Karel Fennick was best known around town as the Owens-Illinois plant engineer from 1961 to 1994 but his contributions to the town as a volunteer have helped shaped Streator into the community it is today.
Fennick died Sunday at Heritage Health in Streator.
Fennick, along with his wife, Ruth, Lois Guyon, current Plan Commission Chairman Doug Patterson, Dave Essman and many, many other volunteers, were responsible for the rehabilitated Spring Lake Park the town enjoys.
“He was kind, warm and generous,” Ruth said. “We had a big outpouring (at his funeral Thursday). People just came and came until the last person. Even people he worked with. They said he was the best boss they’d ever had, because he was so kind and so fair and he never lost his temper.”
Ruth said everywhere he went, he loved people and people loved him.
Karel was born in 1936 in Ellwood City, Pa. and moved to Streator after graduating from Grove City College in Grove City, Pa. Ruth said he had a list of job offers and a professor urged him to take a job at Owens-Illinois because they were a good company that took care of its employees. Karel met Ruth while she was working there as a secretary.
After working for Owens, Karel worked as a consulting engineer, traveling across the country to work as a lead engineer on the construction of glass furnaces.
“Coming from Ellwood City in the mountains where he would hunt and trap, to the cornfields was a shocker for him,” Ruth said. “We always talked, he and I, that we’d go to Florida but when he retired we realized neither of us wanted to go. We bought a condo and thought we’d stay here a year or two and then maybe we’ll sell this house. It was just in the last couple years that he decided he wanted to die here.”
Their daughter, Karla Fennick, said if anyone asked her where she’s from, her first thought would be to say “Illinois” but if anyone asked her father, he would say “Streator” with pride.
“It was home from a very early time for him,” Karla said. “He just really liked it here. He liked the people. He liked the community.”
Karla said they knew how smart he was, but it was recognized more outside of the house than it was at home, because he had a tendency to defer to Ruth, who has a Ph.D and he was proud of that; he would brag about it when he could.
Lois Guyon said even though he was a chemical engineer, he was able to use a broad range of disciplines, like civil engineering when he designed bridges at Spring Lake.
Karel also served on the United Way Board as well as the Salvation Army on top of volunteering at the homeless shelter. He was the treasurer at the Streator Country Club and he worked with the Streator Area Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
“These small towns, you know how they are sometimes,” Guyon said. “I moved to Dwight when I was 23 and I thought, I have to get to know people and be productive in this community and all that. I was there a year or two and I was talking to these old ladies. They were talking about a guy in Dwight who lived there for 50 years and they said, ‘he isn’t a Dwight boy, though, is he?’ Of course he wasn’t. Karel was like that. He was exceedingly productive to the point where the community immensely benefited from this guy that wasn’t a Streator boy.”
Debbie Cicciarelli, the oldest of the two daughters, said her father’s engineering mindset allowed him to always have a solution if there was a problem.
“I was just starting to drive and I asked if I could pull the car up in the driveway,” Cicciarelli said. “I pulled up and went right through the garage door. My foot slipped off the brake. There was never a ‘what is wrong with you!?’ with dad. He got out of the car, hammered out the dent and said ‘Everybody ready to go? Let’s go get doughnuts.’”
Karla said nature was important to her father; she once caught a 30-inch walleye at Lake of the Woods, Ontario, and Karl insisted they return it back in the water as soon as possible.
“We hauled it into the boat and took pictures as fast as we could then put it in the water,” Karla said. “They were talking about how that fish is 10 years old and it’s a breeder so it really needed to be put back into the water and then they attempted to resuscitate it. We named her Xena. They did that for 45 minutes before they gave up. We ended up filleting her and eating her. She was delicious.”
She said her father was adamant about not taking fish that were too big or too little to hurt the ecosystem.
“This town really owes Karel a lot, it really does,” Guyon said.
“He’d be just tickled to know his work was being highlighted after his death.”