A gentleman is one who puts more into the world than he takes out. – George Bernard Shaw
And the late former 20-year Fourth Ward Geneva Alderman, Ron Singer, who put far more into this existence than he ever extracted, was a gentleman in every sense of the word. I am beyond honored to have called him “friend” for more than a quarter of a century.
I met Ron shortly after we moved into the Pepper Valley subdivision on the west side of Geneva in 1997. Six months after we bought the house, the eight-foot stockade fence separating us from the Pepper Valley mini-mall began to collapse onto our property. Having had no luck with the mall owner and fearing for the safety of my two young sons, I called Ron to see if he could help us out.
Now, I’m not knocking my hometown Evanston aldermen because there’s a vast difference between serving a city of 85,000 residents and one of 20,000, but let’s just say “lofty” wasn’t a word I’d attached to my expectations of the Geneva variety.
But Ron Singer exceeded my best expectations.
It took a bit of persistence on his and code enforcer Jim Forni’s part, but eight months later the fence was fixed and I was more than a bit impressed. So much so, that Ron and I began talking on a regular basis. And the best part of those conversations was his encyclopedic knowledge of Geneva history.
In one short year I knew all about all the former mayors and city council members. We laughed at the ongoing friction between east and west siders, he knew the best places to get a burger, and he described how there was once a simple stop sign at the “quiet” intersection of Randall and Keslinger Roads. I learned so much of Geneva’s history during those discussions I felt like I’d lived here for 20 years.
When we moved across Randall to Fisher Farms in 2000, Ron, once again, applied that subtle aldermanic persistence in regard to Delnor Hospital’s frequent 5 a.m. construction starts. Between he and the late great Geneva code enforcer Mike Lencioni, the problem was ultimately resolved.
No one was more pleased and supportive than Ron when I became an opinion columnist for the Tri-City Suns in May of 2006. He became a great source, too, but not in the providing inside information sense. When Ron was unhappy about something or someone in Geneva he would tell me about it and it was always something or someone worth being unhappy about.
Being a gentleman as well as an effective alderman, Ron never took those thorny issues public because that wasn’t the way to get things done. He’d quietly work behind the scenes to solve the problem and only come to me when all else failed.
Our discussions soon started covering more than local politics. We traded stories about our families, our latest endeavors, and our hopes and dreams for ourselves and our city. I have to say I always left a conversation with Ron feeling far better than when it started.
Despite the hit my reputation took and the risk to his, nobody supported me more during my infamous battles with the Geneva Police than Ron Singer. I can’t tell you how much his faith and trust in me meant then, and still means now.
Then there was the time I was covering a court case and this idiot journalist locked his keys in the pickup truck in the middle of the Judicial Center parking lot. Who else but Ron Singer would show up in the middle of a flippin’ freezing February day to drive me home to get the spare keys, and then back to get the bleepin’ truck.
My single, but temporary, regret in regard to Ron came in 2017 when I was unofficially helping him with his reelection efforts. When it became clear that mayoral candidate Tom Simonian’s needless slash and burn campaign was adversely affecting the city council incumbents, I couldn’t bring myself to provide Ron with the kind of kick in the ass I would’ve administered to any other campaign “client.”
You just can’t do that to a gentleman.
And it killed me when he lost until we met at the Geneva Walgreens six months later when he looked at least ten years younger. As happy as Ron was to serve the constituents he loved for 20 years, he was even happier when it was time to relinquish that role.
But the strangest, and perhaps best part of our friendship was how we’d regularly run into each other throughout those 25-plus years. I’ve never coincidentally met any friend as often as I’d encounter Ron.
We’d bump into each other at Walgreens, the Post Office, in restaurants, at local events, and all manner of Geneva locations. My favorite accidental meeting – and my fondest Ron Singer memory – was the time we found each other at the St. Charles Meijer some three years ago.
Having just finished checking out, I saw him sitting on the “park bench” adjacent to the customer service department. Ron had recently undergone a knee or hip replacement and he wasn’t getting around as well as he used to. Like a scene right out of a Jack Lemon and Walther Matthau movie, we sat there laughing and talking for at least thirty minutes while his wife Marilyn did the shopping. God! I wish I had the foresight to have someone take a picture of us sitting there together on that bench. It’s one of the few times I actually enjoyed feeling like a (semi-) old man.
Though we talked a number of times after that, that was the last time I saw Ron in person.
In the end, I won’t lament Ron’s passing because, at almost 90, he had a great run. He’s one of the few people who could say he enjoyed doing exactly what he loved every single day. His was a life to be celebrated and imitated, not mourned. But I will lament the fact that my life won’t be the same without him.
There will never be another service-driven gentleman alderman like Ron Singer because they no longer exist in these hyper-partisan and social media driven times. More than that, I’ll miss our conversations, the persistent accidental meetings, his unflagging support, and his keen insights into the city and people he loved so much.
Of how many people can you say you’re far better off for having met them? Ron Singer was one of those incredibly rare individuals who left everyone better for his friendship. So, since it seems so fitting, I’ll end this piece the same way Ron ended every telephone conversation, “Take care my friend.”