Sidney Casselberry
Sidney Casselberry

Sidney R. Caselberry (1947-2020) was a big man with a big smile and an even bigger heart. The oldest of six children of the late Eddie and Ruth Finch Caselberry, he passed away at age 72 on Jan. 9, leaving behind his wife Marion, three children, Brian, Chelsea and Chadd, three brothers and a sister plus a host of friends, including more than 200 mourners attending the celebration of his life Jan. 18 at Evanston’s Faith Temple Church of God in Christ.

His brother Kenneth said Sidney “lived a selfless life.” He recalled driving past a cemetery and Sidney dismissing the importance of a big headstone or even the dates of birth and death. He said, Sidney told him, “It’s the dash in between those two dates, and what you do with that time that matters.”

Friends remembered Sidney loved to play golf, to go fishing and to root for the Michigan State University Spartans. They remembered his sense of humor, his kindness and loyalty. They called him a good Samaritan, a great teammate, a giver, a man who talked the talk and walked the walk, volunteering and serving as a board member for both the McGaw YMCA and Connections for the Homeless.

A lifelong Evanstonian, Sidney went to school at Foster, Central, Dewey and Skiles before graduating in 1965 from Evanston Township High School, where he played baseball, ran track and excelled in football as a lineman under the great coach, Murney Lazier. The undefeated 1963 team was considered so good that the whole Wildkit team was inducted into the ETHS Athletic Hall of Fame in 2016.

Sidney went on to play football at Tennessee State University in Nashville. Summers, he would come home from college and work at Clayton Mark & Company, a manufacturing plant on the southwest corner of Dodge Avenue and Dempster Street. It was Evanston’s largest employer for decades, known for sponsoring sports teams and “paying good money,” Sidney said, but it did not have air conditioning, so you would get to work, punch the time clock “and they’d hand you a sweatband and salt tablets.”

He later worked at two other big Evanston companies — American Hospital Supply and Rust-Oleum — plus Old Equity Insurance, Wilson Jones and W. W. Grainger, where he was a programmer and project manager.

It was at Grainger that Sidney began dating Marion Shephard. They were married in 1997.

Although they lived in Evanston, Sidney and Marion became members of a Bolingbrook church, Victory Cathedral Worship Center, about an hour’s drive from Evanston in the southwest suburbs of Chicago. They joined this church because of their close friendship with its founder, W. R. “Smokie” Norful.  In his eulogy of Sidney, Pastor Norful remembered getting to know the Caselberrys when he was attending Garrett Theological Seminary in Evanston and rented a place that Sidney owned at 1212 Pitner Ave.

Pastor Norful said Sidney and Marion were excited to hear about the new church he was planning to open in 2005 but, he admitted, when he told them how far away it was,  he expected them to say, “We’ll send our prayers.” They didn’t. Instead, they commuted to Bolingbrook to church, and not just on Sundays. More often, it was three times a week, because Marion was in the choir and Sidney volunteered in the children’s church.

Sidney’s brother Mark said he was only 7 years old when older brother Sidney started coaching a Pop Warner little league team with his long-time buddy Ronny Butler. “Sidney said I could be his batboy. I was so excited, not even knowing what a batboy did, mostly a lot of work dragging bats and balls, but I wouldn’t trade a moment because I was hanging out with my big brother.”

Years later when Sidney took another stab at coaching little league at Mason Park, he promoted Mark to assistant coach.

At McGaw YMCA, Sidney attended water aerobics classes but he also helped with the Y’s residential members and served on the board, 2011-15. In 2013 he was given the Y’s volunteer award for “his tireless support” of the residence program.

He was also a board member of Connections for the Homeless. Betty Bogg, its executive director, recalled Sidney as a man of great kindness, who pitched in to help and “didn’t talk just to hear himself speak.”

At Victory Cathedral Worship Center, Sidney worked in the children’s church and belonged to GYA, which stands for Give Yourself Away.

Speaking some days after the memorial, Robert Reece, a good friend and pallbearer, said “Sidney was just a good man and, at the end of the day, that speaks volumes about who he was. He always gave back to the community, working with kids and adults.”

Another friend, Jay Jay James, who works at the McGaw Y, remembered Sidney as “my friend, my advisor. He’s like family to me.” He gave great advice, she said, “always listening, always thoughtful. He helped me find the tools to use, got me to use my brain, to remember to weigh my options.’”

Sidney had such a generous spirt that he even needed two churches to see him off. The pastors of Faith Temple hosted the services and officiated along with pastors from Victory Cathedral Worship Center. Two of the ministers participating — Carlis Moody, Jr. and Smokie Norful — are Emmy-winning gospel composers, so it was no surprise that the service was rich with music, starting off with a rousing version of “I’ll Fly Away” and soon followed by Pastor Moody’s song, “I’m Available to You.”

Sidney Caselberry was laid to rest on that snowy day at Sunset Memorial Lawns, a cemetery in Glenview, where many family members and friends are already buried.