When doctors told Lynn Steinle she had stage four lung cancer, she decided to spend the remaining time doing stuff she wanted to do.
Unlike many people, she did not quit her job, travel to Europe or take a cruise. Rather, she did what she always did; she worked long hours as founder and co-owner of Strategic Employee Benefits Services, associated with Northwestern Mutual Financial Network, took care of her family, volunteered at her parish, St. Mary Visitation in Elm Grove, and crafted handmade soap for friends and family.
If that were not enough, despite surgery to remove one of her lungs, she embarked on a massive project to remodel her kitchen; and she did it with such gusto, that it seems to be a personal legacy, left behind for her husband Tim, and children Jacob, 26, Daniel, 25, and Abigail, 22, to enjoy.
The kitchen remodeling was one of the final touches on the renovation of their 1930s Tudor-style home; the couple had already renovated the upstairs, including bathrooms. After five years of discussing what they wanted in a kitchen, Lynn and Tim were to sign papers on Dec. 1, 2008 with Design Group Three as the architectural design firm, but instead of celebrating the beginning of the project, they were devastated with the cancer diagnosis.
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“I hated to tell her, but we just had to put the project on hold and she agreed,” explained Tim. “She was just 53 years of age and it was such an (expletive) diagnosis.”
Ready to revisit project
Not long after the grim news, one of Lynn’s lungs was surgically removed and by summer of 2009, she was ready to revisit the remodeling project.
“She came up to me one day that summer and told me, ‘I don’t know what the Lord has in store for me, but I want my kitchen done,’” recalled Tim, a Milwaukee attorney. “I told her, ‘Sweetie, I think this is a big problem; you had your lung removed and with the dust and everything associated with this project, I just don’t think it is a good idea.’”
Despite his objections, Lynn’s fervent desire to complete the project won out. For months, the couple lived behind plastic curtains and cooked out of the toaster oven and microwave.
“It was important to her to have a kitchen that she could entertain in,” said Tim. “We both love to cook. Lynn was a career woman and was very successful in her own business. We were both involved in raising our three kids, who are all adults now and we shared in the family cooking. Lynn really enjoyed the holidays and having people over for Thanksgiving and Christmas. In all those years, our house was filled with family, and every time we had a party, everyone naturally gathered in the kitchen. With a tiny galley kitchen, it wasn’t conducive for entertaining, and Lynn wanted a kitchen where everyone could gather together.”
While it was difficult living among dust, plastic and construction noise for the nine-month project, Tim admitted he would do it again to make her happy. To her, the project seemed cathartic, a glimpse of the lives that would continue, no matter her personal outcome.
The project was completed by spring of 2010 and included removing walls, adding a large island equipped with electrical outlets to accommodate Tim’s computer and a 42-inch wall mounted TV.
“The kitchen is bright and beautiful, it has her all over it, and we had fun picking out a lot of it together,” said Tim. “She got to enjoy the kitchen through the summer and fall and then died on New Year’s Day, 2011, just two days before our 30th wedding anniversary.”
Shared time, talents with many
For 26 years, Lynn was involved with philanthropic efforts in Milwaukee, and the Elm Grove community, including the Christian Women’s Society of St. Mary Visitation Parish. She wanted to feature her newly remodeled kitchen on the first Kitchens for a Cause Kitchen Walk in May 2011, according to Lynne Miller, member of the Kitchens for a Cause Committee, but it was completed too late to include it in the spring tour.
“This year we are honored to showcase her home on our tour,” Miller said. “Not only was Lynn an avid member of the Christian Women’s Society, she volunteered at all of our parish functions, and shared her time and talents with Marquette University High School and Pius XI High School. She taught us all many lessons on living life to the fullest and she is greatly missed.”
Proceeds to benefit Jesuit Nativity School
The Steinle home will be one of nine homes with newly remodeled kitchens included on the walking tour, which will raise funds for new refrigeration equipment at Jesuit Nativity Middle School’s Camp Thunderhead.
Tim asked that this year’s efforts benefit Nativity, as the school is the male counterpart to the all-girls Notre Dame Middle School. The school system is one that he and his wife have supported.
