Family, friends pay tribute to W. Chicago mayor
He was remembered as a loving husband, a devoted friend, a driven and passionate public servant.
Michael Kwasman, the West Chicago mayor who died last week a few days after suffering a heart attack, was remembered for these qualities and more during a special memorial service held in his honor Sunday at Community High School in West Chicago.
Relatives, friends and colleagues paid tribute to Kwasman while a gymnasium packed with mourners listened, many of them wiping their eyes during the service.
"Today, we are celebrating the life of a great man," said Gene Frost, leader of Wheaton Academy and a friend of Kwasman's.
Kwasman, 65, suffered a heart attack on April 14 while out to dinner with friends. He died Tuesday at Central DuPage Hospital, surrounded by his wife, Crystal, and other family members.
A longtime resident of West Chicago, Kwasman served on the West Chicago Fire Protection District board and the city's plan commission before being elected to the city council in 2001. In 2006, he was named the city's acting mayor, and he won election to that post in 2007 and then again in 2009.
Sunday's spoken tributes to Kwasman touched on the political and the personal. Kwasman's younger brother, Steve, recalled fond memories of the time the two spent together as children and adults.
He mentioned the strength and fortitude that Michael showed after losing sight in one eye during a childhood accident. He spoke of the times his brother protected him, like the year they went to summer camp together. Steve got so homesick and scared that he crawled into his brother's bed. When an older camper made fun of Steven for crying, Michael Kwasman, 11 years old at the time, made sure to "have a talk" with that camper later, Steve said, getting a laugh from the crowd.
That protectiveness continued into adulthood. When Steve Kwasman's wife had to have an emergency C-section during the birth of their first child, Michael showed up at the hospital.
"He said he didn't want me to have to go through that alone," Steve said, his voice breaking. "I will miss him."
Other speakers talked about Kwasman's passionate commitment to local veterans and his devotion to the city's young people, particularly those with special needs. The traits mentioned most often, though, were Kwasman's political acumen and deep love for West Chicago.
"His eyes would explode with passion, excitement and exuberance" when he talked about his city, Rick Markee, Kwasman's brother-in-law, told the audience.
State Rep. Mike Fortner, a former mayor of West Chicago, agreed.
"He saw things in this community -- resources untapped, possibilities unfulfilled," Fortner said. "He will not be forgotten by anyone here."
U.S. Rep. Peter Roskam talked about Kwasman's forceful personality and his unflappable will to do the right thing for the residents of West Chicago.
"It got so that whenever he'd approach me, I'd just start nodding," Roskam said. "Because I knew that by the end of our conversation I'd agree with him anyway."
Roskam added that Kwasman never acted out of a desire for personal glory.
"He became mayor to do something, not to be somebody," Roskam said.
West Chicago Alderman Lori Chassee listed several of Kwasman's mayoral accomplishments, from the creation of a city arts center to the reduction of the city's operating budget. She described him as a tireless advocate for the city's residents.
"He was not just a figurehead leader, he was a working one," she said.
Chassee then nearly became overcome by tears as she looked at Kwasman's widow, Crystal.
"I know we all need to say thank you to Crystal," Chassee said. "Thank you for loaning us your husband all these years."