Family doesn't want daughter's life defined by death

May 13, 2010 4:07:45 PM PDT
Jeanine Nicarico was abducted from her home and murdered back in 1983. That was followed by a 27-year pursuit for truth and justice that was filled with mistakes and wrongful convictions. The family of Jeanine Nicarico has long wanted her life to be defined by something other than the way she died and the agony that followed. ABC 7's Paul Meincke tells us what that "something" is.

So many times we've seen her face and watched as her family has endured seemingly endless pain. During one of the previous Nicarico murder trials, Jeanine's sister Christine was having a tough go when her fellow school teachers in Naperville urged her to sit and talk.

"It just kind of came out one day -- 'Tell me more about Jeanine.' And we just started talking about Jeanine," said Chistine Nicarico, Jeanine's sister.

As a third grader, Jeanine Nicarico had some difficulty reading, but she also had a good teacher who worked with her and inspired her, and as a consequence, she blossomed. From that piece of Jeanine's life, and from Christine's talk with her colleagues at River Woods school, came the founding of the Nicarico Memorial Literacy Fund.

"It really was a very heart-warming feeling to know that people wanted to do something that could help other children in the schools. It made us feel very good -- very, very good," said Pat Nicarico, Jeanine's mom.

In its 14 years, the fund has dispersed over $150,000 in grants to promote literacy, bring together readers and authors, and kids from different schools that have a book in common.

"It was the most heart-warming thing to see these children who had never met before but knew each other as book buddies get together and create a friendship. It was incredible," said Pat.

Tom and Pat Nicarico have retired out of state, but they're back for this Sunday's 9th annual Run for Reading, the principal funder for the literacy effort. It is a chance to celebrate a life, a mission, and in the process, smile a lot.

The Nicaricos smile and laugh a lot. They have stayed strong as a family by managing the unimaginable.

"We don't forget Jeanine. She's part of our family, and our grandchildren grew up knowing about her, and knowing about her in a good way," said Tom Nicarico, Jeanine's father.

"To me, I have Jeanine in my mind and what she would say to us is, 'Let's touch as many kids as we can.' I think that's who she was," said Christine Nicarico.

Jeanine would be 37 were she alive today. Her confessed killer is on death row. Appeals are pending. But the focus of Tom and Pat Nicarico, their daughters Kathy and Christine, and their wider family is on celebrating a life and a cause.

To learn more about the Nicarico Literacy Fund and this Sunday's run for reading visit www.nicaricoliteracyfund.org. Four-hundred have signed up for the run this far, but there's room -- for the streets are wide and the road is long.


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