2012 Memorial Observance for Indigent Persons

27th Annual Interfaith Memorial Service
for Indigent Persons


On Wednesday, May 30, 2012, the lives of 609 people buried by the Cook County Medical Examiner in the past 12 months were commemorated during the 27th Annual Interfaith Memorial Service for Indigent Persons at First United Methodist Church – Chicago Temple. Rev. Dr. Philip Blackwell, Senior Pastor, officiated at the service.

Religious leaders from the Muslim, Jewish and Christian faiths offered inspirational messages and Cook County Board President, Toni Perkwinkle, delivered the key note address.

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle delivering the keynote
address at the 27th Annual Interfaith Memorial Service for the Indigent.

Photograph Courtesy of Cook County Blog—Sebastian James

President Perkwinkle's keynote address was very succinct during which she commented:

"The individuals we recognize today we don't know their stories, and we don't know what brought them into our custody. But each was a member of our community. They had family and friends; they were daughters and sons, parents and grandparents. And today, while we may not have personally known them, we recognize them and honor them."

Ms. Perkwinkle also acknowledged the problems the Coroner's office experienced during the past year stating….

"Under the leadership of Chief Administrative Officer Robin Kelly and her Deputy, Martha Martinez, we have made significant reforms within the Medical Examiner's Office. We have reviewed and formalized policies, personnel practices and procedures to make sure the office is fully accountable to all our residents. We've already seen progress. The changes we've implemented in the Medical Examiner's Office will mean that those who come into our care will be laid to rest as quickly as possible, and with the utmost respect and dignity."

President Perkwinkle further stated:

"On this day, we recommit ourselves to the core values of public service. We renew our commitment to serve all of our residents, regardless of race, religion or economic background." President Perkwinkle closed by thanking the religious leaders at the ceremony and the ministers who volunteer their services at each burial.


The focal point of the annual service is reading the name of every person buried each year. Members of various religious groups took turns reading 609 names, which crossed several ethnic groups: European, Hispanic, African-American, and Asian. A bell chimed intermittently and Rev. Blackwell lit one of the five white candles. Musical selections were presented by First Light Acolytes Youth Choir, First United Methodist Church from Athens, Georgia. The youth choir was on tour in Chicago and generously offered to participate in the service.

Cook County Bureau of Administration Public Information Officer, Mary Paleologos, stated after the service that some of the indigent people buried by Cook County during the past year were not homeless. Their survivors simply lacked the funds to bury them. Most are interred at Homewood Memorial Gardens in unmarked graves, but the plots are numbered and GPS tracked, allowing visits to locate them through the cemetery office.

The service offers the community an opportunity to act as a surrogate family to individuals buried by the Cook County Coroner's office. Now in its 27th year, the Interfaith Memorial Service is sponsored by:

The Memorial Ministry for Indigent Persons
77 West Washington Street
Chicago, Illinois 60602
Phone: 312-236-4548
FAX: 312-236-4106

W. Earl Lewis (deceased), Founder
The Rev. Dr. Philip Blackwell, First United Methodist Church - Chicago Temple
Jonni Miklos, First United Methodist Church - Chicago Temple
Pat Smuck, Archdiocese of Chicago - Office of Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs
Elder Gordon Zerkel, Ecumenism Metro Chicago
David Edward Sims, Radio DePaul
Tom Laidlaw, Graphic Designer, Chicago Temple
James V. LoBianco, Executive Director, Streetwise, Inc.
Erik Nussbaum, Music Director, Chicago Temple

Ms. Pat Smuck

Our office gratefully acknowledges the assistance of the following individuals who provided news coverage and photographs:

Click here to review more information about the Interfaith Memorial and
Mr. W. Earl Lewis, Founder