’s dedication to helping the bereaved through his work and his writing.   

Throughout his career, Bruce was passionate about helping grieving children, and in 1975 he penned “Butterflies, Grandpa & Me,” a story and coloring book illustrated by his sister, Karen, and written to help explain death, grief and the funeral to children. Through the years, thousands were published and used by funeral homes, churches and hospice programs along with his later book, “Handling the Holidays,” and “Plain Paper Poems,” which contained poems written by Bruce and Karen. Bruce also wrote a number of bereavement pamphlets, several of which were translated and used in bereavement groups in South Africa. His publications, produced by Conley Publications, are still used across the country by those who are dedicated to helping grieving families.

His writing and speaking on grief attracted him to a number of self-help programs that began in the early ‘80s across the Fox Valley.  Bruce was instrumental in the founding of Compassionate Friends, Survivors of Suicide, the Widowed Persons Service, Fox Valley Hospice, and later, DeKalb Hospice, among other programs.

In 1983, he founded Elburn’s first counseling center with Dr. Del Hagin of Aurora College. That effort would grow beyond bereavement to become Conley Outreach Community Services, which incorporated as a not-for-profit organization in 1995. Bruce was always keenly aware that death brought with it many changes in the lives of families he served and saw grief-care as something that needed to go hand-in-hand with the broader scope of community services.

In the fall of 1985, that “broader scope” caused Bruce to take on the challenge of saving the old Elburn Elementary School as a community center. With the help of others, he succeeded and founded the Elburn and Countryside Community Center as a not-for-profit organization. Without the benefit of tax or municipal support afforded other Kaneland communities, the organization supported itself as a business incubator while saving the gym and playground for the children of the community.

Through much of the ‘90s, Bruce was involved in state and national associations concerned with bereavement care. In 1995, he led the first conclave between the National Hospice Organization and the National Funeral Director’s Association, and in 1998, he chaired the Association for Death Education and Counseling national conference held in Chicago. In 2000, his focus returned home to take over the West Towns Network, a tax supported program of 708 Inc., which became a service of Conley Outreach. His passion for bringing programs and services to the rural community substantially expanded the program. In 2001, Bruce joined visions with Dr. Michael Mangis and Dr. Donald Preussler of Wheaton College to create another not-for-profit organization, the Center for Rural Psychology, which took over the counseling arm of Conley Outreach to become Heartland Counseling.

Bruce’s ultimate vision for combined bereavement and community care found dimension in his dream of a barn raising on the grounds of the Ravlin homestead in Kaneville, which he acquired in 1997. Though the barn never became a reality, many of the programs and services he envisioned did evolve at the farm through the tireless efforts of volunteers who created a lush prayer garden there and made use of existing buildings to host programs and gatherings. In 2005, Bruce and Kris moved from Elburn to make their home at the Conley Outreach Farm in Kaneville. Bruce loved the quiet beauty of the farm, peaceful babble of the creek and the glory of countless sunrises and sunsets. It was an endless source of inspiration to him as he returned to his writing.

While raising his family and working for better community programs, Bruce followed in the footsteps of his parents and grandparents in a ministry of caring that served grieving families not only from his hometown of Elburn but from many surrounding communities as well. There with a caring arm of support, words of comfort and tireless effort to help, Bruce took his work and his care to schools, churches and homes; wherever he was needed.

When tragedy struck in local schools, he responded with guidance for teachers, students and parents alike, helping them to create meaningful and healing goodbyes. Through his efforts, counseling was made available to students and teachers who had been touched by tragedy. In the aftermath of those losses, he helped schools create crisis teams and programs to meet the needs of students.

Bruce was a member of the Illinois Funeral Directors Association, the National Funeral Directors Association, ADEC, Blackberry Lodge #630, AF & AM, Elburn and the Community Congregational Church, Elburn.

