LA GRANGE — Almost every day for the past four years, Lee Cheshier has visited the chapel at Adventist La Grange Memorial Hospital, where his wife, Catherine, died in 2009.
Deviating from his routine only on holidays or occasional sick days, Cheshier has made almost 1,500 trips to the chapel over the past four years.
“She was my life,” said Cheshier, who lives a few miles from the hospital in La Grange. “I was her sole caretaker and I still miss her every day. When I’m at the chapel, I feel like I’m near her.”
The couple met at a Chicago high school when Lee was 17 and Catherine was 15.
“I sat behind her in class,” Cheshier, now 91, said about the day the two met. “The first thing I did was pull her hair and she turned right around and told me to stop it. I knew then she was going to be my girl.”
They later married, had two children and moved to La Grange 35 years ago. They were together for 66 years before Catherine died of complications from Alzheimer’s disease.
Lee Cheshier was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2004. He typically spends just a few minutes in the chapel, which is usually empty. Sometimes he plays the chapel piano, which he taught himself to play.
On the day Cheshier lost his wife, the hospital’s then-CEO, Rick Wright, walked into the chapel and asked if he could play a song. Wright and Cheshier eventually became friends and later went to lunch together.
Cheshier plays the piano for himself, but one day he didn’t notice a woman sitting in the back of the chapel while he was playing. When he finished, she stood up and said, “Thank you, that really helped me today,” and left.
Mark Woolfington, the chaplain at Adventist La Grange Memorial Hospital, introduced himself to Lee after watching Cheshier walk into the chapel, Bible and cup of coffee in hand, day after day.
“Lee is a gentleman in the truest sense of the word and a great blessing to our hospital family,” Woolfington said. “If you enter the chapel while he is playing the piano, he’ll always ask if his playing will disturb you. I’ve told Lee many times that the opposite is true. His presence and gentle music have helped many other visitors and patients through their own difficult times.”