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Hundreds Gather to Celebrate Life of Gold Star Bartender

By Alisa Hauser | December 17, 2012 9:43am | Updated on December 17, 2012 11:43am

UKRAINIAN VILLAGE — More than 200 people packed a Ukrainian Village bar Sunday to celebrate the life of a longtime area bartender who co-owned what many referred to as one of the most unpretentious and welcoming taverns in the city.

Susan A. Stursberg, 45, bartender and co-owner of Gold Star bar at 1755 W. Division St. lost a near year-long battle with pancreatic cancer Dec. 10. 

"She made thousands of friends over the years. All these people here, they are people that love her," said Mary Ann Reid, Stursberg's mother. "She was my daughter, business partner, best friend."

Stursberg "saved hundreds of stray cats over the years," her mother said.

On Sunday, the late bartender's husband, Ian Tuggle, also joined her friends and acquaintances for the informal memorial, held at Club Foot, 1824 W. Augusta Blvd.

Lanny Oswalt, 39, an audio engineering professor, started the Gold Star bar softball team in 2005 with friends. The bar, owned by Reid and Stursberg since 1990, sponsored the team's T-shirts and served drink specials after games.

Though the team's members changed over the years, Stursberg remained a constant, post-game fixture.

"Everyone on the team has known her a long time. She affected all of us deeply. We will miss her," Oswalt said.

Artist Deb Solokow, 38, said she will always remember Stursberg's stories, particularly those about a ghost that Stursberg believed to have been present in the bar, built in the 1880s.

"She was so wonderful,"  Solokow said of Stursberg. "I miss her."

Dan Sullivan, 38, an East Garfield Park furniture maker and musician, moved to Wicker Park from Minnesota in 1997 and frequented Gold Star during his first few years in the city. 

"It's affordable, got a great jukebox, crazy in a good way and not pretentious. [Stursberg] was always the most welcoming person. She remembered everyone, even if it had been a few years," Sullivan said.

Chris Trejo, 40, a bartender for two area bars, lives above Gold Star where he's also been filling in as needed since Stursberg became ill with late-stage inoperable pancreatic cancer last spring. 

Holding a framed snapshot of his friend of 15-plus years that he captured one night as the bar was closing, Trejo said "she made everybody's day better. She was a beautiful person without trying."