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updated: 6/11/2014 10:30 AM

'My Way' the best way for Naperville's Bill Young

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  • Bill Young of Naperville is being remembered for creating the Naperville Park District police force and mentoring generations of students and wrestlers as a teacher, dean and coach at Naperville Central High School. Young, seen here in 2003, will be remembered during a memorial toast June 21 at the Riverwalk Grand Pavilion.

      Bill Young of Naperville is being remembered for creating the Naperville Park District police force and mentoring generations of students and wrestlers as a teacher, dean and coach at Naperville Central High School. Young, seen here in 2003, will be remembered during a memorial toast June 21 at the Riverwalk Grand Pavilion.
    Daily Herald file photo

 
 

Editor's note: This story has been updated to correct the date of the memorial toast for Bill Young. The toast will be June 21.

The last song Bill Young heard was "My Way" by Frank Sinatra.

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The founder of the Naperville Park District police force, a retired teacher, coach and dean at Naperville Central High School, a man who had been a champion wrestler, tried bull riding and even sang briefly in a band truly did live life his way, his wife says.

So when a music therapist finished the tune at the hospice where Young was living his final days, singing, "yes, it was my way," his wife adjusted the door, turned on the TV, and noticed Young had died. It was June 4, and he was 79.

"What a beautiful way for him to go," Martha Young said about her husband of 40 years. "He liked that song because he tried to do his life his way, and he also wanted everyone else to live their life their way, which was wonderful."

Relatives and friends are exchanging stories and memories of Young in advance of a memorial toast scheduled for 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Saturday, June 21, at the Riverwalk Grand Pavilion in downtown Naperville. They're remembering him as an instinctual teacher, a good listener, a caring parent, and an understanding leader whose overarching goal was to help teenagers discover their path.

"He really enjoyed his life and his jobs, and he didn't always go by the book so strict with any of them," his wife said. "He never stopped caring or wanting to help the children."

Young grew up in Harvey before getting a master's degree at Northern Illinois University and starting to teach at Naperville Central in 1960. His wife said he wasn't always a "perfect little scholastic student," and one time when Young bent the rules helped shape his future.

"Bill was in school one day, and he got into a little scuffle," Martha Young said. "They said 'we're going to call your parents, or you can join the wrestling team.'"

Bill kept the scuffle a secret and thrived as a wrestler, starting a hobby that would take him close to an Olympic berth and give him a way to connect with teens throughout his career.

To the wrestlers he coached, Naperville Mayor George Pradel said Young was "tough but fair" as he taught them to learn from losses and show sportsmanship.

"In that sort of role as a dean and coach you really get the opportunity to work with individuals that might be struggling to try to find their way," said Kirsten Young, who married Young's son, Dan, and is a commissioner for one of the organizations her father-in-law helped shape, the Naperville Park District. "He was a life coach before life coaches were popular."

Young helped teenagers outside of his jobs as teacher, coach and dean by serving as the adult chaperon when "The Barn" on Martin Avenue opened in 1965. Even when 400 or 500 teens were trying to crowd the place, Pradel said Young kept them orderly and let them know they could come in to have a good time, but no smoking or drinking.

"I got to know that he could handle almost anything," Pradel said. "He had a good working knowledge of the young people and they respected him."

Later, when Young started patrolling parks with Pradel and eventually created the Naperville Park District police, he taught officers to be problem-solvers, not just ticket-writers, said Scott Wehrli, who worked with Young on the park district force. Young sometimes would take his children along on patrols, which he did in his own car until the city sold an old squad to the park district for $1.

Young balanced his park district police work with coaching and school jobs until 1993 when he retired from Naperville Central. His son, Dan Young, said he returned to coach wrestling a couple times a week even after "retiring" because he loved his work so much.

Young loved country music and the four children in the combined family he and Martha raised together.

His daughter, Laura Young, said he should be remembered for his "tremendous sense of humor," his pranks, his ability to connect with and mentor teenagers and his love for Naperville. "He just loved this town so much," Martha Young said. "It was almost like Bill's heaven was Naperville."

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