Friends in Life, Family in Death
Kane County Connects Staff 6/27/2022 10:00AM
This past April, Kane County Coroner Rob Russell released a list of 40 people whose cremains were unclaimed and left in his care. He was seeking contact information for relatives of the deceased. 35 of the 40 individuals remained unclaimed and were entombed by the Coroner during a dignified memorial service at a St. Charles cemetery.
“The goal is to have families claim the deceased at the time of death,” said Coroner Russell. “It is not illegal to not claim your loved one, but it is neglectful. And sometimes, there is literally no one, no next of kin, to take on that responsibility.”
The list of the unclaimed, however, caught the attention of relatives of two of the deceased and their cremains were released to their families.
The remaining three individuals had no living relatives but were collected by people who knew them and wanted to help bring a sense of dignity in death. Here are their stories:
A man who died in 2020 was left in the care of the Coroner’s office after an exhaustive search for relatives. He was set to be buried with the unclaimed this year, until a childhood friend, Dennis Zielinski, came across the article about unclaimed cremains and saw a name he recognized as his lifelong friend. With the permission of the Coroner, Zielinski claimed his friend’s remains and arranged to have him buried beside the man’s late wife.
“My friend, who I have known since we went to kindergarten together 69 years ago, passed away in June of 2020. There were no family members to claim him,” said Zielinski. “In my heart, I had to do anything I could to give him a proper burial. The Kane County Coroner's Office allowed me to do so. I know my friend as well as myself appreciate the Coroner's office for their assistance to accomplish my wish.”
Another individual, who died years before with no one to claim him, was finally buried with the help of acquaintances that grew up on a farm owned by the family of the deceased. The childhood friend recognized the man’s name from an article in Kane County Connects and contacted the Coroner’s office.
“I was shocked and heartbroken. His family was always so very kind to us, and they were such hardworking people,” said the acquaintance, who wished to remain anonymous. "We had heard that he passed a couple years prior and had never heard of any services for him.”
The childhood friend and her siblings were permitted to claim the remains of the deceased and arranged to have him laid to rest next to his parents. The Coroner and a staff member were invited to attend the service and were honored to be a part of such an act of generosity.
The third unclaimed individual passed away in 2021. Efforts by the Coroner’s office to find relatives was unsuccessful, despite multiple tries. However, the manager of the apartment complex where the person lived stepped forward to claim his remains. The manager had known the individual for a long time and knew he was once an active parishioner in the church that was also attended by the apartment manager’s son. With the approval of the Coroner, the apartment manager and his son, who recently was ordained as a priest, held a funeral service for the individual and entombed his ashes in a local Catholic cemetery where he will be memorialized with a nameplate.