After the recent dedication of Naperville founder Joseph Naper’s statue, my mind has been on the character traits and drivers the captain must have embodied to drive him to strike out into unsettled lands and stake out a community.
At the top of my list is vision. The ability to plat a settlement from the top of a hill along a winding river definitely required someone who could see beyond his own backyard. The statue of a strong man looking over the horizon readily depicts this.
A well-developed level of self-reliance was also a necessity. After all, there were not a lot of places to seek help in 1831.
Civic involvement is yet another. Naper served in the state Legislature to address and obtain things he deemed important while building the town bearing his name.
Recognition of where others fit into the situation along with an ability to delegate and cooperate to address the common good were also mandatory traits. A community does require people coming together with various skills and strengths.
Lastly, Naper was an entrepreneur, understanding the population’s needs and willingness to pay. He then established a means to provide these at a profit for himself and his family.
Another trait to consider, and something key to those discussed above, is situational awareness. Captain Joe, and other pioneering settlers, needed a strong sense of what was happening around them to be able to survive in the 1830s. This included recognizing changes in the seasons, daily weather, lives and conditions of neighbors, presence of strangers, health and development of crops and livestock, and the evolving political situation — including the status of the indigenous population that called DuPage River’s banks home before the settlers’ arrival. Indulging in self-absorption and introspection was a luxury pioneers could ill afford as the consequences of not paying attention could be fatal.
Fast forwarding to the present, I wonder if our current citizenry shares Naper’s societal insights.
Situational awareness, at least where it is exemplified by the clueless pedestrians striding into intersections without first looking both ways, seems to be one trait sorely lacking. Drivers so engrossed in cellphone discussions and bicyclists speeding across traffic with only a crosswalk for protection are other indicators of not understanding the consequences of being unaware.
Further exemplifying situational ignorance are garage doors left open, unlocked houses, and purses and valuables in plain view in cars. While Naper’s town remains one of the safest in the country, this does not mean we should not take simple steps for self protection.
Early settlers relied on their neighbors. Back then this included a militia and constructing Fort Payne for safety. Today’s equivalent could be a willingness to call 911 when things don’t look right, taking note of unfamiliar people or vehicles, or just avoiding possibly dangerous situations.
Naper built a community and is commemorated by a statue. His leadership laid the groundwork for a thriving city. What are we doing to further build upon his community? How will we be remembered?
Bob Fischer is president of the Naperville Area Homeowners Confederation. Contact Bob at email@example.com.