Naperville city 'family' says goodbye to Pradel
George Pradel was not only Naperville's longest serving mayor, he was the city's biggest cheerleader and most enthusiastic ambassador, whose smile and laughter touched thousands of lives.
Saturday, the city that Pradel -- who died Tuesday at the age of 80 -- so dearly loved said goodbye to him during the first part of a two-day wake at Naperville city hall, with each mourner and well wisher having a connection to "Officer Friendly."
Debra Helton, a Montgomery woman who is Pradel's second cousin, recalled how he would playfully handcuff relatives at Fourth of July parties decades ago.
Helton said Pradel gave the growing city a face and always made time for its residents and causes. "Naperville was his life blood," she recalled. "He loved the town so much."
Added Debra's husband, Richard: "He was fair to everybody."
John Norman, an Aurora resident who raised his kids in Naperville, said Pradel was "down to Earth, one of the nicest people." To get an idea of the turnout, Norman said he signed a guest book and the people on the page before him were "John and Beth Norman" -- but not related to him.
"He wasn't afraid to get his hands dirty. Even as mayor, people would see him behind the wheel of a snowplow," Norman said. He noted Pradel's support for all things Naperville, never losing touch of his small-town roots -- evoking a little Norman Rockwell-esque nostalgia.
"It's just really, really refreshing to see a man like that," Norman said. "He was the cheerleader for Naperville."
Dozens of flower bouquets from business leaders, elected officials, government agencies, churches and sports teams such as the Chicago White Sox filled the city hall atrium. In the council chambers, a color guard flanked Pradel's casket.
A video montage containing highlights of his service and numerous appearances along with newspaper clips from when he was first elected mayor in 1995 and progress in constructing "Safety Town," played on a large screen.
While police officers and firefighters wore their formal uniforms, longtime Naperville resident Michael Forbes wore a red shirt for a run to benefit the neurofibromatosis research.
Forbes said Pradel supported the run for a good eight years, and he wore the shirt as a tribute to Pradel. "He supported all kinds of things. I don't know how he found the time to do anything (because of his involvement). That's just who he was, an unbelievable guy," Forbes said.
Patty Meyer, a longtime Naperville resident whose two children are now grown, recalled how her then 3-year-old daughter won a big wheel race presided over by Pradel at the Last Fling.
"I love Naperville but nobody loved it more than Mayor Pradel," Meyer said. "Mayor Pradel is everywhere. The city and all its citizens are his family. His smile was just so infectious."
Visitation continues from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday at city hall, 400 S. Eagle St., followed by a private funeral service Monday.