In a narrow vote last week, a special committee appointed by Riverside’s township government recommended that a single room within the historic Riverside Township Hall be named to honor Judy Baar Topinka rather than renaming the entire building in her memory.

Now that recommendation will go before the entire township board when it meets next on July 14. We join Topinka’s son Joe in asking the full board to set aside the recommendation and rename the building for Ms. Topinka. It is the right thing to do. It is the bold choice, the appropriate decision.

Whether you consider the contributions of Judy Baar Topinka as a proud and active resident of Riverside, a good neighbor, a person you’d want to run into at the grocery, or have a drink with, or as a statewide elected leader, you find the same remarkable and terrific woman. Smart, caring, tough, funny, Judy Baar was that disturbingly rare politician who left you feeling uplifted and not soiled by contact. Rooted in the values she learned as a girl, true to those values of family, community, frugality, service, Topinka was the best damned Republican we’ve ever known. And that is because she was also, by nature, open to difference, exhilarated in knowing people truly, understanding their lives, and seeing the potential of an efficient government to be of service to them. 

We live in a dreary time as citizens of Illinois and these United States. Our politics are small and mean. Devotion to solving complex issues on behalf of citizens is lost to special interests and their money, lost to the next campaign season. 

Judy Baar Topinka was the antithesis to all of that. Exuberant. Without fear. Completely pragmatic. Always willing to call out nonsense and hubris without regard to party or station. 

She was not like all the others. She was better. And she was ours.

This is not a vote for township officials to look on somberly or cautiously. Sure, some people don’t like to see change, they prefer half measures. Name a room for Topinka. Put up a little plaque. Hope people don’t notice that this fabulous, historic building, the incarnation of all that is special about Riverside might now be called by Topinka’s name. The Topinka Township Hall.

This is not some sad duty. The time for laying crepe for Judy Baar is over. This is a moment and a choice to celebrate. Be as audacious, as much of a homer as Judy Baar Topinka. Rename the building.

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