When my mother, Judy Baar Topinka, and I would often discuss her first, amazing win in her state representative election in 1980, one thing stood out in the conversations: Judy Baar Topinka could easily have been either a Democratic or a Republic. The most important thing was for her to “be there” for her constituents. 

For Judy Baar Topinka, party affiliation was irrelevant, but she had no choice but to play the “party game.” After 20 years in the military, I am like my mother in that I truly do not affiliate with a party. I wanted to share with you some reflections about three people who are running during this election cycle.

 Susana Mendoza loves her heritage as a Mexican American as much as Judy Baar Topinka loved her Czech and Slovak heritages. At mom’s memorial service almost eight years ago, Suzanna broke down in tears along with Mike Zalewski, a fellow Riversider. Unlike many politicians from both parties in Illinois, Susana has been there for the Topinka family from the day mom died; she even wrote the foreword to the book “Just Judy, A Citizen and Leader for Illinois” and even proofread the book for me!

 Mathew Schultz loves his Czech heritage and demonstrates that love through action and community engagement. I am a member of Lodge Sionilli of the Czechoslovak Society of America (CSA) in Brookfield much like my mother was during her lifetime. Matt is my lodge president. Under his leadership, Lodge Sionilli has survived the COVID pandemic and has remained active.

 I have known Tony Peraica since I was a child. Today, he still calls me “Pepi” (Czech for Joe); he is really one of the few people that still call me by that name. He loves his Croatian heritage, and he passionately advocates for people of all backgrounds. After my mother passed away, I found myself taking legal steps that were not common and certainly not expected by my mother during her life. Mr. Peraica was there for me and our family when others turned away or even vilified my required legal actions as an executor. Mr. Peraica advocated and helped me fight some very big wrongs.

As Landmark readers go to the polls, I simply ask for them to reflect on the people who potentially can become their leaders. Mom would often say to me that the biggest question to ask is, “Will they be there for you after the election?”

Joseph Baar Topinka is a resident of Riverside.