Rafael Soto, 58, a long-time Chicago-area public school educator, administrator and athletic coach, died Friday, Dec. 1, at his home in Lake Zurich, Ill., following a long illness.
He was the husband of Lenee (Fraley) Soto, formerly of Taylorville, and the son-in-law of Taylorville residents Vance and Katie Fraley.
His 36-year-long career in public education touched countless students’ lives. He was a fixture at Warren Township High School in Gurnee, where he served as the Dean of Students at the O’Plaine campus for two decades, and, for many years, coached the school’s freshman football team. Prior to his work at Warren Township High School, he had served in the Waukegan public schools in a variety of roles: as the Principal of the Waukegan Career Academy, the Dean of Students at Waukegan High School, a health teacher at Webster Middle School, and a football and wrestling coach for both high school and middle school athletes. He began his career as a physical education teacher and coach for football and wrestling at his alma mater, Carl Schurz High School in Chicago’s Irving Park neighborhood.
Born in Chicago on May 11, 1959, Rafael won a scholarship to play football at Drake University, where he became a formidable guard, wearing jersey No. 60 on the Bulldog’s offensive line. He earned a bachelor’s degree in education at Drake, and later went on to earn a master’s degree in education administration from Northern Illinois University.
Standing six feet, three inches tall, and with a powerful physique, Rafael cut a commanding figure. He arrived at school early each morning wearing his everyday uniform, which included a crisply ironed shirt and a Windsor-knotted tie. He adhered to a strict work ethic, persevering even as his illness and treatments took a toll; he continued to work until just days before his death.
The first in his family to graduate from college, he served as a role model and mentor to many students and teachers. He used his language skills – he spoke Spanish and English fluently – and his own life experiences to reach out to students, many of whom credited him with helping them through difficult times. Though his role often thrust him into the position of dealing with troubled students, when asked about the young people with whom he came into contact, he always insisted, “The kids are great!” His educational philosophy could be summed up in two sentences. “There is no such thing as a bad kid. They just need to know that someone cares.”
He was an avid fan of all sports, and especially took pride in watching football, baseball and volleyball games played by his sons, Samuel and Nicholas. Proud of his Puerto Rican heritage, Rafael enjoyed cooking (and eating) his signature dish, Arroz con Gandules. On the weekends, Rafael enjoyed the simple pleasures of mowing the lawn – and then surveying the results with an Arturo Fuente cigar, a Courvoisier cognac, and evident satisfaction.
He is survived by: his wife, Lenee (Fraley) Soto, and his sons, Samuel and Nicholas Soto, of Lake Zurich, Ill.; his mother, Iris (Gonzalez) Soto, of Mayaguez, Puerto Rico; his sister, Carmen (Edwin) Muniz, of Bartlett, Ill.; and many aunts, uncles and cousins in the Chicago area and in Puerto Rico. He was preceded in death by his father, Luis Soto, niece Jessica Muniz, and nephew Jeremiah Muniz.
He is also survived by his father- and mother-in-law, Vance and Katie Fraley, of Taylorville, Ill.; brother-in-law Derek (Melissa) Fraley of Bartonville, Ill.; sister-in-law Karen (Christopher Woodruff) Brandon of Oxford, England; nephews Jackson Woodruff of Cambridge, England, and Landon Fraley of Bartonville, Ill.; nieces Avery Woodruff of Oxford, England, and Madelyn Fraley of Bartonville, Ill.; and extended members of his wife’s family throughout the United States.
Visitation will be held from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 10, at the Ahlgrim Family Funeral Home, 415 S. Buesching Road, Lake Zurich. A funeral mass will be celebrated at 10 a.m. Monday, Dec. 11, at St. Francis de Sales Catholic Church, 135 S. Buesching Road, Lake Zurich.
Rafael was an active and long-time member of the Parish.