Daniel Toomey, social worker, counselor and collector of anything that caught his eye, dies at 77

Mr. Toomey’s collection of everything from pocket knives and screwdrivers to action figures and campaign buttons ended up being a source of glee to folks in his hometown of Evanston.

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Daniel Toomey.

Daniel Toomey.

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When curiosity reached a boiling point and passersby poked their heads into the strange storefront in southeast Evanston, they’d be greeted by Dan Toomey.

There was so much to explain.

Hanging from the ceiling and walls were keys, thousands of them, strung together and tagged with little notes on what they unlocked.

Neatly organized cigar boxes containing everything from pocket knives to screwdrivers lined shelves. There were action figures, masks, campaign buttons, posters, golf clubs. And the place was lush with ferns and succulents. In the sports-themed bathroom was a picture of Mr. Toomey pole vaulting at Loras College.

These treasures migrated from the garage of his longtime home in Evanston to the garage at his retirement home in Sawyer, Mich., to the storefront in Evanston when he returned in 2019 to be near his grandkids and his medical specialists.

“I had to entice him to come back,” said his wife, Maureen Toomey. “I said ‘Why don’t you rent a storefront?’ And I created a monster.”

Nothing was for sale. It was a place where Mr. Toomey and his family could put a record on the turntable and enjoy each other’s company in the atmosphere of a lifetime.

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Dan Toomey among his collection.

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Terry Sullivan, a magazine columnist and longtime neighbor and pal summed it up like this: “Dan had no resources to deal with life if he didn’t have a basement and garage and yard. He needed projects.”

Over the course of his career, Mr. Toomey served as a hospice bereavement counselor, a special education teacher and social worker in Wilmette public schools and a psychotherapist who organized grief groups of children and men.

“He always picked up a coffeecake for the men,” his wife said. “Getting men to open up about the loss of their wife was quite a thing.”

Mr. Toomey was tapped to counsel children after a mentally unstable woman named Laurie Dann opened fire inside a Winnetka grade school in 1988.

“He never really talked about that or brought his work home and was very respectful of the wall between client and outside world, which made him the best person in the world to share a secret with or ask for advice,” his son Shamus Toomey said.

Mr. Toomey died April 30 from bile duct cancer. He was 77.

“He was proudly not a texter. He was a phone call guy or a drive to your place and chat guy. And he didn’t email. He was not a tech guy and wore it as a badge of honor,” said his son, a former Sun-Times reporter and editor who’s now publisher of Block Club Chicago. “I lived a mile from him, and I’d get notes in the mail or under the door.”

In 1996 Mr. Toomey wrote the eulogy for his 26-year-old son Daniel Corrigan Toomey, who was born with hemophilia and died after contracting HIV through a tainted blood supply that claimed the lives of thousands of hemophiliacs.

Five years later, Daniel Corrigan Toomey’s wife, Bethany, married her husband’s best friend. Mr. Toomey counted their three children as grandkids.

“My brother’s passing profoundly impacted him,” Shamus Toomey said. “But he always had the tools to process it himself and go on being the same guy he always was.”

Mr. Toomey loved going to the beach and always made it a point to live near Lake Michigan.

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Dan Toomey at the beach

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“He’d say ‘I always wanted lakefront property, so I bought some plots at Calvary,” his wife said with a laugh, referring to a cemetery along the lakefront in Evanston.

He was a Cub Scouts leader and brought his sons everywhere with him. They knew the names and positions and whacky personality traits of everyone on Mr. Toomey’s 16-inch softball team.

“He was great to have as a father. He was always there. You could ask him anything, and he’d know what to tell you and set a great example,” Shamus Toomey said.

Mr. Toomey always had a few dollars for people who lived on the street and developed a bond in recent years with a man who lived on the street near him in Evanston.

“He’d worry about him when we’d travel and tried to set up a charge account for him at Starbucks,” his wife said.

For years, Mr. Toomey was “the flag guy” who volunteered to line Central Street in Evanston for the community’s beloved Fourth of July Parade.

“The storefront where he kept all his stuff was a fitting final chapter in his lifetime of collecting and meeting people and having a good time,” his son said.

He constantly changed the window display to celebrate everything from Easter and Halloween to Valentine’s Day and Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

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Dan Toomey looks over his window decorations.

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“It was charming, and people in the neighborhood and commuters heading to the Metra and CTA just loved it. And he was always very proud of that,” his wife said.

“He went there daily until recent weeks to sit on the couch, contemplate life and watch people walk by and stare in the window,” his son said.

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Dan Toomey

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In addition to his son and wife, Mr. Toomey, who grew up in Skokie and attended the now-closed St. George High School in Evanston, is survived by five grandchildren.

A visitation is scheduled Sunday from 3 to 8 p.m. at Haben Funeral Home in Skokie. An additional visitation will be held Monday at 10 a.m. at St. Nicholas Church in Evanston and be followed by a funeral Mass at 11 a.m.

Mr. Toomey is to be buried at his “lakefront property.”

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