Retiring Pradel remembered for his sacrifice, service and smiles
If you've met Naperville's retiring leader, chances are you've got a story about him. We asked folks to share some of their favorites.
In 20 years as mayor and nearly 30 years as a police officer, Naperville's George Pradel has impacted a lot of lives.
He's plowed snow, led kids on Big Wheels in parades, supported special athletes and welcomed all kinds of visitors to the city he loves.
As he steps down after 20 years as mayor, Naperville residents and community leaders are reflecting on the memorable moments they've shared with Pradel and the way the mayor made his mark. Here are some of their stories.
"It was October 2007. Jenna Bush, the president's daughter, was here for her book 'Ana's Story.' We hosted her for this event in the council chambers at the municipal center for a full audience of over 400. There were a number of Secret Service agents on duty. I introduced the mayor and he, in his usual enthusiastic and gregarious fashion, welcomed everyone and of course, Jenna. 'Welcome to Naperville!' came out in its usual volume and at the same time, I saw one of the agents close to Jenna jump, ready to spring into action. The look on his face and his actions were priceless, especially after he settled down, realizing the welcome was meant to be a hearty one and not a threatening one!"
"Back even further, my aunt Neetsie was in high school with George in Naperville. He always mentions how she helped him with his homework and very generously says she helped him get through Naperville High School!"
-- Becky Anderson, owner of Anderson's Bookshop
Keeping the peace
"Years ago when I had a piano and organ store where Jimmy's Grill now is, George was an officer on the beat. Beidelman Funeral Home, then by the furniture store on Washington Street, would put a gunny sack over the parking meters saying 'funeral today' so people could park in those spaces and not have to plug the meter. I confiscated one of those bags and a week later put it over the parking meter where I had parked. George came into the store and said, 'Bev, it isn't going to work!'"
"Another time, Sue, one of my teachers, told me that at lunchtime, she had driven near the high school and took some wood she saw in a pile beside the road. She told me she was concerned having done that and wondered if she should put it back. I said I was sure it was OK, but I told George about it when he stopped in the store that afternoon in uniform. So he opened the studio door where Sue was giving a lesson and said in a professional voice, 'I have been told that you were seen stealing some wood by the side of the road.' Surprised, Sue said yes and her student looked on in amazement. George said, 'Well, since that is against the law, I'm going to have to handcuff you and take you down to headquarters,' upon which he pulled out the handcuffs and walked her to the front door. The little student started to cry. Then we all started laughing and Sue was quite relieved. George really pulled a good one that time."
-- Bev Patterson Frier, retired downtown business owner
Keeping the faith
"In 2009, I emceed the Sept. 11 ceremony with Mayor Pradel. Our guest speaker that year was U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk, who had asked to speak first so he could attend another event. But Kirk's flight hadn't even landed 15 minutes before the program was supposed to begin. Mayor Pradel was very positive and said he had faith that Kirk's plane would arrive. We started at the back of the program in hopes that the delay would allow Kirk enough time to arrive. To lengthen the program, we had the municipal band play between every part. Mayor Pradel started the ceremony and gracefully addressed the crowd and then introduced the members of the Shanower family. For the next 45 minutes, he and I played tag team as we moved through each part of the program. Between each portion the municipal band interjected with an impromptu performance of every military and patriotic song in their repertoire. Kirk's limo arrived about 6:15, just as the municipal band members had played the last stanza of the only remaining military song in their book. It was Mayor Pradel's faith and grace under pressure that kept the program going. He is the ultimate ambassador."
-- David Wentz, city council member
"We moved to our cul-de-sac Naperville house and soon had a record snowfall. Stranded until the following afternoon, our then 8- and 10-year-old girls were thrilled to miss school but soon wanted to go anywhere other than being stuck at home. They made hot chocolate for the hoped-for plow truck driver and he finally arrived. Just to help, he said, Mayor Pradel was at the wheel! They all had their cocoa in the truck, and he patiently asked about the girls' hopes and plans. Kids are always first in George's heart."
-- Greg Gustin, resident
"He loves Naperville, everything Naperville -- its families, schools, parks, neighborhoods -- but most of all, Mayor Pradel loves the children. He makes every child feel special with a smile, a hug, a big laugh and a booming, 'hello!' When our youngest daughter, Noelle, met the mayor for the first time, this 5-foot-something of a man was larger than life. He put his big arms around her for a picture. Everyone had a big smile, especially George. Noelle could not stop talking about the mayor."
-- Chuck Maher, Will County board member
Making a difference
"I've had the distinct pleasure to work for and with George Pradel for close to 30 years as public servants for the city of Naperville. As Officer Friendly and Lt. Pradel, I observed a man who loved each day that he came to work because he truly believed he could make a difference in people's lives and he was absolutely correct. There are dozens of men and women today that changed their life's paths because George Pradel made such an impression on them. Out of his law enforcement career, his love of all things Naperville and his calm and levelheaded demeanor morphed into being our mayor for 20 years during a time of great change for our city. When I think of George Pradel, I think of the words 'sacrifice' and 'service.' He served his country as a Marine, he served his community as a police officer and mayor and all of these 'services' created sacrifices his family and he endured for the greater good. There's actually two more words that mean even more to me when talking about George: 'my friend.'"
