DANVILLE – When Anderson Funeral Home Director Ryan Anderson thinks of Hoopeston Area school district Superintendent Mark Conolly, he recalls a time when Conolly, then the principal at Hoopeston Area High School, wrote his parents a thank-you letter for raising a good student.
"Not too many principals would do that," said Anderson, 27, a Hoopeston Area graduate and now an assistant coach for the school's baseball team.
"He was always a friendly person. He always made you feel important," Anderson said.
Mr. Conolly, 53, died from a massive heart attack Saturday afternoon. He was pronounced dead at Provena United Samaritans Medical Center, according to Vermilion County Coroner Peggy Johnson. Mr. Conolly was out with his family at Village Mall and complained that he felt ill. He was on his way back to the car when he fell down, Johnson said. Funeral services will be Wednesday.
Mr. Conolly was born and raised in LaGrange and graduated from Millikin University. He earned a master's degree from the National College of Education in Evanston and an advanced certificate from Eastern Illinois University.
Mr. Conolly first came to Hoopeston schools in 1978 as a teacher. He was promoted to assistant high school principal in 1988 and principal in 1990. In 1998, he was appointed as superintendent of the district.
His wife, Mary, is a teacher in the district. The couple have two sons, Michael and Matthew.
Mr. Conolly was dedicated to the community and his students, said friends and colleagues.
"He always cared about the well-being of the students," said school social worker Kathy Vines. Vines first met Mr. Conolly when she was a student in his history class at Hoopeston Area High School.
"Personally, I miss his friendship. Professionally, I'll miss his guidance," Vines said.
Vines said Mr. Conolly's death was "extremely unexpected".
"It's going to be very hard for the staff tomorrow," Vines said Sunday.
Mike Metzer, Vermilion County regional superintendent of schools, said the loss of Mr. Conolly is "still slowly sinking in."
"He's been nothing but a professional school man," Metzer said. "It's truly a loss for the county, not just Hoopeston."
Mr. Conolly was known to be at work by 6:30 a.m. every day, said Steve Unger, Hoopeston Area school board president.
"He was conscientious and very thorough about his job," Unger said.
School will continue as scheduled Monday and Tuesday before the holiday break on Wednesday, Unger said. Finance director and former superintendent Don Dean will act as interim superintendent until the school board decides what to do, Unger said .
"The last thing Mr. Conolly would have ever wanted was for school to be disrupted," Vines said.
Maple Grade School principal Lori Eells said Mr. Conolly was "very visible" throughout the district.
"He made a point to come to each of the buildings on a regular basis," Eells said. "He's very much going to be missed."
Visitation will be from 3 to 8 p.m. Tuesday at Anderson Funderal Home, 427 E. Main St. Funeral services will be at 11 a.m. Wednesday at Hoopeston Area High School, 615 E. Orange St.