Dear Supervisor Tuscher and members of the Riverside Township Board of Trustees:
As you meet on July 14, I apologize that I cannot attend in person due to commitments with the American Bar Association. I have asked my dear friend, Ronald Kiefer, to read this letter into the record at the beginning of your meeting during the audience comment period so you can consider my comments prior to your important votes on naming Riverside Township Hall after Judy Baar Topinka; dedicating the Riverside Township Hall in honor of Judy Baar Topinka, and naming a room in the Riverside Township Hall after Judy Baar Topinka.
While none of these ideas were mine, I embraced any and all memoralization efforts with regard to Riverside Township Hall as my mother loved it very much. I am so grateful to my friend, Michael Dropka of North Riverside, for coming up with the idea of naming the building after my mother in the first place. The building was an integral part of her life, in addition to the various houses in which she lived within the village of Riverside; the schools she attended (Ames Elementary School and Riverside Junior High School (now named Hauser Junior High School); and the Riverside Public Library, where she spent many days including those days when she was pregnant with me.
First, I wish to thank you and the other members of the committee appointed by the Riverside Township Board of Trustees for considering ideas to memorialize my late mother. The meeting on July 1, at which you all and other members of that committee met, was alleged to be one of the most widely attended Riverside Township meetings in many years. One member of the audience even told me he had never seen such an audience at a Riverside Township meeting in over 20 years. I salute you all for bringing greater attention to the role of township government. So often people forget that the village of Riverside is only one part of Riverside Township, which includes the villages of Riverside, North Riverside, and Brookfield.
Second, while I am proud of your leadership, I wish to document my concluding comments made on July 1 in disagreement over the first two votes taken by the committee in opposition to naming and then dedicating Riverside Township Hall in memory of my mother. There was very limited discussion at the committee meeting, but I gleaned three major points of opposition, which I can only presume were significant enough to make the committee oppose the naming and dedication motions. I wish to address those points in writing so you can consider them again before you take your final, official votes on these two efforts.
Supervisor Tuscher indicated there was an objection from veterans in naming Riverside Township Hall after Judy Baar Topinka, and that such an honor should be reserved to those individuals killed in action or who valiantly fought in past wars and/or conflicts. As a veteran myself, I can certainly understand that sentiment. I have had personal friends die in recent armed conflicts. However, that objection seemed to overlook the fact that Judy Baar Topinka died in office. She died while in the service of her country at the state level. I know of no other civilian and certainly no one in Illinois government who gave more personal support to members of the Armed Forces and Veterans. She did so while continuing to fulfill her duties to all her constituents, especially those in Riverside Township.
Our Armed Forces cannot function without the full support of the people. Our American system of republican democracy places the armed forces under the control of civilians like Judy Baar Topinka who made it their business to learn about and understand the Armed Forces so they could better fulfill their official responsibilities, which are essential. There are armed forces memorials in the villages of North Riverside and Brookfield. I suspect any veteran objection was most likely aimed at the village of Riverside. Maybe the veteran objection would be better directed to the village of Riverside, and maybe it is high time the village of Riverside had a veterans memorial. I would certainly support that effort and would recommend it be placed in front of Riverside Township Hall. I would simply note that any objection by veterans to Riverside Township Hall being named after or dedicated to Judy Baar Topinka is a missed opportunity to honor themselves as veterans by honoring a lady whose son retired after 20 years of combined service within the Illinois Army National Guard and the U.S. Army and whose personal efforts only had the best interest of Illinois, military personnel and their families at heart.
Trustee Ertler described issues and challenges in terms of the landmark status of the building and how naming the building could generate significant design problems for Riverside Township Hall in regard to the village of Riverside’s Preservation Committee. As someone who has had to deal with landmark matters on military installations over the last 20 years, I can say from experience that the biggest problems are not in acquiring a small plaque that gets placed on the building memorializing a person (normally placed by the front door) or the painting of a person’s name on the glass doors of the building. Usually, the main problem is simply choosing a person to be memorialized. Often, many names are considered and those that are opposed are people who either do not reflect the values of the organization(s) within the building or are just people not liked by the selecting committee. Did Judy Baar Topinka not reflect the values of Riverside Township and the village of Riverside, which occupies Riverside Township Hall or is there a story behind the story that was not articulated at the meeting on July 1 or any previous meetings held by the committee?
Finally, one of the committee members, Ms. Margaret Farina, the only committee member from outside Riverside Township and who currently lives in Frankfort, noted that there are or may be other efforts at the state level to name a building after Judy Baar Topinka. Her comments were echoed by just one other attendee at a past committee meeting, who did not understand why Township Hall would be named after a statewide official. In my view, naming a building after a person who had little or no connection to that building is pretentious at best. There are state buildings and roads all over the state named after notable Illinoisans and non-Illinoisans who never even stepped foot in or on those buildings or roads.
Such naming efforts lack an understanding of a person’s soul, and they diminish the memory of a person. Judy Baar Topinka was all about local municipalities. Whether promoting the wineries in Galena, the salsa in Nauvoo, the Cahokia Mounds in Collinsville, or the historic and architectural significance of the village of Riverside, Judy Baar Topinka was always about the counties, townships, cities, towns, and villages that make up Illinois, which is why she was such a great, statewide official. She understood the macro but never forgot the micro. Riverside Township Hall is a place where Mom’s soul can be felt as it was the place where her parents met, where she learned to dance, where she attended so many events and made so many speeches, and where I suspect she often played her accordion. Any effort to name a building elsewhere in Illinois after Judy Baar Topinka will simply fall short of the appropriate mark and frankly is of limited consequence to her family.
In spite of what I have previously described and advocated, and in light of the committee’s recommendation on July 1, I can only presume that the Riverside Township Board of Trustees will officially vote against naming and dedicating the Riverside Township Hall after Judy Baar Topinka. While I do not understand why such votes will be taken, I suspect that the board will adopt the committee’s recommendation to name a room after her instead. If that is the case, I would ask all the members of the board to consider the idea suggested by Tim Heilenbach of Brookfield to name the auditorium within the Riverside Township Hall after Judy Baar Topinka. Mr. Heilenbach was in the audience on July 1 and was the individual who noted to me that he had never seen such a large group of people at a Riverside Township meeting.
When you take the Township Hall naming and dedicating efforts off the table, the only real option left to honor a women like Judy Baar Topinka is to name the auditorium after her. Naming any other, lesser room within the Riverside Township Hall would be an insult, not only to the memory of Judy Baar Topinka but to her family as well. Any lesser action would send a confused message to Riverside Township constituents and would be another missed opportunity to honor someone who represented the best of Riverside Township, the best of the village of Riverside, and the best of the educational system of District 96.
In conclusion, as I stated in the March 10 Township board meeting, we really have not done a great job over many decades in naming places in honor of outstanding Riverside Township residents who grew up, lived, worked, and made Riverside Township their home. I ask you to reconsider the recommendations made by the committee on July 1 and consider the message your votes will send to the citizens who come from Riverside Township, the villages of Riverside, North Riverside, and Brookfield, and future generations of children from Riverside Township, especially girls, who could be inspired by a woman like Judy Baar Topinka. She had a strong sense of good government, ethics, and kindness to fellow Illinoisans which are all attributes sorely lacking today throughout Illinois especially in our capital of Springfield.