Working hard was in Victor Pantaleo’s blood.
As a kid, even as he cleaned horse stalls at the Hawthorne Race Course in Cicero, he always thought of others, bringing a pop or cold glass of water to quench other employees’ thirst.
“He was the one that would always be looking out for other people when it was not his job to do,” said Tim Carey, Hawthorne’s president and general manager.
That work ethic crossed over into everything he did, said Pantaleo’s son Deane.
Over the course of Pantaleo’s 68 years, Deane estimates he ran between 18 and 20 businesses, giving his all to each and every one.
Whether it was running the employee kitchen at Hawthorne or installing more than 10,000 swimming pools in the area over the past 30 years during the track’s off-season, Pantaleo did things big.
“He burned so bright that everything around him caught fluorescence,” Deane said. “He attempted things the average person never even dreamed of.”
The light in Darien became a little bit dimmer Sunday after Pantaleo’s single-engine Cessna in Romeoville. Pantaleo died two hours later at Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove.
Pantaleo, a pilot with 45 years of experience, was supposed to go with his family Sunday to check out the site for Deane’s upcoming wedding. When those plans were canceled, he and a buddy decided to enjoy the beautiful weather with an afternoon flight.
Deane said he felt uneasy about his father’s flight Sunday and called him several times before takeoff to make sure everything was OK.
“He was an excellent, excellent pilot,” Deane said. “But I just felt something.”
Although the investigation is ongoing, from the National Transportation Safety Board suggest engine failure as the cause of the accident. Pantaleo’s passenger, whose name has not been released, was taken to a nearby hospital with serious injuries.
In one of those weird, cosmic ways, Deane said the abruptness with which Pantaleo died fit with the dramatic way he lived his life.
“He wanted to make sure the world knew he was going out,” Deane said. “But we’re reeling from it.”
Pantaleo certainly knew how to make a statement. During the 1960s, Deane said he sang in the UFOs, the house band at Chicago’s famous Palmer House Hotel.
Performing among fog machines and laser lights in what was then the hotel’s go-go room, Deane said Pantaleo performed with David Bowie-level theatrics before Bowie himself brought it to the mainstream.
A football player during his years at Southern Illinois University, Pantaleo nearly made it to the big time, Deane said—until a slipped disc he suffered during a post-college skateboarding accident ended that dream.
Through everything, Deane said Pantaleo prioritized helping others, whether recently when he helped construct a therapeutic pool for a child through the Make-A-Wish Foundation or decades ago as he tended to his first wife through her battle with terminal cancer.
“His biggest fear was leaving his family without enough,” Deane said. “He wanted to make sure everyone was taken care of.”
Pantaleo is survived by his wife, Terri; his four sons, Guy, Marc, Ricky and Deane; two grandchildren, Amber and Valerie; and a sister, Sandra Casserly.
Over the past few days, Deane said dozens of friends and neighbors have gathered at the Pantaleo home, continuing Pantaleo’s legacy of taking care of others by looking out for his family.
A visitation is scheduled from 3 to 9 p.m. Thursday at , 301 75th St. in Downers Grove., followed by a funeral Mass at 10 a.m. Friday at , 8404 S. Cass Ave. in Darien.
The feeling of loss is coming in waves, Deane said. But he said the family has found tremendous comfort in the visitors they’ve received.
“This script was written,” Deane said. “All we have is each other and the lessons we learned from him to get us through. That’s what we have to focus on now.”