Longtime South Elgin Village President Jim Hansen has died at age 53 after a nearly five-month battle with lung cancer, South Elgin officials said Saturday.
"We all considered him a friend," said Police Chief Christopher Merritt, who's worked in South Elgin for 23 years, 10 of them as chief. "He's a pretty important guy for all our lives. He's going to be missed. We're all devastated by the loss."
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Hansen was elected to the board of trustees in 1991 and took on the role of village president in 2001. He was serving his fourth term as village president and had just been re-elected earlier this year.
Village Trustee John Sweet said Hansen was diagnosed with lung cancer in early June, but his death on Friday night is still a big shock for everyone in the village.
"He was unconditionally dedicated to South Elgin," Sweet said, adding that everybody got along with Hansen. "It will be a tough act to follow."
Sweet said Hansen worked to be a consensus builder with the board. He only recalled Hansen having to vote twice to break a tie during his tenure as village president.
"He was a big part of keeping us all together as one good unit and working well together," Sweet said. "He was strong and firm with his beliefs, but he could draw you in with those beliefs."
Village Trustee Mark Kolodziej said Hansen sat down with the village board shortly after receiving his diagnosis to tell them the news.
"He was very open about it and said he was going to put up the fight of his life," he said. "We appreciated the fact that he was honest with us. That was the kind of guy he was. He didn't really have secrets."
Kolodziej said Hansen never missed a village board meeting, so when he missed the last two the board knew his condition was growing serious. He said Hansen's death still left the board stunned.
"It happened fast," he said. "Whenever you hear someone has cancer you, in a sense, prepare for the worst ... but even when you expect something to happen, it comes as a shock. We've got a huge void to fill."
Kolodziej remembered Hansen as a good leader who led by example.
"He led quietly, and he led with respect," he said. "He really put people before politics."
Kolodziej said Hansen had a fondness for the people of South Elgin, whether they had lived there for life or just moved to the village.
"He was very good at making everyone feel included," Kolodziej said, adding that he felt Hansen understood the importance of keeping the village's small town charm while still working to bring development to certain areas, such as along Randall Road.
Besides serving the community as village president, Hansen was active with the South Elgin Little League and instrumental in getting lights up and fields constructed at Concord Park, Kolodziej said.
Former trustee Bill DiFulvio said Hansen talked him into running for the village board in 2001. He said Hansen, who graduated the same year as he did from Larkin High School, was a "good, stable force" in the village.
When Hansen started serving on the village board more than two decades ago, the population was around 7,000 residents. It has since grown to more than more than 22,000, an increase DiFulvio felt was due partially to Hansen's leadership.
"He was instrumental in everything," DiFulvio said. "He was a good person for the village. He just had a good vision."
Hansen was always able to see the big picture and do what was right for the village, Merritt said.
"Sometimes they weren't the easy decisions, but he always had an uncanny ability to see that, to see what was best," he said.
Village Administrator Larry Jones said in an email that Hansen was "a pleasure to work for and with." He noted that twice, while Hansen was in office, the village was chosen as one of Money Magazine's Top 100 Communities.
"He never took credit for the village's successes, always giving credit to the residents, board and staff," Jones wrote.
Flags at all village facilities have been lowered to half staff and buntings are hanging at village hall, according to Jones. He said there will be discussions in the coming weeks to determine the best way to honor Hansen. The village board is still planning to hold its regularly scheduled meeting on Monday.
For many years, Hansen worked as an auto parts manager for NAPA. His most recent job was assistant director for purchasing in Kane County.
Hansen is survived by his wife, Teri, whom he was married to for 32 years; three children; four grandchildren; his mother, brother and many nieces and nephews.
Visitation will be held from 3 to 9 p.m. on Wednesday at Laird Funeral Home, 310 S. State St. in Elgin. Funeral services will begin at 11 a.m. on Thursday at the funeral home, followed by a burial at Bluff City Cemetery in Elgin.