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updated: 2/13/2014 5:07 AM

Gurnee proposes honor for longest-serving mayor

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  • Richard Welton

      Richard Welton

  • Kristina Kovarik

      Kristina Kovarik

 
 

Gurnee's longest-serving mayor would be honored in a plaza proposed for village-owned land that formerly was planned for a memorial to troops who died in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Mayor Kristina Kovarik said she'll recommend the vacant one-acre site on Old Grand Avenue become the Richard A. Welton Village Plaza, where Gurnee milestones would be represented in bronze. Kovarik said she intends to unveil a site plan and artist's renderings at a village board meeting at 7:30 p.m. Monday.

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Kovarik said it would be fitting to have Welton's name on the former Gurnee police headquarters site. Welton was mayor for 28 years and became known for shepherding a growth spurt that included Six Flags Great America and Gurnee Mills.

"You don't appreciate the foresight, vision and courage it took to make Gurnee such a wonderful community until you walk a mile in those shoes," Kovarik told the Daily Herald.

"It has been on my mind since early in my tenure that I really wanted to find a fitting tribute to recognize the amazing impact that Mayor Welton had on our community, and especially a way to make sure that future residents and generations always are aware of his remarkable contributions to Gurnee."

On Monday night, village board trustees will vote to adopt a resolution placing Welton's name on the property.

Kovarik said she hopes the village board will authorize spending $50,000 to start the project this year, with a target completion in 2017. She said other forms of assistance would come from the Gurnee Park District, Warren Township government and private donors.

Plans for the taxpayer-owned land have been on hold since 2010, when former Trustee Kirk Morris sued the village after his private foundation was removed as leader of the Heroes of Freedom Memorial Park effort. Morris and Kovarik began publicly feuding in 2009 after she accused his foundation of being incapable of building the memorial.

Under a lawsuit settlement approved in 2013, Gurnee's insurance carrier paid $200,000 to the ex-trustee's Pfc. Geoffrey Morris Memorial Foundation for design work and other improvements the group made to the public land. The foundation was named for Morris' son, a Marine killed in Iraq in 2004.

As part of the deal, the village agreed to remove the Heroes of Freedom Memorial Park name from the property and return the rights to the foundation.

Last year, Kovarik selected village Trustee Cheryl Ross to chair a panel that was asked to generate ideas for the site that's been vacant since the old Gurnee police station was demolished in November 2004. The property is in a flood-prone section of Gurnee, east of the Des Plaines River.

Kovarik said Ross' group sorted through many use and design ideas, but her suggestion for the plaza gained support from several trustees and village employees.

"The plaza, when completed, will include historical bronze markers that capture many of the milestones in our village history, which I think will make (Welton) very proud,' said Kovarik, mayor since 2005. "So many of our residents don't know the history of Gurnee, and this is a way to make sure it is never forgotten or the man who had a lot to do with it."

Welton served as mayor from 1973 to 2001. He's expected to attend Monday's village board meeting.

Trustee Donald Rudny toppled Welton, but lost the four-year mayoral seat to Kovarik.

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