Deaths: John Cepek
By Sonya Booth
John Cepek was always quick with a joke and a smile, but he was serious about the things that mattered: family, friends and his commitment to the causes he believed in.
Cepek, who retired in 2004 after 32 years at UIC, was former national president of PFLAG, an organization that provides support and advocacy to the LGBTQ community, families and allies. He was co-chair of the UIC Chancellor’s Committee on the Status of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Issues.
During his years as director of UIC Publications Services and Mail Services, he was a mentor to younger staff and students.
After retirement, he was board member and newsletter editor of the UIC chapter of the State Universities Annuitants Association, which advocates for university retirees.
“John was a kind, compassionate, mischievously witty man who lifted the spirits of everyone in any room he entered,” said Brenda Russell, College of Medicine professor emerita and president of the annuitants group.
Cepek and his wife, Charleen, were on an Adriatic cruise Feb. 27 when he fell and suffered a severe head injury in Croatia. Russell set up a fundraising site, which is still accepting donations. He was transferred March 6 to a hospital in Munich, Germany, where he died March 15. He was 69.
The Cepeks joined the Hinsdale PFLAG chapter after one of their sons came out in 1991. They worked for LGBTQ rights with PFLAG and other groups, receiving the Equality Illinois Freedom Award in 2006.
Cepek was PFLAG National president from 2006 to 2010. He helped establish the organization’s Straight for Equality program for non-family LGBTQ allies.
“He was a strong visionary for what was possible, and a true pragmatist about how to get there,” said Jody Huckaby, former executive director of PFLAG National. “He was at the forefront of this idea that bringing more people to the conversation — beyond families and friends — would be the tipping point to push equality forward.”
When he met Cepek in 1992, Gerard Catrambone was a campus mail carrier who had dropped out of college due to family obligations.
Cepek, himself a UIC graduate (’71 BA, ’73 MA, English), encouraged Catrambone to finish college and advance his career.
“I know it sounds like a cliché, but in my younger years, he was like a second father,” Catrambone said. After Cepek retired, Catrambone succeeded him as director of Publications Services.
“We would talk about his trips all over the world, and I would tell him that in a few years I’d be able to join him. Now, that won’t be possible,” Catrambone said. “The world is a little less happy and joyful place because of his loss.”
A memorial service in the Chicago area will be announced later.