Phyllis Balk: December 27, 1929 to May 4, 2011

Phyllis Balk, devoted wife, mother, grandmother, retired nurse, and active volunteer in Illinois and New York, died peacefully at age 81 on May 4, 2011 after an extended illness. She was born Phyllis Lorraine Munter in Moline, IL on December 27, 1929 to Fritz and Alma (Eldean) Munter, both of Swedish heritage.

Phyllis Balk

Phyllis Balk

She is survived by two daughters, Laraine Balk Hope of Rockville, MD and Diane Balk Palguta of Indianapolis, IN, two grandchildren, Anna and Andrew Palguta, and first cousins Herb, Roger, and Judy Eldean of Macatawa, MI.

“She was always there for our family and friends and really provided the backbone around which all our worlds revolved,” Laraine Balk-Hope said. 

In Huntley, IL, where she and her husband, journalist Alfred Balk, moved in 1999, she served as a Deacon of the First Congregational Church, head of Friends of the Library Book Corner, and as a volunteer with the Hospice of Northeastern Illinois and other health organizations.

“My mother was a quietly amazing person. She was the most modest woman I’ve ever known, but she was enormously capable, calm, and kind,” Diane Balk-Palguta said. “Dad was a journalist, but Mom was also a wonderful storyteller. Dinner was full of funny things that happened in her day.”

Balk-Hope remembers her mother as someone who was easy to talk to and gave heartfelt advice.

“My mother was always fun to talk to and be around. She was enthusiastic about so many things, and always very supportive of whatever my father, sister, and I were doing or wanted to do. She also had a lot of commonsense and humor, so she could get away with being very direct in her comments, but always polite.”

Mrs. Balk’s family were not the only ones who enjoyed her liveliness. Friends and guests loved spending time in the Balk home.

“When we were living at home and in college, my friends all loved to come over to our house to chat with her, get her advice, and eat some of her famous Swedish coffeebread,” Balk-Hope added. “The house was always spotless and very cozy.”

In high school, Mrs. Balk and her future husband represented their rival schools (Moline and Rock Island) in a radio debate program. The couple dated when he attended Northwestern University and she studied nursing at Presbyterian-St. Luke’s (now Rush University Medical Center) in Chicago.

Mrs. Balk graduated from Moline High School in 1948 and received her RN from Presbyterian St.-Luke’s School of Nursing in Chicago in 1951. Upon graduation she served briefly as an occupational health nurse for Deere & Company in Moline. After marriage on June 7, 1952, she returned to Chicago and Presbyterian St.-Luke’s, where she served as clinic head nurse and emergency room head nurse. She taught English while living with her husband in Japan in the mid-1950s, where he was stationed in the Army, and was later active in a “foster relative” program for foreign students in the United States at Northwestern University.

The couple lived in Chicago, IL, Evanston, IL, New York, NY, Katonah, NY, Syracuse, NY, and Huntley, IL. Mrs. Balk was known in all these communities for her volunteer work and quiet activism, as well as her excellent cooking and extraordinary kindness.

“No matter where she lived or for how brief a time, Mom made friends easily,” Balk-Palguta said. She was always more interested in hearing about other people than in talking about herself.”

In Chicago, she volunteered at Beacon House on Chicago’s South Side and in Evanston and New York she served on the PTA of various schools and as PTA President at Hunter College High School during a critical time in the public school’s life, when it was threatened with closure due to lack of funds. She led the high school community in a successful march on New York’s City Hall which was covered by Geraldo Rivera on local television news. She was also active in Girl Scouts and helping foreign immigrants settle in the U.S.

In 1975, she joined Manufacturer’s Hanover bank (now part of Chase) as an occupational health nurse, retiring in 1991, when her husband joined the faculty of Syracuse University’s Newhouse School.

She resumed long-deferred study towards a Bachelor’s Degree, and in 1997, at age 67, became the oldest alumna in nursing of the State University of New York’s Upstate Medical University. The school used a photo of Mrs. Balk in cap and gown with her young granddaughter on the cover of its brochures for several years.

“I am so glad she was able to pursue her nursing career and the dream of getting an additional degree after the R.N.,” Balk-Hope said. “She was very smart and able to talk about world affairs along with more everyday things, and was interested in everything and extremely modest about her own abilities.”

The couple had a happy 58-year partnership until his death on Thanksgiving Day in 2010. Mrs. Balk served as an important support throughout her husband’s distinguished career, as indicated in Balk’s scholarly papers in the collections of the Newberry Library in Chicago and Syracuse University.

A Memorial service will be held 11 a.m. on Friday, May 20 at the First Congregational Church of Huntley, 11628 E. Main Street, Huntley. Contributions can be sent to the Huntley Area Public Library Friends Foundation, 11000 Ruth Road, Huntley, IL 60142, the First Congregational Church of Huntley, Hospice and Palliative Care of Northeastern Illinois, 405 Lake Zurich Road, Barrington, IL 60010 or your local hospice organization.

For further information, please contact DeFiore Jorgensen Funeral Home at 847-515-8772 or www.defiorejorgensen.com.

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