Joseph Topinka is on a mission to continue the legacy of his mother, longtime Riverside resident and public servant in Illinois Judy Baar Topinka, who died six months ago.
He will take another step in that mission on June 12 when he represents his mother at the Golden Prague Gala, part of Prague Days Chicago, which celebrates 25 years of the relationship between sister cities Chicago and Prague and honors Czech history in Chicago.
According to the event website, a highlight of the $175-per-ticket gala, to be held at the University Club of Chicago, is expected to be the presentation of medals to Judy Baar Topinka and other “famous Czech Chicagoans who have achieved exceptional success.”
In her 33-year public service career, Judy Baar Topinka served as a state representative, state senator, state treasurer and state comptroller. She also was chair of the Illinois Republican Party and ran unsuccessfully for governor in 2006.
“My job is to continue her legacy,” Joseph Topinka said. “And to make sure history remembers her as a role model.
“Mom always told me to always be honest and always do the right thing. She always treated all people with dignity and fairness. I’d like to think she was a hero who never gave up.”
Joseph Topinka splits time between Riverside and his home in San Antonio, Texas, where he lives with his wife and five-year-old daughter. When asked where he considers his home, he quipped, “Midway Airport.”
While in Illinois, he has worked to gain permanent recognition for his mother, starting a scholarship fund at Triton College in River Grove and suggesting Riverside Township Hall be renamed in her memory. An effort also is underway to name a section of the Bohemian National Cemetery in Chicago in her memory.
“When all is said and done, township hall, the Riverside Public Library, Ames School and her house were the most important to her,” he said.
A committee that has been formed, with Riverside Township Trustee Mary Rob Clarke as chairwoman, is studying ways to remember Judy Baar Topinka. Clarke said the committee’s goal is to find the best way to memorialize her, adding, “We do not know what that is yet.”
She said the committee is asking for resident input. Suggestions can be e-mailed to JBTmemorial@gmail.com
At its June 3 meeting, committee members decided to vote at the July 1 meeting on the proposal to rename Township Hall in her honor. That meeting will begin at 7 p.m. in the Riverside Township Hall, 27 Riverside Road in Riverside.
Prague Days Chicago is sponsored by the Prague Committee of Chicago Sister Cities International, the Consulate General of the Czech Republic in Chicago, the City of Prague and Prague City Tourism.
Expected to attend the gala are Adriana Krnacova, mayor of Prague; Rahm Emmanuel, mayor of Chicago; Dagmar Havlova, widow of Vaclav Havel, first democratically elected president of Czechoslovakia in 41 years and first president of the Czech Republic after the Czech-Slovak split; and Borek Lizec, consul general of the Czech Republic in Chicago.
In addition to Judy Baar Topinka, Czech-Americans with Chicago ties to be honored at the gala include Anton Cermak, former mayor of Chicago; Eugene Cernan and Jim Lovell, former astronauts; George Halas, founder of the Chicago Bears; Ray Kroc, founder of McDonald’s; actress Kim Novak; and rock musician Jim Peterik.
Joseph Topinka said he does not know many details about the gala but said he will attend because, as part of his mission, it is his duty to represent his mother.
According to a consul general spokesperson, Joseph Topinka will receive a special personal medal from the mayor of Prague, expressing thanks for the contribution of Judy Baar Topinka and her family to the good name of the Czech Republic in the United States.