CAMILLE HELENE GILLA
May 11, 1941 – March 22, 2019
Camille Helene Gilla was born on May 11, 1941 just after the Great Depression in the heart of Chicago, Illinois. Along with her family, Camille would endure impacted economy, which developed in her an enlightened ability to find bliss in otherwise common moments, while transforming everyday experiences into adventures with bonafide joy for life.
Camille was the eldest of three children to second-generation Polish immigrants Frank and Helen Killman. After a demanding day job, her dad’s true vie for life emerged at night. He poured his heart out through an alto saxophone in a band on nights he wasn’t up too late and too loud playing cards. Her mom held the home fort down with a strict but loving soul, often working side jobs to supplement income as well. Each payday, her dad would bring home a big chocolate poundcake to go along with his big smile to treat his family—a memory that would stay with Camille forever.
Their family knew money was tight and learned to savor every privilege. Money wasn’t going to buy her happiness, so she grew accustomed to finding fun on zero budget. She often walked miles to Oak Street beach to revel in the short-lived Midwest sunshine, practiced her dance moves with her brother Wally at local venues and created masterful paintings and sketches of her surrounding world. She stole her sister Marlene’s clothes, and stray pennies on the street found their way into her pockets full of hope.
Camille was drawn to her godmother and aunt Cecile (Frank’s sister) who opened Andersen’s Bakery with her son Howard. Camille was thrilled to have her first job there and remembers the distinctive taste, look and aroma of all the Polish pacskis (pastries).
She studied interior design and also took classes to bolster her typing and other business skills. She had other early jobs at a bank, the Chicago Merchandise Mart and ultimately at Stewart-Warner, where she met her future husband, George.
Camille remembers him walking by in gingham shirts with a pep in his step. He would venture down from the engineering department to the first floor where the blueprints were kept—and where she sat. She affectionately described George as “the most ambitious man I ever met.” In addition to his day job, he was attending college and doing sales on the side. Between work, he’d jog around the block to keep focused—once he was even stopped by authorities as he was ahead of his time with running for exercise.
The couple had their first of many dates on January 28, 1962—George’s 27th birthday. They spent hours engaged in conversation at a bar across the street on a cold and snowy Midwest night. Their courtship quickly flourished as they found themselves frequently closing down dance floors across the city—one night so late it turned into dawn as they slept under a park tree. A sign of more fun to come. She was swept off her feet with a proposal and the couple first eloped to seal their vows. They returned to face two unhappy mothers who immediately made plans for a traditional Catholic wedding on June 30, 1962, which proved to be an iconic 60s-esque all-day celebration. The Gillas settled into a quaint trainstop suburb called Westmont where they would throw out their anchor to grow their family including children.
The things Camille didn’t have growing up transformed into things that she made happen for her own kids Greg, Tanya and Gail in one of the most joyful childhoods they could imagine. Her love for the beach meshed with George’s fascination for boating. One lifelong hobby emerged as George successively built bigger boats to accommodate their growing family. Family vacations started long before their blue van left the driveway as Camille would pack up vacation essentials in anticipation of the adventures to come. Trips to Florida, K Cousin reunions across the Midwest, ski resorts and campsites were forever intertwined with some entertaining Mom-moment. Whether she was squealing because of a bug in her sleeping bag, nursing a sunburn or dancing with the kids, she was the light of their lives.
Camille packed her time with as much life possible. From movies and music to desserts and martinis to pools and poker, she did it all on a dime. Her penny-pinching personality continued well into her stable middle-class lifestyle where she clipped coupons and reused bags before it was vogue. Once she even got heated with a buffet worker who stopped her on the way out to confiscate a brownie she pocketed for the ride home. With all her humble childhood roots in a bunch, she took a generous bite of the brownie and hurled the rest into the can to spite her. Life was to be lived with intention and candor. No-frills bliss. Perhaps with an added cream puff and Sinatra song where possible.
Her kids’ birthday parties were her ultimate outlet as each new year beckoned the revival of her housewives’ cake decorating club lessons to adorn a host of themed backyard celebrations. Their house was transformed every month as she celebrated every American (and Hallmark) holiday in existence. New Year’s Day started off the year with a bang and continued through a detonation of Christmas décor and tradition from our living room to lovey lunchbox notes. There wasn’t a Halloween that she didn’t dress up right along with the kids and come up with some new strategy for spooking trick or treaters. Easter egg hunts were admittedly competitive among her children due to the elaborate treats and prizes she hid in the dozens of plastic eggs. One time after moving far away to California in her adulthood, daughter Gail recalls a colorful package that arrived on her desk at her job as coworkers gathered around. Inside she found an in-box Easter egg hunt that Camille had created by hiding treat-filled plastic eggs in the folds of the packaging paper inside. Unimaginable. This was the epitome of the lengths she’d go through to create magical moments for those she loved. She gave her kids more than they ever could ask for. And it was sealed every night with her signature bedtime forehead kiss. Through the years, Camille enjoyed taking additional courses to become a medical copywriter, secretary and ultimately the receptionist at Komatsu Financial in Downers Grove for many years.
