Carol Lee does most everything with a smile on her face.
Whether working with low-income seniors, coaching Special Olympic athletes or spending time with her three grandchildren, the longtime Johnsburg resident takes pride in enjoying herself and the company of those around her.
“My Irish mother instilled giving back, helping and thinking about the other person,” said Lee, who has five siblings. “We always had so much fun together, but we were very poor. Each one of us chose unique career paths to follow, none of us are the same.”
Graduating from Immaculate Conception High School in Elmhurst, Lee went on to attend Northern Illinois University, where she studied special education. She later spent time in Texas before making her way back to the far northwest suburbs to teach.
The mother of two adult children spent the next 25 years teaching special education before working for the American Red Cross as a paid staff member before leaving that post in 2001.
Through some prior connections, Lee landed a position as an information and assistance specialist for Senior Services Associates Inc. at the McHenry Township Senior Center.
Lee has spent the past four years helping low-income and disabled seniors with issues ranging from Medicare and Medicaid to energy assistance and property tax assessments.
“You become very attached to each and every person you know,” she said. “The sad thing is that most of our clients leave us to nursing homes or by passing away. Those are the hard things to take, but it’s nice to know you helped them along the way.”
One client with whom Lee has become close is 91-year-old Gertrude Gregory, who nominated Lee as an Everyday Hero.
The two met about four years ago when Gregory fell in the office parking lot one wintry day. As the point person for emergency situations at the senior center, Lee found Gregory in the parking lot with a broken hip, called 911 and helped her to the hospital.
“From there, we started an easygoing friendship,” Lee said. “She is now here every week with a smile on her face, and we sign her up for whatever she qualifies for. It’s nice to see that smile every Wednesday.”
Gregory insists that it’s Lee’s smile that is the gift for seniors at the center.
“She has the ability to put things into perspective and offers hope to a group of people looking for advice and console,” Gregory said. “[Her smile] is a gift for many seniors, as this may be the only smile they see all day.”
In addition to working at the senior center, Lee also has spent the past 30 years being involved with the Special Olympics and Northern Illinois Special Recreation Association.
She continues to coach basketball, soccer and swimming part time.
Although she would not reveal her age, Lee said that she is pushing 70 years old, and that soon she will be right alongside those seniors she serves, participating in bingo and other offerings.
“I envision myself right there next to them when I am finished here,” she said.
The Lee lowdown
Who is she? Information and assistance specialist for Senior Services Associates Inc.
Family: Two daughters and three grandchildren
What she does: Works at the McHenry Township Senior Center and volunteers at the Northern Illinois Special Recreation Association
Favorite day of the week: Bingo Wednesdays at the senior center