“There is no limit to what a man can do or where he can go if he does not mind who gets the credit.” From a plaque found on President Ronald Reagan’s desk.
For Terry DesCoteaux, this selfless approach to being wasn’t just a mantra; it was a way of life.
Long-time Geneva resident, mother to all and distinguished political operative Therese “Terry” DesCoteaux passed away on December 7, just short of her 91st birthday. Born to Bernadette Chouinard Letendre and Joseph Letendre on December 19th, 1927, third in a line of nine children. Terry grew up within the French-Canadian community of Lowell, Massachusetts. As was common in the period surrounding the 30's, creativity and resilience were skills needed to get by and Terry wasn't short of either. The fortitude to push ahead and minimize the hurdles were early traits learned in her formative years. No matter the task, she had a tenacity and penchant for work. At a young age she took her first job in her father’s printing company. Nicknamed ‘Smiley’ as a young girl for her refusal to let anything bring her down, her Depression-era adolescence shaped her into the determined woman so many came to love. The world was on notice.
Her smile helped her capture the attention of the boy down the street, a sharp-witted yet quiet boy named Paul who she would eventually marry. Together, they left New England to begin forging their own path as they started their family while living first in Lakewood, Ohio and then West Chester, Pennsylvania. By the seventies, they had moved their growing family to Illinois to the east side of Geneva on the banks of the Fox River, creating a home that would be theirs for decades. Here, Terry continued to find ways to quietly make the world around her better, one quiet deed at a time. She felt incredibly fortunate for the good graces that were gifted to her and made it her life's work to pass those blessings on to others.
With their roots in place, Terry took to making the community where she hoped to spend the rest of her life a better place for everyone. After learning of the struggles some folks had putting food on the table after leaving the hospital, she helped bring Meals on Wheels to the Fox Valley area. She helped out with the Geneva PTA and Fox Valley Hospice and worked as a prolific fund-raiser for Tri-City Family Services and the Illinois Chamber Symphony.
Terry eventually found her true calling in politics, a world to which she would dedicate over 40 years of her life to as she worked to affect change at the highest levels of government possible. Much of politicking came naturally to her. That big smile of hers helped open doors, and a lot of checkbooks, and her persistent spirit and determination got a lot of things done that no one thought possible. Of all the positivity and change she helped create, she was particularly proud of the commotion she caused at St. Peter’s Catholic School in 1982 when, under cover of night, her White House Advance team landed a military helicopter on the lawn. When Geneva Police Chief Wally Malone arrived and told her, “Terry, you can’t land a helicopter without telling us!”, she replied, “Chief, trust me. This one time we can!” The next day, when then - President Ronald Regan stepped out of Marine One, everyone who was up in arms quickly acquiesced. Terry beamed as she took the President to visit the St Peter’s students.
In 1989, she received recognition from the Eastview Women’s Resource Center and Delnor Community Hospital for her contributions to the Tri-Cities area. She was also awarded the Harold Byron Smith award for extraordinary volunteerism in 1997.
Above all, it was Terry’s love for people that shaped everything she did. Her kitchen was gathering place for family and friends for decades. The unspoken rule “there’s always room for one more” was always pushed to the limits with creative ideas, novel ideas and spirited conversation.
Endearingly referred to as Mrs. D on the campaign trail and around the Fox Valley, Terry gave everyone the same care and affection they deserved. No matter where you came from or what you believed in, she would give you her ear and appreciate you for what you had to say. Her reverence for the human connection and its importance in this world were an inspiration to everyone she touched.
But of all the wonderful things she did in her lifetime, she considered her family her greatest achievement. She loved each and every child, grandchild, and great-grandchild unconditionally, and they all returned the love in-kind. And it was with her hallmark trait to spin almost anything, she lovingly told each one, that they were her favorite.
She was known to dance on tables, sing loudly in French with her sisters, and occasionally throw a snowball or two at her grandkids. She was a master of building forts out of blankets and pillows. If she had it her way, she’d probably still be stuffing an envelope, calling on a donor, or moving her furniture around for the hundredth time. She truly was one-of-a-kind!
Preceded in death by her husband, Paul, an infant daughter, Elizabeth Rose an infant son, David Claude; her granddaughters, Josephine and Margaret Rogowski; her sisters Rita Paquin, Janet Baril, Pauline Letendre, and her brothers, William Letendre, and Arthur Letendre.
She is survived by her children: Denise Fauntleroy of Watersmeet, Michigan and her sons with David Fauntleroy, Patrick (Caitlin) Fauntleroy and Andrew Fauntleroy, Paul Wm. (Kerith) DesCoteaux of Geneva and their son, Reinier, Andrea DesCoteaux of Geneva, David A. DesCoteaux of Geneva and his daughter with Beverly DesCoteaux, Emily, Aimee (Dan) Rogowski of Aurora and their daughter, Eleanor and one great-granddaughter Hadley Fauntleroy. She is also survived by her sister, Gertrude DesRoches, and her brothers Alfred (Georgette) Letendre, and Edward (Sharon) Letendre of Massachusetts and her many nieces and nephews.
Terry’s family invites friends to celebrate her life with them on Thursday, January 3, 2019 from 4:00 to 8:00 pm at Geneva Golf Club, 831 South Street, Geneva. At Terry’s request, the music will be loud, the drinks will be strong, and the times will be merry!
In lieu of flowers Terry has requested that contributions be made to Geneva Beautification and the Joshua Tree Community of Geneva.
A private burial and memorial ceremony will be held in Boston after the holidays.
Arrangements handled by Malone Funeral Home in Geneva. For information, 630-232-8233 or www.malonefh.com.