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Kadner: Crestwood man returns to his home after cleanup

Rich Tollessmiles while talking with Crestwood Village Trustee PatriciTheresFlynn his home Crestwood IL Thursday November 1  2012.  Tollessays

Rich Tolleson smiles while talking with Crestwood Village Trustee Patricia Theresa Flynn in his home in Crestwood, IL, on Thursday, November 1, 2012. Tolleson says all of the clutter has been cleaned out and he can live there again. | Matt Marton~Sun-Ti

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Updated: December 3, 2012 6:42AM



“This is a story with a happy ending,” a smiling Rich Tolleson said Thursday.

Tolleson is back home.

In a column Oct. 21 about the 73-year-old former Cook County sheriff’s police officer, I described how Tolleson was feeling like “dead meat.”

A sign on the door of his Crestwood home said it was unfit for human habitation.

Tolleson and his wife, Emily, 71, had collected so much stuff over the years that every room in the house, along with the hallways, had become nearly impassable.

A person had to turn sideways to get from the living room in the front of the home to the bedroom in the back of the house.

Emily was in a rehabilitation facility recovering from surgery when her husband, a diabetic who needs a walker to get around, fell down and couldn’t get up.

A neighbor called 911, and police and fire officials determined the house was unsafe.

Tolleson was angry at everyone at the time (his neighbor and Crestwood officials) but acknowledges now that “something had to be done.”

“You just keep thinking you’ll get around to cleaning up the place someday and then suddenly there’s so much stuff and you’ve gotten old and sick and it’s too difficult to get rid of it,” Tolleson said.

The Tollesons have no children, but some very nice relatives who live out of state.

His sister, Jackie, and a friend came up from Tennessee twice to haul stuff out of the house, and this past weekend she was joined by her son and Tolleson’s brother, who live in Georgia and North Carolina.

“You’ve got to come over here and see the place now,” an overjoyed Tolleson said during a phone call after that visit.

I did, and the clutter had completely been removed.

“Go back and look in the bedrooms,” a grinning Tolleson urged as he sat at his kitchen table.

“Look in the washrooms and the laundry room.

“They’re all cleaned out.

“And when you’re back in the rear bedroom, turn on the light and take a look at the photograph on the dresser. That’s the most beautiful woman in the world in that picture, my wife.”

Several readers have contacted me with offers of help, and I sincerely appreciate their concern.

But Tolleson only wanted family in his house initially, and I can appreciate that.

But he and his wife are likely to need some follow-up assistance to maintain their home, and Tolleson told me he understands that.

While I was visiting, two Crestwood trustees stopped by, Victor Hirsch and Patricia Theresa Flynn.

Crestwood has been in the news for a lot of bad stuff in recent years, but the village has a long history of going the extra mile for its senior citizens.

Hirsch and Flynn are reaching out to social service organizations to line up support for the Tollesons.

Hirsch has been actively involved from the beginning and had reassured Tolleson and myself that he would be allowed back in his home as soon as the clutter was cleared out.

The clutter, as I call it, wasn’t garbage, but primarily clothes, blankets, and a lot of other stuff that had just piled up over the years.

Tolleson said that when his wife briefly returned to the house after the cleanup effort, she marveled that all of the stuff they had hoarded was gone.

“But the first thing she said was she wants a matching kitchen oven,” said Tolleson, who had bought a new stainless steel refrigerator.

“And she wants new kitchen cabinets,” a laughing Hirsch said. “I told her I would look into it.”

What impressed me the most was the mood of Tolleson, who was about as depressed as a man could be when I first met him.

He didn’t think anyone cared about his plight and was feeling pretty useless.

But since my first column appeared he said he has been contacted by old friends offering assistance, and “other people have just come up and hugged me.”

Physically, it’s apparent Tolleson is still struggling.

But mentally, he seems to be an entirely different man.

The Tollesons are more fortunate than many other seniors in that they have a pension and health insurance.

But that alone doesn’t guarantee an easy retirement.

In fact, many social services programs that our government has created are aimed at people with very low incomes, assuming other people have the resources to help themselves.

But anyone with aging parents understands how difficult it is to convince the elderly they need help or to give up their independence.

Many people don’t want to give up driving or leave their longtime family home for a condominium or assisted-living facility.

Your past, the things you’ve struggled to build your entire life, are gone. Your future looks bleak.

With a large aging population, I believe every community should be organizing efforts to address problems like those faced by the Tollesons.

The issue isn’t just maintaining a house, but letting elderly people know that someone cares. That they still have value.

I think that’s why Richard Tolleson is in a better frame of mind today than he was a couple of weeks ago.

“You know I only need one thing to make me happy,” Tolleson told me.

“My TV remote control,” he added, holding the device over his head.

Guys may get older, but some things don’t change.

“And you know what I like best about my house now?” he asked.

“That government sign on the door is gone.”



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