On Monday, the Steelers world was moved to find out that Sharon Ilkin, wife of former Steelers offensive tackle Tunch Ilkin, had lost her battle with breast cancer at 55. Tunch and Sharon have three children: Tanner, Natalie, and Clay. The Ilkins still reside in Upper St. Clair. Married for 30 years, the blow was a hard one for friends, family and Steelers fans as well.
Sharon Ilkin was a teacher who loved children and gardening. Her husband described her as an antique buff and one who was always up for an adventure, including visits to old houses. “She was like sunshine,” her husband said. “She was absolutely beautiful and didn\’t know it.”
Tunch Ilkin was a Turkish immigrant who settled in the Chicago area with his parents, Mehmet and Ayten Ilken, when he was two years of age. Ilken was a Highland Park High School All Conference and All County honored football player. It was when he went to college at Indiana State that Tunch met his future wife; a cheerleader who was on the cover of Sports Illustrated (Nov. 28, 1977) with now-legend basketball player Larry Bird.
After his years with the Pittsburgh Steelers and then the Green Bay Packers (in 1993), Ilken served as Vice-President of the NFL Player\’s Association (1989-94). He also became a sports reporter in the Pittsburgh market and made Lunch with Tunch a fan-favorite as he interviewed Steelers players and coaches. In 1998, he joined Myron Cope and Bill Hillgrove as an analyst for the official Steelers broadcasting team. Ilkin and Craig Wolfley, a former teammate, also hosted a morning show, In The Locker Room with Tunch and Wolf on WBGG (AM).
After converting from Islam to Christianity, Ilkin became the Director of Men\’s Ministries for South Hills Bible Chapel. Mrs. Ilkin also got involved with the church and was known to serve meals at the Light of Life (Rescue) Mission. Friends of the family said that it was their faith that helped Sharon through the roughest times in her battle with cancer. “She loved serving others,” Rev. Ron Moore, the pastor at The Bible Chapel of the South Hills in Peters said of Mrs. Ilkin. “Her trust in Christ was a constant source of strength and courage for her, her family and her friends.”
Mrs. Ikin is also survived by her mother, Marge Senefeld of Upper St. Clair; her brother, Jeff Senefeld of Austin; and her sisters, Kim Kelly of Tampa and Angela Duncan of Clearwater, Fla.
A service to celebrate Sharon Ilkin\’s life will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday in The Bible Chapel of the South Hills. Interment is to follow the ceremony at Bethel Cemetery in Bethel Park. The family has asked that memorial donations be made to the Light of Life Rescue Mission, 10 E. North Ave., Pittsburgh, PA 15212, in honor of her sacrifice and life-long mission of giving to others.