Very different life paths led to historic marriage

Posted on Tue, 04/01/2014 - 11:40am

By Beth Robinson

Ron Dorfman and Ken Ilio
Ron Dorfman and Ken Ilio (from the Chicago Gay History Project)
With cake and about 100 guests, Ken Ilio and Ron Dorfman, longtime residents of Malibu East, celebrated their marriage in a reception at Phil Stefani’s 437 Rush, formerly Riccardo’s, in January. The location had special significance for Ron, who had spent many hours there with fellow journalists after hours.

Ken and Ron had made history as the first gay men to legally marry in Illinois when a Catholic woman priest conducted their wedding ceremony in the Northwestern Memorial Hospital chapel in December. Coincidentally, the first gay women to marry in Illinois (Nov. 27), Vernita Gray and Patricia Ewert, also were Malibu East residents. (Vernita died at home March 18 at age 65 after a long battle with breast cancer.) A judge had granted both couples the right to marry before the Illinois gay marriage law takes effect, due to health considerations. Ron Dorfman had a serious heart condition and passed away at home Feb. 10 at age 73.

Marriage also gave official recognition to a committed relationship that lasted 20 years. Ron and Ken met on a Saturday evening in 1994 at an AIDS Foundation fundraiser, where they sat next to each other as guests of one of the sponsors. They hit it off right away. Ron drove Ken home, and they promised to be in touch the next week, but neither had a pen to write with, so they agreed to contact the sponsor’s secretary for the information on Monday. Ken, however, could not wait until Monday. A speed reader, Ken went through all the “Rons” in the phone book until he found the one with an address on Sheridan Road. He says he was lucky that Ron’s last name began with “D” instead of “Y” or “Z.” Ken made that phone call, and he and Ron spent the next 20 years together. They entered into a civil union in 2004.

Ken did not think much of marriage until the opportunity presented itself, and then he was glad to have that option. He loved wearing the wedding band, though sometimes he forgot to put it on. The secret to their long-lasting relationship, according to Ken, was shared beliefs … and separate bathrooms!

Ron Dorfman, a graduate of the University of Chicago, was highly regarded for his contributions to journalism in Chicago. He worked for a number of publications and news organizations, including the City News Bureau of Chicago, the New University Thought (a University of Chicago progressive journal), Chicago magazine and the Chicago’s American newspaper. Most recently he was on the board of In These Times, a nonprofit magazine.

In 1968, Ron and other journalists were troubled by the one-sided coverage of the Democratic National Convention demonstrations in the Chicago media. They believed that the press had slanted the stories about the violent confrontations between demonstrators and police in favor of then-Mayor Richard J. Daley and the police. During a gathering at Riccardo’s, they started the Chicago Journalism Review, significant in journalism because it was one of the first publications devoted to media criticism. In 1970, Ron became the first editor of the publication.

Ken studied to be a veterinarian in the Philippines, his home country, and received a master’s degree in New Zealand before coming to the United States to earn a Ph.D. in reproductive biology at the University of Illinois in Urbana. His professional experience includes teaching at Columbia College and directing research at Stroger Hospital. Currently he teaches biology at a high school in Hammond, Ind.

A self-described “foodie,” Ken developed an interest in Filipino cooking in the 1980s when he went to New Zealand and was asked to represent the Philippines at events and gatherings. He learned a lot about Filipino cuisine and figured out how to make dishes even though some of the ingredients were not available in New Zealand. He has since created an iPhone app called Manong Ken’s Carinderia and a website ( devoted to the subject (“Carinderia” is a Filipino eatery where customers order food that is on display). The sumptuous food pictures on the website highlight Ken’s current passion – photography. He has been creating photowalks for Chicago vistas and landmarks. One photo from his study of the Picasso sculpture in Daley Plaza was recently featured in the “Around Town” section of the website

Over the years, both Ron and Ken have been involved in advocating for gay rights. Ron was on the board of Chicago House and a contributor to the Chicago Gay History Project. Ken once edited an online Filipino LGBT magazine. He was awed by the experience of speaking to a crowd of 250,000 people in Central Park at the 25th anniversary of the Stonewall parade in New York City, on behalf of LGBT groups in the Philippines, who could not attend the event.

A memorial for Ron will be held on April 10, once again at Phil Stefani’s 437 Rush.