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Late Pilsen CPS teacher remembered as a caring, vivacious spirit

Kathleen Gomez posing for her friend Norma Angelica Lopez during a trip to California. | Photo provided to the Sun-Times

Kathleen Gomez — or “Kathy” as many loved ones knew her — called Yvolina Hernandez last week and placed an order for eight tamales to pick up Feb. 7.

Hernandez met Gomez in 2008 when they both lived in Bridgeport. Gomez quickly fell in love with Hernandez’s cooking and encouraged her to start a restaurant.

Eight years later, Yvolina’s Tamales opened in Pilsen. Gomez made sure the place was always busy.

“She kept telling me to open my own place, and when I did, she kept telling people in the community to come eat my food,” Hernandez said in Spanish.

Gomez died at Stroger Hospital on Monday after being pulled from a fire in her two-story home on the 1800 block of South Peoria Street in Pilsen.

A spokesman for the Chicago Fire Department said firefighters responded to the blaze at 1:45 a.m. Monday. The cause of the fire is under investigation. No functioning smoke detector was found at the site.

Gomez was a teacher for over two decades and most recently taught English as a second language courses at Gage Park High School and William Penn Elementary in North Lawndale.

Gomez didn’t say who the tamales were for, Hernandez said.

But her longtime friend and neighbor would usually order food for her students.

“She always talked about her students,” she said.

Hernandez plans to bring the tamales to a vigil for Gomez at Juice House in Pilsen on Thursday.

The vigil is open to the public and will be held from 4 to 7 p.m.

Juice House owner Alicia Zouzaneas said having a vigil for Gomez was the least she could do.

“Kathy was a dear friend of mine,” she said. “We connected on a deeper, spiritual level. It just felt right to have something for her here.”

Zouzaneas said Gomez would call Juice House her “happy place.”

Norma Angelica Lopez, a substitute teacher in Aurora, met Gomez in the early 2000s when they both taught at Nathan S. Davis Elementary in Brighton Park.

Lopez said her heart dropped when she heard the news Monday. She’ll remember her friend for her tenacity and love of life.

“Kathy was always full of plans and projects. She loved to travel the world and always talked about her love for Mexican culture,” Lopez said. “Kathy had the most radiant smile … My heart is just broken.”

Gomez is survived by her parents, Brigido and Flavias, and her two sisters, Donna and Maria.

A viewing will be held Friday at Coletta Funeral Home at 544 W. 31st St. from 3 to 9 p.m., followed by a funeral procession on Saturday at 10 a.m. then burial at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Alsip.

Carlos Ballesteros is a corps member in Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster Sun-Times coverage of issues affecting the South and West sides of Chicago.