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Sycamore native, artist Jeanne Tessier dies at age 70

January 24, 2018 GMT

Jeanne Marie Tessier, who grew up in Sycamore and unwillingly garnered attention during the prosecution of Jack McCullough before sharing her broad love for the arts with the world, recently died in Louisville. She was 70.

Tessier died of breast cancer Jan. 10, more than four years after she was diagnosed in 2013.

She testified in 2012 that her half-brother, Jack McCullough, who was convicted and then exonerated of the 1957 slaying of 7-year-old Maria Ridulph, raped her in 1962, when she was 14. He was acquitted of those charges, as well.

Tessier’s sister, Janet, said her sister had a gift for taken broken glass and pottery and mending the shards into beautiful sculptures – quite the departure from her art when she was young. It was dark and brooding, she said.

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“Her art seemed to go through a variety of forms and stages and media,” she said. “She did a lot of drawing and painting early in her life. A lot of the subjects were dark, with the abuse she suffered.”

Then Jeanne Tessier began experimenting with sculpture and texture.

“It became a completely different type of expression,” Janet Tessier said. “She saw so much beauty in very simple things, and turned very simple things into very beautiful things.”

Janet Tessier said her sister moved into a house just two blocks away from her, where a former friend previously lived, and that she was speaking fluently and happily one day – then in a coma, hours away from death the next.

“She did not want to linger or be in a coma and suffer,” Janet Tessier said. “She went out the way she wanted to. That was a great comfort.”

Jeanne Tessier wrote her own obituary and planned her own memorial service.

“She wanted control of everything, and that’s so in line with her,” Janet Tessier said.

Jeanne Tessier’s words, in the obit she wrote, tell us she “grew up believing herself unlovable, yet to her endless amazement and disbelief, and for reasons she never understood, she has been loved by many in her lifetime. She is eternally grateful for all of them.”

She tells us she was a teacher, who spent most of her career at universities. It also says she served as a chaplain, a public speaker, a writer, a visual artist and a preacher. Janet Tessier said her sister spent six years as a chaplain at Kosair Children’s Hospital in Louisville, where she also preached at Church of the Advent and led retreats.

Clearly moved by the arts, Jeanne Tessier perhaps was moved most swiftly by a lyric in Leonard Cohen’s song “Anthem”:

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“There is a crack in everything; that’s how the light gets in.”

“People crack open and break, but light comes in and illuminates all that’s dark and hidden and transforms it,” Janet Tessier said.

Her sister tells us in her obituary that she had three children, Shelley Elizabeth Barone, Stephen Michael Barone, and Blue Barone Neustifter. She humbly writes that she “failed at the work of parenting often and succeeded some. Her children taught her far more than she ever taught them.” 

Regarding more of her survivors, it adds: “Throughout her life, Jeanne has been accompanied, instructed, challenged, gifted, sustained, teased, loved and saved by her siblings Kathy Caulfield, Bob Tessier, Jan Tessier, Mary Hunt and Nancy Jo Tessier. She loves them, their spouses and/or partners, their children and grandchildren and all their animal friends.”

DeKalb County’s chief judge, Robbin Stuckert, acquitted McCullough of the rape in April 2012, ruling the state did not meet the burden of proof in proving the charges.

Days after McCullough was granted his certificate of innocence for Maria Ridulph’s slaying in April 2017, he filed a federal lawsuit against several parties involved with his arrest and prosecution.

All these developments only momentarily fazed the Tessier sisters, Janet said.

“To be perfectly honest, I was pissed off,” she said. “It was only for a very short time, though, and that it was replaced with resignation. It is what it is. We’ve decided to go on with our lives, and love our children, and live our lives the best we can.

“My sister did that. She was amazing.”