OAK LAWN, IL – If there is a photograph that exists in which Renee Isadore isn’t smiling, Linda Vahl can’t locate it. In every picture, no matter the setting, Isadore’s ever-present smile is beaming, portraying a happiness that friends like Vahl can’t soon forget.
Isadore, who worked as a nurse at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, was born to help people and to do anything that would allow her smile to find its way onto the faces of others. She was the type of person, friends recall, that never seemed to have a bad day — no matter what was happening around her.
Yet, in the two years since Isadore was murdered while sitting in her car in the PF Chang's restaurant parking lot in Orland Park just a month before her 44th birthday, it is her smile and gentle spirit that seem to live on, finding its way into everyday moments others might consider coincidence, but, that her friends and fellow nurses know to be anything but happenstance.
“Oh, that’s Renee,” one of her nursing colleagues, Nicole Kahney-Dobrovolny said of the regular reminders like butterfly sightings that remind friend of Isadore’s presence to this day.
"She’s always with us.”
Isadore, a former Mt. Greenwood resident, would have turned 46 on Thursday and so, as they have for the previous two years – including initially just a month after Isadore’s tragic death – a group of her friends will carry out Isadore’s mission of good deeds, using her birthday to honor their friend, knowing it is Isadore that remains the strongest bond that weaves them together.
This year, a group of 14 friends and loved ones, including Isadore’s husband, Eddie, will visit places like the Ronald McDonald House in Oak Lawn, the Chicago Ridge Animal Welfare League, the Courage Program in Oak Lawn and he Guildhaus halfway house for men in Blue Island – to promote kindness and goodness while asking nothing in return.
“She would have been one of the first people, if she were still here and if this happened to somebody else that was tragically left behind, I know for a fact she would sign up and say, ‘how can I help’”?, said Vahl, who graduated from Reavis High School in 1992 with Isadore.
“So when we all get together, we all find comfort in doing these things.”
The effort to honor Isadore began in July 2018, when two of her fellow nurses at Christ Medical Center, Kahney-Dobrovolny and Liezel Cabras, organized the first day of goodness in Isadore’s memory. Thursday’s day of service will mark the third time the group has traveled to various agencies around the community as a way of carrying on Isadore's legacy of helping others.
Athough the day always brings back difficult memories of the summer night Isadore was tragically killed, it also provides the opportunity for the group that now serves the community to celebrate Isador in their own way.
“She was just so giving to everyone and she always made everyone’s day better,” said Kahney-Dobrovolny, who has worked at Christ Medical Center for the past 21 years. “So we just knew we had to do something that she would do for someone else.”
Like Vahl, Isadore’s colleagues at Christ Hospital remember her as someone who was constantly cheerful and who always attempted to what she could to help others. Margie Sheerin, who has worked as a charge nurse in Oak Lawn for 35 years, said Isadore was always the type to fill in when needed – even if it meant her putting in extra hours. She always strived to treat patients as if they were family members, often sitting bedside holding someone’s hand and constantly using her smile and warm personality to brighten the day of others.
So when it comes to the acts of kindness that are now being done in Isadore’s honor, Sheerin knows her former colleague would approve.
“I think Renee would be so honored because she was such a giving person,” Sheerin said. “If it was someone else, she would be the first one to jump right in and say, let me help.”
The band of Good Samaritans carries out their acts of kindness while many wear matching hot pink T-shirts that include the image of Isador’s beloved Hello Kitty with a halo to honor their friend’s memory.
Although they ask nothing in return, donations have been made to a scholarship at Saint Xavier University in Beverly, where Isadore graduated from the school’s nursing program in 2006. The scholarship, which goes to a current Saint Xavier nursing student was established by Isadore's husband, a Chicago police officer, and Vahl, Isadore's best friend, in 2018.
While Vahl didn’t previously have a link to the Christ Hospital nurses before Isadore’s death, she has connected with the collection of first responders with Isadore serving as the common bond that brings the group together for good each July 30th.
“I think it speaks to the person Renee was,” Vahl said. “We all can almost meet each other and act like we’ve known each other our whole lives….I don’t know if that would be the case with just anybody, but I think Renee was special in that way. She brought people together and we all see the goodness in her so we all see the goodness in each other and we have this bond.”
By the end of each day of service the group completes, there is a sense of joy that overtakes those who participate in the effort to remember Isadore. Although the ongoing coronavirus pandemic may limit how much direct contact the group will be able to have at their various stops on Thursday, their joy will not be dampened as they continue to help others in the way they know Isadore would appreciate as her memory lives on.
And does her smile - now on the faces of those who choose to remember Isadore by celebrating her gentleness and loving care to others.
“Her (birthday) isn’t in vain because her being in the world really meant something," Vahl said. "She’s relevant in the world even though she hasn’t taken any breaths for the past two years.
“Her spirit lives on and this is a testament to it because we wouldn’t be doing this if she wasn’t a phenomenal person and a phenomenal human being.”