Nativity, an independent Catholic middle school, was founded in 1993 to serve low-income Hispanic boys in grades six through eight. Since the school’s inception, Nativity has graduated 256 boys, most of whom have gone on to attend private college preparatory high schools, and 75 percent of graduates continue on to post secondary education.
Each summer, Nativity students spend five weeks at Camp Thunderhead, a residential summer camp in northern Wisconsin. While there, the boys build on their academic skills while enjoying outdoor sports and camaraderie. The camp’s kitchen needs modern commercial refrigeration equipment and proceeds from the walk will help the school purchase it.
“When Jean Kelly, (co-president of Milwaukee Archdiocesan Council of Christian Women) came to me and told me about the kitchen walk and how all the proceeds go to some form of education and asked if I would open my kitchen to the tour, and that they wanted to honor her, it was easy to say yes,” said Tim. “These beautiful ladies do all the work of the open house, and my daughter, Abby, will be coming home and Lynne’s sister, Sherry, will be involved as well.”
Last year 150 guests raised $15,000 in the Kitchens for a Cause tour to update the kitchen of Notre Dame Middle School and this year, the Christian Women’s Society hopes to double the number of visitors.
Tour features unique kitchens
“This year we have a very unique group of nine homes,” said Miller. “In addition to our host home, we have a 1920s Tudor designed by Eschweiler featured across the street from a very ultra modern design nestled between two wooded glacial kettles, a 1937 Cape Cod home that was originally a goat farm, a fairy tale ‘Hansel and Gretel’ cottage style home built in the 1930s, designed by architect R. Harold Zook, and a one story ranch that was completely overhauled to produce a spectacular two-story masterpiece. There are large kitchens that spill into beautiful family rooms, as well as smaller kitchens that maximize the space with their unique designs and appliance placement.”
Although Lynn will not be physically part of the tour, Miller said she would have been the first in line to purchase a ticket, and would have talked a dozen friends into attending as well.
“She was so generous with her time and talent, supporting charitable causes with beautiful raffle baskets, working the events and promoting the cause,” said Miller. “Her strong Catholic faith led her to volunteer for many groups at St. Mary Visitation. She lived her faith in both her words and her actions, always helping others in our local community and the surrounding areas.”
Excited to share her sister’s legacy and vision, Sherry Dieringer-Wahlberg and the couple’s daughter, Abby, will welcome visitors to the Steinle kitchen.
“Abby will continue with one of Lynn’s traditions of soap making,” said Wahlberg.
Despite cancer, she remained faith-filled
Wahlberg is eager to share stories of her sister to inquiring visitors, giving them a rare glimpse into Lynn’s life, her home, her selfless actions, strong faith and desire to leave the world a better place.
“She worked very hard, made a lot of money and gave a lot of money away,” said Wahlberg. “She was very dedicated to underprivileged kids and wanting those kids to get a religious connection.”
Despite her cancer diagnosis, Lynn never wavered from her faith, nor complained to others about her pain.
“She was incredible and always downplayed the pain she was in,” said Wahlberg. “You could see it in her face and in her movements, yet she always said she was fine. She was an example for anyone on how to handle a disease – she was just incredible all the way to the end. She loved her job so much, and Tim would have loved for her to stop working, go to Ireland and travel, but her passion was her job. She worked up to three weeks before she died. It was important for her to get dressed and go into the office so people cold see she was still functional.”
Tim agreed, and added that the suffering seemed to make his wife stronger, and remembers her telling him that it was better she died than someone else. For him, while he admits his faith isn’t shaken, he does have questions.
“I do have questions about why things happen, and philosophically, some questions,” he disclosed.
In the days and weeks after Lynn died, Tim remembers wanting to close his doors and stay in bed; but because of his three children, who were also grieving the loss of their mother, he knew that he had to continue as an example to them.
“I stay active, continue living and working and doing what I did before,” he said. “I am an outdoorsman and enjoying hunting, fishing and going to my summer home with my kids. I try to stay busy, but I tell you, I live alone now, and evenings are a very lonely time for me. I am happy to be part of this cause and think what they are doing is magnificent. I am honored by whatever they do and while I don’t understand things in this life – I do know that I will see her someday.”