Mother of fallen soldier finds solace in working with vets

By Charlie Jolie
May 22, 2016

https://www.rush.edu/news/helping-veterans-and-herself

Modie Lavin knows the true meaning of Memorial Day all too well. For her, it’s an occasion of deep sadness and profound pride, a sharp reminder of a devastating loss she healed by helping others heal as well.

An outreach coordinator for the Center for Veterans and Their Families at Rush University Medical Center, Lavin is the mother of Marine Corps Cpl. Conner T. Lowry, who died on patrol in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, on March 1, 2012. He was 24 years old. Tall, athletic, mischievous and fiercely proud of his Beverly neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side, Lowry was known for his motto, “live life large.”

Hundreds of people in Beverly lined the streets for his funeral, one of which now is named after him. Lowry also is honored with a bronzed battle cross — a memorial arrangement of his helmet, boots and dog tags, and a rifle stuck in the ground — placed in the park he cherished.

These tributes to their fallen neighbor have helped the famously close-knit Beverly community grieve. For Lowry’s mother, though, life both stopped and swirled.

“After Conner died, I spent a year at home lost in a walking nightmare,” recalls Lavin, a single mother of two and empty nester. “My heart knew I was surrounded by wonderful people, but I was in a haze. I could not move.”

‘Conner has handed me a blank canvas’

A self-employed decorative artist for 17 years, Lavin’s watched her business crumble in the year following Lowry’s death. She looked for a new job as much to give her a reason to get out of bed as to provide her with an income.

“It could have been any job, but something was pushing me towards anything that dealt with veterans,” she says. She found a job as a veterans program facilitator for the Chicago Park District, developing programs and coordinating events with the district, the Jesse Brown VA Medical Center and other community service providers.

Working on veterans’ issues, Lavin started to understand that “the more I did, the more I healed.” Looking to make an even greater impact, she joined the Center for Veterans and Their Families, also known as the Road Home Program, in 2015 as an outreach coordinator focused on families.

She raises awareness in Chicago-area communities about the Road Home Program by connecting directly with families and partnering with other veteran and family service providers. “Through these relationships, be it meetings, forums, events or casual talks, I am able to identify veterans and their families who might be in need of the services we provide,” Lavin says.

“I always thought my true calling in life was my art, but I feel Conner has handed me a blank canvas,” she says. “Each veteran or family member I can help is like a brush stroke on that canvas. When I’m done with this work I feel I will have created my true masterpiece.”

Traveling a road to healing together

Through the Road Home Program, which helps local veterans transition to civilian life, Rush became the first academic medical center in the Midwest to partner with local Veterans Affairs facilities to provide mental health care and social service coordination to military veterans and their families. Family members are typically not eligible for VA medical benefits, but when a when a veteran suffers, the vet’s family suffers as well. Incorporating spouses and children into therapy and counseling greatly aids their transition to civilian life.

“Combat is not just limited to a specific battle, or even our military fighting that day. Too many of our military service members continue to fight demons when they return,” Lavin says.

She adds that she is proud to “work in a place of healing as I heal.” At times, she’s felt as if her son is with her as she’s helping veterans.

‘Think about what the flag and Memorial Day mean’

That Lowry would be an inspiration to help fellow Marines is no surprise to the men he served with and fought beside. “When morale was down, we could count on Conner to lift Marines’ spirits,” says Marine Cpl. Christian Huerta, a cannon crewman and fire team leader who served with Lowry. “He was a true leader who did whatever was needed to take care of his fellow Marines.”

While Lavin is proud to be taking care of veterans and their families, and comforted by this work, the pain of her son’s death can return in an instant. Memorial Day weekend is an especially draining mix of activities and emotions, including frustration that was intended as a day of solemn remembrance has become for many merely the unofficial kickoff to summer.

“I used to put out the flag just like everyone, but now I just want Americans to think about what the flag and Memorial Day mean,” Lavin says. “People can still have barbecues and stores advertise mattress sales,” but she wishes they also would attend a parade, hold their hand over their heart when they pass a cemetery filled with graves strewn with flags, and take a moment to reflect about the blood that was shed “so they are free to have barbecues and shop the Memorial Day sales.”

She recognizes that trying to think about all the servicemen and women who have died in battle can be overwhelming or too abstract. Instead, Lavin suggests acknowledging veterans’ sacrifices just by trying to think of one fallen military member who paid the ultimate sacrifice for our country and how large they didn’t get to live.

Marine Cpl. Conner T. Lowry, a 24-year-old lifelong South Sider died while conducting combat operations on March 1, 2012 in Afghanistan. Conner always exclaimed “Live Life Large”. Proof of his motto was in his scores of friends, living life to the fullest, and helping others. His adventurous spirit eventually took him across the world as a U.S. Marine. It is this spirit that the Conner T. Lowry Memorial Fund hopes to nurture for future generations for educational scholarships.

In order to make our benefit a continued success the Conner T. Lowry Memorial Fund Committee is seeking donations in the form of gift certificates, services, products and monetary donations. A description of your donated item will be presented along with your name and/or company being recognized.

