By Anna Lothson
Oak Park Village Trustee John Hedges didn't win his bid to be the next village president, but the veteran local government official didn't need an election to make his mark in town.
His 20 years as executive director of the Park District of Oak Park, 10-month stint as acting village manager, and six years as village trustee — among the many boards and commissions he's served on — speak for themselves. Oh, and he's got a building named after him: the park district's John L. Hedges Administration Center.
He's gained high respect among his colleagues for his level-headed, insightful, and balanced approach to local issues, according to his fellow trustees. After May 6, when the new board is sworn in, Hedges will step away from his elected role, but he won't be absent from the village.
"I've been retired for 13 years, I guess it's time to start being retired," Hedges joked in a recent interview. While he doesn't anticipate getting involved in local politics again, he's not ruling the possibility out. A role on a citizen commission may be one thing he could look at in the future. "I don't see myself getting involved (at the village board level). But never say never."
Hedges said he'll be focusing his time on the Oak Park River Forest Community Foundation Board. He also hopes to get more time to travel and enjoy time with his wife, adult children and grandchildren.
The village board has seen an immense amount of transition under Hedges' leadership, including the appointment of two village managers. One of his proudest accomplishments, as a member of the finance committee, was getting the village's finances back in shape.
"What I've really enjoyed is really being part of a team and working through some difficult issues," Hedges said. "I think we took a budget situation that was struggling and got it in good shape."
Hedge's passion showed throughout the campaign and it was a presence that had an impact on his fellow trustees, who agreed losing him on the board is a loss for the community.
"I'm going to miss John a great deal," Trustee Ray Johnson said. "His approach to service has always been a support. I think John has been exceptionally effective that we're focused on policy and budget issues. His fiscal discipline is a real and lasting value that we can learn from. He asked poignant questions. … That kind of commitment to the community is what we need more of."
Trustee Bob Tucker agreed that Hedge's wisdom was one the board and community benefited from immensely.
"I can't say enough great things about John Hedges. It was great having him on the board. I'm going to miss him incredibly."
Fellow trustee Adam Salzman said Hedges' contribution to Oak Park is unlike anyone else. He said his "modest" view of himself didn't convey all he did for the village during the campaign.
"His contribution to Oak Park is unmatched. …We will be lacking that institutional memory," Salzman said. "John is not status quo. John was really the guy who challenged the old way."
Hedges was the guy on the board who when he talked, people listened, Salzman said. He often worried about having the courage to challenge Hedges as the young newcomer, but said Hedges respected everyone.
"That's a wonderful thing to have," Salzman said. "I will be very frequently looking at issues through the lens of 'what John will do'."