DuPage Leaders & Legacies: Rae Rupp-Srch, A lifelong servant leader

Leaders & Legacies: Stories of Local Impact is an ongoing series brought to you in partnership with the Daily Herald and DuPage Foundation. It highlights the inspiring stories of local individuals, families, and businesses who have made or are making a lasting impact for our community through their generosity and leadership.

The series continues with Rae Rupp-Srch.

Chances are, if you live in Villa Park, you already know Rae Rupp-Srch. An incredible woman, she has been involved with almost every aspect of her community throughout her adult life.

From serving on her local PTA, to becoming a board member for the Tri-Town YMCA and the Villa Park Elementary District 45 school board, to attaining the highest office in Villa Park and serving as the president of its village board for 12 years, these are just a few examples of the many ways in which Rupp-Srch has worked consistently to make a difference for the town she calls home.

Today, at the age of 87, Rupp-Srch continues to go strong, giving of her time to a range of causes and organizations throughout Villa Park and beyond, leading by example and embodying the heart of a true servant leader.

Nick Cuzzone, the current village president, spoke of Rupp-Srch's impact on the community over the years. "Rae's leadership is her biggest legacy. Her dedication inspires people to get involved because she's involved with everything."

Most recently, Rupp-Srch was named "Humanitarian of the Year" by the West Suburban Philanthropic Network (WSPN) in honor of her lifetime of community service. She was celebrated during its annual Philanthropy Awards, held in August at Northern Illinois University's Naperville campus.

"Rae is someone I aspire to be like when I wake up every day," said Sarah O'Donnell, CEO of Tri-City YMCA and chair of the WSPN Philanthropy Awards. "Her impact is immeasurable. Rae's fountain of youth is volunteerism."

A lifelong learner

Rupp-Srch's inspiration to become a servant leader can be traced back to her early years, although she also credits a variety of personal experiences and several individuals who inspired her throughout her life.

The survivor of a turbulent childhood, Rupp-Srch once attended seven different schools in the same year while growing up.

She weathered the challenges of her young life by embracing a passion for reading. Public libraries became her sanctuary, and her love of libraries has remained an integral part of her life as demonstrated by her longtime service to the Villa Park Public Library.

By the time Rupp-Srch was ready to attend high school in the early 1950s, she had moved in with her grandparents in Chicago. There, she attended and graduated from Visitation High School. The first of her many leadership roles was serving as president of the Visitation High School Library Club.

During those years, Rupp-Srch also worked at a job most young people would covet. She was an usherette at the Shubert Theatre, now known as the CIBC Theatre in Chicago. It was a position that allowed her to see many celebrities like Elizabeth Taylor, Charlton Heston, and Harry Belafonte, to name a few, as well as watch numerous theatrical productions including "Oklahoma," "The King and I" with Yul Brynner, and "My Fair Lady" with Rex Harrison, among many other memorable performances.

After high school, Rupp-Srch did administrative office work until marrying at the age of 21. Soon after that, she became pregnant with her first son and went on to have four boys by the time she was 30. Life's challenges continued as Rupp-Srch eventually became a single mom to her young sons. Nonetheless, she was determined to be a lifelong learner. Through great perseverance and hard work, Rupp-Srch succeeded in becoming the first person in her family to graduate from college.

She attended college via television on WTTW through an innovative partnership with Chicago's Board of Education. It was the first program in the country to televise college courses for credit. At the time, Rupp-Srch was raising two small children and gave birth to her third child while working on those courses.

During her last pregnancy, she was fortunate to have a professor who was very understanding and gave her the flexibility she needed to finish her coursework. Even though her classes were on television, Rupp-Srch had to go to Woodrow Wilson Junior College (now known as Kennedy-King College) to take the actual exams to obtain college credit.

She completed her two-year degree from what was then known as The Chicago Teachers College. She later received an associate degree in library sciences from College of DuPage, and ultimately received her bachelor's degree in behavioral sciences from National Louis University in the 1980s. Later in life, she would put her education to work through her community service as well as professionally.

After graduating, Rupp-Srch went on to work as a convention and meeting planner for 10 years and then in downtown Chicago at Atlas Galleries on Michigan Avenue, from which she retired in 2016 after a 27-year career.

A path of service

Rupp-Srch's admiration for others who worked to make our world a better place inspired her to follow in their footsteps as she forged her own path of service.

One such person was Mary Alice D'Arcy, the former president and CEO of Easter Seals DuPage & Fox Valley. D'Arcy became a role model for Rupp-Srch, as did Carol Simler, the former president and CEO of DuPagePads. Rupp-Srch noted that both women were incredibly passionate about their jobs and their respective organizations' missions to help others, traits that she has embraced for herself.

