Passages: Marilee Stepan Wehman, 1952 Olympic Bronze Medalist, 86

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Passages: Marilee Stepan Wehman, 1952 Olympic Bronze Medalist, 86

Marilee Stepan Wehman, a bronze medalist at the 1952 Olympic Games and supporter of civic causes, died of natural causes on Dec. 15. She was 86 years old.

The native of Chicago won a bronze medal at the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki on the women’s 400 freestyle relay. She would go on to a civic-minded career that included education and the arts in Chicago as well as on the United States Olympic Committee.

Born Mary Louise Stepan, she was the oldest of seven children. Her mother, also Mary Louise Stepan, was a national championship swimmer in the late 1920s.

The younger Stepan swam at Woodlands Academy of the Sacred Heart high school in Lake Forest, Illinois. A member of Lake Shore Aquatic Club, she became a national champion in the early 50s and held the American record in the 220-yard freestyle.

She qualified for the Helsinki Games in 1952, the summer between her junior and senior years of high school. She made the final of the 100-meter freestyle, finishing seventh. In the relay, she helped the United States take home a bronze medal with Jackie LaVine, Jody Alderson (who was fifth in the 100) and Evelyn Kawamoto. The only other medal (albeit in just five total events) won by an American woman was Kawamoto’s bronze in the 400 freestyle. Four of the five women’s events in Helsinki were won by Hungary, including a world record-setting 400 freestyle relay.

According to her obituary in the Chicago Tribune, Wellman attended Barat College and married in 1956. She was a member of the USOC from the late 1970s into the early 1980s and participated in the Olympic torch relay. She was one of the first women and former Olympic athletes to have such a prominent role within the USOC. She was present in the mid-1990s when the USOC opened its training facility in Colorado Springs.

A member of the Chicagoland Sports Hall of Fame, Stepan Wehman worked as an executive producer for WTTW Channel 11, Chicago’s PBS affiliate.

Stepan Wehman followed in her father’s footsteps as a member of the Lyric Opera of Chicago’s Women’s Board for more than 50 years and served as a life trustee of the Lyric’s Ryan Opera Center for 35 years. She was a founding trustee of Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in Chicago in the 1990s, a trustee of the Ravinia Festival in Highland Park, served on the Women’s Board of Northwestern University and endowed a scholarship, the Marilee Prize, for underprivileged female athletes at the University of Chicago.

Louise Stepan Wheman is survived by her husband of 65 years, Richard; four children – Richard Jr., Mary Louise (Kiernan), Karen (Kennedy) and Alison (McNally); three brothers; a sister; 10 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.