While artistic talent is seemingly inborn—it’s fostered through life experiences. Sure, talented singers have the vocal chords to belt out notes, but it’s one’s soul that allows them to make melodies. Yes, artists must have a steady hand, but they could never paint with accuracy or skill without the ability to observe our world’s beauty.
For anyone who knew Camille, you know that she was an extraordinary painter. She was honored by winning an art contest while at Tuley High School by having her artwork of a ship in a harbor hang in Chicago’s Art Institute’s Goodman Gallery. This was just the beginning. With little instruction, she created hundreds of gorgeous paintings in her lifetime. As a person who grew up craving more than she had, Camille saw detail often overlooked by others. She could carefully capture on canvas the array of color in sunsets to the coarseness of bricks in an old Chicago building. And she could tell in an instant by the look on any of her children’s faces when they needed a hug. Her paintings captured so much texture, light and vivacity that they could only be the work of an individual full of insight and appreciation for this thing we call life.
In May of 2018, Camille was diagnosed with esophageal cancer yet fortunately went into remission after treatment. Determined to follow her dreams of living in California, her and George moved to California in late-summer 2018. After many memorable moments with his family, George passed away in October from Parkinson’s disease. A beautiful ceremony was held and he was honored and buried at Miramar National Cemetery in San Diego.
Many describe Camille as the most generous and thoughtful person they knew. Even in illness. In fact, moreso in illness. Her cancer returned in December 2018 and she focused on time with family, friends under the California sunshine. Her caring nature was the hallmark of her character and moved people in powerful, unexpected ways through the years. The bittersweet nature of her illness lied in how she devoted what little energy she had left to others. From a hospital bed, she shipped a sweet 16 birthday necklace to her granddaughter, a golden birthday gift to her great niece and even demanded she dictate a message to be inscribed in her son-in-law’s birthday card mid-nausea episode. She spent the better parts of two days wrapping her grandson’s seven-year birthday gifts, and rumor has it she pushed an hour in the greeting card section from her wheelchair. Even as her strength declined, her pursuit to make others smile ensued.
Even in her last days, she avidly did what she could to continue creating moments for those she loved from bed: she determinedly folded five-dollar bills into golden eggs for her grandchildren’s Easter egg hunt. From staging backyard egg hunt for her children to pouring her last moments into one for her grandchildren—her life lesson was clear and consistent. Life is to be lived out loud and all out, fiercely loving family and friends along the way. So, as we struggle to say goodbye to someone who couldn’t sit still three months ago—perhaps there is some peace in knowing she made every moment matter.
Camille passed away on March 22, 2019 surrounded by love, holding the hands of her three children and niece. Her family today includes son Greg Gilla, daughters Tanya Hayes and Gail Czyszczon, sister-in-laws Irene Engh and Evelyn Towalski, daughter-in-law Ana Mois Gilla, sons-in-law Thomas Czyszczon and Thom Hayes; five grandchildren Felicia, Jacquelyn, George, Izabella and Mason; goddaughter Cheryl Castillo, as well as 10 nephews and nieces.
Services will be held at McLeod Funeral Home in Escondido, California on April 26th, 2019. A shared life celebration and dinner will also be held on the afternoon of July 6th in the Chicago area (at son Greg Gilla’s home at 15109 Kilbourne Avenue, Midlothian, IL 60445) for relatives from all over to come together to remember the beautiful life of both Camille and George Gilla.
PLEASE COMMENT BELOW - We welcome you to comment and post photos below. Additionally, we invite you to please come together if time allows to tell stories, share photos and celebrate the great life of Camille with our family at the events mentioned above.
PROVIDE YOUR EMAIL - Please leave your email address (or contact info) below if you would like to receive an invitation for the July 6th celebration.
Celebration of Life
2:00 pm - 5:00 pm
1919 East Valley Parkway
CAMILLE HELENE GILLA
April 23, 2019
I would love to share a memory with family and friends of my auntie Camille and the summer she took me to the grand canyon. I had been living in Arizona for over 30 yrs. and never had the chance to go. When auntie came to visit she suggested we take the day and make the trip. I was so excited! When we finally reached the canyon it was breath taking! I could tell by the smile on auntie' s face she was happy she had brought me. I remember all to well how she giggled at me cause I was stuck up against a wall finger nails clutching for dear life! The vast size of the canyon was overwhelming. She giggled and said Marilyn are you Ok? As I un clutched my finger nails from the wall I smiled and said yes but the view stops here can not go any further! Although the vast size of the canyon scared the heck out of me I will always cherish the time we spent together and the fun we had I love you Auntie Camille you were the best auntie in the world!
