Constable: She's happy with a lifetime as Mayor Larson's daughter
At 37, Jenny Nolin can't remember a time when her dad, Al Larson, wasn't the mayor of Schaumburg. She barely remembers the night in 1987 when Larson first won the seat. A Daily Herald election night photo shows her kissing her dad on the cheek during his victory party.
"My memories of that photo stem from seeing that photograph for all these years," says Nolin, who was 5 at the time. "I remember some commotion of that night, some celebration."
Her memories of the day after are much more vibrant.
"My mom and dad let my older brother, David, and I go to Toys R Us and pick any toy we wanted," Nolin says. Instead of each getting a small toy, David talked Jenny into pooling their resources to buy one magnificent laser-tag game.
"It was really something we coveted. I remember feeling very happy and very special. It was a way for us to celebrate as well," Nolin says.
"That's right," her dad concurs. "That was a great toy."
As exciting as it was, that laser-tag equipment didn't last nearly as long as Al Larson's 32 years as mayor. Larson, 80, who was a village trustee for 12 years before becoming mayor, is stepping down Tuesday. He did not run this year and is surrendering the job to newly elected mayor Tom Dailly. He's packed up his office, including that photo of Jenny giving him that celebratory kiss.
"It was always a part of my childhood," Nolin says of having the mayor for her dad. "It was just his job. It was a nonissue."
As the youngest of Al and Nancy Larson's five kids (Mike, Cathy, Beth, David and her), Nolin got to help out in many of her dad's campaigns.
"I remember putting up signs," Nolin says. "We would walk and canvass and pass out literature."
Sometimes her friends went with her and pretended to be one of the mayor's daughters, too. Friends were mistaken if they thought hanging with the mayor's daughter would give them a chance to get away with more.
"It was exactly the opposite," Nolin says. "They knew I was under heightened scrutiny and didn't want to get in trouble."
Just as lots of her friends' dads took business trips, her father once was invited to the White House by President George H.W. Bush during an event for mayors. Larson couldn't bring his family and wasn't supposed to bring a guest, but "I smuggled (former Village Manager) George Longmeyer into the Rose Garden as the mayor of Racine, Wisconsin," Larson says with a chuckle. The president looked his way when Larson yelled, "George! George!" in an attempt to get Longmeyer to take a photograph.
While Nolin didn't get to hobnob with the president in the White House, the mayor didn't drag her along to every new business opening or her mom to her community volunteer groups and charities. She got to pick her moments.
Her dad was trying to get people to see Schaumburg as much more than Woodfield Mall, which originally put Schaumburg on the map.
"The mall was awesome when I was growing up -- getting dropped off at the mall for a couple of hours on a Saturday afternoon before cellphones and running into people you knew," she says.
But she most appreciated the chance to take advantage of the other Schaumburg amenities, which her father, a former nature columnist for a newspaper, helped build. Nolin says she cherished visits to the Spring Valley Nature Center and the Merkle Cabin. She attended baseball games at what is now Boomers Stadium, went to Septemberfest, watched the Summer Breeze concert series, would hang out at the Teen Center, and see performances at the Prairie Center for the Arts, which recently was renamed the Al Larson Prairie Center for the Arts.
Always promoting Schaumburg as not just a mall but a cultural center, Larson fiercely defended the arts, history and nature parts of his village.
"He made it a very central part of his life. He put his full-life effort into it," Nolin says. "And I'm really proud of him. There's a little sadness because he's played such a central role, but there's also a lot of pride. He's worked so hard. He deserves a little rest and relaxation."
As mayor, Larson found time to attend his youngest daughter's junior high band concerts and high school soccer games. Now a mother of two who works in legal marketing for an international law firm, Nolin says one perk of being the mayor's daughter will always stick with her. As a teenage girl, she had a Septemberfest pass that let her bypass the portable toilets and use the inside bathroom. "That," Nolin says, "was a coveted item."