Official Obituary of

Mary Jo Crihfield

September 6, 1981 ~ August 6, 2023 (age 41) 41 Years Old

Mary Jo Crihfield Obituary

Mary Jo passed away on Sunday, August 6, 2023 at her home in Evanston after a courageous lifelong battle against the unrelenting progression of muscular dystrophy.  Born in Evanston on September 6, 1981, she was the daughter of Jackie and Phil Crihfield, and lived with her life partner Frank Montagna.  She is also survived by her brother Jay (Amy), sister Katy, nephews Jack and Conner Crihfield, and aunts Connie Crihfield and Jill Andersen.  

Mary Jo graduated in 1999 from Evanston Township High School as an Illinois State Scholar and received the President’s Award for Educational Excellence from President Bill Clinton, in addition to numerous departmental and class honors .  

Mary Jo attended undergraduate and graduate school at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign.  She earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology, Magna Cum Laude and was a member of Phi Beta Kappa.  Mary Jo received the Timothy J. Nugent award, in recognition of her service to  the disability program and her fellow students, and her “personal integrity, human dignity, intellectual endeavor, pride in self and concern for others.”  As an active participant in the Beckwith Residential Support Services Program, Mary Jo received a Matthew Allan Odelius Scholarship Award based on her “demonstrated leadership in advancing the involvement of students with disabilities.”

Mary Jo continued her academic career in Urbana Champaign and earned a master’s degree in higher education administration and a second master’s degree in rehabilitation counseling.  While In graduate school she was a teaching assistant, lectured undergraduate students and participated on the administrative team for Illinois Students Taking Effective Preparation (ISTEP), a transition program designed to support students with disabilities entering the University

Following graduate school, Mary Jo landed her “dream job” as a vocational rehabilitation counselor at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago (now the Shirley Ryan Ability Lab). She held this position for two years until a medical setback prevented her from making the commute to Chicago from Evanston. 

Mary Jo’s disability never stopped her from pursuing life to the fullest.  A lover of art, she enjoyed visiting the Art Institute of Chicago.  Van Gogh was her favorite artist and any visitor to her home encountered Starry Night when they walked in the front door.  A lover of music Mary Jo and Frank attended dozens of concerts: Tony Bennett at Ravinia, Elton John at Soldier Field, Billy Joel at Wrigley, David Gray at COUNTLESS venues, Cher at the United Center, the seemingly endless string of “farewell tours”, the CSO playing the sound track of Amadeus while the audience watched the film on a big screen at Symphony Hall, and ON-AND-On; she loved them all.  

Mary Jo loved all things Disney.  She made four trips to Disney World and was a world class shopper and collector of Disney merchandise.  The Muppets were her favorites.  Mary Jo was always Miss Piggy to Frankie’s Kermit.  Rainbow Connections was their song.  The story in UP (2009) warmed their hearts, so Ellie and Carl periodically stood in for Miss Piggy and Kermit. 

The pandemic brought home confinement so Mary Jo found YouTube and the virtual world of Disney.  She connected with other Disney enthusiasts.  They shared stories, played games, critiqued the latest Disney release or goings-on at the Magic Kingdom.  She was introduced to “Swaps,” where a theme was selected and paired “gifters” who signed up for the Swap exchanged stuff (Disney or otherwise) based on the theme. 


This led to the launch of Rolling to Orlando , Mary Jo’s YouTube Channel.  93 episodes were produced over a two year period, covering subjects ranging from her Swaps, their “fur child” Chuck, and birthday celebrations, to living with disabilities. 

Mary Jo blossomed at the University of Illinois.  She excelled academically, found the vocational outlet for her calling to embrace, educate and empower persons with disabilities, care for others and simply enjoy all that life had to offer.  Throughout her seven years in Urbana-Champaign, she was supported by the Beckwith residential program for disabled persons and the student care givers who worked at Beckwith.  In her memory, the Mary Jo Crihfield Scholarship Fund has been established through the University of Illinois Foundation.  This perpetual endowed fund will provide an annual monetary award to a resident of Beckwith or a student care giver in the program who demonstrates Mary Jo’s  “…passions for pursuing a well-rounded academic and extra-curricular experience, as demonstrated by participation in service and social activities, advancing disability awareness and advocacy, achieving academic excellence, and/or supporting fellow students to achieve their goals”  In lieu flowers, gifts to this fund in memory of Mary Jo may be made by check payable to the University of Illinois Foundation.  Please write “Mary Jo Crihfield Scholarship” on the Memo line and send to the University of Illinois Foundation, 1305 W. Green St., Urbana, IL 61801.  If you prefer, please visit   and type in “Mary Jo Crihfield Scholarship” in the box labeled “Other.” 

Mary Jo and Frank found Chuck through an animal rescue shelter.  Chuck was a true and faithful companion to Mary Jo, and she relished every moment with him at home, riding around in their van, and at Evanston’s dog park.  Gifts can be made to the Naperville Area Humane Society

Mary Jo was baptized, confirmed and united in partnership with Frank at the First United Methodist Church of Evanston.  Mary Jo’s life will be celebrated at a Memorial Service in the Sanctuary of the Church, 516 Church Street in Evanston on Saturday, September 23, 2023 at 11:30 a.m., followed by a reception in the Great Hall of the Church.  The Service will be live streamed on the Church’s YouTube channel:  . The service link will be posted on their site

Internment private.  Arrangements entrusted to Evanston Funeral and Cremation, Roland F. Weis director.  Info (847) 866-8843, condolence and guestbook at

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Memorial Service
September 23, 2023

11:30 AM
First United Methodist Church of Evanston
516 Church Street
Evanston, IL 60201


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