Mayor Emeritus George Pradel Dies at 80
That booming voice, broad smile and boundless enthusiasm – there was no mistaking when Mayor Emeritus George Pradel entered a room. It’s doubtful anyone loves Naperville the way he did, and it was evident in every function he attended – and there were a lot.
He took over the town as mayor in 1995 at a transformative time, and grew along with it, welcoming others to join in and boost Naperville to be its best.
Pradel was a Napervillian since the age of 2, only leaving to serve for three years in the U.S. Marine Corps. When he returned, he continued his service, now as a Naperville police officer. His nickname became “Officer Friendly,” thanks to his welcoming manner and many visits to area schools.
In an interview back in 2016, he told NCTV17, “When I first became a cop I went to the chief I said Chief, we tell the kids in school what we do? Do we tell them that we love them, do we tell them we’re responsible for their health and safety? And he said no, we’ve only got so many police officers no overtime: it would be wonderful. So that’s when I started the Officer Friendly program by going into schools with my own dog and pony show. And letting the people know what we do. “
But visits weren’t enough for Pradel, who yearned to do more for the children he had grown to love. In 1977, he helped the Naperville Junior Women’s Club create Safety Town, becoming the first teacher at the miniature village meant to train children in keeping safe.
He went on to run for mayor in 1995, though he had no political background. His slogan was essentially that with him, you’d have a friend in office. It served him well, and he won the race, going on to keep his title for 20 years.
Mayor Pradel shared, “People wanted to talk to somebody that would listen to them and maybe they couldn’t even help them but it was just a feeling that they were part of the community.”
And how that community grew and came together under his leadership. As the town’s diversity expanded, so did its representation, as Pradel appointed Bill Liu and Krishna Bansal as Community Outreach ambassadors. Under Mayor Pradel’s watch, we saw the expansion of the East Branch of the Riverwalk, the construction of the Carillon, and the beginnings of the Water Street District. Though many projects brought about spirited debate in council, Pradel was able to find the common ground.
“We had sometimes where we really needed to bring some uh reality to the council and I felt I was that calming effect,” he told us. “So even though some of them didn’t agree with me, they still had respect. And we made some great opportunity for change.”
Pradel stepped down as mayor in 2015, but was a still a visible presence around town. But his appearances started to dwindle when in 2016 he was diagnosed with cancer. It was a harsh blow, especially as he lost Pat, his wife of 55 years, to the same disease in August of the previous year. His children George, Gary and Carol rallied around him, as did the community: even installing a mailbox to send messages of love and hope.
“Oh…that was so touching,” he said, remembering. “When I saw it out there I drove by and it was really nice to see that mailbox for Mayor Emeritus Pradel, but it also warmed my heart because people wrote lots of things that they wouldn’t write in a regular card.”
The life of Mayor Emeritus George Pradel surpasses what could be summed up in any card. He was the heart of Naperville for years, and now, that heart is just a little broken. George Pradel died on September 4th, just one day shy of his 81st birthday.
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