McHenry teacher who helped connect students to books, therapy dog dies at age 42

Emily Schilf died unexpectedly Jan. 24

Emily Schilf, seen here in September 2022 on a trip to New York City. Schilf did unexpectedly on Jan. 24, 2024, at age 42.

A McHenry County family is reeling after the unexpected death last week of a mother, wife and daughter.

Emily Schilf’s death also has left the community around McHenry’s Chauncey H. Duker School bereft. Schilf, 42, began her teaching career there as a student teacher, taught fourth- and fifth-grade students, and later became the school’s learning media center director.

Schilf ”was a wonderful teacher, for sure, and a wonderful person – very giving and generous and very passionate about her work, teaching and reading,” said Rich Vannoy, McHenry School District 15 social-emotional coordinator. “She radiated that.”

Vannoy said he was the assistant principal at Duker when Schilf first started her career.

She was so loved by staff members and families ... and the Duker School family.”

—  Lindsay Weber, Duker School principal

As the media center director, Schilf coordinated book fairs, an all-school book reading program, guest readers and the school’s battle of the books. She also worked with McHenry Police Department’s social services coordinator, Jason Sterwerf, to bring Oakley, the department’s therapy dog, to her school last year.

Sterwerf now brings Oakley to the school twice a week so students can spend time with the golden retriever. Schilf spearheaded both the weekly visits and a program in which students can use the points they earn in school to get 15 minutes to read to Oakley – or to spend some time cuddling and petting the pooch.

Emily Schilf, McHenry's Learning Center Director, sits with student Brynn Kline and Oakley, the McHenry Police Department's therapy dog. Shilf died last week at age 42.

Last week, Sterwerf worked with other police departments to bring their therapy dogs and Oakley to the school to help the teachers, staff and students now mourning Schilf’s death.

“We are leaning on each other for a lot of support [after Schilf’s death],” Duker Principal Lindsay Weber said. “She was so loved by staff members and families ... and the Duker School family. The support that we have been getting from the central office and the rest of the schools, it helps. We are all going through the same thing [in dealing with the loss,]” Weber said.

Schilf is survived by her husband, Brian, a 14-year-old son and a 10-year-old daughter, said her mother, Suzan Paulin. They resided in Wonder Lake.

“A lot of people have reached out to us. She was so caring, so thinking of others,” Paulin said.

Schilf was a senior in college when she decided to switch her major to education, Paulin said. After graduation, she worked in the corporate world and took additional night classes to prepare her for teaching.

“She believed strongly in education and that old saying, ‘Knowledge is power,’” Paulin said.

A celebration of life for Emily Schilf is set for 11 a.m. Friday, Feb. 9, at Immanuel Lutheran Church, 200 N. Plum Grove Road, Palatine, with visitation an hour before the service. A visitation also is set from 4 to 8 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 8, at Colonial Funeral Home, 591 Ridgeview Drive, McHenry.