Jeannette Zeck, pension director and gardening advocate, dead at 50
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Jeannette Zeck loved gardening with her husband — so much so, the couple decided to start a volunteer organization from their Oak Park home to promote the growth of plants native to the area.
When her husband converted to Buddhism five years ago, she saw the impact the religion had on him and soon converted, too.
Ms. Zeck spent almost three decades working for the Chicago Laborers Pension and Welfare Funds, helping workers sort through their options when it came time for their benefits to be paid out.
“My wife was the most supportive person you could ever imagine,” said Ms. Zeck’s husband, David Murphy.
Ms. Zeck died suddenly on Wednesday. She was 50.
Most recently a resident of Oak Park, Ms. Zeck grew up in Lake County, attending high school in Grayslake.
She met her husband on their first day at Knox College in Galesburg. Although the two took notice of each other right away, they didn’t go on their first date until the following year on March 5, 1987. They had been together ever since and married in September 1998.
In the early 90s, while working toward a master’s degree in psychology at DePaul University, Ms. Zeck took a job at a shelter for the homeless women in West Town. Working shifts that either started or ended at midnight, Ms. Zeck counseled and cooked for the women at the shelter, and found deep gratification in service to others.
“She really took great pleasure and pride in helping people who needed help,” her husband said.
Ms. Zeck later started a job in the mail room of the Chicago Laborers Pension and Welfare Funds. She worked her way up to become director of the pension department, overseeing a staff of 16.
Ms. Zeck also found she had a passion for gardening when she and her husband began growing their own food at their Oak Park home while experimenting with new diets.
The gardening led to Murphy’s interest in environmentalism. With his wife’s persevering support, they started the Deep Roots Project, an organization that promotes the use of native plants and growing healthy foods.
Working together last year, the couple planted parkway gardens in front of 16 homes in the area.
And when Murphy, who grew up Catholic, decided to convert to Buddhism, Ms. Zeck saw the impact it had on his life and soon made the switch herself.
“She was right by my side every step of the way,” Murphy said.
Ms. Zeck was preceded in death by her parents Harold and Catherine Zeck, her sister Elizabeth Zeck and her brother Stephen Zeck. She is survived by her husband David Murphy, her sisters Patricia Carlson and Theresa O’Reilly and her brother David Zeck.
Though Ms. Zeck and Murphy didn’t have children, Ms. Zeck considered her five nieces and two nephews — Elizabeth, Nicole, Megan, Shelbie, Alexia, Michael and Louis — to be her own.
Visitation is 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Monday at O’Neil Funeral Home & Heritage Crematory, 1105 E. 9th St., in Lockport, with a service at 7 p.m. Interment will be private.
In lieu of flowers, Ms. Zeck’s family has asked for donations in her honor to the Kadampa Meditation Center Chicago.