William C. Tinker wtinker@metrocast.net
Sat, 15 Jan 2005 19:47:24 -0500


Homeless Woman Finally Buried

Jan 15, 2005

HOMEWOOD, Ill. (AP) No headstone rises over Reta Reingruber's freshly
covered grave at the Homewood Memorial Gardens cemetery.

In death, as in life, Reingruber and the 7,000 other homeless and indigent
buried in common graves here lie on the fringes. They're set back from the
adorned family plots with their finely polished headstones that read "Our
Beloved" and "Rest in Peace."

"These are the forgotten people," sighed Tom Flynn, owner of the cemetery
that for 23 years has buried the dead left unclaimed at Cook County's
morgue. Last year, about 250 people went unclaimed, the Cook County Medical
Examiner's Office said.

Reingruber's body was kept at the morgue for five months before she was
buried Wednesday along with 22 other people whose bodies no relatives ever
claimed. Reingruber, who often spent nights sleeping on Chicago buses, was
45 when she died Aug. 11 of breast cancer at a hospital, medical examiner's
spokesman Mike Boehmer said.

Homeless advocates say more could be done to connect these forgotten dead
with relatives or friends so those like Reingruber don't have to lie
unclaimed for months and be given anonymous mass burials at the south
suburban Chicago cemetery.

"It's amazing that such cases are typical. It's a tragedy," said Ed Shurna
of Chicago's Coalition for the Homeless. He accuses officials of not doing
enough to get the word out -- especially on the street -- when homeless
people die so relatives or friends can be found.

Boehmer said it's not unusual to wait months to bury an unclaimed body
because it gives authorities ample time to pursue leads in locating next of
kin. Chicago Police often distribute photos of the deceased in neighborhoods
where the person spent time, police spokesman Matthew Jackson said.

Carmelo Vargas, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Human Services,
said officials do their best to identify the dead and find surviving

"It's not like we don't care," he said.

When no relatives can be found or the distant ones that are don't want to
claim the body, as was the case with Reingruber, the county pays to bury
people: $47.50 for a pinewood coffin and $186 in additional funeral

On Wednesday, a lone clergyman and four cemetery workmen presided over the
internment where the coffins for Reingruber and 22 other unclaimed bodies
were buried side-by-side.

No sign at the site lets people know who is buried there, but a cemetery
office has records of the plots: Reingruber's final resting place is section
GGSAM, row 6, grave 10.

In life, Reingruber's place was often riding in a back seat on Chicago
Transit Authority bus No. 77, where she would sleep, said Joey Lenti, a
student pastor who befriended her when she dropped by the soup kitchen at
the United Church of Rogers Park.

The heavyset woman with tousled strawberry blond hair would also sometimes
attend prayer meetings at the church, Lenti recalled. But she would
invariably sit away from the group by herself, keeping quiet and with her
arms tightly folded.

"There was no clue she drank or had drug behavior," Lenti said. "I knew she
was a good person underneath it all, but she had a need to keep people at

Lenti said Reingruber had a fear of stepping through doorways and an
aversion to touching others. She also had a persistent cough and often
appeared to be in physical pain, he said.

When she attended prayer service's at the church, Lenti remembers that
instead of shaking hands with others and reciting "peace be with you,"
Reingruber would withdraw and repeat "peace of mind" instead.

"I think peace of mind was her greatest wish," Lenti said. "But I don't
think she ever achieved it."

Lenti has organized a memorial service Sunday for Reingruber at his Rogers
Park church. He said he went to soup kitchens looking for acquaintances of
hers from the street who might want to attend the service.

He also invited a bus driver who was kind to Reingruber when she slept on
the No. 77 bus and found one of her childhood friends. She told Lenti that
Reingruber grew up in Palatine and was the youngest child of three. Her
father was a butcher who served in World War II and all her close relatives
had died by the time she was in her 20s.

The friend also gave Lenti a photo of Reingruber as a neatly groomed young
woman looking into the camera with her trademark folded arms.

Lenti said he would display the photo at the memorial service.

"It'll be central because it shows that Reta wasn't always what she was in
her final days," he said.

( 2005 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.