Quintessential people

Sue Randall: What Angels Do

Shortly after moving to Barrington in 1994, Sue Randall rushed her seriously ill infant daughter to the ER in the middle of the night. “When I got to the hospital, they asked, ‘Is your husband coming?’ And I said no, he’s home with our other two. And they said ‘It’s really bad. You need to have him come.’” It was 3 a.m. when Dave Randall, Sue’s husband, called the couple’s next door neighbors. “Mike – an orthopedic surgeon came and slept on our couch,” Sue Randall said. “These were neighbors we barely knew.”

by Judy Masterson | Photography by thomas balsamo


Word spread quickly that one of the newest members of the Barrington Junior Women’s Club needed help. For the next week, the Randalls stayed with their three-month-old daughter, Kelly, who required emergency surgery at Lutheran General. And food, including hot meals, poured into their home. “The club opened the food floodgate,” said Randall, who in May was named Citizen of the Year for 2014 by the Barrington Area Development Council. That kind of generosity and unhesitating response to need, Randall said, is the “foundation” for her commitment to giving back.

“Barrington sometimes gets a bad rap,” Randall said. “But I think people here are so incredibly giving and charitable and friendly and generous that it is just overwhelming sometimes.”

Randall, of Deer Park, is the mother of four children, ages 15 to 26. She grew up in northwest suburban Elk Grove and attended the University of Illinois where she met her husband, the CEO of a manufacturing company. She enjoyed a career in sales, specializing in pension investments, but retired in 1995 to devote more time to her family. “It was a tough transition,” she said. “I was used to meeting sales goals. That’s when I decided to volunteer.”

To call Randall a volunteer glosses over the many deeply thoughtful ways she has made a difference in her community, often in response to tragedy. After a friend lost a child to leukemia, she used her marketing and organizational skills in support of The Jeffrey Pride Foundation for Pediatric Cancer Research. She’s a member of the auxiliary board for the group, which has helped raise more than $1.3 million for its cause. The foundation’s annual golf outing will be held July 25 at Makray Memorial Golf Club in Barrington. Randall wants to make sure that event is “plugged” along with the group’s website (see listing).

Randall, who lost her brother to suicide, has also thrown her efforts behind suicide prevention and social and emotional health for youth. As chairwoman of the PTO President’s Council, she became involved in Barrington Reads and in 2008, started the initiative’s annual speaker series, which last February drew New York Times bestselling author Paul Tough, who discussed his book, “How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character.”

“I wrote his agent and said, ‘We’d like to get Tough!’” said Randall, a veteran PTO member and officer. “Barrington has had its share of tragedy. But out of that has arisen some really great community organizations. I think we’ve done a good job of responding, learning, and trying to make things better.”

After she lost a good friend, Pat Kocourek, who along with her husband, Wayne Kocourek, was a member of Barrington’s philanthropic community, Randall signed-on to volunteer for JourneyCare, a local hospice that the couple supported and one that helped Pat through her final illness.

While waiting to be trained, Randall was tapped to help a man who has become a very special friend. Paul Launer, a former IT professional and married father of two, was diagnosed with ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, in 2011. He needed help writing the letters he plans to leave behind for his daughters.

Randall has been meeting with Launer twice a week since December 2012 to take dictation and to listen. In 2013, she wrangled tickets for Launer, who used to enjoy playing hockey, to see the Blackhawks Stanley Cup game. As Launer, accompanied by his girls, had his photo snapped with the enormous trophy, he looked up from his motorized chair and asked Randall if she would place his hand on the cup.

The friendship has been a source of strength and inspiration for the woman who earned the nickname “Suenami” for the powerful, positive force she exerts in her community.

“I get an enormous amount of satisfaction helping Paul enjoy whatever time he has left,” Randall said. “At our first meeting, he said ‘I don’t have a big bucket list. I’m happy with my life. I’ve done what I wanted to do. I just want to get some things done for my girls and I’m good to go.’”

Launer, Randall said, has found a silver lining in ALS. “It’s the gift to say goodbye,” she said.

Last August, during one of their chats, Launer remarked that the annual ALS walk was coming up. “I said ‘Let’s get a team together,’” said Randall, who in one month, organized a 200-member team dubbed “Paul Launer’s Iron Horse Brigade” and a promise of matching funds from the Foglia Family Foundation. Under her captaining, the team raised a near-record $80,000 to battle ALS.

“People love Paul,” Randall said. “He has a huge network of friends. He was coach of his daughter’s soccer teams and Indian Princesses. It’s a case of getting what you give.”

Randall is team chairwoman of this year’s ALS Walk for Life, which will be held along Chicago’s Lakefront on Sept. 21. Again, she presses cheerfully for a plug. “Our goal this year is $100,000,” she said. “Les Turner provides so many services to ALS patients. Paul just wants to give back.”

Randall said she’ll never forget the look on her friend’s face as he watched a sea of turquoise-colored T-shirts marching through Soldier Field in Chicago. “All those people coming together,” she said. “It was one of the best days of his life.”

