Sister determined to honor former police chief’s final wish
By Denise Crosby firstname.lastname@example.org August 7, 2012 5:28PM
Former North Aurora and Elburn Police Chief Edward Kelley
Updated: September 9, 2012 6:05AM
It was 12 years ago Evelyn Westwood made a promise to her dying brother: that a sign with his name would be erected at the park on the corner of Oak and Willow Way streets in North Aurora — not only because Edward A. Kelley donated the land for this village park now containing the Veterans Memorial, but because he gave 28 years to the police department there, 15 years as its chief.
Yet, despite repeated attempts by the family to made good on that promise, Westwood says, the village has not followed through with its own promise.
Yes, there’s a plaque placed on a boulder in memory of the longtime chief. But that’s not what the village agreed to do, says Westwood. And she blames this “12-year runaround” on the same politics that drove her brother to an early retirement, along with a lawsuit over insurance benefits he fought while dying from cancer.
“What they did to my brother was terrible,” says a still-angry Westwood. “He did so much for North Aurora; yet he had to go to court to fight for his insurance when he couldn’t even breathe. And now this ... it’s just too much.”
North Aurora Mayor Dale Berman — who was also mayor in the late ’80s when Kelley donated the land — says he recalls no promises made for the sign, nor are there any records indicating such an agreement. And even though he described himself as “a good friend” of the former police chief, Berman downplayed Kelley’s almost 30-year contribution to the community, saying he was “only doing his job.”
Far from it, argues Westwood. She insists her brother was dedicated to the village and was especially proud of his service to children. In addition to leading a quickly growing police department, he started the “Officer Vic” program in the schools and North Aurora Days’ popular antique car show.
Former Elburn Mayor Jim Willey, who hired Kelley as his police chief in 1998 after Kelley left North Aurora, had nothing but praise for him. “Ed was an incredible guy,” said Willey, who served as Elburn mayor from 1997 to 2009. “He was so sincere, such a warm person and so community-oriented. And he was good at what he did. ”
Willey described Kelley as “the exact opposite of the arrogant police chief who saw things only in black or white.” Instead, he used common sense and a calming demeanor to diffuse any tense situation. “I only knew Ed two years,” said Willey, “but I just loved the guy. And when he died, I felt like I had lost a brother.”
Jeff Schielke, Batavia’s mayor for 32 years, was equally generous in his praise. “Ed was the consummate practitioner, dedicated to his profession with his feet firmly planted in the community,” he said of Kelley’s leadership and service to North Aurora. “I have nothing but good things to say about him.”
Westwood insists her brother’s problems were the result of run-ins with a couple of trustees who made his life miserable. Adding insult to injury, she said, just months before losing his battle to lung cancer — he died in March 2000 — Kelley was fighting a court battle to keep his insurance.
Berman says the lawsuit was unfortunate but the village was only practicing fiduciary responsibility. And he suggested Kelley’s family submit in writing the request for a sign that could be put before the Village Board for a vote. But Westwood calls this another stall tactic. She says she clearly remembers an architect displaying renditions for the Edward A. Kelley Memorial Park at a board meeting after her brother died. She also argues the Fox Valley Park District even offered to pay for the sign, but the village insisted it would cover the cost. Berman denies that claim, leading Westwood to wonder why “suddenly everyone at Village Hall has amnesia.”
While all three mayors agree small-town politics can get complicated, I suggest a simple way to resolve this controversy: Let the people decide. If you think Ed Kelley’s name should be on the North Aurora park, give Village Hall a call at 630-897-8228. Or drop officials a line at 25 E. State St. North Aurora, IL. 60542.
Your response will be appreciated by a sister trying to fulfill a final request. I just can’t promise it will do any good.