Funeral Arrangements Set For Plainfield School District 202 Director of Community Relations

Obituary from Fred C. Dames Funeral home.

Thomas A. “Tom” Hernandez, age 58, of Plainfield, passed away peacefully on April 15, 2024, with his family surrounding him.

He was preceded in death by his father, Anthony Paul Hernandez; grandmother,  Charmaine Hurt; uncle, Ray Hernandez; grandparents, Epifanio and Felisa Hernandez; and aunts, Eudella Asa, Elvira Ibarra, and Catherine Hernandez.

Surviving to cherish Tom’s memory are his wife of 34 years, Kellie (nee Madison) Hernandez; daughters, Emma (Jake) Williams and Olivia (Tyler) Mueller; granddaughter, Riley Williams; his mother, Danna Hernandez (Robert Jensby);  brothers, Tim Hernandez and Paul (Kari) Hernandez; his wife’s parents, Jim and Lynn Madison; sister-in-law, Amy Madison (Earl Amos); aunt-in-law, Jeri Madison; and nieces and nephews, Alexandra, Francesca, Anthony, Mickinzie, Alexander, Ayden (Godson), Alyse, Garrit, Emmitt, and Wyitt.

For more than 35 years, Tom worked as a communications and marketing professional in a variety of areas: traditional journalism, public relations, private-sector marketing, and public speaking.

He was a sought-after emcee for such events as the poetry anthology unveiling at the Plainfield Public Library District and District 202’s CAPE Awards, which honors people with strong commitments to the District 202 community. He also served as keynote speaker for the inaugural Nolan and Gloria McCants Scholarship program.

But despite Tom’s service and many accomplishments, he cherished God and family above all and always said his family was his greatest gift. Tom called his wife, Kellie, “a woman of tremendous patience, courage and faith”; his daughter, Emma Williams, who loved their conversations about books and music; his daughter, Olivia Mueller, his “rock-and-roll buddy and Goo-Bear” and credited his granddaughter, Riley, with bringing “joy and peace and giddy excitement” into his life.

Tom was born January 16, 1966, the son of Danna and Tony Hernandez. He was an alumna of F.E. Marsh, Gompers Junior High School, Joliet East High School and graduate of Joliet Central (Class of 1984), and Lewis University (1988), where he earned his Bachelor of Science.

He spent most of his career as Director of Community Relations at Plainfield Community Consolidated School District 202 (2006 to 2023). There Tom managed and produced all internal and external communications for the fifth largest school district in Illinois; strategized all regular and crisis communications and special projects; and acted as media and community liaison for the district.

Tom started his career as a regular correspondent for The Herald-News in Joliet (1986 to 1988). He later worked at the Beacon News as a reporter (1988 to 1992), the Pioneer Press as a report and editor (1992 to 1996), the Illinois State Board of Education as a communications specialist (1996 to 2001), and as Director of Community Relations at St. Charles School District #303 (2001 to 2006).

He was a member of Illinois chapter of the National School Public Relations Association (INSPRA), was named Distinguished Communicator in 2018, and received an Award of Excellence in 2020 for D202 Talks: A Conversation with D202’S First Director of Digital Learning and Innovation.

Tom was also a weekly columnist (1998 to 2009) for the Plainfield Sun, where he wrote an issues-oriented newspaper column. He was a past member and board chair for United Way of Will County. He was also a founding member of Plainfield School District 202 Foundation for Excellence.

 He was a proud supporter of Breast Intentions of Illinois and a dedicated member of the former Great Read community literacy program.

Tom was the co-leader of WriteOn Joliet, a welcoming, diverse group of writers of varied skills, interests and experience. Tom always assured new writers that WriteOn “honored the effort and nurtured the writer” and he was very proud of the group he helped to grow. Tom sought opportunities for writers to share their work.

He is the author of six books: “Chocolate Cows and Purple Cheese, and Other Tales from the Homefront” (2009), “Abundance” (2012), “The Edge of Middle – Thoughts from the Top of the Hill” (2017), “The Acorn Wars (2019), “The Weekly Fruit and Vegetable Report” (2020), and “Brothers: and Other Stories” (2021).   Tom’s writings explored the complicated facets of life – marriage, family, relationships, identity, aging, parenting, faith, social justice and politics – through essays, poems, short stories, novellas, and one novel.
Tom also contributed to all eight WriteOn Joliet anthologies.

The family would like to offer heartfelt thanks to all the family, friends, teachers, principals, and administrators, who visited and made Tom smile in his last months. They would also like to thank the caregivers and nurses from Lightways Hospice who selflessly gave their time and care over the last few months. We would not have made it through the last two years without you.

In lieu of flowers, please make donations to Plainfield School District 202 Foundation for Excellence and Lightways Hospice and Serious Illness Care in Joliet.

A memorial service will be held in Tom’s honor on Saturday, April 20, 2024, at 11:00 a.m., at St. John Lutheran Church, 2650 Plainfield Road, Joliet, IL 60435.  A gathering will follow services until 2:00 p.m.

For more information, please call (815) 741-5500, or visit his Memorial Tribute at where you may share a memory or leave an online condolence.