Claudia Prete, 81, of Belvidere, IL, died peacefully, December 29, 2021, in Belvidere. She was born May 13, 1940, daughter to Bernard and Elizabeth (Kania) Lukas, in Chicago, IL. In 1962 she married her sweetheart, Louis Prete. As a child, she loved the outdoors, camping and Girl Scouts. Claudia reveled in introducing her new family to the joys of the outdoors, car travel, camping and fishing. She was an excellent traveling buddy, fearless but not foolish. Another of Claudia’s lifelong interests was sports, particularly basketball. Claudia first played basketball while attending Alvernia High School in Chicago. She received her Bachelor of Arts in Physical Education in 1962 from Mundelein College. After graduation Claudia taught Physical Education at Resurrection High School and coached girls’ basketball at both Resurrection and Sienna High Schools. Claudia and Louis formed an AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) women’s basketball team, Salt & Pepper, that played together for many years. The team went on to win the AAU Women’s State Basketball tournament in 1976 and participate in the Nationals in Gallup, New Mexico. Claudia and Louis also coached the Division I, women’s basketball team from the University of Illinois at Chicago from 1978 – 1983. The winning record of the UIC Flames during this period wasn’t broken for many years. She was often teased in good fun by the girls…Claudia was a brilliant statistician and coach but so emotionally invested she often spent the last two minutes of games in the bathroom, too stressed to see the outcome firsthand. Claudia’s other lifelong interest was animals and particularly her pets. Claudia rescued many an animal in her life, birds…mice…dogs…cats…a herd of cows. She owned many dogs, including Dusty and Buffy, many cats including Tiger, Blackie, Baby and Bob. She eventually began participating in the sport of pure-bred dogs with her daughter, Melissa. She owned, showed, and bred many English Mastiffs and owned a St. Bernard, Mikey, who she showed to a puppy Best in Show and a Leonberger, Gideon, who she adored. She was a Lifetime member of the Midwest Mastiff Fanciers and a member of the Mastiff Club of America. Claudia prompted her daughter Melissa to partner in a t-shirt business, selling original drawings on t-shirts to the dog fancy. Claudia was an excellent cook, she loved food, especially Polish buffets. She was a stellar grandmother and a good friend. She would give her last dollar to a friend in need. Shortly after retiring she took on the care of her mother, Betty (paralyzed after a stroke in 1977) after her dad, Bernie was killed in a car accident. She took great joy in caring for Betty, taking her out to eat often (a family pastime), traveling with Betty and dolling her mom up with fun jewelry and clothes. As a matter of fact, Claudia’s daughter Melissa, never really “moved out”. Melissa and Claudia lived together, fought together, and laughed together till Claudia “moved out” to take care of her mother. Claudia was deeply concerned about climate change and the state of the world her grandchildren would live in. Since her childhood, Claudia had a great affinity for Native American philosophies regarding animals, communities, and the living world around us. While Claudia supported many good causes, let it also be known that she was a great believer in a sound economy and did her best to support the economy with mega purchases from QVC and HSN. Many may remember hauling some of her ‘economic recovery’ items upstairs this summer. Thank you for that. Claudia was a practicing Catholic…sort of. After 16 years of a Catholic education and several years working within Catholic organizations, she had the fear of purgatory instilled in her. She was always worried about being stuck there, having eaten meat on Fridays. If you are a praying person, say a couple of the Lord’s Prayers and Hail Mary’s to bust Mom out of purgatory. If you have looser definitions of the afterlife, then send some positive thoughts to help guide her to the Rainbow Bridge. Claudia has many creatures waiting for her there along with some other beloved souls. Send positive thoughts that after many years of illness and physical pain, Claudia can be pain free and the self she wants to be. Go ahead Mom, hike with the beasts, snuggle with Tiger, play basketball with Marva, show some dogs in dog show heaven, cook like Martha Stewart, make a bunch of quilts, paint a masterpiece. I know you can.
She is loved and will be dearly missed by daughter, Melissa (Daniel) Milles; grandchildren, Nicholas Milles, 24 and Michael Milles, 19. Claudia is preceded in death by her father and mother, Bernard and Elizabeth Lukas; and sister, Cynthia Waltemade.
In lieu of flowers, memorials in her name may be sent to The Nature Conservancy, a global environmental organization tasked with the conservation of land and water or to the Native American Rights Fund a non profit working toward Native American rights so long denied. Arrangements are being made by Anderson Funeral and Cremation Services in Belvidere. A celebration of life will be held later, date and time to be announced.