LANSING | It was in part a memorial service Saturday for Gena Chiodo, a Calumet City woman who disappeared from her home last fall and whose body was found in a wooded area in Indiana in December.
But Saturday's event at the Knights of Columbus hall, 178th Street and Lorenz Avenue, was also a birthday celebration for Chiodo, who would have turned 43 that day.
The event served as a fundraiser for domestic abuse shelters. The nearly 400 people who packed the hall each purchased $25 tickets, and raffles were held to raise money for facilities in Hammond and Homewood.
Chiodo’s friends thought a fundraiser was the best way to remember Gena’s death because police say they believe her live-in boyfriend, Donol Clark, killed her. Clark faces charges of murder and concealment of a homicide, and is being held at the Cook County Jail awaiting trial. He is scheduled to appear in court March 13.
But Saturday night, the people who knew and respected Gena were more interested in celebrating her memory – particularly since there was not any kind of local funeral service for her.
Chiodo’s parents live in Florida, and a formal memorial service was held there. But her mother, Joyce, made the trip from Cape Coral this weekend to be surrounded by people who loved her daughter.
“She (Gena) would be overjoyed to see that so many people cared about her,” she said, before bursting into tears.
Donna Wuchter, a friend of Chiodo who helped to organize Saturday’s event, said many of her friends have not fully grieved.
“We’ve been so busy organizing this event that we haven’t had a chance to let it out,” Wuchter said. “It’s probably going to hit us once this is over that she’s really gone.”
Wuchter said there is some talk, although nothing is definite, of doing an annual event in Chiodo’s name to benefit the cause of fighting domestic abuse.
With some 350 tickets sold in advance and a few dozen more people paying at the door Saturday night, organizers believe they raised just under $10,000. Once proceeds from the raffles were counted, Wuchter said organizers were hopeful the total take from the event would come close to $20,000, all to be donated to the Haven House in Hammond and the South Suburban Family Shelter in Homewood.
Norma Wierman, the board secretary for Haven House, said the organization would be able to put the donation to use to maintain their programs.
“We will be happy with whatever we can get,” she said.