West Chicago's Wilson Street bridge is getting a new name.
The city council on July 5 voted unanimously to rename it the A. Eugene Rennels Bridge, in honor of West Chicago's longest-serving mayor.
Rennels, who was mayor from 1977-1989, was the guiding force behind the construction of the bridge in the early 1980s.
A visionary leader, Rennels recognized the need to improve the structure of the original bridge, which was built in 1911 with used parts from a dismantled bridge by the Chicago & Northwestern Railway.
His desire to replace it due to its age, structural weakness and a concern for public safety was not popular. Many felt destroying the bridge meant destroying a piece of the community's history.
However, Rennels and the city council were so convinced the bridge was unsafe that the mayor had a structural engineer evaluate its integrity. His fears were justified; the bridge was deemed unsafe for traffic.
"I remember feeling strongly that I would rather lose a little history than some kid's life going across that shaky bridge on a bicycle," Rennels said recently.
Initially, the city received no cooperation from the Chicago & North Western railroad for the bridge's replacement, so the bridge was closed in 1979.
Rennels subsequently began negotiations with the railroad that resulted in partial funding for the construction of a new bridge, and secured the balance of the funding from the state and federal government, making construction a reality.
"I am very honored to have this bridge named after me," Rennels said. "I feel humbled, yet proud of the accomplishment it represents."
A long list of other notable accomplishments can be credited to Rennels' tenure, including his work with a developer on an intergovernmental agreement that solved a flooding problem and led to the creation of a viable industrial park; the formation of a committee to create a unique design for the city's Metra station; and his work with state and federal legislators when thorium became an issue for West Chicago.
"Former Mayor Rennels started the war against storing thorium in West Chicago," said Mike Kwasman, West Chicago's current mayor. "He went to Washington, D.C., and gathered the troops to start the battle."
Other accomplishments during his tenure include the purchase of the West Chicago Prairie and the land and building for the current police department, as well as the acquisition of the 1912 Chicago & Northwestern depot that later was converted into a community center.
"Renaming this bridge the A. Eugene Rennels Bridge is an appropriate tribute to a man who loves this city so much, he stood up for it time and time again in the course of his 12 years in office, and who is still involved today," Kwasman said.
After 38 years of public service, Rennels remains active with the West Chicago Fire Protection District board of trustees and American Legion Post 300.