Richard Scheck served as North Riverside mayor from 1989 to 2009, a tenure that endeared him to residents who benefited from low taxes and subsidized services and to village employees who reaped from generous benefits and steadfast loyalty. | FILE

Richard N. Scheck, a self-made businessman whose five terms as North Riverside’s mayor transformed the village’s political landscape and also bolstered its reputation as a commercial hub of the western suburbs, died Sept. 26, 2021 at the age of 78.

Physically imposing with a personality to match, Scheck was the unquestioned leader of North Riverside from 1989 when he was first elected mayor until 2009 when he retired. His VIP Party dominated local politics during that time and beyond, until its dissolution in 2020.

Even after VIP ceased to exist, its legacy lives on in the North Riverside United Party, which maintained the old VIP board majority with former VIP stalwarts who continued to receive Scheck’s support to the end.

“Rich was just a fabulous guy,” said Guy Belmonte, who served as a trustee during Scheck’s first decade as mayor before being named village administrator, a job he’d hold until early 2020. “He was brilliant, a smart businessman who ran the village like a business.”

Scheck grew up in Oak Park, graduating from Oak Park and River Forest High School and then enrolling in 1962 at Washburn Trade School as a pipefitter apprentice, following in the footsteps of his father, Alfred, who was a union pipefitter.

He married Betty Bastyr and the couple had three boys, Mike, Rick and Chris. They would be married for 29 years until 1997, when Betty Scheck died of cancer. In 2003, Scheck married his second wife, Judith (nee Tarantino), who survives her husband.

Judith Scheck and Richard were classmates at OPRF, but they didn’t date at that time. After Betty Scheck’s death, the two reconnected in 2000 when Scheck dined at Tufano’s restaurant, where Judith worked as a waitress.

Scheck named Queenella Miller (left) village clerk in 2008 following the death of longtime Village Clerk Charmaine Kutt that year. | FILE

“He was a nice guy with a great smile,” Judith Scheck said. “It was the best 21 years of my life. I miss him terribly.”

Richard and Betty Scheck founded Scheck Mechanical Corp. in space leased at Unique Plumbing on 47th Street in Brookfield. Two years later, the company would move to a more spacious shop in Justice, and Scheck steadily expanded the business.

In 1996, the business moved to its longtime home on Plainfield Road in Countryside, moving to Westmont in 2016, two years after Scheck retired as the company’s president. In his 32 years at the helm of the business, Scheck Industries acquired a national presence serving a variety of industries.

Scheck was elected to his first term as mayor in 1989, just prior to the economic boom of the 1990s, where he presided over the expansion of the village’s commercial base north of Cermak Road and passed along that success to North Riverside homeowners, particularly senior citizens, who benefited from at-the-time novel initiatives like the handyman program, senior snow shoveling service, low-cost rider program and senior programming through the recreation department.

The boom times also brought homeowners a two-decade long property tax freeze, subsidized water and trash hauling services and no-cost vehicle stickers. He established the Mayor’s Scholarship Fund, which provides cash awards to graduating high school seniors seeking to continue studies in college, and provided scores of local high students with summer jobs as camp counselors and seasonal public works employees.

Voters responded enthusiastically, re-electing Scheck to consecutive terms as mayor in 1993, 1997, 2001 and 2005.

“His crown jewel was just what he did for the residents,” Belmonte said. “He was watching out for residents, especially seniors in North Riverside.”

Scheck was skilled at obtaining grants for big local projects – it was principally through him that North Riverside and Riverside obtained the funding necessary to build the high-capacity water standpipe in 2001 along 26th Street. 

He also enlisted federal clout in the form of then-Congressman Dan Lipinski to convince the Canadian National Railway to establish a quiet zone in North Riverside to stop the frequent, frustrating late-night train whistles at crossings in the village as well as Riverside and Berwyn.

One of Scheck’s biggest coups for the village was the 2004 annexation of the 30-acre Illinois National Guard Armory, bounded by First Avenue, 9th Avenue, Cermak Road and the Canadian National Railway right of way.