-- Ray McGury, Naperville Park District executive director
Backing the arts
"When we first came up with the idea of a film festival, we ran into some doubters. When we ran into our mayor, he could not have been more supportive of the idea of the Naperville Independent Film Festival! I think he got as much pleasure out of giving the 'key to the city' to certain attendees as they did from receiving it from him. His energy in unmatchable.
-- Glessna Barabas Yurgen Coisson, Naperville Independent Film Festival co-founder
Waking up crowds
"I've always appreciated Mayor Pradel's support and gratitude extended to those men and women in uniform who have served and continue to serve our great nation. I also appreciate his love for the city of Naperville and, of course, his enthusiastic ability to 'wake up a crowd!'"
-- Kim White, Community Career Center executive director
"Over the years, our mayor has shown tireless enthusiasm in everything he does. One would expect at some point to see that enthusiasm wane, but it seems to increase year after year. Not only has he been a voice for our community, he has been a strong voice for children. His credo has always been that children deserve a right to a happy and successful future. We are a bigger, better, stronger city because of him."
-- Nicki Anderson, Naperville Area Chamber of Commerce president and CEO
One thing that I will always remember about Mayor Pradel was back when he was Officer Friendly. Then he was teaching bike safety at Safety Town. All three of our sons participated in this program, one every other year. It was so enjoyable to watch the Labor Day parade when Pradel would lead his group of Hot Wheelers down through Naperville. He would hold them back to create a gap and then, on command, have them all race behind him to close that gap."
-- Terry Jelinek, Judd Kendall VFW Post 3873
Living a full life
"Some people live their lives and wonder if they matter. George Pradel will not have that problem. He knows the answer."
-- Dave Dial, former Naperville police chief
Leading the race
"There is no better way to start a race -- big or small -- than having Mayor Pradel as the starter. How can you not be energized for the race after hearing his enthusiastic voice booming over the loudspeakers? And then he hangs around and high-fives the finishers."
-- Kris Hartner, Naperville Running Company owner
Caring for residents
"George Pradel certainly is a man for all seasons. Be it as a friend, volunteer, Officer Friendly in the schools or on the Naperville police force, as well as mayor, he was always there for the citizens of Naperville. We do not think the community will remember him for his offices, but for the caring and understanding person he is. We shall never forget the hundreds of people he cared for by his kind words, hospital visits, funerals he attended and his appearance at fires and accidents. We honestly believe George has nine lives. Besides being a 'father' to our city, he is a caring husband, father and grandfather, never forgetting his priorities. He will forever be watching over us on Washington Street in front of Washington Junior High School helping young people in Century Walk's 'Officer Friendly' sculpture. As a cop or in life, he never missed a beat."
-- Brand Bobosky and Mary Ann Bobosky, Century Walk Corp. chairman and retired educator
"At our first Native American Pow Wow in Naperville, I had the honor of taking Mayor Pradel around to show him the different cultural exhibits, vendors and dancers. As we were driving in a golf cart, Mayor Pradel saw a child in a wheelchair and asked me to stop so that he could say hello to the child. He went and greeted her and gave her a hug. This act of kindness gave me insight into this beloved mayor. He is a wonderful, kindhearted gentleman and I am truly honored to know such a great man.
-- Janet Sevilla, Midwest SOARRING Foundation
"When I think of Mayor Pradel, I think of his enthusiasm, dedication and commitment to his community. I thank him for his cultural awareness and sensitivity and for his kindness given freely to young and old alike."
-- Joseph Standing Bear Schranz, Midwest SOARRING Foundation
"There are several occasions he stepped out of his way to make an impact. One distinct memory is when he returned early from a convention to attend a fundraiser for a resident whose husband had been severely injured in an accident. I can't remember one fundraiser or charity event I attended where the mayor wasn't present. He always made himself available for the residents of Naperville.
-- Eileen Stephens, former Naperville Junior Woman's Club member
"Spring games for Special Olympics athletes have been held in Naperville for years and Mayor Pradel has always been a very supportive part of those games. He always took time to be at opening ceremonies and showed those special athletes respect. He has been a role model for what elected officials should be."
-- Joe Pena, former Channahon police chief
"When I was writing the Naperville title of the Images of America series, Mayor Pradel said to me, 'We will do everything we can to make your book a success.' Mayor Pradel wrote the welcome page. It was published in 2001 and continues to be my best-seller along with my other titles of two books on Aurora and Geneva, DeKalb and Montgomery. He is one in a million."
-- Jo Fredell Higgins, author
Being 'real' to all
"The compassion he demonstrates is real. He is quite attuned to the hopes, aspirations and concerns of all Naperville residents, regardless of status or influence."
-- Joe McElroy, city council member