In addition to our raffles, we are seeking golf course hole sponsorships. The cost of a hole sponsorship is $250. Sponsors names and logos will be printed on an individual sign and placed on a hole throughout the course. If you wish to be a hole sponsor please send us a business card or sketch of desired name and logo along with the hole sponsorship form. On August 23, 2014, Deer Creek Golf Course will be hosting our Jrd Annual Conner T. Lowry Memorial Golf Outing. Following the golf outing, a cocktail/dinner reception will be held at 115 Bourbon Street from 7:00-11:00pm.

With your support we hope that the Conner T. Lowry Memorial Golf Outing will be as successful and as memorable as last year’s event!

When:  Saturday August 23, 2014

12:00pm Shotgun Start – Registration Opens at 11:00am

Where:  Deer Creek Golf Course

25055 S Western Ave

University Park, IL  60484

Format:  4 Player Scramble

Cost:      $150.00 Per Player

Includes coach bus transportation to and from the outing, beverages and lunch ticket on the course, and open bar & dinner at 115 Bourbon Street following the outing.  There will also be on-course games provided by SMT Golf Outing Services.  Raffles and other prizes will be awarded at Bourbon Street as well.  So come out and join us for the 3rd Annual !!!  Golfers are encouraged to register for the outing using the PayPal link at http://www.ctlmemorialopen.com/

The cost to sponsor a hole in this year’s golf outing will be $250.  For each hole sponsor, and individual sign will be placed on a given tee box at Deer Creek Golf Course.  If you would like to become a sponsor, please remit a check in the amount of $250 to the address below, along with the business name OR phrase you would like depicted on your sign.  Thank you in advance for your support.  It goes without saying that it is very greatly appreciated!!!

Conner T Lowry Memorial, NFP

10041 S. Washtenaw Ave

Chicago, IL  60655

 

On Saturday August 24th at 1p.m., the Second Annual Conner T. Lowry Memorial Golf Outing was held at Deer Creek Golf Course in University Park, Illinois. Over 144 golfers participated in the event which raised scholarship money for deserving children at Conner’s Alma Mater, St. John Fisher School. The golf outing featured an exhilarating start as Chicago Blackhawks Vocalist Jim Cornelison sang his definitive rendition of the Star Spangled Banner to the participants mostly adorned in patriotic garb.

The banquet was held at 115 Bourbon Street immediately following the shotgun style event. Over 300 revelers attended the four hour event which featured food, drink, raffles, silent auctions, and live music from “Matt and Donnie”. We look forward to another successful event in 2014 and the years to come. The committee and family of Cpl. Conner T. Lowry would like to thank all of the participants and sponsors for their continued support.


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by Caroline Connors
The late Cpl. Conner T. Lowry was memorialized in Beverly on March 1 with the dedication of a bronze sculpture and an honorary street in his name.

The ceremony took place at Beverly Park, 103rd Street and Maplewood Avenue, Lowry’s old stomping grounds, family members said, on the one-year anniversary of his death. Lowry, 24, a 2006 graduate of Br. Rice High School, was killed in action March 1, 2012, while serving with the U.S. Marine Corps in Afghanistan.

Coordinated by the office of 19th Ward Ald. Matt O’Shea, the ceremony included a number of officials from the city of Chicago, including O’Shea, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Chicago Fire Department Commissioner Jose Santiago, Chicago Park District Superintendent and CEO Mike Kelly, 14th Ward Ald. Ed Burke, 11th Ward Ald. James Balcer and Office of Emergency Management and Communications Director Gary Schenkel.
Also in attendance were dozens of Lowry’s family members and friends and hundreds of schoolchildren from St. John Fisher Elementary School, Lowry’s alma mater.

The ceremony began just after 9 a.m. with the unveiling of a street sign on the northeast corner of 103rd Street and Maplewood Avenue dedicating the 10200 block of South Maplewood Avenue as Honorary Cpl. Conner Lowry Way. The Rev. John McNalis, a chaplain for the Chicago Fire Department and a 23-year veteran of the U.S. Air Force, offered a prayer for Lowry, his family and the U.S. Marine Corps.

As the street sign was unveiled from its covering, Lowry’s sister, Grace Lavin, provided an unintentional moment of levity when she accidentally snapped the cord that was designed to release the covering from the sign. Laughing, she was lifted on the shoulders of several men in attendance to successfully accomplish the task.

The group then walked across the field at Beverly Park to an area outside the park field house for the dedication of a bronze sculpture made up of a rifle, boots, helmet and dog tags. Known as a fallen soldier battle cross, the memorial was sculpted by CFD firefighter and paramedic John Alaniz, who also contributed pieces to the firefighter memorial at King-Lockhart Park at 106th Street and Western Avenue. The sculpture is mounted on a granite base with an inscription that honors Lowry and “all our U.S. armed forces who serve in war and peace.”

In their remarks, O’Shea, Kelly and Emanuel remembered Lowry as both fun loving and courageous and offered the memorial as an everlasting symbol of his life and the ultimate sacrifice that he made. Emanuel thanked Lowry’s family for sharing the dedication of the monument with the community and the city.
“Thank you for letting us have a little piece of this moment to share with you,” Emanuel said, “not to just be by your side, but to share with your family and remember what Conner was about and what he asked, not just of himself, but of all of us.”

Lavin concluded the dedication by thanking those present and the community at large for the support given to her family over the past year as its members continue to cope with the loss of Lowry’s life.

“We couldn’t have done it without you.”