The legacy of Judy Baar Topinka will be preserved in Riverside Township Hall by dedicating the auditorium in her memory following action taken by the Riverside Township Board of Trustees on July 14.
Although some, including her son Joseph, had hoped the building itself would be renamed after her or the township hall would be dedicated to her memory, trustees voted unanimously to accept the recommendations of a special committee to limit recognition to dedicating a room in her memory. They designated the auditorium as that room.
Judy Baar Topinka, who died in December 2014, was a longtime Riverside resident and former state representative, state senator, state treasurer, state comptroller and onetime Republican nominee for Illinois governor.
While he was disappointed with the outcome of the township’s decision, Joseph Topinka expressed a desire to work with township officials to determine an appropriate way to dedicate the auditorium in his mother’s memory.
The two sides appear to be far apart on that decision, with Township Supervisor Richard Tuscher thinking in terms of a plaque and Topinka thinking on a grander scale.
Joseph Topinka was not at the July 14 meeting but said he planned to attend the township board’s next meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 11. Following a packed house for the July 1 committee meeting, turnout July 14 was much smaller.
Representing Topinka, Ron Kiefer of Darien presented a copy of a letter from him outlining his reasons for township trustees to reject the committee’s recommendations. Kiefer added his personal support for dedicating the auditorium in Judy Baar Topinka’s memory, while a representative of Chicago City Clerk Susana Mendoza read a letter from her asking township trustees to rename the building after Topinka.
No other visitor expressed an opinion on the matter.
Tuscher cited feedback that he, township trustees and committee members received from residents in defending the township board’s action.
“I talked to residents and most were opposed,” Tuscher said. “The trustees and committee members said people they talked to agreed.
“It’s the residents’ building. We work for the residents of Riverside Township, and the majority of them are not in favor.”
Noting that the two speakers at the July 14 meeting are not Riverside Township residents, Tuscher said, “It’s nice to hear from people outside the township, but Riverside residents, especially village residents, are not in favor.”
Topinka said he has offered to help township officials “make that area upstairs a gem for Riverside Township” but stressed his desire that the dedication consist of more than a plaque.
“My ultimate hope is to do something more than has been done in the past with simply a plaque,” he said. “The opportunity here is incredible, especially in connection with the Czech and Slovak heritage in the area and especially in connection with the Czech Republic.
“Most importantly, there is an opportunity here to make the upstairs area of the building a true memorial for my mother and a place that kids from local schools, especially those in District 96, can come to visit and be inspired.”
He said he has a “lot of ideas” and did a walk around the auditorium earlier this month with a videographer who is working on a project showcasing his mother’s life.