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updated: 7/5/2011 3:54 PM

Wessel's calming influence just right for St. Charles growth

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  • Jack Wessel, as a member of the plan commission for five years and its chairman for 21 years, had a say in virtually all commercial and residential projects in St. Charles from 1972 to 1998.

    Jack Wessel, as a member of the plan commission for five years and its chairman for 21 years, had a say in virtually all commercial and residential projects in St. Charles from 1972 to 1998.
    Courtesy of the Wessel Family

By Dave Heun
Daily Herald Correspondent

At a time when emotions were running high and St. Charles was growing at a dizzying clip, Jack Wessel stayed pretty much the same -- quiet, calm and thoughtful.

Those traits served him well as a plan commission member for five years and chairman for 21 years, allowing him to have a say in virtually every commercial or residential project in St. Charles from 1972 to 1998.

Wessel, 79, suffered a heart attack last week and died Saturday at the University of Chicago's Bernard Mitchell Hospital.

"Jack took the plan commission through the most significant growth spurts in the history of the community," St. Charles Mayor Don DeWitte said Tuesday. "No matter what the problems were, he always had that calm demeanor.

"His work gave us some great neighborhoods and commercial developments," DeWitte added. "They were all made better because of him."

Family members will remember Wessel as a devoted husband, father and grandfather, employing the same traits that made him such an important leader for the plan commission and in his most current role as a member of the St. Charles Park District Foundation.

"I think the thing that stuck out with the family is when we spoke to people from the park board, and they said that he (Jack) always had a smile on his face," said son John Wessel.

Wessel is survived by his wife of nearly 50 years, Eileen, his children, Steve, John and Kathy, and nine grandchildren.

"My mom said that she never heard Dad complain about any work related to the plan commission," John Wessel said. "He was most passionate about the city's comprehensive plan and felt it was a blueprint for the city.

"He always had controlled growth in mind, and it was important to him that the city maintained its charm because he felt that a lot of other cities were losing that."

Steve Wessel agreed that this father had a specific vision for St. Charles.

"He was afraid of urban sprawl," Steve said. "He wanted to make sure that St. Charles did not lose its character."

Wessel served as a staff sergeant in the Air Force from 1951 to 1956, and worked for Belden Corp. in Chicago and Geneva. In addition to his volunteer work on the plan commission and parks foundation, he volunteered as a computer literacy instructor at the Salvation Army.

Former mayors Fred Norris and Sue Klinkhamer knew Wessel was the proper leader for a plan commission that provided guidance for the city council.

"He was one of the most outstanding individuals you could ask for in a community," Norris said. "He was so quiet in the way he went about his work, and he was the perfect leader at the perfect time."

Norris said Wessel was a calming influence during controversial projects like the Royal Fox subdivision.

"While everyone else was screaming and getting emotional, he saw how that project could be a benefit if done properly," Norris said. "I can't use enough superlatives to describe his work."

Klinkhamer said Wessel was a clear thinker when the move was made to trim the size of the plan commission to streamline the planning process.

"Jack wanted to make sure that every voice was heard and that he was being fair about getting everyone involved," Klinkhamer said. "When we wanted to make the commission smaller, we worked together on it and, though he didn't like the idea, he was very good about it.

"His fingerprints are on everything we have here now, because there was such tremendous growth at that time."

Wessel and the late Jim Spear, who was on the plan commission for 40 years, were the poster boys for commitment to city planning. Wessel became chairman in 1977 and kept that post until he stepped down in 1998.

Steve Wessel said his father's death came as a shock to many because he was so active and in good health since his bypass surgery 17 years ago.

"He was down at Pottawatomie playing golf pretty much every Tuesday and Saturday, and he was very fit and active," Steve said.

"And, of course, we'll remember him as a hockey dad because he drove us all over the country it seemed, when we were kids."

Visitation will be 4 to 8 p.m. Thursday at Yurs Funeral Home, with graveside services at 10:30 a.m. Friday at Prairie Cemetery on Crane Road.