Take a stroll along the Riverwalk, and you’ll see countless bricks commemorating many things.
But, just behind North Central College sits one that encapsulates the life of a man dedicated to Naperville.
It reads “Bill Young – Pinned Hundreds, lifted thousands,” just one description of a man whose influence is all around.
Young grew up in Harvey, became a championship wrestler at Northern Illinois University, and in 1960 came to Naperville Central where he would teach PE and drivers ED, coach wrestling, and act as dean.
Longtime friend George Pradel remembers Young teaching his athletes more than just how to win.
“When they would come off the mat, he would be there to cheer for them, but if they were non sportsmanlike he would make sure he pulled them over to the side and said, ‘look, we can’t have that,’” said Pradel. “’You aren’t gong to make it in life that way.’”
Coaching went far beyond the mat for Young. He used his ability to connect with teens to help them make good life decisions.
“Bill was first a character,” said Scott Wehril, a friend of Young. “When people first met him, they really didn’t know what to think. But as they worked with him, they realized what an amazing person he was and how he thought about people and how he treated people. It really broke down a lot of barriers.”
In the 60’s, Young was a regular chaperone at weekend events at “The Barn” on Martin Avenue where he encouraged kids to have a good time, without smoking or drinking.
“He would work with the young people trying to find out things for them to do on Friday or Saturday nights,” said Pradel. “And he would pack that thing out with 500 to 600 people.”
Also in his free time, Young would patrol parks with then, Officer Pradel to help keep kids out of trouble, which eventually grew into the Park District Police Force.
“It wasn’t huge sweeping change Bill would look to accomplish,” said Kirsten Young, Bill’s daughter-in-law and a commissioner for the Park District. “It was really a subtle influence day after day: people that you knew, people that you didn’t know, processes and projects. If you sit back now and think what would Naperville [have] been like if he hadn’t been here and you know it is a better place because he was.”
As a long-time liquor commissioner, Young took the opportunity to take a young Scott Wehril under his wing. Bill asked him to serve on the commission, something Wehrli had never thought of before.
“Bill wanted to see people succeed,” said Wehrli. “He wanted to see young people branch out and do things that were out of their comfort zone. I think that’s probably one of the things he did for me.”
Family and friends recently gathered along the Riverwalk to share their stories and memories of Young at a memorial toast.
The event also allowed Pradel to say a final goodbye to his best friend, by singing Bill’s favorite song, “My Way” by Frank Sinatra.
“I think that was the best ending because he really did it his way,” said Pradel. “His way influenced thousands and thousands of people right here in Naperville. He was the greatest. He was my best buddy.”
Bill Young died on June 4. He was 79 years old.
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