A photo and bouquet of flowers were set up Tuesday night on the Des Plaines city council dais in honor of former 7th Ward Alderman Joanna Sojka, as city leaders publicly remembered one of their own.
Tuesday marked the first city council meeting since the death of Sojka, a 29-year-old first-term alderman who died Aug. 18 of an apparent stroke.
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It was just before the previous regular council meeting that aldermen found out their colleague wasn't doing well. After they adjourned, many aldermen and city officials rushed to Alexian Brothers Medical Center in Elk Grove Village during Sojka's final hours.
At Tuesday's meeting, Mayor Matt Bogusz asked for a moment of silence in Sojka's honor, followed by a prayer given by Fr. Jack Plotkowski, pastor of St. Zachary Catholic Parish in Des Plaines.
Sojka's parents Andrew and Maria and sister Martha attended and were comforted before the meeting by aldermen and other city officials.
"What struck me about her was that unlike myself and many of you, Joanna chose Des Plaines," Bogusz told his colleagues. "A lot of us were born here, were raised here, we're proud of our hometown, and we chose to get involved. Joanna wasn't (born here). She chose Des Plaines and raised her hand and decided to get involved."
"She's going to be missed as both a colleague and a friend," Bogusz said. "I know a number of her residents feel the same way."
Sixth Ward Alderman Mark Walsten, who sat next to Sojka during council meetings, said they didn't always agree on issues but were always cordial. He recalled a conversation they had about converting the city's vehicle fleet from regular gas to compressed natural gas.
"Joanna said, 'When I went back to Poland, they run them all over the place on compressed natural gas. What's the big problem?' I thought, 'Ding, ding, ding -- she gets it.'" Walsten said. "But while I got excited about it, Joanna was just the opposite. She wasn't going to get excited until she looked into it from one end to the other and made an analytical decision."
Fourth Ward Alderman Dick Sayad described Sojka as "a class act (who) will be missed dramatically from this council and the 7th Ward."
A funeral is scheduled for today at St. Hubert Parish, 729 Grand Canyon St. in Hoffman Estates, with visitation starting at 5 p.m. and a Mass at 6 p.m.
Bogusz is expected to appoint a successor to Sojka's 7th Ward seat later this month.