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updated: 9/7/2013 7:33 PM

Ex-Vernon Hills trustee had 'heart a mile wide'

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  • An older photo of former Vernon Hills village trustee James Heier, who died Sept. 1.

      An older photo of former Vernon Hills village trustee James Heier, who died Sept. 1.
    Courtesy of Amber Heier

  • James Heier, who served as a Vernon Hills trustee from 1983 to 1995, died Sept. 1. Here he poses with pageant queens at a Heier Annual Fishing Derby.

      James Heier, who served as a Vernon Hills trustee from 1983 to 1995, died Sept. 1. Here he poses with pageant queens at a Heier Annual Fishing Derby.
    Courtesy of Amber Heier


The Vernon Hills community this past week remembered longtime resident and former village trustee James T. Heier, who died Sept. 1 at 87.

Heier, a Navy veteran served three terms on the village board from 1983 to 1995, during a time of change and growth. He also was known for his concern for and work with disabled veterans, including organizing a long-running fishing derby at Big Bear Lake in Century Park. Fishing was his love; he also established fishing derbies for the community and for handicapped children.

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"He had a heart a mile wide. He loved to help people," said his son, Richard.

Tough and conservative, yet warm and compassionate, Heier reminded many of their grandfathers, said Deputy Police Chief Jon Petrillo, an Army veteran who joined the department in the early 1990s. Petrillo through the years collaborated with Heier on veterans' needs and issues.

During World War II, Heier served on the USS Corregidor, an aircraft carrier that was attacked by Japanese suicide bombers.

"Jim loved his country, he loved his community, he loved serving as a trustee," Petrillo said.

A native of Kansas City, Mo., Heier, a printing salesman, was living in Wilmette in 1974 when he saw an ad for new homes in Vernon Hills in the Deerpath neighborhood near the current village hall.

"He saw the shopping mall (Westfield Hawthorn) and said, 'That's a place that's going to grow,'" said Richard Heier. The family moved to Vernon Hills in 1974.

Rapid growth of residential and commercial areas was the scenario during his tenure on the board and trustees had some long late-night meetings, recalled Barbara Williams, a current trustee and former mayor who served 24 years on the board, including most of Heier's tenure. Heier could be stubborn, she said, but there was no doubting his commitment.

"He had a lot of friends, had a lot of enemies," she said. "But no one could say he didn't do his damnedest for the village."

The development of the Cuneo estate and widening of Route 60 were among the issues of the day.

"He was an elected official during a time we were changing, not only that but the town was growing," Mayor Roger Byrne said during a village board meeting last week. "He was a good public servant." Byrne has served as mayor since 1993.

Richard Heier said there was no burning issue involved with his father's decision to seek office.

"He just liked to get involved in the community. He enjoyed it." And whatever the topic, the goal was the same, Richard Heier added.

"Whether you agreed with his views or didn't agree, it was always to help others."

In 1995, Heier decided not to seek another term because of health issues. During an unsuccessful comeback in 1997, Heier opposed a push for home rule, sales tax hikes, and tax-and-spend policies. He and also voiced concern for what he described as unabated growth and development.

But there was something else.

"The fishing derbies were his heart and soul," Williams said.

Early in his political tenure, Heier organized a community fishing derby in honor of Bill Goessele, a late friend and mentor on the village board. In 1990, he and his wife, Helen, organized the Special People Fishing Derby. And a third derby for wounded veterans was named in his honor in 1995 and continues to this day as the Jim and Helen Heier fishing derby.

Petrillo said Heier also alerted police officer to veterans who were homeless or in need and would arrange for visits to hospitalized veterans during the holidays.

Burial was Sept. 5. Donations can be made to Libertyville VFW Post 8741.

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