Few Brookfield residents are aware that an Illinois state senator once called their fair village home. This is partially understandable, since this happened many years ago, from 1926 to 1934.
But today? Today he is a forgotten man. Mention his name to Brookfield citizens, and almost every one of them will stare at you with a blank look, and say, “Who?”
Yet, without his guidance and influence, we would not still have much of today’s street pavements. Say what you like about the old concrete streets, but they look pretty good for the most part, for being poured in 1926 — 86 years ago. Some have been covered with asphalt, which does not age as well.
Also, Brookfield would have waited years longer for a village-wide well water supply to be installed. Previously, the only source of water was from privately drilled wells at each house. It wasn’t until 1940 that Brookfield was hooked up to Lake Michigan water.
In the mid-1920s, prosperity thrived in Brookfield. And Arthur Adam Huebsch, Brookfield’s forgotten benefactor, was there in the thick of it, “boosting the Brookfield Zoo” to benefit his village.
Huebsch was not native born to Brookfield. He began life on Oct. 11, 1884, in Buffalo City, Wis., and eventually became a teacher there.
After a short teaching career, he and his wife Helen (Moore, who married him in 1908), traveled to Chicago in 1910. Here he “became sales manager for a large Chicago textbook publishing company,” according to a New York Times article on March 24, 1934.
In 1913, with two sons, Francis and Norbert, the family moved to the village that would love Huebsch best, Brookfield. They set up housekeeping on the corner house at 4166 Madison Ave. In 1917, the last son, Paul, was born.
Still not satisfied that he had found his true worth in work, Huebsch studied at the Kent College of Law and was admitted to the Illinois bar in 1918. He opened his law office in Chicago.
So to Brookfield he brought both his law practice and his unquenchable desire to serve the common citizen.
Huebsch’s political career began simply, when he became village attorney and then ran for Brookfield village president in 1925, against George Masek.
At that time, the village was not in great condition. N.C. Darnell, local real estate and insurance man, told the Suburban Magnet newspaper that “Today, Brookfield is, in the opinion of many of us, the worst governed municipality in Cook County,” speaking not of dishonesty, but incompetence.
The April 21, 1925 election day neared, “winding up in a blaze of meetings and speeches” on both sides. Huebsch won in a landslide: 1,536 to 604 votes.
He said afterward: “We tried to conduct a clean campaign, and I trust that we have offended no one by injecting anything objectionable into the contest. Let us forget past differences and work for the common good. We should all be working with a common end in view; namely, to put the village on its feet, and to spread its fame far and wide as one of the garden spots of the earth.”
“Inauguration gala event” headlined the May 8, 1925 issue of the Magnet.
“It might have been … Declaration of Independence day in Brookfield Wednesday night from all the fireworks, blowing of fire sirens, yelling and speechmaking that took place in and around the village hall … when Arthur A. Huebsch [and his trustees] took their oaths of office.”
Other people outside the village were beginning to take notice of him. Here, quite plainly, was a popular man “who got things done.” The Illinois Republican Party approached him to run for Illinois senator of the 7th District in the next year, 1926.
As a result of that senatorial primary win, a “Republican Ratification” party was held in his honor in Congress Park, on Saturday evening, May 1, 1926. Here he was presented with “an immense cake,” created at the Laub and Kartje Bakery on Grand Boulevard. The cake was inscribed: “Victory–Arthur A. Huebsch–for–State Senator.”
In November 1926, his election to the office of state senator was, again, nothing short of a landslide. Brookfield residents were wildly happy, waving and cheering him on to his higher calling. Although he missed a few meetings, he did not retire from the village presidency. He continued to serve out his term to its final moments, shortly after 8 p.m. at the village board meeting on May 2, 1927.
Once in office, he introduced a bill in 1927 concerning the building of the Brookfield Zoo. He continued to work toward the benefit of the zoo and was made a Chicago Zoological Society board trustee in 1929.
During this time, he and his family moved from his Madison Avenue home and took up residence at 4228 DuBois Blvd., which he bought from August Fliss. The 1930 census listed the worth of his new home at $15,000, a considerable sum for that time.
