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Article updated: 7/25/2013 5:26 AM

The destiny for most suburbs is to adopt a boring motto

By Burt Constable

Do you know your suburb's motto? Here's a hint: It's probably boring and also could be the motto of the community next door.

Unless you happen to live in Des Plaines, which has the gumption to boldly proclaim itself the "City of Destiny."

Town mottos are like nicknames in that the best ones, such as "City of Big Shoulders" for Chicago, are bestowed by others and not self-proclaimed, such as "Urbus en Horto" ("City in a Garden") for Chicago. At least there is a story behind Des Plaines' destiny. Most suburbs adopt bland, easily forgotten mottos that tout development or vague hopes for the future, such as Schaumburg's "Progress Through Thoughtful Planning," Bloomingdale's "Growth With Pride," or Bolingbrook's "A Place to Grow."

Wauconda's "Water. Spirit. Wonder." is unique but might sound a little cold compared to neighboring Island Lake, which is "A Community of Friendly People" who settled there instead of in Huntley, "The Friendly Village with Country Charm."

Hanover Park opts for "One Village -- One Future." It doesn't say much, but no one can argue with the math. No one should quibble about Elgin's "The City in the Suburbs." But Naperville's "Great Service -- All the Time," also a favorite motto of pizzerias, might fuel discussions. One Wikipedia entry falsely touts Libertyville's motto as the impressive "Fortitudine Vincimus," Latin for "By Endurance We Conquer," which basically means "We Will Win By Hanging Around Until Everybody Else Quits." But Libertyville never used that motto and currently sports only the phrase "Spirit of Independence" on its red-white-and-blue logo.

The "City of Destiny" motto comes under attack every few years, with critics pointing out that destiny can be a bad thing and doesn't really make people think of Des Plaines. Maybe it would help if they spelled it "Des Plaines, City of Des Tiny." The motto also could cause confusion between the suburb and Visakhapatnam, which is a "Bhgya k Sahara" or "City of Destiny" in southeast India. The motto is open to interpretation.

"Occasionally, someone will come in and ask, 'What does that mean?'" says Shari Caine, executive director of the Des Plaines History Center.

Caine can show them the archives, which say "City of Destiny" was coined in the 1950s by Murray Smith, executive director of the city's chamber of commerce, and Jack Hughs, the executive in charge of Littelfuse, maker of electronic components. With the opening of nearby O'Hare Field, the business community envisioned the modern world bringing jobs and people to Des Plaines. And it did. Although, in a sad irony, Littelfuse recently left for Chicago.

But "City of Destiny" still works better these days than Des Plaines' old motto: "City of Roses." Between the first World War and World War II, Des Plaines was home to three of the nation's largest flower operations. A 1937 photo in the history center archives shows Des Plaines residents loading 25,000 rosebushes on a train bound for California.

Lombard, "The Lilac Village," still boasts a motto that brings to mind something pretty and fragrant. Roselle hosts a rose parade and includes roses in its village seal, but it uses the motto "Tradition Meets Tomorrow," which is pretty similar to the "Where Tradition and Vision Meet" motto of Batavia. (Given Batavia's link to the high-energy physics of Fermilab, it might consider the motto "Village of Density.")

Rosemont painted a rose on its water tower and uses the flower in its logo, but the village motto is "You Can't Miss It!", which is mildly better than "No Free Parking!"

As for Des Plaines, I hope it keeps the "City of Destiny" motto. But, after winding my way in traffic to visit the Des Plaines History Center, I do buy one of its $1 buttons featuring a motto that is honest, unambiguous and makes me smile: "Des Plaines: Getting Stuck By Trains Since 1854."

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