Every year, an army of volunteers stations itself at intersections, grocery stores and train stations around Chicago seeking donations during Candy Days, a fund-raiser for Misericordia Heart of Mercy.
The effort — held each year on the last Friday and Saturday of April — involves thousands of people who hand out more than 1 million packages of Jelly Belly candies in exchange for donations to the North Side residence for children and adults with developmental disabilities.
And Therese “T” Loftus, a jelly bean general of sorts, made sure it all came together.
The effort “is all-encompassing for months,” said Lois Gates, assistant executive director of Misericordia. “She made sure everyone had supplies, enough volunteers, the aprons, the permits.”
As the eldest daughter in a family of eight children, “T” had plenty of experience with organizing and problem solving.
“She was just the quintessential big sister,” said her younger sister Mary Loftus. “She did a lot of babysitting for us. She was a pretty good artist, and we were always asking her to draw things for us.”
“She’d have Barbie dolls, and we’d wash their hair, and they’d never be the same,” her sister said. “No Barbie was safe” from the littler kids. “She’d take it all in stride. Having six younger siblings always pulling on her coat, Therese was always very loving and very caring.”
Ms. Loftus, 62, a development manager for Misericordia, died of ovarian cancer Tuesday at her River Forest home, according to her brother Mark.
At the end of her life, she was still thinking about others, her sister said: “Some of the last words she shared with us were, ‘Make sure you take care of Mom.’ ”
Young Therese grew up in River Forest in a four-bedroom home filled with bunk beds for the kids. She went to St. Luke grade school. She had a crush on Davy Jones of the made-for-TV singing group The Monkees. And she liked cooling off in the summertime at the Forest Park Aquatic Center.
While attending Oak Park and River Forest High School, she checked groceries at the old A&P on Harlem Avenue. After graduating, she studied journalism at Marquette University.
Ms. Loftus worked in marketing for the Chicago Board of Trade before joining “Miz” more than 20 years ago.
“She was fun and joyful,” Gates said. “She had a wonderful relationship with a lot of the residents.”
When the workday ended, “They often go around and visit their favorite people,” Gates said, and Ms. Loftus’s desk was a favorite stop.
“Therese cared so much about all people,” said Sister Rosemary Connelly, executive director of Misericordia, 6300 N. Ridge Ave. “She was a woman of faith and a true believer of the mission of Misericordia. Therese wanted our children and adults to have a good life and one worth living.”
“Whether you were a blue-collar, working-class person or somebody who owned a hedge fund, she had the gift of making you feel as if you were extremely important — not just important to her but important to Misericordia,” said Jim Capraro, whose daughter Betsy lives there.
“She had a kind word for everybody,” her brother said, “asking about the recent baby or the anniversary and was the sick relative feeling better.”
Bill McCarthy, co-chair of the Misericordia Family Association, said Ms. Loftus “was just a fun person to be around.”
He runs on a Chicago Marathon team to raise money for Misericordia, where his son Patrick is a resident. He said she’d book a hotel room downtown to make sure Miz runners “could have last-minute nutrition or beverages or a restroom.”
Ms. Loftus enjoyed browsing in the Misericordia gift shop for clothes and earrings to coordinate for holidays. She had flag earrings for Flag Day, pumpkin earrings for Halloween, Christmas tree earrings.
“Name it, she had it,” Mary Loftus said.
Each summer, Ms. Loftus attended the American Music Festival at Fitzgerald’s in Berwyn. Her brother said her “guilty pleasures” were TV’s “Below Deck” and “Summer House.”
Every day on the way home from work, she’d call her mother Arlene. She took her to mass and shopping and helped ferry her to the many events in a big Irish Catholic family — christenings, first Holy Communions, confirmations, proms, graduations and birthday parties.
In addition to her mother, sister Mary and brother Mark, Ms. Loftus is survived by her sisters Brigida Kessler and Julie Bedore, brothers Thomas, Patrick and Timothy and her cat Riley.
Visitation will be from 9 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. Tuesday at Drechsler Brown & Williams Funeral Home in Oak Park followed by a funeral Mass at 11 a.m. Tuesday at St. Luke Church in River Forest.