At the end of an evening that was part reverence, part roast, St. Charles city employees presented outgoing Mayor Don DeWitte with a key to the city.
But for the people in attendance, and thousands of city residents, DeWitte himself has been the key to the city for his eight years in the community's highest office.
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City officials and area dignitaries, including Geneva Mayor Kevin Burns and former St. Charles Mayor Fred Norris, saw DeWitte leave the political stage Wednesday night in a shower of praise. St. Charles City Administrator Brian Townsend thanked DeWitte for being the person mostly responsible for hiring him as a 33-year-old young man. He did it, Townsend said, because he wasn't afraid of controversy.
"Don had a vision," Townsend said. "He knew what the priorities were for this community, and he worked to realize them. All of that work paid off. There is no question today that St. Charles is better off because of Don. Red Gate Bridge, the downtown, First Street, public safety improvements, improvements along the Fox River, becoming the No. 1 city for families -- there's been a lot of great accomplishments. There's also been a lot of criticism for Don. It's for one reason only -- he's trying to make St. Charles better."
There was one city project completed on DeWitte's watch that fans mentioned more than any other. After perhaps 80 years of debate, DeWitte weathered both the always unpopular move of creating a new tax and a storm of concern from residents near the new Red Gate Bridge. But he was the mayor who slogged through all of that to get it built, speakers said.
"Red Gate Bridge will be your most physical presence in the city for decades," read a letter from Alderman Cliff Carrignan that was read by Alderman Maureen Lewis.
Along that same thread, Lazarus House Executive Director Liz Eakins suggested the bridge be renamed the Don DeWitte Bridge. The idea met with loud applause from everyone in attendance.
DeWitte, characteristic of his style, sat in the audience and received each speaker with a handshake or a hug, but few words. Burns said he will remember DeWitte as both a good leader, and, more importantly, as a friend.
"It's not the titles that you've held; it's the lives that you've changed," Burns told him. "Your legacy will remain unbroken and in tact."
DeWitte's last appearance as mayor will be when he passes his duties to mayor-elect Ray Rogina later this month.