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Friends and family gather to remember Lura Lynn Ryan

George Ryan Jr. is hugged after public visitatifor  his mom former Illinois first lady LurLynn Ryan Schreffler Life Story

George Ryan Jr. is hugged after public visitation for his mom, former Illinois first lady Lura Lynn Ryan, at Schreffler Life Story Funeral Homes in Kankakee Friday July 1, 2011. | Rich Hein~Sun-Times

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Updated: October 22, 2011 12:15AM

Neighbors and long-time friends of the Ryan family gathered inside a Kankakee funeral home Friday to remember former Illinois first lady Lura Lynn Ryan as a beloved, gracious and caring member of their community.

They also said the “scary part of politics” kept Mrs. Ryan’s husband and high school sweetheart, former Gov. George Ryan, from joining them.

“She never believed that he did anything harmful,” neighbor Deb Baron said.

Mrs. Ryan, 76, died Monday after suffering from lung cancer and pulmonary fibrosis. Her husband was by her side, allowed to temporarily leave the Terre Haute, Ind., prison where he’s serving a 6-1/2 year sentence for a corruption conviction.

The Ryan family held private services Wednesday, but Friday’s visitation gave friends and neighbors a chance to pay their respects. Bruce Schreffler, co-owner of the funeral home where the visitation took place, said about 400 people attended, including state Rep. Lisa Dugan, D-Bradley.

They gathered with the Ryans in a parlor where Mrs. Ryan could be seen smiling in photographs from her youth, her wedding day and her husband’s campaigns.

Baron sat near that collection of photographs, and she described Mrs. Ryan as a gracious woman who was friendly to everyone. She said Mrs. Ryan managed to humanize through conversation the wives of other high-profile politicians she knew, like Barbara Bush and Maggie Daley.

But she never let her status as Ryan’s wife affect who she was.

“It was never something that set her apart from anybody else,” Baron said.

The Rev. Jess Gathing of Zion Gate Missionary Baptist Church in Kankakee said Mrs. Ryan had obvious class. Gathing’s mother worked for the Ryans, as did her mother and aunts.

“They helped out people who needed help,” he said of the Ryan family.

That’s why Gathing said it’s scary federal prosecutors were able to send George Ryan to prison, separating him from his dying wife.

“If the federal government wants to get you, they can,” Gathing said.

Gathing compared George Ryan to his freshly convicted successor, former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who also faces a long prison sentence and separation from his wife and two daughters.

Baron said the timing between Blagojevich’s conviction and Mrs. Ryan’s death — hours apart — was weird. But she said there’s a stark contrast between the two families. She said the Ryans “did nothing but serve the citizens of this community and this state.”

Larry Patton, who knew the Ryans from working at the Kankakee Country Club, simply said Mrs. Ryan was a great person. So, he said, is her husband.

“I love them both,” Patton said.

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