Since Arlene Mulder announced in September that she wouldn't be running for another term as village president, the longtime Arlington Heights mayor has been through a long series of last events and public goodbyes.
Sunday was the last of the lasts as Mulder was celebrated with a commemorative day in her honor -- April 28 was declared Arlene J. Mulder Day in Arlington Heights -- and a three-hour open house for residents and community leaders to give their thanks and well wishes.
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Hundreds of people lined up to speak with Mulder, sign a guest book and drop off letters of thanks at village hall as she prepares to retire this week after 34 years in public service -- 12 on the park district board, two as a village trustee and 20 as mayor.
Mulder said the past few months, and Sunday afternoon, have been like a series of flashbacks, as residents and friends remind her of memories from her years in office.
"The words 'thank you' seem shallow in respect to what I feel," Mulder said while addressing the crowd.
Longtime friend Gary McClung recalled the first day he met Mulder and her husband, Al, as the Mulder family moved into an apartment in their Arlington Heights building. The two families quickly became friends, he said.
One day in 1979, McClung's wife, Haven, got a call from the former president of the park board asking her if she was interested in filling a commissioner seat. Haven turned it down, but suggested her friend Arlene for the job.
"The rest, as they say, is history," said McClung, who ran Mulder's political campaigns over the years. "Her personality, her energy and her commitment to this community are legendary, and we have prospered as a result."
Local leaders including former Palatine Mayor Rita Mullins, state Rep. Elaine Nekritz, state Rep David Harris, state Sen. Matt Murphy, Judge and former Mayor Bill Maki and U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky were on hand to congratulate Mulder as well. Other politicians, including U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin and Gov. Pat Quinn, sent letters of appreciation, which were on display at the event.
Harris recalled how Mulder ran his first campaign for office in 1982, while Nekritz said what a "force" Mulder always is when she lobbying on behalf of Arlington Heights in Springfield.
Mulder plans to work until the very last minute of her term, she said, including making one more trip to the state capitol this week for more lobbying, goodbyes and thank yous to people she has worked with over the years.
Mulder has joked that she is sick of all the "lasts" in her life and is looking forward to some firsts, which will include two new grandchildren. Her son Michael is expecting twins any day now. Michael said he won't ask Mulder to baby-sit just yet. He'll let her get some sleep first.
Mulder also thanked the business community, her family and most of all the residents of Arlington Heights.
"I should not get any credit," she said. "You have made this community the best place to live."
The line to speak to Mulder moved slowly Sunday afternoon, often stretching into the hall as the outgoing mayor took the time to talk to each person, often with a hug and a photo as well.
"When she talks to you she really looks you in the eye and listens. If she can't fix it she'll find someone who can," said Lauree Harp, a longtime friend who helped organize Sunday's farewell. "And every resident's issue is that important to her." Although Mulder won't be leading village board meetings or cutting ribbons at events anymore, Harp said her presence will still be felt.
"I look out at this town and I see everything that has happened in the past few decades. What a legacy that is," she said.