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Teacher who loved Cubs dies after choking on hot dog at Wrigley Field

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Updated: August 19, 2013 3:03AM

Palos Heights middle school teacher Maureen Oleskiewicz was such an avid fan of Chicago sports that she instituted spirit days for students to dress up in support of local teams, including her beloved Cubs, Blackhawks and Bears.

On Sunday, the 28-year-old was with her brother at Wrigley Field when she met an untimely end, choking on a hot dog, according to her family and authorities.

She didn’t get to see the opening pitch.

Oleskiewicz and her brother Martin were enjoying a pregame lunch when she caught him off guard by what at first seemed like an attempt at humor, their mother said.

Quickly, though, Martin Oleskiewicz realized his sister was in grave danger as she fell to the floor choking.

“They’re sitting there eating lunch before the game, looking at the field and the next thing she’s on the floor,” Margaret Oleskiewicz said. “He didn’t even know she was in distress and then she’s on the floor.”

Oleskiewicz went into cardiac arrest and never recovered, despite efforts to revive her, her mother said.

“I think it happened about 1 o’clock, it was just before the game started. Matter of fact, I remembered seeing them give her CPR while the national anthem was playing,” eyewitness Brent Olson said in an email.

“You could see everyone rushing up to the top of the seating with a frantic look on their face. They performed CPR like I’ve never seen,” he said.

Olson, who was standing near the VIP entrance, was so troubled by what he saw that he made a craigslist post inquiring about Oleskiewicz’s fate.

She was taken Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center, where she was kept alive until 9:10 a.m. Tuesday — long enough to donate her organs in a final act of kindness, her mother said.

News of Oleskiewicz’s death rocked the community at Independence Junior High, where the popular teacher and former student taught sixth- and seventh-grade language arts.

“There is no magic wand to fix what we cannot comprehend,” District 128 Supt. Kathleen Casey wrote in a letter to parents. “Maureen had a positive impact on countless students, parents and ... colleagues. Her vibrant, positive outlook on life and her joyful nature will be missed more than words can convey.”

The neighborhood surrounding Independence Junior High was quiet Wednesday as school was letting out. In front of the school, the American flag flew at half-mast. Inside, the staff was “struggling just to hold it together,” Casey said.

Oleskiewicz was a popular teacher who attended school there as a child and had taught there for the past six years, Casey said. Dismissal time was somber, as students quietly got on their buses or bikes or walked home.

The district website posted a smiling picture of Oleskiewicz, dressed in a Blackhawks jersey, with the words “Forever in Our Hearts,” and there was an invitation to students to create poster boards for her memorial service.

Parents of Oleskiewicz’s students also struggled to understand the tragedy.

“It’s horrible. I just can’t believe it,” said Jennifer Harvey, whose son had Oleskiewicz for his sixth-grade homeroom period this year. “She was his favorite teacher. He didn’t know what to say. She

was really a sweetheart.”

Kelly Lang said her daughter Alyssa — who had Oleskiewicz for homeroom this year — broke down at her softball game Tuesday.

“It’s very hard,” she said. “God, it is just so tragic.”

Oleskiewicz had just written her daughter a letter of recommendation to be a junior counselor at a summer camp. She plans to keep it.

“Now we have something to cherish,” Lang said.

“God, this is so sad,” Cyndy Heabel said as she waited to pick up her nephew Josh Korsak, who had Oleskiewicz for a study hall. She said high school counselors came to the junior high to help everyone.

“He said she was always smiling, always said hello to everyone and was always happy,” Heabel said. “He’s a boy’s boy. For him to say that, she must have been sweet. He really liked her, even though he didn’t have her as a teacher.”

A Tuesday night vigil filled the Incarnation Catholic Parish in Palos Heights to capacity. And at an impromptu memorial afterward, a crush of students lit candles and laid flowers outside her classroom, according to Oleskiewicz’s mother.

Her daughter had a knack for connecting with kids going though the turmoil of early adolescence, Margaret Oleskiewicz said. One unconventional lesson plan even incorporated rap — her students’ music of choice.

“The kids got up and were dancing and rapping with her. Every kid got a good grade on that test,” she said, choking back tears. “Maureen would make learning fun.”

In a statement, Cubs spokesman Julian Green said the organization was saddened to learn of Oleskiewicz’s death.

“The Chicago Cubs are saddened to hear news of the untimely death of Maureen Oleskiewicz. We express our deepest sympathy to her family and friends. We will continue to keep her family in our thoughts and prayers during this difficult time,” the statement said.

Hospital officials did not return calls seeking comment, but the elder Oleskiewicz said she was told her daughter’s “big, giving heart” will go to a 14-year-old girl in desperate need of one.

“Even in death she was so kind and good,” Margaret Oleskiewicz said.

Contributing: Susan DeMar Lafferty

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