Thomas A. “Tom” Varetoni, 79, of St. Charles, formerly of New Jersey, passed away Friday, Aug.12, 2011, at Delnor Hospital in Geneva, following a valiant struggle with cancer that eventually took his body but never his spirit.
He was born Oct. 14, 1931, in Clifton, N.J., the son of Thomas and Mary (Menagus) Varetoni. Tragedy struck early, as his mother didn’t survive his birth. Love came calling quickly, as his father married Olga, the mother he would know for the rest of his life.
Tom grew up in Clifton among a neighborhood of family. He attended local schools and graduated high school in 1949. A few years later, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1951 and served on the USS Wisconsin BB64 in Korea from 1951-1954, after which he did a Mediterranean tour on the USS Juneau Claa-119.
Initially, Tom began in the radar group, but an opportunity to attend Electronic Technician School presented itself. Not knowing it at the time, this opportunity would help to shape the rest of his life. He studied at the Great Lakes Naval Base in Great Lakes, Ill., and upon his honorable discharge, Tom returned to civilian life in Clifton, where he attended Newark College of Engineering, graduating in 1959. Tom began working at Illinois Bell and later at AT&T, concentrating on both telecommunications and teaching, the latter a passion that resurfaced in later years. While working at Illinois Bell, he studied at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, where he received his masters degree.
Tom had his heart stolen at a USO dance while learning radar at the Great Lakes Naval Base, and he couldn’t have been happier. Eileen Seymour spent no time giving hers in return, and soon a relationship bloomed into marriage as they were wed on Sept. 11, 1954, in Dundee, Ill.
They began their new life together back in Clifton, N.J., living with his parents until he returned from the service. When he returned, they continued to live in Clifton while Tom finished his schooling. The next many years were full of cross-country moves between New Jersey and Illinois, with memories made with each move and mile.
They began a family while living in Carpentersville, Ill. The family grew to include four children: Kathleen, Carole, Michael and Robert. Eventually, they settled in St. Charles and watched their children grow and have children of their own.
After a career in telecommunications, Tom was offered early retirement. It was an offer he accepted, but he never lived up to the traditional definition of the word. Instead, Tom did private consulting work for a time before he began teaching at Elgin Community College, where he helped to develop their electronics technician program. His defiance of the word “retirement” continued when he accepted a teaching position at The Devry Institute and loved every semester of it until his “final retirement” in 2008.
Tom was a member and president of IEEE. He also was a member of the Dundee Lions Club.
Tom was a man whose heart matched his stature, and his effortless wit matched his grace on the dance floor. He and Eileen kicked up their heels at many ballrooms over the years, including the Aragon Ballroom in Chicago. Big band music and Broadway shows were a favorite, but musicals were his favorite form of cinema, especially any featuring Frank Sinatra or Gene Kelly. His appreciation for “Anchors Aweigh,” “Singin’ In The Rain,” “Oliver” and “Annie” were passed on to his children and grandchildren.
When the children were young, Tom took pride in taking his family all across the country, showing them nearly every national park, monument or historical sight in 40 states. He did this with the patience of a saint, traveling with a pop-up camper, his wife, four children and a dog.
In later years, after the children were grown, Tom and Eileen traveled the world, visiting England, Scotland, Austria, Switzerland, France and especially Cortina, Italy, where his family originated.
Tom loved to garden and see his vegetables grace the table after each harvest, especially his famous tomatoes and pickled cucumbers. His prized Japanese Peony, with exquisite huge pink flowers, was also a source of pride, often giving its blooms to his granddaughters. It was often said that Tom was “the sweetest man I know,” and the proof could be found in the countless friends he made over the years, bridging both geographical and generational gaps.
Tom knew how to tell a story. He loved to regale friends and family with tales of his youth, his years in the Navy, early years with Eileen and his travels that brought smiles and laughter to both the young and the old. Tom was larger than life, and the mark he left on the hearts of all he knew will never fill in the void left by his absence. He will be missed and never forgotten.
He is survived by his wife, Eileen; four children, Kathleen (Chris) Varetoni-Turk of Maple Park, Carole Varetoni of South Elgin, Ill., Michael Varetoni of Florida and Robert (Beth) Varetoni of Cave Creek, Ariz.; four grandchildren, Collin, Lyndsey, Sedona Rose and Selah Rae; one brother, Jim Varetoni of New Jersey; many nieces, nephews, a special cousin, Mary Lou Weaver, and a brotherhood of friends made and kept through his years in the service, including Mike “Ziggy” Marzigliano.
He is preceded in death by his parents, Thomas, Mary and Olga.
Visitation will be from 4 to 7 p.m., with a wake service at 7 p.m. at Conley Funeral Home, 116 W. Pierce St., Elburn, IL, Thursday, Aug. 18. A Mass to celebrate his life will be held Friday, Aug. 19, at 11 a.m., at S.S. Peter & Paul Catholic Church in Virgil. Father Perfecto Vasquez, pastor of the church, will officiate, and interment will follow at Ohio Grove Cemetery.
A memorial has been established in his name to benefit his favorite charities. Checks may be made to the “Thomas Varetoni Memorial” and mailed in care of P.O. Box 66, Elburn, 60119. Tributes may also be forwarded to the same address or on the web at www.conleycare.com where you can find his full life story.