Summit Illinois Mayor Joseph Strzelczyk died Sunday, May 17, a few days before he would have celebrated his 76th birthday. Strzelczyk was a people’s mayor, kind, generous and caring. Despite his small handful of relentless critics who falsely claimed he was absent during his recent battle with cancer, Strzelczyk worked hard for the citizens of the Village of Summit right up until he died, surrounded by friends and family
By Ray Hanania
I’ve known Joe Strzelczyk for more than 30 years. I interviewed him years ago when I was hosting a Saturday and Sunday radio show on WLS about what was then his favorite topic, softball.
“Mayor Joe” as he was fondly called, loved softball almost as much as he loved the Village of Summit where he lived all of his life and where he entered politics in 1990 as a trustee. In 1997, he became the suburban hamlet’s mayor, a job he held until Sunday (May 17, 2015), when he died.
The thing about Joe Strzelczyk is that he was a good human being. I never heard him get angry at anyone. His small handful of critics – something every good government official will attract – were relentless in their criticism, even up until this past week, falsely claiming that Joe was absent from his duties.
He wasn’t. Summit was always on his mind. It was his life.
When he called me at the end of last year asking if I could help with media, I agreed doing it mainly because I enjoyed the opportunity to also sit with him and reminisce about his life, local suburban politics, and the changes in Summit.
He was at his office often, even during the past few months when his cancer worsened. Yet he was still engaging. He wasn’t distracted. His mind was focused and deliberate, although he was soft-spoken which was a part of his kind and generous character.
Joe and I also shared our military service. We both served during the Vietnam War, him at the start of the war beginning in 1962 in the Army, and me at the end of the war in the Air Force. He later served five years in the Army Reserves and I served 12 years in the Air National Guard.
He also knew a lot of the people I covered as a reporter, although like I said, Mayor Joe loved softball as much as government service. So we shared remembrances about stories big and small.
The biggest challenge I had with Mayor Joe was spelling his name. My dyslexia would always kick in and I’d often mix the “e” and the “y” in his last name.
But I never confused the fact that Joe Strzelczyk loved the Village of Summit and he loved the people who lived there. He probably knew every one of the village’s 12,000 residents by name.
The real tragedy in suburban government, especially in the Southwest Suburbs, is that the mainstream Chicago news media – the “big media if you will – always ignore the good that southwest suburban officials do and they focus on the missteps and mistakes. Joe made some mistakes. But who is perfect?
When it comes to his public service, though, Joe Strzelczyk was a “Babe Ruth.” His service was a grand slam that helped get Summit back on its financial feet, bringing down crime, and maintaining an unprecedented openness with his constituents, which is one reason why he always won re-election, the longest serving Summit Mayor, with such large voter support.
Ironically, Mayor Joe died a few days before his 76th birthday, May 21.
I know the people of Summit will miss you Joe. You were a great public official. Kind. Humble and willing to take criticism the way great baseball teams sometimes lose a game.
I know you’re up there in that great softball diamond in the sky, giving advice to others on how to do the right thing in public service while waiting for your turn at bat.
(Ray Hanania is an award winning former Chicago City Hall reporter. He is President/CEO of Urban Strategies Group and has done some media consulting for the Village of Summit. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)