WOODSTOCK – Don Peasley, a McHenry County staple as a journalist and historian for more than 65 years, died Friday at age 90.
The editor, columnist and historian had suffered a stroke in late February but was back at home with a full-time caretaker.
“He was a wonderful man,” said Marybeth Vogrinc, Peasley’s assistant since 1980. “He was a role model to me with his patience and his charity toward people.” Peasley, of Woodstock, continued the work he loved through his last day.
He had been writing about people and events around the county in a weekly column for the Northwest Herald, and was scheduled to speak at a McHenry County Historical Society event Sunday.
Like every day, he got up Friday morning and sat at his desk with coffee and the paper, longtime friend Cheryl Wormley of the Woodstock Independent said.
“He lived and he died the way that he wanted to,” Wormley said.
Peasley was on his way to lunch with his daughter, who was visiting from out of town, Friday when he felt short of breath. He died of suspected heart problems, Vogrinc said.
Lunch was one of his favorite activities, friends remarked Friday.
A Navy veteran of World War II, Peasley began his association with Shaw Publications in 1950.
He had a natural ability to form relationships, which presented itself as an “old school” knack for earning trust from sources, friends and former co-workers said.
“He had an amazing feel for who people were, their connection to the county,” Wormley said. “He was just given a wonderful gift of connecting with people.”
“Even when he was retired and not getting around so much, he would always find some story,” added Kurt Begalka, who worked with Peasley at the defunct Woodstock Sentinel. “He would have the opportunity in the old school way of sitting down over a cup of coffee and finding the real skinny about stuff. It was an art.”
Peasley developed an interest in photography through the years and was often seen with his camera. Begalka, now administrator of the McHenry County Historical Society, recently has been going through decades of old negatives donated by Peasley.
Woodstock Mayor Brian Sager first got to know Peasley during his time at the McHenry County Farm Bureau, where Peasley helped start up a newsletter. He said he considered Peasley a “very close friend” and mentor for learning the community’s history.
“Don is known as Mr. Woodstock,” Sager said. “That name is not awarded or given lightly.”
“I truly will miss Don,” he added. “He was an individual that was so incredibly personable, and so interested in not just events or activities but was interested in how those things affected the lives of individuals.”
Peasley’s knowledge of McHenry County made him a go-to for those seeking to learn about the county’s history, Begalka said.
Friday, Begalka thought back to his first day on the job at the Sentinel, a day that would spark a lasting relationship.
“Don rolls in and introduces himself with his personable way – and he was always there,” Begalka said. “That’s the thing that’s really weird for people is that he’s not going to be there anymore.”