After the death of Camille Caffarelli, executive director of Horizons for the Blind in Crystal Lake, friends and people whose lives she touched shared memories of the woman they knew who always did “so much to help people” with a smile.
Caffarelli died May 29 of cancer. Born blind, she founded the organization Horizons for the Blind, now based in Crystal Lake, out of her Chicago home with the help of two volunteers.
The organization has since grown, becoming one of the leading producers of Braille and large print in the country, as the Northwest Herald has previously reported.
Rich Wolfe, of Arizona, who served on the board of directors for Horizons, said he would climb a mountain for Caffarelli.
“She just had a special aura about her,” Wolfe said.
Although Caffarelli faced challenges in her life, such as the death of her first husband, it didn’t stop her from helping others. “She was a tough lady,” Wolfe said.
Bob Becker, who worked at Horizons for the Blind for almost nine years, first met Caffarelli when he walked into her office looking for advice.
His vision was failing because of a genetic condition, which he thought was keeping him from finding a job.
“I was getting depressed because, at that time, it was becoming difficult to even fill out a job application.”
So, when he talked to Caffarelli, Becker hoped she could give him some answers. After hearing about his situation, Caffarelli interrupted him.
“She told me that she did not want to hear any more about what I could not do,” Becker said. “She said to tell her about what I could do and how I could help Horizons. I left her office 20 minutes later with a job and a much better attitude.”
Jim Kral, who’s worked for Horizons for the Blind for 8 years, said he learned a lot from Caffarelli, such as patience.
“I tend to be hard on myself and she kind of made me feel not to be,” Kral said.
Bob Fredrickson went to grade school with Caffarelli in Chicago, but as they grew up, they lost track of each other. After he lost his hospital job, someone gave him her number. When he called, Caffarelli instantly remembered him.
“She recognized my voice after not hearing it for probably 30 years,” Fredrickson said.
After telling her he needed a job, Caffarelli interviewed Fredrickson and he started working at Horizons.
Mary Ellen Thorson met Caffarelli when a company Thorson was working with wanted to print bills in Braille.
“Camille and I clicked immediately – she was so professional, creative, aware of all the accessibility rules,” Thorson remembered.
Kathy Claus, of Albuquerque, New Mexico, was 15 when she first met Caffarelli.
“She may not have had sight, but did have a lot of vision,” Claus said. “Her vision ... has led to many people having cellphones, cable and other bills in Braille.”
Karen Hutchings, secretary for Horizons for the Blind, said Caffarelli’s sense of humor and passion to help talented people reach fuller potentials was inspiring and compelling.
“She helped me understand the compassionate strength and sensitivity of people who did not need eyes to see beauty and goodness in people,” Hutchings said.
Frank Cosatino, who lives in Rockford, has known Caffarelli for more than 60 years.
He started working for her in 1990, then went back in 1997.
“[Caffarelli] had faith in people and didn’t think having a disability was a reason for not working,” Cosatino said. “She just wanted equality for all people,” Cosatino said.
Chicago resident Maureen Heneghan is a member of the Weekenders Club, an outreach social group for people who are blind, visually impaired and sighted, called Caffarelli a “very kind person.”
“When there was a function being held at Horizons for the Blind or when the Weekenders organization was holding a function ... she always made her way around and said hello to everybody,” Heneghan said.
David Meyer, of Forest Park, sat on a couple of state committees with Caffarelli, after first meeting her at a national Federation of the Blind Chicago Chapter meeting in the 1970s. He then later became a board member for Horizons.
Caffarelli always had something nice to say, and always wanted to make sure all sides and opinions were heard on any given issue. “She conducted herself in a very nonpartial manner. She did have opinions, but she would not let them interfere with her ability to chair something,” Meyer said.
Thomas Aquilina, a Horizons board member from Crystal Lake, said Caffarelli was “quite a character.”
“She was a pistol,” Aquilina said. “One of the most unique things about Camille and Horizons is that they all work together as a team, equally; people that were blind, visually impaired people or sighted people. No group was ever treated better than the other group. They have grown and created an environment where everyone worked together to achieve greater independence. And she cultivated that. She nurtured that.”
Megan Bart, who worked at Horizons for the Blind for a little more than a year, said Caffarelli was an amazing woman and inspirational to a lot of people.
“She let me continue working when times were tough and even let my kids come into work with me. She’s been through a lot in her lifetime and still had an amazing attitude toward everything,” Bart said.
Jessica Dunn, an employee at Horizons for the Blind, said Caffarelli’s death was a huge loss.
“It was an amazing experience working beside such a strong woman,” Dunn said. “I came to Horizons not knowing one thing about Braille and she has left me with her great knowledge that I will forever carry with me.”