Ceramics instructor Dubhe Carreño first met Don Heggemann when he took her Saturday general ceramics class at Northeastern Illinois University in 2010. He took every one of her classes after that.
Heggemann eventually joined the staff of the university, and was hired as the art and design department's administrative assistant in 2022. He and Carreño had lunch every Tuesday and Thursday, she recalled.
He died at the age of 59 on Oct. 23 when a car struck him while he was biking in a bike lane on North Damen Avenue in Ravenswood. The suspected driver, who registered a 0.20 blood alcohol concentration when officers pulled her over, was later released without criminal charges, according to Chicago police.
Heggemann was born in Washington, Missouri to Andrew and Eleanor Heggemann. He grew up in Warrenton, Missouri, outside the St. Louis area. Two years after he finished high school, Heggemann moved to Chicago in 1984, where he lived for the rest of his life.
A passionate ceramicist, Heggemann became an integral member of his department throughout his time at Northeastern Illinois. He'd often stay after work hours working diligently in the studio, according to department chair Kim Ambriz, who said she'd have to urge him to go home.
The department is dedicating the kiln room in his memory, Ambriz said. A plaque honoring Heggemann was installed October 31 just before a department-wide memorial service.
Heggemann and Carreño's friendship went beyond campus too. The pair's biweekly work lunches also extended to Saturday get togethers, along with a former student who now works in the studio. Heggemann also joined Carreño's family for Thanksgiving one year.
In an email to colleagues, shared with the Windy City Times, Carreño said Heggemann was "generous with his time and his knowledge, sharing anything and everything he knew with students and always making himself available to help in the studio."
She added, "I know he was happy to have a job where his efforts to do a good job were appreciated. I can't imagine coming back to work without Don."
His impact was noticeable in every corner of the department, as he evolved from a student to an integral member of the staff,Heggemann was not only an office administrator, but a ceramics studio assistant as well.
The Edgewater resident also biked to work every day, sharing that passion with one of the art history professors, Ambriz said. He also shared "a camaraderie about boring office stuff" with Ambriz. The two had the same birthdaySeptember 20and she attributed their dual Virgo status to their understanding of the importance of organization.
"Sometimes I feel like he was holding the department together," she said. "I admired his studio presence. He was very dedicated."
Beyond his fervent organization was a boisterous personality that brought humor to the everyday grind. On orientation days when the university would trot out a food truck for students, Ambriz recalled that Heggemann would blend into the crowd and come out with tacos for him and her.
"I don't know how he talked people into giving him tacos," she laughed.
Among Heggemann's many ceramic creations were a four-foot tall baby giraffe and a leg of ham, Carreño shared. He even created half of a lifesize deer to mimic a "wall trophy." Heggemann also partook in the university's cafeteria Halloween costume contest with ceramic creations each year alongside a colleague, allowing him to put his comedic side on display.
Heggemann is survived by his twin brother, Ronald Heggemann, as well as siblings Nancy Butner, Linda Jordan and Paul Heggemann, all of whom reside in Missouri. He also had a sister, Carol Lynn, who died as an infant. He is also preceded in death by his parents, Andrew and Eleanor Heggemann.
A funeral will be held Nov. 15 at the Lakeview Funeral Home, 1548 W. Belmont Ave., from 3-5 p.m. Another ceremony will be held in Warrenton, Missouri at a later date, prior to Heggeman's burial in the Holy Rosary cemetery in Warrenton. The family asks that people donate to Northeastern Illinois University's department of art and design, or a charity of their choice.