He took up the causes of unequal taxation and the spending of that tax money. And mosquito abatement. And a “Buy American Drive,” decades in advance of its time. And city managership for Chicago, which “would replace the old mayor and council plan.” That, of course, was doomed to failure, but he firmly believed smaller communities could adopt the manager form of government. Brookfield experimented with it in 1947, and officially adopted it in 1951.
In early 1930, a Chicago Sanitary District scandal, wherein several people had been paid to do work that they never did, or did little of, brought up his name. In 1927 and 1928, he had completed many legal services for the district, and truly believed that he had earned his pay, $5,495.72. Others agreed.
The Legislative Voters League, Branson Committee of the Illinois House of Representatives and the Chicago Bar Association “frowned on legislators’ acceptance of employment by municipal corporations that might interfere with their complete independence at Springfield.”
Senator Huebsch quietly sent a check for the exact amount back to the sanitary district, citing the above reason for his action. Over 50 others were involved in the scandal, and prior to Huebsch’s repayment, none of them had offered to return any money.
The senator easily won a second term in November 1930.
February 1932 saw Huebsch actively considering running for Illinois Attorney General, however, there were no shortage of entrants for this office. After examining the pros and cons, he “quit the contest for the Republican nomination for the attorney generalship.”
On his 49th birthday, Oct. 11, 1933, he spoke about Brookfield’s 40-year history to 4,000 local residents attending the Brookfield Day Program at Chicago’s Century of Progress Exhibition.
The Chicago Tribune reported that on Friday evening, March 9, 1934, Huebsch was addressing the DuPage County Bar Association in the Medinah Country Club at Itasca when he suddenly became ill.
Dr. Martin Heldgen of Elmhurst, attending the event, immediately treated the senator and summoned two other doctors for consultation. They “reported that the senator had suffered a stroke, due to cerebral hemorrhage.” But that was not a final diagnosis. The senator, said to be in favorable condition, remained at the club for the rest of the night, and the next day was admitted to the Frances Willard Hospital.
A few days later, the Tribune added that his illness was caused by illness and a lack of sleep, “and that a few days’ rest would be all he needed.”
Apparently he needed much more than that. He was moved to the nearby Presbyterian Hospital. Still critically ill, on Friday, March 23, “he underwent an operation for gallstones” there.
It turned out that he had “been in ill health for several month,” and had not taken off enough time for treatment. This caught up with him that very day, at noon, as a second cerebral hemorrhage ended his life. Curiously, the March 29 Suburban Magnet reported he had died of a “migraine headache.”
Many said he would have been re-elected easily to a third senatorial term, had he lived. There wasn’t even time to take his name off the April 10 primary ballot. The Illinois Municipal League had cited him, in 1929, “as one of the outstanding men in the state senate.” Now, his senate seat was vacant.
Many mourned him, but probably not as much as the Brookfielders who knew him. Members of Brookfield’s Kiwanis Club missed him from their ranks; he had been a fellow zoo-booster from the club’s earliest days.
On Monday morning, the April 26, 1934, the funeral procession to St. Barbara Church began at Huebsch’s home on DuBois Boulevard, attended by a large police escort. At 10:30 a.m., the funeral Mass began, packed by state civic leaders, Brookfield residents and those from other 7th District villages. Seventeen Illinois senators were appointed by Gov. Henry Horner to attend the ceremony.
The church was “filled to capacity, and many stood in aisles and doorways,” according to the Brookfield Enterprise. It was more than standing room only; people stood outside the church, too, saying goodbye to a good friend and a most remarkable man.
Interment was in Mount Carmel Cemetery. However, his name was still in evidence in the church until it was razed in 1968. One of the colorful stained glass windows had been donated by Huebsch, and it bore his name for 34 years after he passed away.
In 1935, the village board debated whether DuBois Boulevard should be renamed Huebsch Boulevard in memory of the late senator. Seventy-five residents of the street signed a petition, stating that they did not want the change. More importantly, Mrs. Huebsch, herself, replied that she preferred keeping the street named as it already was. Consequently, there was to be no local memorial.
But Huebsch was remembered fondly by the people he served and worked with.
As Rose J. Svihla, chairman of the Public Health Nursing Bureau said about him in a letter to the Suburban Magnet back on Dec. 4, 1925:
“Here was a man with vision, a man who understood. He promised nothing but to do his best. He has not failed us.”
A fine epitaph for a man who does not deserve to be forgotten.