Winnetka, News

In Tribute: Wilmette native Cristen Bolan, 53, identified as recovered sailor

Services for Bolan begin on Friday, June 21

The Cook County Medical Examiner identified the woman who died Monday following a boating accident near Winnetka as Cristen “Crissie” Bolan, a 53-year-old Deerfield resident.

Bolan, a Wilmette native, was recovered from Lake Michigan Monday morning about one mile offshore after a sailboat she was on capsized Sunday night. Bolan had died by the time the Coast Guard transported her to Montrose Harbor, according to the Chicago Fire Department.

By press time (11:50 a.m. Tuesday), the medical examiner had not provided Bolan’s cause of death.

A visitation service for Bolan is set for 4-8 p.m. Friday, June 21, at Donnellan Family Funeral Services in Skokie; and a funeral Mass will begin at 11 a.m. Saturday, June 22, at Sacred Heart Church in Winnetka.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests memorial contributions to PAWS Chicago, 1997 N. Clybourn Ave., Chicago, 60614.

An obituary for Bolan says she was “devoted daughter of Chloe Bolan and Michael (the late Sandra) Bolan. Loving sister of Kelly (David) Chevalier, Michael (Andi) Bolan, Melissa (Paul) Meyer, and Erin (Judd) Hines. Adoring aunt of Sam, Bo, and Buckley (Rebecca) Chevalier; Conor, Cody, and Chase Bolan; Abigail, Jack, Peter, Luke, Ben, and Regina Meyer; Maureen, Carrie, and Jimmy Hines.”

Crissie Bolan (standing, fourth from left) with family members playing broomball in December 2023 at Watts Recreation Center in Glencoe.

With three sisters and a brother, Bolan grew up in Wilmette, attending Central School and Wilmette Junior High, according to family members. She was a graduate of New Trier High School, where she excelled in softball and field hockey, they said.

Many of the people she met during those years remained part of Crissie’s life, said her sister Kelly Bolan Chevalier.

“She was really, really close with her high school friends,” Chevalier said. “They still got together. It was a very wonderful experience and stabilizing factor in her life. And a lot of that has to do with the close-knit community we grew up in the Wilmette area.”

Crissie Bolan earned degrees from the University of Wisconsin at Madison and the graduate program of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University before becoming a marketing professional in the healthcare field.

Her love for athletics, fitness and adventure continued throughout her life. Her brother, Mike Bolan, said she was an avid hiker and skier, often traveling west to find the next adventure. She climbed to the base camp of Mount Everest and was a black belt in taekwondo.

“She was an awesome friend and awesome human being,” her sister Missy Bolan Meyer said. “My daughter Regina said Crissie accomplished more in 53 years than most people do in 153 years. She just did so much. She never sat. She always had a place to go and people to go with. She lived alone but was never alone.”

Crissie enjoyed sharing her passions, specifically competition, with her family

The extended family gathered for a rousing broomball game in Glencoe each Christmas, and Crissie liked to grab a racket and teach her nieces and nephew a thing or two on the court.

“My kids really loved her very much,” Mike Bolan said. “She’d come over for several holidays and recently was playing more tennis and pickleball with the kids. She liked the competition and she had a good spirit and is willing to compete with anybody.”

Crissie Bolan was also an experienced sailor. She regularly participated in the Chicago Yacht Club’s 333-mile Race to Mackinac, and “it was not something she took lightly,” Mike Bolan added.

So a Sunday sail on Lake Michigan was not an unusual or uniquely dangerous activity for Bolan. And the tragic event that claimed Crissie Bolan’s life says more about the powerful lake than it does about anything else, Mike Bolan said.

“It was not a random decision to go sailing. She had done it many times,” he said. “I hate to say it, but it demonstrates how dangerous Lake Michigan can be.”

Crissie Bolan will be remembered as an athlete with a strong competitive nature and leaves behind a legacy of kindness and joy.

“(People) should know what a good human being she was — good with animals and people,” Mike Bolan said. “They can see when they come to the wake on Friday just the number of people she touched and she was such a positive influence, with a wonderful loving personality. It was quite infectious. She had a tremendous sense of humor. She was ultra competitive but could really laugh at herself too.”

Crissie Bolan and a second woman reportedly set sail on a 12-foot sailboat on Sunday night, launching from Evanston and capsizing near Winnetka around dusk. According to the Village of Winnetka, the other passenger swam approximately 2 miles to Tower Road Beach, initiating a search and rescue operation for Bolan.

The Village said both individuals were wearing life preservers, and the boat was reportedly located 2 to 3 miles from shore.

At approximately 2 a.m. Monday, the second woman made it to shore and the Winnetka Fire Department, which with local Coast Guard station in Wilmette and neighboring municipalities, launched a search and rescue mission to locate Bolan and the boat.

The Coast Guard eventually pulled Bolan from the water a mile offshore north of Winnetka and transported her to Chicago’s Montrose Harbor, the closest location the 45-foot boat could offload, according to the statement.

According to Coast Guard officials, first responders performed CPR while en route to Montrose Harbor and she was placed under the care of local paramedics. Chicago Fire Department officials said Bolan was then pronounced deceased.

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joe coughlin
Joe Coughlin

Joe Coughlin is a co-founder and the editor in chief of The Record. He leads investigative reporting and reports on anything else needed. Joe has been recognized for his investigative reporting and sports reporting, feature writing and photojournalism. Follow Joe on Twitter @joec2319

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