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updated: 4/5/2011 11:23 AM

Naperville Jaycees to honor top citizens

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  • Don Wehrli, right, who has gained recent fame as Naperville's trolley meister, will be honored later this month with the Naperville Jaycees' Lifetime Achievement Award.

    Don Wehrli, right, who has gained recent fame as Naperville's trolley meister, will be honored later this month with the Naperville Jaycees' Lifetime Achievement Award.
    Daily Herald file photo


While catching up with a friend over lunch the other day, I remembered March marked a milestone for me. I've now lived in Naperville longer than any place.

Born in Lafayette, Ind., during my dad's senior year at Purdue, we moved to Muncie upon his graduation before my first birthday. Just before I was 18, I left Muncie for college in Murray, Ky.

After college I spent 12 years in New York City where I met my husband and our first two children were born.

In 1981, when we'd outgrown our apartment, we bought our first house at 17-plus percent interest rates and moved to Chatham, N.J. Two years later, we returned to New York Hospital for the birth of our third child.

Settled before the American Revolution, Chatham Borough touted 8,500 residents -- and that George Washington had slept there. Chatham even has a river running through it and a community band that plays summer concerts at its gazebo.

While in Chatham, I became active in our children's public schools. That's where I began to appreciate the volunteerism and local impact that comes from service clubs such as the Jaycees, Kiwanis and Rotary.

When I made up my mind in the early 1990s to move back to the Midwest, closer to my folks in Muncie, I headed to the Chatham Library.

At the time, my brother lived in Glen Ellyn and my cousin lived in Naperville. The Chicago area had great appeal. While researching different cities in the suburbs for a couple of years, Naperville kept rising to the top. The spirit of volunteerism that had built Naper Settlement and the Riverwalk was a big attraction.

With a posted population of 89,000, and projections up to 150,000 residents at build-out, I was hooked. Plus, though Chatham and Naperville are miles apart when it comes to size, both places emphasize public safety and quality education, our top priorities.

And so it was in March 1993, that our three children, then 9,11 and 13, entered Indian Prairie Unit District 204.

Jaycees awards

Events throughout March -- the Rotary Sunrise St. Paddy's 5K, Exchange Club Allocations Luncheon, Evening Kiwanis Pancake Festival and the Rotary Club of Naperville's 70th Birthday Luncheon -- again brought into focus the generosity of time and treasure that have benefited scholarships and nonprofit agencies via Naperville's service clubs since 1941.

And there's no end to it.

To begin April, the Naperville Jaycees announced the recipients of their 2011 Distinguished Service Awards who will be feted later this month.

Since 1979, folks in the community have nominated men and women who exhibit exemplary civic-mindedness in Naperville. The inspirational evening is a time when the community joins the Jaycees to express appreciation for dedication in a wide range of ever-changing categories.

For 2011, the categories with recipients are: Business -- Dave Kelsch of Advanced Data Technologies; Public Employee -- Daniel DiSanto; Student Volunteer -- Allison Neal; Educator -- Rudy Keller; Not For Profit Organization -- NAMI DuPage; Young Professional -- Kelli Thompson; and Community Leader -- John Buckley.

The Charles "Chuck" Bueche Lifetime Achievement Award will be presented to Trolley Meister Don Wehrli.

When I heard Wehrli, a member of the Naperville Evening Kiwanis and lifelong Naperville resident, would be recognized, I flashed back to a phone call I'd received from Jack Romine in the spring of 1995.

Romine was executive director of the Naperville Area Chamber of Commerce at the time and I served on the board of the Naperville Visitors Bureau, before it became part of the Naperville Development Partnership. Romine said he had "the perfect project" for me.

The project was to help promote Wehrli's vision to bring the Naperville Trolley into town. I didn't know Wehrli from Adam, but I quickly became energized by his enthusiasm and bell-ringing ways.

Lori Rackl wrote the first stories to help launch the former Naperville city councilman's new business venture here in the Daily Herald.

Sixteen years later, Wehrli's Naperville Trolley enterprise continues to create memories for brides and grooms, families and neighbors during holiday light tours as well as residents and North Central College visitors who want to learn local lore.

The 33rd Annual Distinguished Services Awards Ceremony is slated to begin at 6:15 p.m., Friday, April 29, at CityGate Grille in CityGate Centre.

For tickets ($55 per person), visit

So get rollin'! And thanks for the memories during our first 18 years in Naperville.