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Gail Borden employee Blohm left his mark in the genealogy, library and music worlds

Bill Blohm

Bill Blohm

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Updated: January 5, 2014 6:21AM

ELGIN — To Elginites trying to fill in their family trees, Bill Blohm was perhaps the city’s foremost expert on genealogical research.

For participants in the Bible & Brew scripture discussion at the Village Squire restaurant, he was the guy who brought up angles and insights nobody had ever thought of.

For Gail Borden Public Library, he was the guy in charge of ordering new books, videos and data bases.

And for three teenage children, he was the guy who won their mother’s heart and became their loving stepfather when he was already 35 years old.

Blohm, 62, of Carpentersville, suddenly fell ill while working as the manager of collection services at Gail Borden on the day before Thanksgiving. He was able to ask co-workers to call an ambulance but fell unconscious soon afterward and died on Thanksgiving Day in Advocate Sherman Hospital.

Standing-room-only funeral services were held Monday at Christ the Lord Lutheran Church in Elgin, where he had attended and been involved in the music ministry for 20 years. His widow, Carol Blohm, said the cause of his illness remains unknown pending the results of an autopsy.

“He brought so much to our library” and to the Elgin Genealogical Society, Gail Borden Executive Director Carole Medal said. “The last couple years, he has been working on moving our library to a new way of selecting materials for the collection. That is a major, major task, and it’s still not quite done. But he had finished the lion’s share.”

Medal said Blohm was well-versed in the various sources of information by which someone can trace one’s ancestry.

He “thought of genealogy as a wonderful treasure hunt. What he meant to our customers in that can’t be replaced. Just this month I received a thank-you card saying that because of Bill’s help, one customer had been reunited with a long-lost family member,” she said

Changing careers

Yet Blohm came to library work relatively late in life. In a 2011 Courier-News story about people who changed careers in midlife, Blohm explained how his career path had progressed from church music to banking to libraries.

After growing up in Chicago and attending Lutheran parochial schools there, Blohm said, he earned a master’s degree in church music and landed a job as the organist and choir director for a church in Rolling Meadows.

“But after a couple of years, I realized I wasn’t making enough money to make a living,” he said. So he got a new job in the banking and mortgage industry “because that’s where the jobs were then.”

When the 1991 recession took the life out of mortgage-making, he was laid off and “discovered my skills were not enough to get another job in banking at that time,” he later told The Courier-News. He was in his early 40s. So approaching the problem logically, he said, he got the career-advice book “What Color is Your Parachute?” and took an aptitude test.

“That said I would be good for two things — computer network administrator or librarian.”

The latter sounded a lot more interesting, he said. So, supporting himself for three years by doing a succession of temporary clerical jobs, he enrolled at the University of Illinois and earned a library science degree. He applied for a job opening at Gail Borden and was hired there in 1996, at age 45.

He said the library work “is far more interesting than banking because it’s people-oriented instead of bottom-line-oriented, and the pay is more fair” than in the banking industry.

Connecting dots

Others who knew Blohm remembered him as a dedicated Christian and a constant reader of books on a wide range of topics.

Former Courier-News religion columnist Mike Murschel recalled that “when I would write those features, Bill Blohm was my go-to guy when I had questions about religion.”

“He was a gentleman and a scholar who had an amazing propensity for connecting the dots” from such wide-ranging topics as science, religion and history, Murschel said.

The Rev. Keith Fry, the pastor of Christ the Lord Lutheran Church, said Blohm “was always excitedly trying to piece the world together and figure out its mysteries.”

Just the night before Blohm’s fatal attack, the pastor said, Blohm had been sharing insights from his wide-ranging reading during the church’s Bible & Brew meeting at the Village Squire.

Blohm’s younger brother, James Blohm, recalled that during their childhood, “I read comic books. Bill would be reading Scientific American.”

Carol Blohm, who was also a librarian before retiring, said she met Bill in 1985 at a party built around pizza and the game Trivial Pursuit. They married a year later.

Besides books, she said, her husband liked hiking, camping and dancing, and he did “an especially wicked chicken dance.”

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