In the early 1990s, Rupp-Srch decided to run for public office citing a desire to have a hand in helping shape her community's long-range planning and goal-setting. In 1993, she was elected board president for the Village of Villa Park, a role she held through 2005.

According to Rupp-Srch, two of her proudest accomplishments while serving were the passage of the village's Ovaltine Redevelopment Project and the Villa Park Vision 2000 referendum for road repairs, both of which had a lasting impact on improving the village.

One has to wonder: How has Rupp-Srch managed to serve her community and give back to so many causes and organizations when there's only one of her? As much as she seems to have boundless energy, she shared that she chooses not to waste excess energy dwelling on anything bad. And that frees up a great deal of time for her.

Kindred spirits

Turning to Rupp-Srch's not-for-profit service, Easter Seals became an important cause for her during motherhood. She contracted rubella (German measles) while pregnant with her youngest son, who then suffered from vision impairment. D'Arcy and the Easter Seals organization became a lifeline for Rupp-Srch and her son.

Rupp-Srch also became passionate about the importance of vaccines, especially to prevent rubella and polio, another disease that impacted a close family member.

Given the challenges of Rupp-Srch's own childhood, it's understandable that her empathy for children would become an ongoing theme of her life of service.

Rupp-Srch found kindred spirits though her involvement with the Kiwanis Club of Villa Park.

The Kiwanis mantra is to "serve the children of the world." Most of us know of the Kiwanis as the people who hand out peanuts each year, but few probably know that the donations received during that time help the Kiwanis carry out their mission: "To improve the world, one child and one community at a time," according to their website. It's not surprising that Rupp-Srch would choose to be a part of a group with a mission close to her own heart.

Rae's second husband, Richard Srch, was active with Kiwanis and Rupp-Srch volunteered for the group at a time before women were allowed to become members.

Richard Srch was also a single parent and the two met through the local PTA and their children's sports. They ultimately married after their children had grown. Between them, they had seven children, six grandchildren, and seven great-grandchildren. Sadly, Richard passed away in 2009.

In keeping with her love of libraries, Rupp-Srch served as a trustee of the Villa Park Public Library for many years.

"Rae makes you want to be like her," said Sandra Hill, library director. "People respect her. She's always there. She's a confidant and a friend who gives great advice. She's very wise and a great sounding board. Rae was a driving proponent of public art and was a member of the Villa Park Public Library Board when it secured its first work for the library, a sculpture known as Metamorphosis by Leonard William Lasko. Her impact on our new library in 2019 was to make sure there was an aura of inclusiveness."

Rupp-Srch also donated a sculpture of a frog that is on display in the children's reading garden at the library.

'A treasured gem'

"Rae is the humanitarian of the century," said Michael Hirsch, a longtime friend. "She's the driving force behind everything in Villa Park. Everyone loves Rae. She is a selfless leader and never asks for anything in return. She is a treasured gem of our community."

When Hirsch began his career as a financial adviser in Villa Park, he made it a point to go to as many community meetings as possible and Rupp-Srch was always there. She took an interest in his family and has always cared about his children.

"She doesn't just ask about them; she reaches out to them and encourages them," added Hirsch.

One of Rupp-Srch's favorite hands-on volunteer activities is the annual Thanksgiving Dinner hosted by the Villa Park VFW for new recruits who are stationed at the Great Lakes Naval Base. Students at College of DuPage cook the meals, volunteers serve the meals, and the new recruits are treated like family members for the day.

They especially enjoy the coffee, which is something they can't have on base during their training. Nearly 50 recruits are bused to the Villa Park VFW for the day.

"We want them to feel like they are part of our family," said Rupp-Srch. "It's a wonderful way of giving thanks to all of the volunteers who participate in making it such a memorable experience."

Rupp-Srch's love of education has also led to her role as a volunteer in the local schools. Tony Palmisano, superintendent of Villa Park Elementary District 45, first met Rupp-Srch during his tenure as the principal of Jackson Middle School in Villa Park. Tony spoke of Rupp-Srch serving as a board member for the D45 Foundation for Excellence, which provides grants to teachers.

"Rae frequently gave of her time to read to young students," said Palmisano. "She never stops thinking of others."

Rupp-Srch once spoke at an event in Rockford on behalf of the Key Club and Kiwanis. Key Clubs in high schools are sponsored by the local Kiwanis group as a path to encourage young people to be of service. A young high school student approached Rupp-Srch after the event and said that she wanted to be just like her.

