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John “Gootie” Gutenson

April 23, 1960 – November 16, 2020

It is with broken hearts that we announce Raymond “John” Gutenson passed peacefully this morning surrounded by his family.

John started with CRA in 2000 as a volunteer, working with his best friend Dan Bigg to build out the program into what it is today. Quite literally, John helped ‘build out the program’ by building the interior of the infamous silver outreach vans, working alongside his friends Dan and Josch. John often shared the story about how he had established a successful painting business when he began volunteering at CRA. He decided to leave it all behind to take a chance on a small nonprofit that was piloting a new approach to working with people – any positive change – which quickly became his personal mission. The knowledge and passion that surrounded his work was propelled by his own lived experience and ability to build trust. Underneath what appeared to be a gruff exterior was deep understanding and boundless empathy. There was no separating the professional from the personal for John when it came to CRA. CRA was everything to him.

Over time, John became the backbone of the organization, and Dan’s right hand. John resisted titles beyond Outreach Specialist but could be counted on to know how to do just about anything: overseeing outreach sites and warehouse operations, fixing nearly anything that needed fixing, organizing the CRA t-shirt contest and community cookouts, training volunteers, service providers, and medical students, caring for warehouse and neighborhood animals, reversing an overdose. John truly viewed all things, all tasks, as equally important to the successful functioning of CRA, from making sure a participant’s needs were met to changing the toilet paper in the bathroom. All of it was fundamental and nothing was beneath him. He worked diligently to maintain this level of dedication to the organization and worked to ensure any new staff and volunteers understood this critical lesson as well.

Credit: Nigel Brunsdon

For many people, John is one of the first faces they saw at CRA. John acted as teacher and mentor to countless volunteers and students over the years, welcoming anyone on the van as long as they were willing to learn and treat participants with dignity and kindness. He would teach you how to reverse an overdose, what the various supplies on the van were for, how to conduct the participant survey, or even how to drive and parallel park. Medical students were a steady presence at a few of his sites, offering health services to participants, and learning from John how to approach people gently and without judgment or derision.

John was truly the living embodiment of Dan’s radical generosity – he would not only give you the shirt off his back, but also several more that he had lying around and thought should be put to use. He would do anything for a participant, was always available for a phone call or to make a delivery, or to stay at the warehouse a little bit later so somebody could make it there in time. He even went as far as establishing an outreach site out of his own house for participants who lived near him and had a hard time accessing the city-based sites.

 John’s kindness extended beyond humans to creatures of all shapes and sizes. His soft spot for animals was boundless. He was the builder of doghouses and cat shelters, the giver of food and treats, and the kind companion to all living critters.

More importantly, he was Sara’s dad, Nyalla’s grandpa, Susie’s love of 30 years, and “chosen” family to so many of us. We will miss his passion, his guidance, and his warm hugs.

“Gootie” showed up early, stayed late, and did what needed to be done (and more) for twenty years. While he can never be replaced, his dedication to “taking care of business” will live in all of us at CRA, and to all of those beyond who he inspired.

Credit: Nigel Brunsdon

If you would like to share stories, tributes or photos about John with his family and friends, please do so here.

For anyone interested in supporting his family by making a donation to support his daughter and granddaughter, please do so here.


Are you interested in volunteering? Please join us every Wednesday afternoon from 4-6 PM at our office in North Lawndale at 3110 West Taylor St. It is a 5 block walk from the Kedzie-Homan Blue Line stop and there is ample street parking.