Vater Fite, granddaughter of slave, dies at 104

Fite taught herself violin, was state Rep. Lilly's grandmother

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By Michael Romain


Vater Fite — an intrepid renaissance woman who was the matriarch of an immediate family that includes a state representative and an NBA player — died in Aurora on Jan. 17 at 104.

Fite was funeralized at Neighborhood United Methodist Church in Maywood, on Friday, according to an obituary published by the Chicago Sun-Times.

According to the Sun-Times, Fite grew up in East Texas as the granddaughter of a slave. In the 1930s, she moved to California and trained as a welder, working on battleships during World War II.

After moving to the Chicago area at 65, she took art classes at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, cultivating her talent enough that local governments exhibited her paintings, relatives told the Sun-Times. She also taught herself to play violin and became a world traveler.

Fite was the sole living sibling of longtime Maywood resident Leon Conner, who died in 2014 at 96.

Conner was among the country's last surviving veterans of World War II. His son, Ralph Conner, served as mayor of Maywood from 2001 to 2005. Conner-Heise Memorial Park, located on 10th and Washington, is named in honor of Thomas Heise and Leon's son, also named Thomas, who died in the Vietnam War.

Among Fite's many grandchildren and great-grandchildren are West Side state Rep. Camille Y. Lilly (78th) and Evan Turner, a basketball star at St. Joseph High School in Westchester who currently plays for the NBA's Portland Trail Blazers.


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