The woman who for five years also led a top Avon Cancer Walk fundraising team, said giving has a domino effect. The strangers who, 20 years ago, came to her rescue, the warmth and friendliness she encountered in her new village, the courage and commitment of families like the Prides, Kocoureks, and Launers, make her want to give more, help more, be more.

“Right now, Phillip’s Mens Wear is plugging Doug McConnell’s swim for ALS research,” Randall said pointing up the street from where we met in town. “People are dropping money in the bucket all day long, every day.

“It’s like you feel so blessed, that now it’s time to share.”

Here are some words that others shared about Sue Randall.

Nancy Anderson, Colleague

Sue Randall works for me at Pottery Barn, but we always laugh, because when Sue introduces me as her manager – I laugh and comment that ‘no one can manage Sue’. Sue is a delight to work with and she makes everyone who walks in our doors feel welcome. She has a zest for life, love for her family, and an incredible sense of humor. She is a part-time sales associate, and also co-chairs our annual Williams Sonoma Inc. St. Jude “Thanks and Giving” campaign. As a result of Sue’s compassion, drive, partnership, and energy, we ended the 2013 campaign with the 3rd largest donation in the Pottery Barn company! I consider myself lucky and honored to have gotten to know Sue. She has enriched my life and those of so many others! Congratulations!

Jeff Arnett, Barrington 220

I’ve had the privilege of working with Sue for the past several years on various programs and events in the Barrington 220 School District. Sue never stops laughing and she never gives up. What I admire most about Sue is her unique adeptness at wearing many hats simultaneously, including her innate gift of approaching a project from multiple vantage points. She is equal parts parent, activist, and ambassador. Never afraid to help with the heavy lifting, Sue enlists volunteers and then works alongside them to accomplish any task. Sue has been described as a “charitable powerhouse” because she tirelessly raises funds on behalf of deserving nonprofits and worthwhile causes in our region. Sue knows how to laugh at herself, how to laugh with others, and how to laugh at any challenge. To Sue, the word “NO” simply stands for “Next Opportunity.”

Deanna Griffin, Friend

We met nearly 15 years ago as fellow PTO presidents in District 220, and Sue always managed to turn our bi-weekly group meetings into something we actually looked forward to. Whether playing “the Prairie Godmother,” hosting “pink parties” to raise funds for Breast Cancer research, or recruiting the masses to walk for ALS, she has the rarest of abilities—to put people to work and then make them feel like they are simply having a blast. Our community is blessed to have someone who gives so much, so tirelessly, and with such a positive attitude. And the icing on the cake—she has embraced the gift of being a mother even more enthusiastically. Sue and Dave have raised four wonderful children who have just as much fun as their mom!

Kelly Henry, Friend

Sue is a friend that I met several years ago when our boys played basketball together. We have had the opportunity to work together on PTO and other community projects. Sue does everything with great humor, sense of fun, and love of life. If she is involved with a project or a cause, you will want to get on board. I realized how deep her compassion ran when she volunteered to journal with Paul Launer, afflicted with ALS. Her optimistic view of life and sense of humor were the perfect fit for a family dealing with such a difficult diagnosis. Her presence in their lives has been an amazing gift, not only to Paul, but also to the rest of the family. Sue sets big goals, but also encourages us to take time to appreciate all the little things in life and recognize how fortunate we truly are.

Barb Laughlin-Karon, Friend

I have known Sue for many years – and who doesn’t know Sue – and have been blessed to call her a dear friend for the last twelve. I’ve watched as she has used her seemingly endless energy, her strong sense of purpose, and her wonderful sense of humor – a combination I like to refer to as “Sue’s Power for Good” to contribute to the Barrington community and beyond with her acts of citizenship. What may be her most significant contribution is how she inspires all of us to be the best version of ourselves. With a twinkle in her eye and a quip at the ready, she leads her life with passion, benevolence, and a selflessness that encourages those around her to look at life’s possibilities and to work to their fullest potential.

Paul Launer, Friend

Over the course of the last year and a half, I’ve been very fortunate to get to know Sue. In 2012, Sue was interested in volunteering with Journeycare. Although an opportunity was unavailable at that time, some mutual friends connected us. I have ALS (a terminal disease) and can no longer write or type. My speaking ability is greatly diminished. Sue volunteered to transcribe everything I wanted to leave for my children. She has visited my home twice a week to help with that project.
Sue stepped up her commitment to an incredible level at the beginning of this school year. My mother-in-law came down with a bad case of shingles. She is a former nurse who was suddenly unable to help with in-home care. Sue offered to cover for her telling my wife, “I’m your Wednesday girl”. A typical day involves arriving early to help my daughters get ready for school and on the bus, helping me out of bed and into my wheelchair, administering medications and food via a feeding tube, and other nursing duties. Sue brings a positive outlook, energy, enthusiasm, and sharp wit to all the disparate committees and causes she is part of. She has lifted my spirits and brightened many days in the past year. My nine-year-old daughter summed Sue up perfectly. When her grandmother entered our house and asked if Sue was there, her reply was, “Do you hear laughter?”

