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Celebration of life planned for journalist Pat Colander, dead at 66

Journalist Pat Colander. | Provided photo

A celebration of life is planned Saturday for journalist Pat Colander, known for being able to do it all — from reporting and editing to publishing books and magazines; from mentoring young writers and college students to telling stories that were so good, everybody nearby stopped to listen.

A bon vivant and raconteur, she made her mark in Chicago writing for the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Reader, and then in the beachy region straddling Northwest Indiana and Southwest Michigan, where she launched two magazines, Lake and Shore, and worked for the Times of Northwest Indiana.

“She was a real free spirit,” said friend Sheila King. “I think she was a really talented writer because of her openness.”

Ms. Colander, 66, died in January at Community Hospital in Munster. She had complications from treatment for a cancer recurrence, according to her sister, Marian O’Quinn.

Pat Colander had a long career as a versatile writer, editor and publisher in Chicago-area journalism circles. | Provided photo
Pat Colander had a long career as a versatile writer, editor and publisher in Chicago-area journalism circles. | Provided photo

Patricia Marie Colander grew up near 87th and Cottage Grove and went to St. Ailbe’s grade school. Thanks to her, “We wouldn’t have to have religion class,” said her friend Marilyn Joyce. By 4th grade, “She would write plays on the lives of the saints, and we would put them on.”

Her father, Charles, an auto mechanic and U.S. Steel worker, died around the time she was a junior at Aquinas Dominican High School. Her mother, the former Mary Conners, went to work as a data entry clerk. Pat studied journalism and English at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign before getting hired at the Chicago Tribune in 1973, her sister said.

She wrote fun features on horse dressage competitions, roller derby and ikebana, the Japanese art of flower arranging. She tackled serious stories about depression, alcoholism, politics, abortion and the psychological aftermath of sexual assault.

In 1973, Pat Colander started a story about a famed TV pooch this way: ” ‘Lassie doesn’t smoke. Lassie doesn’t drink, but he has eight wives.’ Trainer Rudd Weatherwax was talking candidly about the million-dollar collie who keeps him in suede sport jackets and a Malibu, Cal. home.”

From 1987 to 1992, she worked in various editing jobs for Copley, which published the Naperville Sun and other suburban newspapers. She then joined the Times of Northwest Indiana, where she became an associate editor and publisher, King said.

Around 2001, Ms. Colander helped launch Lake magazine, where she was editor and publisher for about four years. Later, she oversaw multiple publications and digital sites for Lee Enterprises, including Shore magazine, according to LinkedIn.

In 2011, she earned a master’s degree in science and technology from Purdue University. Until December, her sister said, she was teaching English at Purdue University Northwest. She said Ms. Colander found the classroom a refreshing change from deadlines in print and digital media.

Pat Colander | Provided photo
Pat Colander | Provided photo

Her articles in the Reader and Tribune formed the basis of her book, “Hugh Hefner’s First Funeral and other True Tales of Love and Death in Chicago.” She told the story of a missing candy heiress in “Thin Air: The Life and Mysterious Disappearance of Helen Brach.” Ms. Colander also did ghostwriting for other authors and wrote for Sheila King Public Relations.

“She was a great listener,” her sister said, able to “articulate your story back to you in better language than you used, but still keeping the story in your voice.”

Ms. Colander listed her favorite writers on her Amazon page as Alina Bronsky, Roger Ebert, Hilary Mantel, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and James McBride.

A generous friend, she often bought three copies of books she liked, her sister said — one for herself and two to give away to chums. She volunteered at St. Ailbe’s and was always ready to assist young job hunters by helping them research prospective employers and editing their resumes. She once told the Sun-Times her advice for young journalists: “Just write all the time.”

Ms. Colander hosted memorable wine tastings at her art-filled home in the Miller Beach section of Gary, Ind., said John Cain, executive director of South Shore Arts, a regional arts council based in Munster. “She had known so many interesting people, and she always brought that to the conversation,” Cain said. “She was just a tremendously fun person who relished people being different and off-kilter. She certainly wasn’t prim by any means.”

In her final days, Ms. Colander could still recall how it felt to be an eager, impatient little girl who knew the world would open to her once she learned to read. “Don’t you remember how frustrating it was when you couldn’t read? I couldn’t wait to go to school,” she told her sister.

She is also survived by her husband, Jeff Kumorek; mother Mary Ryan; her daughter, Ida Ansell and son, Charles Ansell; brothers Thomas Colander and Mike Ryan; and two grandchildren.

Forty-nine years after they graduated with her, many of her girlfriends from high school are providing baked goods for the celebration of her life planned for 2 to 7 p.m. Saturday April 27 at 1133 W. Fulton Market.