Matthew Buckley doesn’t mind public speaking, but he doesn’t like talking about himself.
It’s fitting then that Buckley, who was recognized Sept. 20 as Person of the Year for 2023, wants people to know the award from the Riverside Township Lions Club means a lot not only to him but to the two departments he oversees as the community’s director of public safety.
“There’s so many people that do so much for this village,” Buckley said. “All of my employees here on the police and fire departments, they work tirelessly all the time to make me look good. So for me, it’s not about me accepting this award. It’s about us.”
Buckley first began working for Riverside’s fire and water departments in 1988. Ten years later, he joined the police department of nearby Lyons while continuing with the fire department in Riverside. Buckley became Riverside’s full-time fire chief in 2018.
The transition in 2021 to director of public safety, a role in which he leads both the police and fire departments, was “seamless” for Buckley.
“The biggest part of it is I knew the department already,” Buckley said. “I knew the employees. Our two departments have always worked very close together, which you don’t always get to see in some places where police are separate from fire and the two don’t really intermingle a lot. We’re all in one building for the most part. We work very closely together, always have.”
The second oldest of five boys and two girls, Buckley grew up in Riverside. Looking for a community to raise a family, his parents moved to the village from Chicago’s Beverly neighborhood when he was two months old.
“Technically, I guess I’m a lifer here in Riverside. I’ve been here over 54 years, even though I don’t look that old,” Buckley said, laughing.
Some of Buckley’s work entails responding to calls from members of the Riverside community having “their worst day.” And certain calls have particularly stuck with Buckley. Like it was yesterday, he remembers the tragedy on May 5, 1990, when a motorist’s vehicle drove through a T-ball game at Harrington Park, killing three children.
“It was a traumatic day that really changed things for me personally in this field of saying, ‘This is what I want to do. This is how I want to help people,’” Buckley said. “And it’s not always easy.”
For Buckley, the Person of the Year award is also an honor because of who has previously received the recognition, namely former deputy fire Chief Bill Sherman. Buckley said Sherman is one of the reasons why he got into working for the fire department. Sherman was named Person of the Year in 2019 and died later that year.
According to Buckley, it was Sherman who first rode in an antique fire engine, rather than a convertible, during the village’s July Fourth parade, which Buckley then replicated this year.
“I’m sort of living up in his shoes right now,” Buckley said. “And taking over where he left off and really keeping everybody together and bringing everybody together because that’s what he was all about. And he was always about the community.”
Buckley also enjoys running, which he tries to do at least twice a week. Running through various courses and streets around town gives him a different vision of the village.
“There’s times where I’ll be out running and I’ll call my guys and ‘Hey, I just saw a bunch of cars blowing the stop sign, let’s get over here and keep an eye on this’ or speeding in the area or different things that are occurring,” Buckley said. “And they’re like, ‘All right, you’re out for a run. I get it.’ But it gives me a better perspective of the village also.”
Buckley doesn’t view the Person of the Year recognition as a culmination of things for him. He’s been asked before if he’ll do anything beyond the role he currently holds, and he doesn’t have a decision.
“I truly enjoy Riverside,” Buckley said. “The village here treats me very well. Our village board does a great job, so it would be very difficult to leave Riverside. But there’s always opportunities out there for something different, but I haven’t really explored anything.”