Naperville mourns death of former mayor
By Susan Frick Carlman email@example.com March 7, 2013 12:42PM
City of Naperville Mayor Chester Rybicki at the Sesquicentennial Parade on May 25, 1981. | Photo courtesy~City of Naperville
Updated: April 9, 2013 11:39AM
When Chester “Chet” Rybicki took his place in the mayor’s office, Naperville was midway though a decade that saw its population nearly double. There was not yet a Riverwalk, and the Moser Tower and Millennium Carillon were still decades in the future.
Residents who knew Rybicki in those days described him as intensely engaged in city affairs during a period of unprecedented growth. The city’s mayor from 1975 until 1983, Rybicki passed away Wednesday. He was 96.
“Mayor Rybicki was a friend and treasured individual who served our community well and was involved in city life until his final days,” Mayor A. George Pradel said in a memo to city employees.
A Naperville policeman during Rybicki’s time in the city’s top office, Pradel recalled then-Chief Jim Teal fielding a request that the Police Department try out a concept Rybicki had run across during his time working as a buyer for Sears Roebuck and Co.
“It was something called Safety Village,” said Pradel, who helped usher in the project, today a miniature town on the northeast corner of the city’s Aurora Avenue public safety campus. “He was actually the one that brought the idea to the chief of police.”
Rybicki also was instrumental in laying the foundation for the Riverwalk.
“He had Jim Moser, he worked really close with him, he had some of the big wealthy farmers, he had some of the business owners downtown,” Pradel said. “All the power that he was good friends with — that’s how he was able to make things happen.”
To some of the many who worked with him, Rybicki was a valued source of support.
“I had the unique opportunity to deal with him on two different levels,” said former City Councilman Jack Tenison. “One as a city employee — I worked for the city when he was mayor — and as a City Council member. He supported me and provided some guidance to me.”
Remembering how Rybicki managed the needs and interests of a rapidly expanding city, Tenison described him as the right person at the right time for the community.
“He came in at a high-growth period for the city, and there was a lot of big-time development taking place,” he said. “He brought a unique perspective from his background in purchasing that gave him some abilities in terms of negotiating with the development community and trying to bring the best kind of development to Naperville. Not just a cheerleader, he was somebody who understood the intricacies of the negotiating process.”
In retrospect, Tenison said, Rybicki’s contributions were particularly critical in helping the city retain its small-town identity during a period of explosive growth.
“He did an awful lot. The first thing obviously that jumps to mind is the Riverwalk area and all his contributions related to that, but there were many others, including his work with community groups,” Tenison said. “He really provided a guiding light for the city during the time he was mayor.”
Another former mayor also remembered Rybicki’s handling of those who played a role in Naperville’s extraordinary growth spurt.
“He was very good friends with some of the developers, which is OK,” onetime campaign rival and fellow Rotarian Peg Price said. “After I became mayor, I included him in some things I thought he would be helpful with — Naper Boulevard, for example.”
Rybicki played a prominent role, Pradel said, in securing the funds that paid for the annexation and construction of the roadway.
“He just went to bat for us so that we could have another north-south route rather than just Washington and Route 59,” he said.
While the two had differences in the public arena, Price had no doubt about Rybicki’s commitment to the community.
“Chet cared deeply about the city,” she said. “After his wife and his kids, Naperville was a real love of his. He was mayor during some things that were exciting and different.”
Funeral arrangements are pending at Friedrich-Jones Funeral Home in Naperville.
Rybicki was born March 25, 1916, in Chicago. He was a veteran of World War II, joining the Army Air Corps after the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. He ended up flying a B-17, the fabled “Flying Fortress” bomber plane during the war.
Also in 1941, he married Mickey. She passed away in 2002.
After first living in Berwyn and Broadview, he and Mickey moved to Naperville in 1960. He became a Naperville Township trustee and then town clerk. He ran for mayor in 1967 and 1971 and was successful in 1975.
Rybicki served two terms as mayor before, as he said in 2011, “Peg Price retired me.”
The current mayor said Rybicki would offer his two cents often in recent years.
“He would call here several times a week, sometimes twice a day,” Pradel said. “He had an opinion on a lot of things.”
That extended to an issue the City Council virtually resolved this week, when it ordered the drawing up of documents to clear the way for the Water Street hotel/retail development.
“He said it was too big. He said, ‘You’re going to need to cut it down … although we do need a hotel downtown,’” Pradel said.
A statue of Rybicki stands near the Riverwalk, and Pradel said he paid it a visit Thursday. He also visited his predecessor in January at the Tabor Hills retirement community, to encourage him to attend the annual State of the City address.
“He said, ‘If I could be there, I would,’” Pradel said.
The mayor had brought with him a framed photograph of Mickey Rybicki, who rarely left her huband’s side during their years together.
“I said, ‘You know this girl?’” Pradel said. “And he said, ‘Aw, I’m going to see her someday soon.’”