By Bob Uphues
Right about this time of year, every year, one of the things at the top of Bill Sherman's list of things to do was to make sure the frame for the ice rink was set up in Riverside's Big Ball Park.
A member of the Riverside Fire Department for 45 years and its deputy chief since 2015, Mr. Sherman was an avid hockey player and key member – supervising filling the ice rink's liner with water -- of the Bill Chill Crew who set up and maintained the rink each winter.
William "Bill" Sherman died Dec. 19, 2019, surrounded by family at his Riverside home, after being diagnosed in September with cancer. He was 66 years old.
But he got to see proof that the Big Chill Crew – about 30 people in all – had made a point of erecting the ice rink frame on Dec. 15. His close friend, Fire Chief Matthew Buckley, texted a photo to Bill's wife, Sue, so she could show it to him.
"Everybody was more than happy to jump in and help out," Buckley said.
Sherman was born in Albuquerque, New Mexico, but was raised in Riverside, attending Central School, Hauser Junior High and Riverside-Brookfield High School before getting a degree in physical education from the University of Illinois at Chicago.
He was hired as a paid-on-call firefighter in Riverside on Aug. 1, 1974, and Buckley was just a child when he first met Sherman.
"When I was 3 or 4, his wife, Sue, [she and Sherman weren't yet married] was our family babysitter," Buckley said.
When Buckley was 5, he attended a summer recreation program at Hauser, staffed by Sherman, who had just signed on with the fire department. When Buckley slammed his toe in a door one day, Sherman tended to the wound and then drove him home, letting Buckley flip the switch on the emergency lights, before sitting on the front porch waiting for Buckley's mom to come home.
"I vividly remember that day 45 years later," Buckley said. "It showed you who he was and what he was."
While he continued to work paid-on-call in Riverside, Sherman was hired as a full-time firefighter in Arlington Heights in 1977. He worked there, rising to the rank of shift commander, until 2008.
Sherman for several years taught the fire apparatus engineer class at the Romeoville Fire Academy and served as a training officer in Arlington Heights, Western Springs and in Riverside, mentoring hundreds of aspiring firefighters, including Buckley, who started his career as a paid-on-call firefighter in Riverside in 1988.
"He helped train me from day one and we worked side by side for 31 years," Buckley said. "When I became chief, it was very easy for me to know who my deputy chief was going to be. I was very honored to have him in that role."
Until Sherman was diagnosed with cancer in October, 2019 had been a celebration of his career as a firefighter, his dedication to chronicling local history and of his impact on Riverside itself.
In June, the Riverside Township Lions Club named Sherman the 2019 Person of the Year and that same month the Riverside Historical Commission named Sherman an honorary member for his years' long interest in researching village history and rescuing documents, such as bound copies of documents from the early years of Riverside, which he found in the basement of the township hall.
"He was just a wonderful researcher and he'd spend hours and hours on the old newspapers," said Connie Guardi, chairwoman of the Riverside Historical Commission. "Pretty much everything he was learning, he'd share with us. He was a big resource for us."
Sherman also doubled as the Riverside Fire Department's historian, researching all of the structure fires the department fought. It was just that kind of research that revealed Firefighter John Furstoss had died of a heart attack shortly after fighting a fire in 1958.
In recognition of Furstoss giving his life in the line of duty, a commemorative brick engraved with his name was dedicated at the Illinois Fallen Firefighter memorial in Springfield in May.
His dedication to local history was the inspiration for the Riverside Historical Commission's 2020 calendar, which spotlights the history of the Riverside Fire Department. It was unveiled earlier this month.
"He's a big loss to us," Guardi said. "We don't have anyone to take his place."
Sherman rode in the village's antique fire truck as the grand marshal of Riverside Fourth of July parade, and on Aug. 1 was honored for his 45 years of service to the fire department during a presentation at a meeting of the village board, where he was given a commemorative plaque.
In addition to playing hockey, Sherman loved participating in sports, playing basketball and softball into his 60s. Prior to the village taking a dim view of the practice, Sherman would congregate with other dog owners on Sunday mornings in Swan Pond Park. Even after the "club" disbanded, dogs who walked past the fire station with their owners would stop and wait for Sherman, who gave them treats.
Sherman wasn't eager to stand in the spotlight, and the attention he got in 2019 was a bit unnerving.
"He was always so quiet," Sue Sherman said. "I think he was a little stressed out with all the attention."
In late September, Sherman took the seat of honor at the Riverside Person of the Year Award dinner at Riverside Golf Club. At the end of his speech, sheepish at all of the plaudits he'd received the preceding five months, he said, "Now it's time to get back to being Sue Sherman's husband."
Shortly afterward, he received the cancer diagnosis.
"He loved the movie 'It's a Wonderful Life,' because that's what he said he had," Sue Sherman said. "This is all he ever wanted."
Sherman is survived by his wife, Sue, and three children.
More information, including a planned celebration of life on Dec. 27, is available in Sherman's death notice on page 14.