On their second date as a couple, Sandy Steiner and Joel Lerner got on Lerner’s tandem bike and pedaled until they were exhausted.
“Not the most romantic trip, like a flight to Paris would have been,” Lerner said of the ride that began in Lake Forest in the summer of 2013. “On our first date [dinner at The Happ Inn Bar and Grill in Northfield], I did all of the talking. She agreed to go on a second date with me because she wanted the opportunity to get a word in edgewise. She sat in the back seat of the tandem and did a lot of the talking. There were times I occasionally asked her, ‘Are you OK back there?’
“We kept riding and riding and riding,” added Lerner, the chief photographer at JWC Media in Highwood. “The date lasted a couple of hours. We ended up in Zion.”
Sandra Lynn Steiner — a devout Christian and loving mother, daughter, sister and aunt — died on Jan. 14, of complications from cancer at Cancer Treatment Centers of America in Zion.
The Lake Bluff resident was 46.
“Sandy loved so hard, and she … was … loved,” said Lerner, Sandy’s fiancé who proposed to her on Nov. 23, 2016, on a beach in the Bahamas. “There’s this picture, taken before I met her, of her and her son [Colin Gregg, now 16] running together and holding hands in an alley in Chicago after church one Sunday. The looks on their faces — you could tell how much they loved each other and how they were each other’s rock.”
Born in Mount Clemens, Michigan, and a 1992 graduate of Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, where she was a Delta Zeta sorority member, Sandy worked in Chicago in the marketing department of Lifes2good, a company headquartered in Ireland that brings to market clinically proven health and beauty products that improve people’s lives.
Decades before hopping on that tandem with Lerner, Sandy was a competitive swimmer while growing up in Michigan. She would discover the joys and rewards of distance running years later.
“She won tons of blue ribbons in swimming,” said her mother, Sue Coffee. “I remember one meet, when they put her in a race [a butterfly event] she didn’t like very much. It upset me because Sandy wanted to do well in front of her grandparents on that day, and I was worried she would struggle. Well, guess what? Sandy swam the butterfly and won another blue ribbon.”
Only 10 days after undergoing her final chemotherapy treatment following her first bout with cancer in 2012, Sandy — alongside her Imerman Angel, Robyn Bumgarner — ran in an Evanston 5K race. Imerman Angels is a group that matches cancer patients with cancer survivors.
But it was her faith, followed closely by her love for anything that had to do with her family, that truly enlivened Sandy.
“Sandy loved the Lord,” her mother said. “She was on fire for the Lord. And she loved her family fiercely.”
Sandy called outings with her nephews “dates.” After taking one of them to a museum in the city or to Elawa Farm in Lake Forest or to another place she knew would entertain and educate her companion, she put together a photo album of the trip and gave it to the nephew. It’s a tradition Lerner intends to continue.
More than once, Sandy and her son filled up a backpack of essentials and delivered them to a homeless man in Oak Park.
“She was always giving, always thinking of others,” her mother added.
In 2013, Sandy was committed to throwing a memorable 40th birthday bash for her brother, Chris, in Lake Forest, so she hired a photographer. This was when Lerner entered the picture. Lerner clicked for more than two hours at the party. A courtship would follow, during which Lerner, a Jew, embraced Sandy’s faith.
“Her trademark was her beautiful hair,” Lerner said. “It was fire-engine red, almost inside-a-plum red.
“When I proposed to her, I saw a woman with a shocked look. She was stunned. But one of the greatest sights I noticed on that day, just beyond Sandy, was her son’s smiling face.”
Sandy traveled to Mexico for treatment earlier this month. Several days later, her condition precipitated a trip to a medical facility in San Diego. The Steiner family then made the decision to book another flight for Sandy. On Jan. 10 at around 12:10 a.m., Sandy and her mother arrived at Waukegan National Airport.
A throng of nearly 20 family members and friends welcomed Sandy home.
In her final days, loved ones recalled, Sandy wept at Cancer Treatment Centers of America in Zion. But her tears weren’t for her.
They were for other cancer patients who had to endure alone.
Sandra Lynn Steiner was thinking of others, until the end.
Sandra was preceded in death by her father, Tom.
In addition to her mother, Sue Coffee, her son Colin Gregg, fiance Joel Lerner and her brother Chris Steiner, she is survived by her other brother, Tom (Chelsea); stepfather, Dave Coffee; sister, Laura Wood (Mitch); sister-in-law, Sarah; nephews, Caleb, Oliver and Ethan; nieces, Evelyn and Eleanor; and former husband, David Gregg.
Sandy’s funeral will be held at Christ Church in Lake Forest on Jan. 21, beginning at 11:33 a.m. (Her favorite number was 33.) The church is located at 100 Waukegan Road.
In lieu of flowers, please consider a donation to the For the Love of Sandy Trust, c/o Chris Steiner, 1151 Evergreen Drive, Lake Forest, IL, 60045.