By Joe Boyle
Anthony “Tony” Yukich, who died Friday at the age of 101, was a longtime fixture in the Village of Evergreen Park and someone whom Mayor James Sexton looked up to as a mentor.
“He was a true gentleman,” Sexton said. “I knew him very well. I met Tony 42 years ago and I learned a lot from him. He was a kind and gentle person.”
Yukich, who grew up in Chicago and was a U.S. Marine Corps veteran during World War II, served as a trustee for the Evergreen Park Village Board from 1967 to 1979. He returned at the urging of then Mayor Anthony Vacco and was elected trustee again, serving from 1995 to 2001.
He began his political journey when he joined the United Homeowners in 1959. Early on, he served as president. In 1964, he was appointed to the Village’s Zoning Board, where he served until 1967. He has served under three Evergreen Pak mayors — Henry Klein, Vacco and Sexton.
Yukich worked the campaign to get Vacco elected mayor, a position he held for more than 30 years, until he retired due to poor health. During those years, Yukich ran Vacco’s campaigns in each election year.
When Sexton ran for mayor in 2000, Yukich actively campaigned for him.
“I had known Jim’s dad for many, many years and I was happy to help in his campaign. He’s a great mayor and very proactive in bringing economic development to our village,” Yukich said.
Due to his long years of service, Yukich, who was also active in various organizations along with being a trustee, was known as the “Godfather of Evergreen Park.”
“He got that name because he just seemed so dedicated to Evergreen Park since moving here in the 1950s,” Sexton said. “And he was hardly compensated for everything he did. Let’s put it this way; he did a lot more for us than what he got paid for.”
On his 95th birthday in 2012, the village honored him with a proclamation for his five decades of service throughout the majority of the 20th century and into the 21st century.
The proclamation reflected a deep affection for Yukich. It read in part, “We refer to our friend Tony lovingly as ‘the Godfather’ and as ‘The Dean Martin of Evergreen Park.’ He has been a friend, colleague, strategist, and mediator and has always done so with a twinkle in his eye, a smile on his face and an outstretched hand to help anyone in need.”
Despite no longer serving as trustee, Yukich was a still a constant presence in the community. He still attended every board meeting up until just recently. He could be seen seated in a specially designed chair reserved for him in the front row. He was greeted enthusiastically at each meeting by residents and public officials.
In 2001, the village honored Yukich by naming one of the largest parks in the community in honor of him and his wife, Fran, who died in 2000. The 20-acre property, now known as Yukich Fields, is located at 8900 S. Kedzie Ave. It includes two ball fields, three soccer/football fields, a walking trail, ponds, two concession stands and the Daniel A. Capuano ice rink.
Naming the park after Yukich was significant because in 1996, as a trustee, he was instrumental in guiding the village to purchase the land where the park now exists.
The property was owned by the cemetery, just north of 87th Street. When they put 33 acres up for sale, at a cost of $3.3 million, Yukich told Vacco, that the village should buy the property.
“The mayor thought I had lost my mind,” said Yukich. He said, ‘Where do you think we will get that kind of money? We can’t do that.’”
But Yukich convinced him it would be valuable to the village and that it could be done.
“So, we purchased the property and later we were able to sell part of it for commercial development and then were able to build the park on the remaining acreage. It was a good deal, and it did benefit the village,” Yukich said.
After his wife died, Yukich later became acquainted with Virginia Wrobel, who became his constant companion. They became a couple after meeting at a New Year’s Eve Party at the Martinique in Evergreen Park. He asked her to dance and was surprised she said yes, according to Yukich. They became almost inseparable after that.
Wrobel and Yukich had known each other for years before they both lost their spouses. She had worked at the Village Hall as director of services, where she was instrumental in starting the Senior Council. Wrobel recalled that she would see Yukich arriving and leaving the building. She added that they never really socialized at that time.
Sexton was asked what he learned most from Yukich.
“I learned to be kind and gentle with people,” Sexton said. “He taught me that you don’t have to yell and scream at people. Try to be civil and treat people with respect. That’s what he taught me.”
Sexton said it is sad that Yukich has died, but he has left a legacy.
“Tony was a good man,” the mayor said. “He was very well liked. He enjoyed life and lived it to the fullest. He had a good run.”
Other survivors include sons, William and James; eight grandchildren; many great-grandchildren; many nieces and nephews; and many great-nieces and great-nephews.
Services were Tuesday from Kenny Brothers to St. Bernadette Church. Interment took place at Chapel Hills Gardens South Cemetery.
Contributing to this report was Sharon L. Filkins
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