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Village of Summit mourns passing of longtime Mayor Joseph W. Strzelczyk
Joseph W. Strzelczyk, 75, who entered public office as a Summit Village Trustee in 1990 and was elected Mayor in 1997, died Sunday morning surrounded by family and friends.
Strzelczyk waged a battle against cancer during the past year but told a public meeting that while he would fight the disease he would continue to also fight for the rights and needs of the 12,000 residents of the Southwest suburban hamlet.
Last week, Strzelczyk, who was fondly called “Mayor Joe” by residents, agreed to take what he said he hoped would be a temporary leave of absence, and he endorsed the nomination as the temporary President Pro Tempore veteran Summit Trustee Sergio Rodriguez, who has served as trustee in 2005.
He died only a few days shy of his 76th birthday. (May 21, 1939).
“We knew Mayor Joe was facing a tough fight but Mayor Joe was a tough person and we all hoped that he would overcome his health challenges,” Rodriguez said Sunday.
“Mayor Joe was a very popular public servant in Summit who dedicated his life even up to his passing to the best interests of the Village of Summit and he will be remembered for his kindness, his concern and his commitment to the best interests of the residents.”
Dr. Marvel McCain Parker, who has worked at various Village of Summit positions before joining the Village Board as a trustee, praised Strzelczyk’s years of service and said the community as a whole will mourn his loss.
“Since 1997 I have been honored to be a member of the administrative team of Mayor Strzelczyk, as Director of Community Development, Enterprise Zone Administrator and as a Trustee,” Parker said.
“He was a man of honesty and integrity. His love for the Village of Summit and its residents was unquestionable as was my loyalty to him. His primary objective was to bring diversity and transparency to the Village government. The legacy of his reign as Mayor will be unmatched.”
Sergio Garcia, who was elected to fill a vacancy as Village Clerk this past April, said that he is saddened by the loss of his good friend.
“Mayor Joe insisted on being involved in running the village right up to his passing because public service was his lifeblood. He was constantly on the phone talking about organizing spring cleanups in the village, the performance of the village departments, and just hated not being able to be present at every board meeting,” Garcia said.
“I told him he needed to focus on getting better but he said that his first priority was the well-being of Summit residents and he just wouldn’t let go. That’s the way he was. He has been in public life serving the residents of Summit for a quarter century and it just wasn’t in him to turn his back on them, even to care for himself.”
Bill Mundy, who has served as Building and Public Works director under Strzelczyk, said he was in shock.
“Everyone knew that Mayor Joe was facing the health fight of his life but you had to admire him for refusing to just surrender to it and abandon the one thing he loved more than even life, this village,” Mundy, who also serves as the Lyons Township Supervisor.
“Mayor Joe will be remembered by Summit residents as a champion of their needs. He was just talking about attending the next board meeting just to address the community and tell them how much he has enjoyed service here and that his absence would be temporary.”
Earlier this month, the Summit Board of Turtsees also voted to name Setki A. Dardovski as a new Village Trustee succeeding Steve Memishi, who resigned from office. At the meeting, Garcia was also sworn-in as the new Village Clerk, and newly elected Trustees Aleco Julius and Karen Wasko were sworn in along with re-elected Trustee Tyrone Modiest.
A U.S. Military veteran Mayor Strzelczyk is best known as a “team player” who spent much of his life working with young people as a baseball coach. That passion to help others moved him to enter public service in 1990.
Strzelczyk’s public service began in 1978 working as a Special Recreation Instructor for the Chicago Park District.
“I enjoy public service and I enjoy working with people, especially young people and senior citizens,” Strzelczyk once told an interviewer.
“My background gives me a wide range of experience that helps me as the Mayor of Summit to maintain the village as one of the best in the Chicagoland suburbs.”
But before that, Strzelczyk launched his own business as a young man working as a self-employed “trader” at the Chicago Board of Options Exchange in 1976 where he also owned a prestigious Trading Seat.
Strzelczyk also worked as a writer, authoring a column in 1985 on softball and sports for the Daily Southtown, and writing columns in 1987 for the popular Chicago Softball Magazine.
Mayor Joe also hosted the popular “Let’s Talk Softball” on Cable TV for Jones and Multimedia and Metrovision cable systems, and was a sports commentator for 1570 AM sports radio’s “Miller Sports Report” in the 1980s. He also coached for the North American Pro Softball league in 1980.
Strzelczyk was inducted into the Softball Hall of Fame in 2012.
Strzelczyk served honorably in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War, 1962-1963, and served five years in the US Army Reserves until 1968.
Mayor Strzelczyk always said he was proud of helping to make the Village of Summit a pro-Union labor environment, and reducing the village’s debt, making the village profitable for the first time in two decades.
Strzelczyk also worked hard to bring new businesses to Summit, saying “a key to the community’s success making people believe that they can achieve what they seek and also that we can fight and defeat crime.” During his term in office, crime made a steady decline.
He described himself as a “straight talker,” pointing to the balance and diversity reflected in Summit with representation from many of the regions ethnic groups including Albanians, Hispanics, African Americans and Whites.
Over the years, he has secured more than $2.5 million in Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funding which he has used to improve streets and strengthen the Village’s infra-structure. In 2010, under his direction, Summit was able to bring in a 78-unit, $14 million Senior Housing Development.
In 2013, Summit was included in the revenue sharing agreement with the Rivers Casino in Des Plaines which this year brought in more than $604,000 in added revenue to off-set the burden on taxpayers.
Visitation for Mayor Joe will be Wednesday at Foran Funeral Home in Summit, Illinois from 2 pm until 9 pm.
Hanania covered Chicago political beats including Chicago City Hall while at the Daily Southtown Newspapers (1976-1985) and later for the Chicago Sun-Times (1985-1992). He published The Villager Community Newspapers covering 12 Southwest suburban regions (1993-1997). Hanania also hosted live political news radio talkshows on WLS AM (1980 - 1991), and also on WBBM FM, WLUP FM, WSBC AM in Chicago, and WNZK AM in Detroit.
The recipient of four (4) Chicago Headline Club “Peter Lisagor Awards” for Column writing. In November 2006, Hanania was named “Best Ethnic American Columnist” by the New American Media;In 2009, he received the prestigious Sigma Delta Chi Award for Writing from the Society of Professional Journalists. Hananiaalso received two (2) Chicago Stick-o-Type awards from the Chicago Newspaper Guild, and in 1990 was nominated by the Chicago Sun-Times for a Pulitzer Prize for his four-part series on the Palestinian Intifada.
Hanania writes columns for the Southwest Community Newspaper Group including the Des Plaines Valley News, the Southwest News-Herald, the Regional News and the Reporter Newspapers.
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