Judith B. Petrucci, dubbed “The Unlikely Tamer of Lyons,” in 1989 by Life magazine and profiled by the New York Times that same year as the woman who scrubbed clean the village’s reputation as Sin City, died Oct. 23 at the age of 70.
A lifelong resident of Lyons, Ms. Petrucci was the mother of a young daughter when she got fed up with the strip clubs and the local politicians and police who turned a blind eye to their presence.
When complaining as a private citizen failed to produce results, she ran repeatedly for a seat on the Lyons village board, beginning in 1975. She finally was elected trustee in 1987. Two years later, she was elected mayor in the midst of a federal probe that snared dozens, including two Lyons police officers, for prostitution and fraud.
A Sept. 12, 1989 article published in the New York Times titled, “The mayor who gave the town its pride,” described how Ms. Petrucci set about shutting down the village’s last strip club.
“One night she decided to attend the show there. She walked in past an agitated doorman, who whispered, ‘What’s that broad doing here?’ The music stopped, the customers scurried away and the women tried to cover themselves.
“‘I want to see this show,’ she told the club manager, who reluctantly acquiesced.
“‘I can’t believe anyone would pay for this stuff,’ she said afterward. ‘Sometimes men aren’t very smart.'”
Ms. Petrucci attracted the support of Lyons residents who weren’t particularly politically active, women like Joan Smith, who later signed on as a campaign worker.
“A neighbor kept suggesting I go to one of her meetings, and I did it to get her off my back,” said Smith. I worked the campaigns and cried when she lost and was very proud of her when she did win.”
Smith and just about everyone who knew Ms. Petrucci called her “feisty.”
“It was probably part of her nature to be feisty,” Smith said. “She had to be feisty and she was.”
Ms. Petrucci spent just one term as mayor of Lyons. During her tenure she not only got rid of the strip clubs, she also moved to clean up the police department by hiring new officers with no ties to the village or its political operation.
Police Commander Brian Kuratko was one of four new hires during Ms. Petrucci’s time as mayor.
“I knew her as a reformer,” said Kuratko. “I was 21 years old and we had no ties to the old administration or the village. It was like a fresh start, a break from the corruption and strip clubs.”
After her stint as mayor, Ms. Petrucci devoted her time to her law practice, which she ran out of an office at the corner of Ogden and Harlem avenues. Her specialty was family law. She earned her law degree in 1983 from Northern Illinois University at the age of 42.
But she never lost the desire to serve in public office. From 1997-99, she again served as a Lyons trustee. In 2005, at the age of 63, she got the itch to run for public office once more, winning a spot on the board of Brookfield-Lyons School District 103.
“I felt being on the school board was an important place to be,” Ms. Petrucci told the Landmark in 2010. “The parents, teachers, students, administration and the community, when we all worked together as a team, that’s the way it should go for the benefit of the kids.”
Ms. Petrucci won in 2005 and was re-elected in 2009 to the school board in an uncontested race. She served as president of the District 103 board for one year.
“As time went by, she was a real team player but had no problem speaking her mind,” said Joanne Schaeffer, who served with Ms. Petrucci on the school board. “I really appreciated having her there.”
But Ms. Petrucci was dogged by health issues after the 2009 election and underwent multiple surgeries. She resigned abruptly in April 2010, but the health problems continued.
Ms. Petrucci was preceded in death by her husband, Fredric Anthony Petrucci. She is survived by her daughter, Gina Lynn (Gordon) Songer; her sister, Sharon Chard; her niece, Patty Bryan (Rich) Tranovich; her nephew, James Chard; and her great-niece, Danielle Rubel.
Visitation will be on Friday, Oct. 28 from 3 to 8 p.m. at Kopicki’s Tower Home for Funerals, 4007 Joliet Ave. in Lyons. A funeral Mass will be celebrated on Saturday, Oct. 29 at 10 a.m. at St. Hugh Church in Lyons, followed by interment at Queen of Heaven Cemetery in Hillside.