287. ALS Walk for Life Sparks Fond Memories of North Barrington’s Paul Launer

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Paul Launer's "Iron Horse Brigade" in the 2013 ALS Walk for Life - Photo by Bob Lee

It’s been nearly three months since the community lost Paul Launer, a North Barrington father-of-two who passed away on July 3rd after a four-year battle with ALS. Diagnosed in June of 2011, Paul never ceased to stand up to his debilitating disease, publicly championing the call for more research to find a cure.

Because of Paul’s lasting legacy and commitment to the cause, his Iron Horse Brigade helped raise over $215,000 in Sunday’s 14th Annual ALS Walk for Life at Soldier Field. Two other teams from Barrington joined forces with Paul’s supporters. When they collectively raised $100,000, that triggered a matching $100,000 donation from the area’s Foglia Family Foundation.

One of the things that has touched me most about Paul’s story is the example he set during the last years of his life for his young daughters, Aubrey and Sarah. He visited their school to speak to students about ALS, he inspired his team to break fundraising records in the ALS Walk for Life for three-years-straight, and he even took Barrington’s Community Ice Bucket Challenge before a crowd and cameras in the center of town last summer. In short, he showed up, putting things in perspective with a skill that spoke to us all. Despite ALS, Paul’s role as a leader remained unchanged. He stood as a symbol and source of strength, even as the illness continued to take its toll.

Not long after his passing, I sent an email asking some of Paul’s friends what they’ll remember most about him and the ways he impacted their lives. Here are just a few of the many kind words, memories and photos they shared…

“Paul and I met in 1997 working as independent consultants. We’ve been great friends for 18 years. I hired him at Northern Trust to work full time. Paul and I would go out for an annual boys night out and have steaks, beer, and enjoy a fine cigar. We did this for many years around Christmas. We also enjoyed a Blackhawks game together

Paul and I would talk about expressing ourselves at work and how to make a difference. He told me – and this will stick with me forever – ‘It doesn’t matter what we accomplish or do. What matters most is to LOVE and BE LOVED.'”

– Tim Matthews – Schererville, Indiana

“We met Paul through BASA soccer many years ago. He coached our daughter’s team. Both our kids are the same ages and were also in school together, but it was soccer that first brought us together and Paul showed so much kindness to our kids.

The entire Launer family is grace personified. From the smiles on his daughter’s faces, to Kris, who may have one of the best laughs around and to Paul, a kind and humble gentleman with a great sense of humor.

We will always remember Paul’s sense of humor and the expressions in his eyes even until the end. And his big smile, even in his last days when talking about his playoff beard. Sports was the connection…soccer, hockey, triathlons. He had experience and stories about all of them and he graciously shared.

Paul makes us want to be better at everything. Watching his grace and courage as ALS took over was a testament to how Paul lived his life before ALS. Strong and courageous. Our lives are much richer for knowing him and, for that, we are truly grateful.”

– Ellen & Neil Gull – Barrington, Illinois

“Paul was all-in on whatever he did. He had a passion that would not let him be a bystander or do anything with half measures, especially as it related to his two girls.

I admired the way Paul was able to transfer his passions and excitement to Sarah and Aubrey, with Sarah being one of the youngest to test for Haylushka in Indian Princesses and and Aubrey winning Haylushka of the year for her dedication to the program and her service to others.”

– Dave Szela – North Barrington, Illinois

“I met Paul in 2008 through the Algonquin Longhouse Indian Princesses program where we both started in the North Barrington School Pawnee Tribe. Paul’s passionate involvement in Indian Princesses since 2008 as a two-time Chief had a huge impact on many dads & daughters’ relationships. He always pushed for a better program while inspiring many with his focus on goals, friendships (all dads were friends with Paul), and being there for our kids.

Some random things; Paul’s family living in his Grandma’s basement while their house was getting ready, Paul’s passion for playing hockey downtown before ALS, Paul being the webmaster for the Mohican Nation Indian princesses, Paul coming up with the idea to cook “real man food” during campouts (filet!, portobellos!, asparagus!), Paul dealing with the humor of ALS by changing his Indian Princess name from Raging Bison to Mighty Wind (because his speech volume changed), Paul coming to his last fall campout with his brother-in-law Dave and riding around in a golf cart, Paul being happy with the entire Mohican Nation singing him Christmas Carols at his house this past year, Paul fighting ALS and ensuring we all knew more about this terrible disease, Paul always being upbeat even after being confined to the wheelchair. Paul said it best in his last email with me on June 13, 2015 (emphasis is his) ‘Life is short. Life is good. GO HAWKS!!! CHEERS!!!'”

– Craig Meadors – Barrington, Illinois

“Paul lived for his girls! We would always see him riding his bike with them by our driveway when they lived in our neighborhood. He joked about getting a shotgun to keep our boys away from them and, when he no longer determined them a threat, we talked about how cool it would be if they got married so we could be in-laws.

I always wished we could have gone on a ski trip with his family. We had talked about it the year before Paul got sick but never got around to going. Even when his body wouldn’t allow him up on the mountains anymore, he always asked me about how the snow was and if I was teaching the boys to go off jumps. I can picture him skiing right now on the clouds in heaven.

I complain about things in my life all the time. Little things, like having to clean up after my kids, or some weather messing up my plans for the day. I never heard Paul complain about things in his life, and his life was hard! He lived with grace and humility and was an amazing example of a positive attitude for our family. We miss him!”

– Annie Schnaubelt – North Barrington, Illinois

“I will always remember Paul for being so strong and courageous throughout his life, before and after his diagnosis with ALS. As his yoga teacher I was able to witness how much he longed to be able to reconnect to his breath and his body. He struggled tremendously but he never gave up trying, nor did he ever curse his situation or feel badly for himself. Paul always tried to live in the moment and to appreciate every single day. He is so missed by so many.”

– Samantha Doughty – Libertyville, Illinois

“I had the occasion to meet Paul after he was diagnosed and, within a few minutes, I was inspired by his positive attitude. Paul taught me to look for the silver lining in everything. He amazed me by the way he maintained his sense of humor and was able to keep things light. When I got my cancer diagnosis I thought of Paul. He has mentored me by example. Paul was a great man and you can tell that by the people he has touched. I am grateful to be one of those people. Paul, you are greatly missed!”

– Thomas Balsamo – Barrington, Illinois

“I really knew Paul and Kris from his work with the Les Turner ALS Foundation. In addition to being another Barrington person, I am on the Board of the Foundation, and the work that Paul did to raise awareness for ALS has been really inspirational. While our relationship was, sadly, oriented to the shipwreck of ALS, I developed a deep respect and fondness for Paul.

ALS can feel like a death sentence, and many people shut themselves away. Paul did the opposite. He didn’t spend his time feeling sorry for himself, he didn’t shrink away from his physical deterioration, and he didn’t act like everything was without hassle or pain for himself, Kris or the girls. He showed remarkable courage. To so many people, Paul became the face of this disease, and his legacy will in part be how they confront it as time goes on.”

– Doug McConnell – Barrington, Illinois

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