Bruce and Kris’ love story was nurtured by, and grew with, faith and loving family ties; enriched and strengthened by an unshakable belief in God’s plan for their lives. Bruce wrote countless songs and stories that left special memories in the hearts of his children, niece, nephews and friends. There were songs of faith, songs for travel and adventure and even a song for “going to get a Christmas tree.” His most recent song, “My Offering, The Vision,” was penned in the last days of his life. Life values were a part of bedtime stories, and evening prayers and life lessons were taught by example. When Kris’ parents each faced serious health concerns, Bruce and Kris made room for Kris’ mother to live with them for a time. Later, Bruce’s mother made her home with them as well. Young people always found the door open both in times of fun and times of difficulty.

Bruce loved children and spent many years developing programs to help and to teach. He was a much-loved uncle to his niece and nephew and great niece and nephew. Then, he became a grandpa and “kids” took on a whole new meaning. He was a devoted grandpa who was never afraid to get down to their level, join in the fun, jump in the pool, and be as boisterous and hilarious as they were. He had special greetings for each one and always a “Ding-how” when they left. He wrote songs for each of them and a masterful Christmas story, “Bethlehem Kids,” which included not only his grandchildren but several other children who held a special place in his heart. The songs and the stories will remain, but perhaps the greatest gift was the lap that always had room for one more, the arms that embraced each child, the unconditional love and prayers that blessed each child.

Family went well beyond his wife and children to include his “work family,” which over the years changed in number and name but not in the relationship he had with them. Bruce was a man with countless visions for new programs, creative ways to celebrate life and ways to bring help to those in need. Throughout the months of his battle with cancer, he wrote inspiring journal entries on Caring Bridge that were read by thousands of people across the country. Even then, his thoughts were how to help others, but he did not realize how many he had touched with his God-given skills, caring, words, vision and faith, until the responses to those entries began to fill the guest book pages of Caring Bridge.

Bruce leaves his devoted, loving wife, Kris of Kaneville; his son, Ben (C.J.) Conley of Sugar Grove; his daughter, Sarah Conley of Seattle, Wash.; four beloved grandchildren who were the delight and sunshine of his life, Andy, Em, Matt and Mikey Conley; his sister, Karen (Les) Howard; his niece, Sheila (Phillip) Albano and their children, Nick and Katherine; his nephew, Bill Howard, all of Elburn; and his sister-in-law, Karen (Bill) Wooton of Geneva and their son, Daniel Wooton, also of Geneva; and his aunts and uncle, Ruth McCloud and Ralph (Ferne) Conley, all of Batavia. In addition, he leaves an extended family of cousins and their families, a devoted family of staff who have shared so much of themselves with him, and a countless host of friends whose lives have touched his through the years. Lastly, he leaves to those he loved these words: “the job of the visionary is to place the vision so that others can grab hold and then make it their own.” 

He is preceded in death by one child in infancy; his parents, Charles and Winifred Conley; one brother, Wayne, in infancy; his paternal and maternal grandparents; his father and mother-in-law, Lloyd and Gladys McConnaughay; and one uncle, George McCloud.

Visitation will be held at the Orchard Community Church, 101 S. Barnes Road, Aurora, on Thursday, Sept. 16, from 2 to 8 p.m.            

A service to celebrate Bruce’s life will be held at 10 a.m. Friday, Sept. 17, at the Orchard Community Church. Pastor Kathy Lawes, a longtime family friend, will officiate, and interment will follow at Blackberry Cemetery, Elburn.

A memorial has been established in his name to benefit Conley Outreach. Checks may be made to Conley Outreach or the Bruce Conley Memorial and mailed in care of P.O. Box 66, Elburn, IL 60119. Tributes and memories may be forwarded to the family at the same address or through the web at www.conleycare.com.

One thought on “Bruce H. Conley”

  1. We are sadden to hear the loss of Bruce Conley, now he is with Lord and free of pains…Our thoughts and prayers are with his whole family, friends.
    Dan and Anne (Schramer)Stanko, Sandwich, IL.

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