Bob Lee, Friend

Reflecting on the lyrics from “The Sound of Music”, I am reminded of Sue Randall: “How do you solve a problem like Maria; how do you catch a cloud and pin it down; how do you find a word that means Maria; how do you keep a wave upon the sand; how do you hold a moonbeam in your hand?” Yes, Sue is truly our own Maria, our own Suenami! Her energy, enthusiasm, effervescence, effort, and effectiveness all escape our control.

Sue was called to ask if she could help a total stranger capture his thoughts, feelings, and messages for his family before he succumbed to the terminal illness of the ALS. Sue’s response? “When can I meet Paul Launer?” That call took place over a year and a half ago. Almost every Monday since then, Sue has met with Paul to help him write almost 50 letters to leave for his two daughters, Aubrey and Sarah, and his wife, Kris. Can’t you just see those angel wings flapping?

Last year Paul mentioned to Sue that he would like to have a team join the Les Turner Foundation ALS Walk 4 Life to raise funds for research and awareness. Sue volunteered to be team captain and within a four week period gathered 175 walkers to go to Chicago as the Paul Launer Ironhorse Brigade Team. Pauls’ team was the largest, and raised more than $80,000, becoming the second-largest fundraising team in the 13-year history of the Walk. This year Paul’s team is the

team is the Honorary Team of the Les Turner ALS Walk 4 Life; Sue has set a goal of 200 walkers and plans to raise more than $100,000. Sue has impacted my life with her lasting legacy of giving and making a difference. Isn’t that what angels do?

Ann Pride, Friend

The first time I met Sue Randall she was Sue Dahlstrom, and we were in high school at a party. She was a junior and I was a freshman – a fact she always enjoys me pointing out to her now! She was very active in high school and always very friendly to everyone, but who could have predicted the dynamo that Sue Randall is for our community today?

Sue has been a member of the auxiliary board of The Jeffrey Pride Foundation for Pediatric Cancer Research for the last three years. When we asked Sue to join us we knew how busy her life already was, we weren’t sure she would be able to accept. We are so glad she agreed!

Sue dove right in and has utilized her many contacts to give us more exposure to the community than we have ever had. One of the best things about Sue is that she isn’t afraid of getting her hands dirty. She is more than willing to work at an event, rain or shine, and brings her brand of fun and joy everywhere she goes! Sue just knows what’s important in life and acts on it.

Lindsay Randall, Daughter

My mom and I have always reminded each other “to be the windshield, not the bug.” Even though this is a simple quote, I think it describes my mom, “The Suenami”, perfectly. Everything she does is created with a positive attitude and outlook which is part of the reason why she leaves such a lasting impression on people. She continues to go above and beyond what is asked of her and does so with ease and humility. She has been a living example of what hard work truly is and continues to amaze many with her selflessness. I think the best thing about my mom is the fact that she leaves such an impact on everyone she comes into contact with and doesn’t even realize it. She has inspired so many “to be” – whether that is to be better day in and day out, to be engaged and active in whatever you do, or just to be grateful for the present.

Carol Rolfs, Friend

I have known Sue for over 15 years as we have volunteered together for many PTO and school projects. I learned early on that whenever Sue showed up at a meeting, it would not be boring. Her energy, passion, and humor are contagious to all around her, which makes her so successful at every project she tackles. Sue makes an impact. I bet those guys from Umphrey’s McGee, a band Sue helped bring to perform at the AfterProm event, still remember that hysterical lady from Barrington!

Amy Sauer, Neighbor

We have known Sue since she first moved to Barrington because she bought a house around the corner from ours. Sue quickly jumped into neighborhood activities and was soon appointed social chair by the Homeowners Association. She was perfect for the job. In fact, so perfect that nobody really wanted to follow her in that position. You simply didn’t want to miss out on the fun of a social event that Sue organized!

In recent years, Sue’s passion has been fueled by compassion. She sees a need and brings all her gifts to bear. She lives out the Biblical counsel that to whom much is given, much is expected. Knowing that she has been richly blessed, she pours herself into making a difference in the lives of others.

Mark and I introduced Sue and Dave to By The Hand Club, an organization dedicated to caring for children – mind, body, and soul – who live in under-resourced communities in Chicago. She and Dave hosted an event in their home to introduce friends to the impactful work that By The Hand is doing. Sue has a real knack for networking and communication. She has a way of lighting a fire under others with her passion, quick wit, and fun-loving personality. And in no time, her “fire” has spread to others who want to come alongside her, and make the world a better place.

Susannah Schwarcz, Senior Director of Fund Development

Sue is on our Women’s Auxiliary Board at By The Hand Club for Kids. Sue has an awesome, positive energy that is contagious to all. She is a great influencer that actively calls others to join her in forwarding the mission she supports. She is eager to roll up her sleeves and help make things happen. Her heart to serve is incredible!

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Judy Masterson is a longtime Lake County resident and writer who enjoyed a more than two-decade career as a journalist and now specializes in marketing and communications.

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Publisher’s Note: Quintessential People™ is a heartfelt collaboration between our publication and portrait artist Thomas Balsamo. Our goal is to share with you exceptional images and words that ring true about some of the finest, most inspiring people in the community. For more information about Quintessential People™, contact QB or Thomas Balsamo (Portraits by Thomas) at 847-381-7710 or www.portraitsbythomas.com