April 14, 2019
For Auntie Camille's Family,
My most sincerest condolences during your time of mourning and grief. The few times I had the honor and privilege to meet Camille, I will never forget. She was a wonderful person inside and out. I fondly remember taking her and Emmy to a Taco Festival in Las Vegas and it was so busy and so packed with too many people, Camille was able to get our admission fees refunded. I was in awe of her strength and courage. She was so easy going and fun to be around. We wound up having a fantastic lunch at the Hard Rock and I got a kick out of watching her playing the dancing Leprechaun's video poker game. She would get so animated and excited it was hard not to smile and be happy around her. My heart goes out to you all and your entire family. May she now rest in peace and be pain free.
April 12, 2019
Dear Auntie Camille,
I will miss you every day for the rest of my life. I always admired your quest to live life to the fullest. You dreamed of adventures and made so many of them come true, from swimming with the dolphins in Cancun, the countless trips you joined in on with the sky club, the Bahamas, Hawaii, and the several trips you have taken to visit us here in Las Vegas. You were so much fun to be around, so easy to talk to, and never held grudges or judgements against anyone. As a little girl, I remember you taking Tanya, Gail, and I to so many places. If you were taking them, I was always included, from Kiddie Kingdom, Great America, roller skating, parks, and Polish Festivals to meet our family. I remember shopping with you at garage sales and you telling me to pick out anything I want ( I believe it was an over size bunny mat and you said if I did not get it, your going to buy it). So many of my memories have been shared with you and I'm truly grateful for that. I often think about the moments spent with you and I smile, or laugh reflecting on them. You had an endearing quality that made so many of us laugh, even without you trying. Auntie, thank you for always remembered my birthday and have been so thoughtful and so kind to me....I felt so special. I am so fortunate to have had the opportunity to spend last Thanksgiving with you. Once again, we had so many laughs and spent quality time together....time well spent. I am so blessed to not only have known you, but also had you as my auntie and also my friend. Thank you so much for all the special memories and your thouthfulness that I will cherish for the rest of my life! We will meet again....I love you and rest in peace. P.S. Job well done in your life as a wife, a mom, an Auntie, a grandma, and a friend to so many....your purpose, your mark will never be forgotten. God bless you always.....xoxoxoxo
April 4, 2019
Dear Camille, I said a prayer for you to thank the Lord above for blessing you for your kindness, and tenderhearted love. Love of your beloved brother Wally brought us together as family , and we continued as friends. I thank God for all the caring you've shown me through the many years, for the closeness we've enjoyed in time of laughter and of tears.The years have past by much quicker than we could have ever imagined . We always think there will another tomorrow to share the "good times" again. But, what we have left at the end is the special gift given to us by God of all those precious memories that will be etched in my heart forever. Thank you, Camille for being the best "sis" ever. Dobry noc ,Camille. May you rest in peace, comfort, and free of pain in the loving arms of our Lord Jesus. I will miss you more than words can say. Until we meet again ......I LOVE YOU !! EVELYN
April 4, 2019
My Dear Friend Camille,
A flood of memories are coming over me. I enjoyed our adventures. Wish we could have had a few more together.
Miss and love you my wonderful friend.
My Deepest Sympathy to your family
Cheryl Killman Castillo
April 3, 2019
Dear Auntie, I can't believe you're gone, for 52 years you've been my closest Auntie, my pal, you were my everything! Anyone who knows me knows you because I talked about you so much, you could make me laugh til I cried or almost wet my pants! You were always up for an adventure, whether it was cruising through the "rich neighborhoods " on garbage day getting that 7 foot basketball hoop and pole into the van, (I think its still up in wesmont) to being silly in the model homes posing for pictures sitting in the tub or sliding down the railing, you were always up for it. Even playing around in the grocery store in the scooters smashing into things, I am glad I had my video camera ready for as many funny moments as I could film. I was so blessed to grow up with you as my auntie, and honored when you called me your soulmate. I was happy to be able to help you and uncle after your bi pass surgery, and to help you finish packing up your home in Wesmont, then visiting you in the beautiful condo off lake shore drive. You trusted me to break the bad news of your cancer to your kids, you were so brave going back and forth to chemo and radiation and even though you were going through that you still insisted we go out to dinner at the Sears Tower to show me a good time, you always thought of others ALWAYS! I was so happy when you wanted to move to California right after your treatment, and you found the strength to pack up and move. You were so happy to be here, you made so many friends, went on activities, you lived every minute of every day to the fullest. I just wished you were able to be here longer, we had so many plans of things you wanted to do, I'm grateful for the things we did get to do, you deserved more than the little time here you got. Heaven got a little better the day they got you, I miss you every day forever Auntie, I Love you so much, Zoey Stella stayed by your side to the end, she misses you too. Love Cheryl