Countless visitors travel to the Riverwalk each year and pass by this statue. To some, it’s just a sculpture, but to Naperville Mayor George Pradel, it’s a reminder of Chester Rybicki, a mayor and mentor that came before him.
“He gave me a chance and he listened, and yet he was firm in his development and what he wanted to do,” said Pradel. “He also gave people a chance and he was always looking for ways to help the city and formation of our city as you see it now. He gave me the chance, and I’ll remember that forever.”
When Rybicki was mayor from 1975 to 1983, he was determined to strengthen Naperville’s downtown, so he oversaw the creation of the Riverwalk, where he is immortalized today.
“A group of people approached me with various projects, which they wanted to have as a commemoration of our 150th birthday,” said Rybicki, in a 2006 interview. “They said ‘Riverwalk’ and I said, ‘that’s it.’ I wanted the Riverwalk for 2 reasons: one, to clean up the river, and have a beautiful park which has become a jewel in Naperville.”
He began his public service in 1962, serving on a number of boards and commissions, both before and after he was mayor, including the Heritage YMCA board and Naperville Public Library Board. Leaving a lasting legacy all around the city.
Positively impacting those around him was a trait Rybicki shared with Tim West, a longtime columnist for the Naperville Sun.
West started at the Sun in 1973 with a column titled “All Points West” and from then on wore many hats: reporter, photographer, associate editor, managing editor, and viewpoint editor.
Many professionals around town got their start at the Sun working for West. They remember that under his gruff demeanor was a great man that had a way of connecting with readers no matter what the topic.
“He would always take the time to really just help me out if I needed it and I thought that was such an amazing attribute of his is that he was always willing to help everyone out, especially younger reporters,” said Kate Schultz, who worked with West.
He most recently wrote opinion pieces covering city council, the April election, and more personal things like his battle with cancer, just like he would discuss with close friends.
While both men were praised for their contributions to the city, they felt the honor of calling Naperville home, was all theirs.
“For me, it’s been a privilege to live in Naperville and have the ability to chronicle how through the efforts of so many people it has become a fine city,” said West when he was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2012.
“I love Naperville,” said Rybicki in that 2006 interview. “I’m very proud of how this city has turned out, I’m very proud that I had a part in it turning out that way. Naperville is my home, it will be my home until my end.”
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