Roselle's first full-time fire chief remembered for helping build the department

  • Jim Sunagel

    Jim Sunagel

 
 
Updated 5/4/2022 4:16 PM

Roselle officials are remembering the village's first full-time fire chief for helping build the fire department into what it is today.

Jim Sunagel, 83, died on April 28. He had lived in Huntley for the last three years after spending the first two decades of his retirement in Wisconsin.

 

Sunagel started his career as a firefighter with the Elk Grove Village Fire Department, retiring as deputy fire chief after 22 years.

He joined the Roselle Fire Department in 1989 as its first full-time fire chief.

Current Deputy Chief Dave Gnadt, who was hired as a new firefighter by Sunagel, said he remembered Sunagel as a boss who enjoyed taking over the kitchen and cooking a meal for his crew.

"He helped create the full-time department here," Gnadt said. "He was instrumental in helping us get to where we are."

Under Sunagel's leadership, Roselle transitioned from a volunteer to a full-time department. He also helped negotiate a merger between the village and the rural Roselle Fire Protection District.

"He was a real asset to us," said Gayle Smolinski, a former Roselle mayor. "We needed someone who had the experience to help us along, and he provided that.

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"There's always a little angst when you combine two different entities, but he had the perfect demeanor to calm the waters and help us move forward to build the fire department we have today."

Sunagel retired for good in 1998 after nine years in Roselle, moving to a vacation home he and his wife had renovated in Lodi.

"It's been an up-and-down road through here," Sunagel said at his retirement party in August 1998. "The end product I feel really proud about -- our fire department."

Sunagel served in the Marines before his firefighting career. In 1960, he married his best friend, Betty Laseman, who survives him after 62 years of marriage. He also leaves behind four children, three grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

Sunagel, an avid Green Bay Packers and Wisconsin Badgers fan, enjoyed fishing, hunting, golfing and making furniture in his workshop. He was a member of the Medinah Shriners and the Sun City Huntley Marines.

A private service will be held for the family. Donations can be made to Shriners Hospital for Children (Chicago) in his name.

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