Chris Stach, a beloved local figure who devoted himself to documenting, researching and preserving the history of Brookfield, died of natural causes at his home on Aug. 10, 2016 at the age of 64.
In addition to his private efforts collecting and recording historical photos, mementos and information about the village, Mr. Stach had written dozens of columns and historical feature articles for the Riverside-Brookfield Landmark in the past 17 years.
“I can’t think of one single person who has had a bigger impact for documenting Brookfield’s history,” said Kit Ketchmark, president of both the village of Brookfield and the Brookfield Historical Society.
Many of his Landmark articles are the only extended written historical records of important Brookfield events, including blow-by-blow accounts of how the village’s name was changed from Grossdale to Brookfield, the campaign to save and relocate the Grossdale Station, the village’s postwar building boom, a history of West Grossdale (now known as Congress Park), the history of Brookfield’s swimming pool and its demise, the early days of the Brookfield Public Library and fire department and the commercial history of early Brookfield and the Eight Corners area.
Along with Stella Abrams, David Simpson, Mary Kircher and Joe Stejskal, Mr. Stach was an author of Brookfield, Illinois: A History, published in 1994 to celebrate Brookfield’s centennial.
“He had records of records,” said Stejskal, who wrote the Hollywood section of the history book and is often considered the village’s “other” historian. “He knew everything about everything. He was a key author.”
Ketchmark said Stach’s personal files and research were invaluable in the compilation of the book.
“He was a huge part of the history book,” Ketchmark said. “In many ways, he was the driving force.”
Mr. Stach’s devotion to local history earned him the Studs Terkel Humanities Service Award from the Illinois Humanities Council in 2006. He was nominated for the award by then-Village President Michael Garvey, who described Mr. Stach’s efforts to preserve Brookfield history as priceless.
“There is no dollar amount that can be put on the countless hours that Chris puts into his work,” Garvey said at the time.
Mr. Stach’s home voicemail would invite callers to leave a message for “Brookfield’s Greatest Historian, and published author” with a dramatic flair that he brought to other aspects of his life.
He was a storyteller. In a column he wrote for the Landmark in 1999, Mr. Stach said he discovered his storytelling skill in 1979 when his younger brother, Paul, “came to me, desperate for entertainment, and said, ‘Tell me a story.’ Those four words changed my life.”
Mr. Stach would go on to self-publish a number children’s books, including Liza Grimola’s 100 Hangers, The Legend of Salt Creek, Lighthouse Adventures, The Expensive Dragon and When Santa Shaved Off His Beard, among others.
At the time of his death, Mr. Stach reportedly was writing a book about his 47 years as an employee for the Jewel grocery store chain in Brookfield and Westchester, where he was perhaps the most entertaining checkout clerk who ever manned a cash register.
“From the time a customer moved up to the counter until the time they left, he was entertaining constantly,” said Sharon Duffek, a Brookfield resident who worked alongside Mr. Stach at Jewel since 1978.
He would sing songs, engage in snappy wordplay and pass out homemade stickers to children. Chicago Tribune reporter Barbara Brotman featured Mr. Stach in 2011 in an article headlined “A real gem at Jewel’s checkout,” describing his entertaining interactions with customers.
“He dispenses receipts with a flourish,” Brotman wrote. “He slides grocery divider bars down the checkout lane with panache. He reads off totals like a croupier: ‘That’s $10.82 – one-zero-eight-two.'”
When he was profiled by a local TV station, Mr. Stach did the interview while sitting in a shopping cart.
“He was always happy,” Duffek said. “You always wanted to be like him. You come in happy and you leave happy.”
Mr. Stach quietly retired from Jewel on May 18, though he’d cut back on his hours earlier in order to do more traveling. In the past two years he took a pair of month-long trips to Japan (in recent years he had become an aficionado of Japanese anime) and an extended visit to Disneyland in California.
He was a kid at heart.
His first contribution to the Landmark was a column published on July 1, 1999. It was a first-person account told from the perspective of a 9-year-old boy named Jake Green, describing to a visitor the Brookfield Fourth of July parade in 1899.
Mr. Stach often walked or rode in the Fourth of July parade himself, several times with the Landmark. Throughout the route, residents would shout out his name and yell, “Love your articles!” as he stopped to pass out candy or wave from the sunroof of the car he was riding in.
At the end of the route, he’d always make sure to claim a participant’s ribbon for his collection. His last parade was in 2014; travel plans prevented him making the last two.
His last full feature article, written for the Christmas Week issue of the Landmark on Dec. 22, 2015, was a nostalgic tour through the 1962 Sears toy catalog.
“For this first time ever, accompanying the Sears Christmas Wish Book was a wholly separate Sears Toy Catalog, good until Sept. 1, 1963,” Mr. Stach wrote. “And inside that one lay all the treasures, all the stuff of our childhood dreams, ready to be added to a million Christmas lists.”
Mr. Stach was also active on social media, particularly Facebook, where he would share historic photos and provide insight on matters of history brought up by others. His final Facebook post, dated Aug. 5, was a page from that same 1962 Sears toy catalog, advertising a backyard playground set and an above-ground pool for kids.
“This backyard playland could be had from the 1962-63 Sears Toy Catalog,” he wrote. “Did any of you have something like this in your backyards?”
One of seven children born to Otto and the late Norma Stach (nee Honig), Mr. Stach was born July 19, 1952. In 1959, the family moved to a house previously owned by his maternal grandparents on Morton Avenue in Brookfield. He attended St. Barbara School and Riverside-Brookfield High School and remained a resident of Brookfield until his death.
He was the brother of Patricia M. Urasky, Elizabeth J. Travis, Timothy C. (Beth) Stach, John P. (Christine) Stach, Paul J. (Stacy) Stach and the late Kathryn J. Roark; and the uncle of many nieces and nephews.
Visitation will be on Friday, Aug. 19, from 4 to 8 p.m. and Saturday, Aug. 20, from 10:30 until the time of an 11 a.m. funeral service at Hitzeman Funeral Home, 9445 31st St., in Brookfield. Interment is at Resurrection Cemetery in Justice.