Longtime Lombard Village President William J. "Bill" Mueller always had his hometown in his heart, on his mind, in his words, and even on his license plate, which simply reads "LOMBARD."
Mueller, who had been battling the cancer multiple myeloma, died Saturday from complications of West Nile virus. He was 76.
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"His license plate says it all. Bill was all about Lombard," said Yvonne Invergo, executive director of the Lombard Area Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
He also was "an amazing dad, husband and grandpa," his daughters, Donna Fruehe and Debbie Rapata said in a statement Saturday. "Our father was truly a servant-leader and everything he did was for others."
Mueller, who was elected village president in 1993, is being remembered as an optimistic leader whose passion for serving the people of Lombard was evident in his every action.
With his presence ribbon-cuttings for new businesses, his appearances at schools, his involvement in his church and his collaboration with other DuPage County leaders, Lombard's longest-serving village president made residents feel like he was everywhere, supporting anything that would make their village a better place.
"You can agree or disagree with his politics and his decisions all you want -- he loved this town like few people do," said Bob Harris, director of the Helen Plum Memorial Library in Lombard. "He was very much a hands-on village president."
Mueller is the second DuPage County mayor to die this year, following West Chicago Mayor Mike Kwasman, who died April 17.
West Nile virus is rare in humans. So far this year, two other confirmed cases of West Nile have been reported in DuPage County, one in Lake County and a handful in Cook County. Eleven cases have been confirmed statewide. No other fatalities have been reported locally this year.
Born Oct. 31, 1935, Mueller was a lifelong Lombardian -- a fact he proudly mentioned often. He ran an American Family Insurance office after serving in the Illinois Air National Guard, and began his leadership roles in the Lilac Village in 1957 when he joined the Lombard Safety Committee.
As Mueller and his wife, Eileen, raised their family, they attended St. Pius X Church in Lombard, a Catholic congregation where Mueller served as a school board member from 1968-74 and also as a Cubmaster.
Mueller was a Lombard trustee from 1975-79, and when he became village president in 1993, he was always willing to collaborate with other organizations.
"Bill has cared deeply for this village," said the Rev. Rob Hatfield of First Church of Lombard. "He's always been a helpful supporter for our congregation's efforts to maintain this historic Maple Street Chapel building."
Some of Mueller's personal priorities, which included advocating for children and promoting healthy lifestyles, meshed well with the mission of the Tri-Town YMCA. Executive Director Joanne Mitrenga said Mueller enjoyed stopping by the Y to read to kids and was a key partner in a recent effort convening community leaders to develop a strategy to promote healthier living.
"The man was not afraid to stand up for what he thought was right," Mitrenga said. "He was very articulate but would still be very direct to get what's right for the community."
Those who knew Mueller personally said he took his village leadership role seriously, but he didn't take himself too seriously to joke around. He once played the Bachman Turner Overdrive song "Takin' Care of Business" at a meeting about business development. Although the approach may have seemed out of place, Mueller was willing to try it, said Dennis McNicholas, a friend of Mueller's who sits on the board of the Lombard Rotary club and the village board's economic and community development committee.
"He wasn't so proud that he wouldn't experiment and try to touch people where they happen to be and communicate his message about how important the village was to him," McNicholas said.
During Mueller's time at the helm, Lombard saw economic development of restaurants and stores around Yorktown Center along with construction of the Westin hotel, where the main ballroom bears his name.
"The Westin is a tribute to him because he was behind that," said Lisle Mayor Joe Broda, calling Mueller a mentor who showed him the ropes of the DuPage Mayors and Managers Conference.
Mueller built a wealth of knowledge about Lombard and about the DuPage Water Commission, on which he served from 1999 to 2010.
As village president, he also worked to keep the Sheldon Peck Homestead at its historic location at Grace Street and Parkside Avenue. He convinced trustees who originally wanted to move the building to buy the property and allow the Lombard Historical Society to operate it as a museum. The building now is on the Network to Freedom, a list of verified Underground Railroad locations managed by the National Park Service.
When he wasn't attending meetings or conducting village business, Mueller enjoyed golfing and spending time with his grandchildren. He and Eileen also took trips with Addison Mayor Larry Hartwig and his wife, Sandy.
"He was very proud to always say he was the mayor of Lombard," Hartwig said. "He exemplifies that cheerleading aspect of the role of mayor."
Broda said Mueller always saw the positive and focused on what could be done instead of any obstacles.
He made his mark on Lombard and will be missed, those who know him say. Funeral arrangements will be announced by Mueller's family as soon as they are set.
"Bill always said 'Lombard is good for business and business is good for Lombard,'" Invergo said. "Well, I think Lombard has been good for Bill and Bill has been good for Lombard."