Long after retiring as mayor, Scheck continued to play a role as an advisory and financial supporter of VIP and its successor party, North Riverside United. Above, Scheck and former Mayor Kennenth Krochmal (right) greet voters outside the Village Commons on Election Day, April 6, 2021. | Bob Skolnik/Contributor

The key was annexing a small triangle of land north of Cermak Road east of First Avenue, so that North Riverside shared a border with the armory property. The village of Broadview sued in federal court, claiming the land actually belonged to that village, but a federal judge in 2006 disagreed, giving the village the opportunity to redevelop the land if the National Guard ever decides to vacate.

“That was huge for North Riverside,” said North Riverside Village Clerk Kathy Ranieri, whose mother Charmaine Kutt served as village clerk alongside Scheck until her death in 2008. “I don’t think a lot of people in town realize that.”

As generous as Scheck was to the residents of North Riverside, he was equally generous to village employees, who often were drawn from the families of VIP elected officials and supporters. Among the perks given to longtime village employees was guaranteed post-retirement health insurance, with most of the premiums courtesy of the village.

When Scheck tapped Belmonte to be village administrator in 2001, Belmonte had just retired from a 31-year career as a purchasing agent for the University of Illinois at Chicago.

“When he asked me to be village administrator, I said I didn’t know anything about it,” Belmonte said. “He said, ‘You can learn. I want somebody in there that I can trust.”

After two decades at the helm in North Riverside, Scheck announced he wouldn’t seek a sixth term and Kenneth Krochmal won election as the person who would replace a legend.

“That act can never be followed,” said Krochmal, who also pointed to the development of the ball fields at Veterans Park, Commons Park and the Tot Spot as Scheck’s legacy for the village’s children.

Scheck’s timing turned out to be impeccable. The economic recession triggered by the 2008 real estate market collapse hit North Riverside’s retail sales sector hard and forced the village to reckon with years of subsidizing village services, balancing budgets by not making pension contributions and freezing tax levies.

Beginning with Krochmal and continuing to a greater extent under Krochmal’s successor, Hubert Hermanek Jr., those perks faded in the face of a new economic reality. Shortly after retiring from office, Scheck and his wife, Judith, would move to a new home in Oak Brook, though they would continue to play a role with VIP, both financially and in Richard Scheck’s continued role as an advisor. Both would often return to North Riverside to attend village board meetings. Scheck most recently attended the board meeting on Aug. 9.

“Some people didn’t like that, but he had so much knowledge,” Ranieri said. “He knew the right people to talk to about opportunities and grants. People go to him for advice, but he never ran the show [in retirement].”

Scheck also was a philanthropist. He and both Betty and Judith were passionate supporters of UCP Seguin. After dabbling in the restaurant business as a partner in Rascal’s on Maple Avenue in LaGrange Park, Scheck in 2009 donated the property to Seguin.

The Betty Scheck Senior Center at 1136 N. Maple Ave. continues to provide services for senior citizens with and without developmental disabilities. In recognition of Scheck’s long support of the agency, Seguin dedicated one of its group homes in North Riverside The Scheck House in his honor.

His name also will forever be associated with the North Riverside Village Commons at 2401 Desplaines Ave. Though not built by Scheck, his tenure as mayor certainly influenced the services it provides to residents.

On the night he turned over the gavel to Krochmal in May 2009, the village board passed an ordinance naming the building the Richard N. Scheck Village Commons.

“I’m humbled by that one,” said Scheck at the time.

Even in retirement, residents still referred to Scheck as “mayor” when they addressed him.

“His heart was always in North Riverside,” said Judith Scheck. “To me that’s his greatest accomplishment, being mayor for 20 years. Everybody loved Rich, no matter where we went.”

A memorial visitation will be held Thursday, Sept. 30 from 3 to 9 p.m. at Russo’s Hillside Chapels, 4500 Roosevelt Road, Hillside. A funeral Mass will be celebrated Friday, Oct. 1 at 10 a.m. at St. Mary’s Catholic Church, 126 Herrick Road, Riverside, Interment is at Queen of Heaven Cemetery, Hillside.