Grandmother of 'SNL' writer, performer known for her practical jokes
July 29, 2010
BY MIKE THOMAS Staff Reporter
Loretta Wendt was the go-to person for parties and church events, says
son George Wendt.
If Loretta Wendt had been born in a different era, the longtime Beverly
resident might have become a celebrated comedienne like Tina Fey,
according to her famously funny son, actor George Wendt of "Cheers" renown.
Mrs. Wendt -- Loret or "Nana" to those who knew her -- died Sunday at
home, surrounded by many members of her family, to whom she had
dispensed a few bits of final wisdom and then bade individual goodbyes.
"She was the go-to person for skits or song parodies or things like that
for birthday parties and parish events at Christ the King," George Wendt
said, referring to the South Side church to which his devout mother
belonged for many decades.
When it came to funny business, Mrs. Wendt could receive as well as she
"While she certainly was tremendous in her output of doing funny things,
I always benefitted more from her appreciation of funny things and funny
people," said her grandson Jason Sudeikis, a writer and performer on
NBC's "Saturday Night Live." "She was just a really good laugher."
An enthusiastic practical joker, too. Even food held pranking potential
-- and sometimes footwear. Mrs. Wendt, 87, was known to bury an old shoe
inside a plate of spaghetti or a cake or a tray of lasagna that she'd
made for friends.
And those friends would reciprocate -- a gag that went on for years.
On occasion, Mrs. Wendt liked dressing in traditional nun's garb, as she
did last fall for one of her son's book-signings.
But while Mrs. Wendt was lively and witty and fun-loving, "She was
nobody's fool," George Wendt said. "If you got on her bad side, she had
a very sharp tongue."
An only child and the daughter of celebrated newspaper photographer Tom
Howard -- who spent part of his career at the Chicago Sun-Times and was
famous for sneaking an ankle-mounted camera into the 1928 Sing Sing
electric chair execution of murderer Ruth Snyder -- Mrs. Wendt was born
at St. Bernard Hospital in the Englewood neighborhood.
She moved as a young girl to Washington, D.C., where her father became
chief White House photographer, and then to Detroit before settling back
in Chicago. In February 1946, having graduated from Academy of Our Lady
(also known as Longwood Academy) and Mundelein College, she married the
late George R. Wendt Sr. They had nine kids, two of whom died as infants.
Mrs. Wendt began volunteering at and doing fund-raising for Little
Company of Mary Hospital in Evergreen Park. She continued doing so for
more than half a century. In addition to working with young mothers and
helping organize philanthropic events, she was instrumental in the
hospital's humor program -- as a financial donor and otherwise.
Mary Jo May, a friend and executive director of the hospital's
fund-raising foundation, said Mrs. Wendt "was a consummate people
person, and she loved having people around her."
That was true to the end. After making sure that a priest stopped by to
administer the last rites and doing some video Skyping with her
grandkids, after saying many farewells and eating her regular evening
snack of sliced canned peaches and cream cheese and blue-corn chips,
Mrs. Wendt began reciting a favorite prayer and died soon after.
Her famous son joked: "She stage-managed the whole thing."
Other survivors include daughters Kathryn Sudeikis, Loretta Jolivette,
Marti Doherty and Nancy Healy; sons Thomas and Paul; 23 grandchildren,
and seven great-grandchildren.
Visitation will be from 3 to 6 p.m. today at Christ the King Church,
9235 S. Hamilton, followed by a mass at 6 p.m.
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