Growing Community Media did not yet own the Landmark back in the mid-1990s when the Hofmann Dam River Rats formed to advocate for the reclamation of the Des Plaines River ecosystem.

But the group, led first by Jason Gorski and then later by its longtime avatar, John Mach, quickly made an impression. Our first articles about the nascent group appeared in 1999. That same year, we ran some of the first articles about a plan – just a dream, really – to “notch” the Hofmann Dam as part of a wider effort by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources to remove dams up and down the river as a way to improve water quality, recreation opportunities and wildlife habitats.

By 2001, Mach – in what may be the first Landmark story where he appears and where we misspelled his name as “Mache” – was one of the River Rats’ spokesmen and it was clear that the group was at the forefront of the lobbying effort to remove the dam.

Today on page 1 we carry the obituary of Mach, who died on Jan. 30.

That dream would not be realized until more than a decade later, but Mach would still be a vocal proponent of the dam removal, even as it faced strong local opposition from those claiming that doing so would reduce the flow of the Des Plaines to a trickle during droughts and expose smelly mudflats teeming with mosquitoes.

Of course, the doomsday scenarios never came to pass. And while the hydrology of the Des Plaines through the Riverside/Lyons segment certainly has changed, it has become what people like Mach and his fellow River Rats predicted – a rejuvenated biosphere where wildlife abounds and where people can enjoy its beauty from either the banks or smack dab in the middle of the stream, without worrying about going over the dam.

Of course, the removal of the Hofmann Dam was the result of a multifaceted effort that included federal, state and local officials, but the local PR campaign – getting Riverside residents on board and convincing them that they had a natural resource worth reclaiming – was in large part due to folks like John Mach hammering away and organizing events that highlighted the natural benefits of the Des Plaines River.

The last time Mach appeared at a village board meeting was on Nov. 15, 2018. He was there to deliver to the village board data from a fish sampling survey done that year by the IDNR that showed 23 species of fish in the Swan Pond segment of the river. 

The report also included an IDNR report that showed the number of fish species in that same section of the river had doubled between 1983 and 2013, due in large part to the removal of the Hofmann Dam a year earlier.

He appeared as he almost always did – clad in his dirt-covered work clothes and delivering the news with his SNL-worthy Chicago accent. Only, unlike those days back in the 1990s when local officials scoffed, no one batted an eye in 2018.

When John Mach had something to say about the Des Plaines, you listened, because he knew what he was talking about.

Thanks for leaving such a wonderful legacy, John.