By Bob Uphues
Kathleen "Kay" Snyder, the irrepressible Riverside businesswoman who once finished first in a field of four candidates for village trustee – as a write-in candidate -- died Sept. 4 at her home in Naples, Florida, at the age of 79.
Snyder, who was the first woman named Riverside Township Person of the Year in 1990, had lived pretty much full time in Florida for the last couple of years of her life, after spending winters there for many years.
But she remained closely connected to Riverside and was still involved in the business she started in the mid-1970s, Arcade Antiques – which has been strictly an online operation since July 2016 -- almost until the end of her life, said her daughter, Robin Mooney.
"She never officially retired," Mooney said. "She'd still make buys and [give advice]."
But Snyder never warmed to the idea of selling her beloved antiques via the Internet. During a January 2016 interview with the Landmark marking Arcade Antiques' 40th anniversary, Snyder said she relished personal contact with customers.
"People still like to walk in and see the merchandise," Snyder said at the time. "If they're going to buy a piece of jewelry worth $5,000, do you want to buy it off the Internet?"
Snyder was born in 1938 and grew up in the Austin neighborhood of Chicago and Berwyn. She went to elementary school at Bethlehem School, a Catholic boarding school run by the Sisters of St. Joseph in LaGrange Park and graduated from Nazareth Academy.
It was during high school that Snyder met Deanne Kalamaras, who would be a close friend for the rest of Snyder's life. The two met when Snyder would pop into the snack shop Kalamaras' father owned on Harlem Avenue, which was on Snyder's way home from high school.
"She was wonderful and fun-loving," Kalamaras said. "She was a real giver."
After high school, Kalamaras and Snyder would work together at International Harvester in Broadview. Snyder went on to work for Midwest Business Statistics, but throughout the years collected antiques.
"I wanted nice things," Snyder told the Landmark in 2016. "My mother furnished our house with French furniture and Dresden china. I just decided I wanted to do that."
She met Donald Snyder, said Mooney, at a bar called the 12th Street Rag in Berwyn in 1967 and married two years later. Their only child, Robin, was born in 1970.
Snyder was not much for being a stay-at-home mom. She could be brash, loud and irreverent.
Her self-deprecating humor, often blue, could catch people off guard, "but she used it to connect with people," Mooney said.
When her daughter entered kindergarten, Snyder went into business for herself in 1976, opening Arcade Antiques in the Arcade Building in downtown Riverside.
"I always wanted to prove the fat girl could do it," she would tell her daughter.
In 1982, she scored the corner ground-floor unit at the Tower Apartment Building in the shadow of the Riverside water tower, at East and Forest avenues. With its vintage wood and glass display cabinets, left over from the storefront's days as a pharmacy, Arcade Antiques was a jewel box, glittering in cut crystal, stained-glass, china and jewelry.
The business remained at that location until a 2006 dispute with her landlord forced a move to East Burlington Street. Her husband, Donald, who also helped with the business after his retirement from PPG Industries, also died that year.
Mooney joined the business full time after running her own shop in Chicago in 2008. Snyder would go on to be president of the Riverside Chamber of Commerce and president of the Riverside Business Association.
Arcade Antiques drew other antiques stores to East Avenue and Snyder for a time appeared in a half-hour "Antiques Roadshow"-type program on RBTV, which she pitched to WTTW-TV. They turned it down.
"I wasn't sophisticated enough," Snyder said.
WTTW wasn't the only organization to underestimate Snyder's ideas. In 1987, fed up with uncontested local elections where candidates were chosen in the Riverside Community Caucus, she mounted a remarkable write-in candidacy for village trustee.
"The caucus has been picking people for them for years and the town has deteriorated, and I think people wanted a change," Snyder told the Chicago Tribune, which called her win "the upset of the day."
Snyder, who announced her candidacy in February, just two months before the election, campaigned vigorously. She sent campaign brochures to every in Riverside, including a pencil in every envelope.
"I remember sitting at the table stuffing pencils into envelopes," said Mooney, who was 17 at the time.
Snyder ended up placing first in the election, ahead of all three caucus challengers.
"She was not a typical mom," Mooney said. "She taught me the art of putting passion and love for people before everything else.
"She always had a positive attitude about things. Her whole life, she was driven."
Snyder was the wife of the late Donald; the mother of Robin (Daniel) Mooney; the step-grandmother of Jennifer (William) Davis and Kiley (Alexander) Stojanoff; the great-grandmother of Emaleigh and Colton Davis and Nolan Stojanoff; the sister of Stephen J. Kabala; and an aunt to many nieces and nephews.
A celebration of Snyder's life will be held on Friday, Oct. 6 from 2 to 8 p.m. at Ivins/Moravecek Funeral Home, 80 E. Burlington St. in Riverside. A funeral Mass will be celebrated on Saturday, Oct. 7 at 10:30 a.m. at St. Mary Church, 126 Herrick Road in Riverside.
Memorial donations may be made to the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph, 1515 W. Ogden Ave., LaGrange Park, Illinois, 60526.