It was a moment when Rupp-Srch understood the domino effect of doing something for others. "You never know what effect you're going to have on others.

"People can be of service in any number of ways," Rupp-Srch said. "There are volunteer opportunities at food banks, libraries, hospitals, churches, the VFW, PTA, Scouts, etc. The need is all around us. Even if it's one to two hours a day, or week, or month. God has given me the ability to give back. I did what I could with what I had, with love and gratitude."

DuPage County will forever be grateful to Rae Rupp-Srch, a true community servant leader.

• The Leaders & Legacies series is brought to you by the Legacy Society of DuPage Foundation. Suggestions for future stories can be sent to Robin Carroll, director of marketing and communications, at Interested in learning more about how you can make an impact or create a legacy for your community and favorite causes? Learn more at or call (630) 665-5556. DuPage Foundation is located at 3000 Woodcreek Drive, Suite 310, in Downers Grove, IL 60515.

Rae Rupp-Srch (center) being recognized by the Villa Park village board with Trustees Jack Korkery and Jorge Cordova, village President Nick Cuzzone, village Clerk Hosanna Korynecky and Trustee Cari Alfano. Courtesy of Nick Cuzzone
Rae Rupp-Srch with Sandra Hill, director of the Villa Park Public Library, after receiving the West Suburban Philanthropic Network's Humanitarian of the Year Award. Courtesy of West Suburban Philanthropic Network
"Be Like Rae" buttons were given out by Rae's friend Michael Hirsch and his wife, Kate, at the West Suburban Philanthropic Network annual Philanthropy Awards in August. Courtesy of West Suburban Philanthropic Network
Rae Rupp Srch (center) at the Tri-Town YMCA's "You Are the Apple of Our Y" 55th anniversary celebration at Reserve 22 in Glen Ellyn with (from left) Dan Wagner, senior vice president of government relations, The Inland Real Estate Group LLC; DuPage Foundation's consultant Deb du Vair, president and CEO Mike Sitrick, and vice president of programs Barb Szczepaniak; and DuPage County Board District 2 board members Paula Deacon Garcia and Liz Chaplin. Courtesy of DuPage Foundation
Rae Rupp-Srch with her husband, Richard Srch, at her installation as district governor of the Kiwanis International Illinois-Eastern Iowa District. Courtesy of Rae Rupp-Srch
Rae Rupp-Srch with past Kiwanis governors at the Kiwanis International Convention in Zurich, Switzerland, in 2011. Courtesy of Rae Rupp-Srch
Rae Rupp-Srch at the Kiwanis District Governors' Meeting in Switzerland in 2011. Courtesy of Rae Rupp-Srch
Rae Rupp-Srch attends the grand reopening celebration of the Villa Park Public Library in 2019. Courtesy of Villa Park Public Library
Reading Frog sculpture donated by Rae Rupp-Srch to the Villa Park Public Library. Courtesy of the Villa Park Public Library
Rae Rupp-Srch at a District 45 Foundation for Excellence prize-patrol award ceremony. From left, Villa Park Elementary District 45 Superintendent Tony Palmisano, Rae Rupp-Srch, and teachers from District 45. Courtesy of Villa Park Elementary District 45
Michael Hirsch with a street sign he donated in Rae's honor. Courtesy of Michael Hirsch
Rae Rupp-Srch volunteering at the Kiwanis Concert in July 2023. Courtesy of Sandra Hill
Rae Rupp-Srch with Joe Montgomery promoting the Kiwanis onion sale fundraiser in the spring 2023. Courtesy of Rae Rupp-Srch
DuPage Foundation's Leaders & Legacy series

Rae Rupp-Srch's history of service through the years

• Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, past board member

• DuPage Public Safety Communications (DU-COMM), past chair

• DuPage Mayors and Managers Conference, past president

• Easter Seals DuPage & Fox Valley, past board member

• Elmhurst Memorial Hospital, past Board of Governors member

• Illinois Institute of Technology, past Board of Overseers member

• Ovaltine Redevelopment Project, past member

• Villa Park Elementary District 45, past board president

• St. Alexander's Church, parishioner and Rebounders Senior Group member

• Tri-Town YMCA, board member

• Villa Park Chamber of Commerce, vice president

• Villa Park Board of Fire and Police Commission, chairperson

• Villa Park Kiwanis, several past officer roles and first woman governor of Kiwanis International Illinois-Eastern Iowa District

• Villa Park Public Library, past trustee

• Villa Park VFW, member

• Village of Villa Park, past president and board member

• Village of Villa Park, past planning and zoning commissioner

• York Township, trustee

Article Comments
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the "flag" link in the lower-right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.