Gertrude M. Heckens

On Friday, April 13, 2021, Gertrude M. Heckens, loving mother of Michael Mansfield and Sherrie Vavrichek, passed away at age 92. She was born on April 25, 1928, to Ben and Blanche (Goodman) Jacobson. Gertrude and her older brother, Burton, were born in Chicago, IL and raised in a neighborhood called South Shore. Her early years included the Great Depression, but since her accountant father was always employed, she had a carefree childhood. This included visits with friends--usually accompanied by her beloved Irish Setter, Lady--and going to Rainbow Beach and Jackson Park(where former president Obama’s library will be built) during the summer months.

South Shore High School was a different experience. The war had broken out, she had a picture of FDR taped to the inside of her locker, and she became aware of the outside world for the first time. One summer Gertrude worked as a Harvey girl in the main train station downtown. It was an exciting time…she loved the hustle and bustle of travellers from all over the world—regular people as well as celebrities, and was especially awed by the men and women in uniform. She went home each night with her pockets full of tips feeling very grown up, and even dreamed of joining the navy. The next summer she volunteered as a Candy Striper at Billings Hospital, located on the campus of the University of Chicago. Years later she found out that behind a plain, unmarked door under Stagg Field, guarded by one lone sailor who she walked by and greeted every day—the US military was working on a top-secret mission: designing the first atomic bomb, one that would later end the war.

In 1946 Gertrude met and married former Seabee, Robert Mansfield. In a somewhat eerie coincidence, Bob’s assignment right after the war had been doing reconstruction work in Nagasaki, Japan, where one of the atom bombs had been dropped. That bomb had been developed at a secret lab at Stagg Stadium, where Gertrude used to pass by on a daily basis just a few years earlier. Gertrude and Robert’s first child, Sherrie, was born in April, 1947. Their first son, Michael, was born in February, 1951, and their third child, Glenn, was born in August, 1952. Gertrude and Robert divorced in 1956. In 1964 Gertrude married John P. Heckens, the manager of a car dealership. Their marriage included many trips throughout the US and Europe, which provided material for tales of adventure and excitement. Inspired by her travel experiences, Gertrude and a friend published two guidebooks on Chicago eateries: Lunching in Chicago (1983) and Hanging Out on Halsted (1991), both of which she was very proud. After John passed away in 1993, Gertrude worked in various office settings until she was in her 70’s, and was still active and travelling until well into her 80’s.

Even though she had many happy times, she also endured many hardships, the worst of which was when her son, Glenn contracted AIDS and died in 1986. She was resilient, though, and in later years she would say that all in all she had had a happy life. She greatly enjoyed her apartment, which was filled with beautiful souvenirs and paintings that reminded her of her good times and many adventures. But her greatest sources of joy were her relationships with others, especially with her grandchildren, Aaron, Jesse, Diane, and Julie.

Despite her youthful attitude and adventurous spirit, age and illness eventually took its toll, and after several years of declining health, Gertrude died peacefully in her sleep, surrounded by the artwork, souvenirs, photographs of her family and friends, and other reminders of her rich and interesting life. She is survived by daughter Sherrie Vavrichek, son-in-law Bruce Vavrichek, granddaughters Diane and Julie Vavrichek; son Michael Mansfield, daughter-in-law, Connie Lejuene, and grandsons Aaron and Jesse Mansfield. Gertrude was preceded in death by her parents, Blanche and Ben Jacobson (1983), her brother Burton, her son, Glenn (1986), her first husband, Robert Mansfield (1999), and her second husband, John Heckens (1993).

One of Gertrude’s favorite songs was “Time to Say Goodbye.” Although it is mostly in Italian (which she didn’t speak), she loved it. It makes reference to sailing off to new horizons with the sun, moon, and sea as witnesses. See link to the song below.


  • Funeral Service

    Friday, February 19, 2021



Gertrude M. Heckens

have a memory or condolence to add?

Diane Vavrichek

February 22, 2021

A life well lived. We love you and miss you very much, Grandma!

Todd Lovcik

February 22, 2021

Todd Lovcik

February 22, 2021

Maria Hernandez

February 21, 2021

I was Gertrude Caregiver she was an amazing woman i looked foward to go and take care of her i was with her the night she passed away and the hardest thing for me was to call Sherri to give her the news about her mom everytime Gertrude would see me she will get so Happy but i am honored that i was there the night she passed away i laid her in bed and got her comfortable and she went to sleep and never woke up but earlier that day when she was coming home from the hospital she was talking and she was happy that she was going home she passed away in peace and she was not alone your truly going to be missed RIP love you gertrude

Lisa Levine

February 19, 2021

Dear Gertrude,
I wish I'd had a chance to meet you. I remember, many times, Sherrie talking about you and telling me about your adventures; especially the trip you took together to Venice several years ago. While I didn't know you personally, I've had the great fortune to know and love your wonderful daughter. I just wanted to say thank you, for all the ways you have contributed to making Sherrie the incredibly kind, generous, and caring person she is. May your memory be a blessing to her, and to your whole family.

With Love,
Lisa Levine

Charley Mansueto

February 19, 2021

What a wonderful life! Gertrude was an irrepressible force, and the world was richer for her life. To be in her presence was to experience her unmistakable vitality, humor and deep humanity. I was privileged to know her even though my times with her were brief and infrequent. Bon voyage, Gertrude!

My deeply-felt condolences to my good friend Sherrie and to the all of Gertrude's family and friends.

Renee Kalish

February 19, 2021

My sincere condolences to all of the family.

I knew Gert for almost 13 years. The first time I met her at the Lotus office, I asked her what kind of eye shadow she wore. She said she wasn't wearing any. Gert had the most beautiful eyes and face. She was a real beauty inside and out. We developed a friendship at work that led to a friendship outside of work. She and I were both spunky and irreverent, so we made a very good pair. I enjoyed reading her book of restaurant reviews and teased her about writing another. I will miss her. She loved and was proud of all of you.

Netti Vogel

February 19, 2021

Sherry, Michael and families,
I was so very sorry to learn of your mother/grandmother's death. I met her when the family moved to the north side and Sherry and I became classmates and fast (and lasting) friends about 57 years ago. I always think of her as young because all of the other mothers were close to or over fifty while Mrs. Heckens was a kid in her 30's. She was so very welcoming to me, a very warm person, and I enjoyed being in her company, more like Sherry's older sister than mother. I always have admired her resilience, whether it was picking up and traveling cross-country alone with three little kids or handling other life disappointments, and, of course, the tragic loss of her beloved son. May she rest in piece and may her memory be a blessing to her loved ones.

Christine Fitzgerald

February 18, 2021

I am so sorry for your loss. I’m glad that she passed away peacefully. You are in my thoughts. Love , Chris