Interview with Alice Gallagher

Alice Gallagher served the Village of Western Springs as a Trustee from 2013-2017. In 2017, she began a 4-year term as Village President.

Let’s begin with something fun. This spring, the Village and the Library collaborated on a contest for Honorary Pet Mayor. On April 16, we announced that a dog named Pepper had won, and would receive a certificate from you, along with the distinction of serving as the first Pet Mayor in Village history. Tell us a bit about how this contest was created and any behind-the-scenes details you’d like to share.

The idea to “elect” a pet mayor came from LT student, Hazel Stocco. After the governor’s first stay-at-home order went into effect in mid-March, Hazel emailed me with the creative idea to bring more joy to the community, especially children, during this time of uncertainty. I thought it was a wonderful idea that would give parents and children a lighthearted distraction at a time when routines were upended. 

Our Communications Manager, Selmin Cicek, reached out to Ted Bodewes, Director of TFML, and asked if the Library would  partner with us on implementing the idea. Ted and his staff took the idea and ran with it. They did an impressive job planning and promoting the “election”. Once voting closed and Pepper earned the title, I sent him a congratulatory letter and certificate naming him the first Pet Mayor of Western Springs. (Due to nepotism concerns, I kept my own dog, Owen, out of the running.)

Of course, this event gave us a welcome distraction during the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic. Please comment on what issues you faced as Village President during this period.

The hardest part of the COVID-19 pandemic has been the daily uncertainty surrounding the virus and the pervasive disruption to the normal routine. Village staff has done a phenomenal job adapting to the ever-changing rules regarding the pandemic, all while continuing to provide outstanding service to our residents. The board’s routine also changed drastically, along with the rules regarding how the board conducts  public meetings. All non-essential meetings were cancelled, and we pivoted to a Zoom platform to conduct business. The old way of doing things was no longer sufficient. Meetings were cancelled, Village Hall closed to the public, and spring and summer events postponed or cancelled.

Of course, since day one, the health and welfare of our residents, first responders, and the entire staff was uppermost in the decisions made and actions taken. All other issues and concerns took a back seat while we grappled with this crisis. You may recall that early on, information changed almost daily and public outreach was critical to keeping residents informed.

We’ve now had several months to endure and adapt to this health and safety challenge. What did you learn from the early days that has helped you to prepare for the summer and beyond?

In the early days, it was apparent that Governor Pritzker was making decisions based on science and the advice of public health experts. Western Springs, like most suburban municipalities, does not have a separate public health department. Therefore, we have followed the governor’s executive orders and state and federal public health guidance.

Now, in Phase 4 of the governor’s Restore Illinois plan, we will continue to rely on this expert guidance. Western Springs has seen an uptick in positive cases in this phase, especially in folks under age 30. Continued communication with residents is essential to remind our community, especially our youth, that the virus is still very much with us, and it remains essential to follow guidance to keep ourselves and others safe. Look for signs and banners around town and in the parks reminding folks to wear face coverings, wash hands frequently, and socially distance.

Important in the early days and still true today, the Village is providing support for our local businesses. Emergency orders were quickly executed to allow additional carry-out services for our restaurants. Also, we expanded outdoor seating as soon as possible, so that our restaurants could take full advantage of the new rules once authorized by the state.

Our website has a wealth of COVID-19 information, as well as links to additional information. Please check the website frequently at www.wsprings.com.

Many Western Springs residents know your name and position, but may not be aware of what goes into being the Village President of Western Springs. In a nutshell, what does that mean? What would you say is the most important part of your role? The most difficult? The most rewarding?

Western Springs follows a council/manager form of government. This means that the day-to-day operations are left in the capable hands of our Village Manager, Ingrid Velkme, and her staff. In fact, the board of trustees has three primary duties: to set policy and oversee its implementation, to adopt the annual budget and associated tax levies, and to hire the village manager and legal counsel. All other duties associated with village management and day-to-day operations fall to the village manager and her professional staff.

As president, I am the presiding officer of the board of trustees and the chief executive officer of the Village. In addition to these roles, I also serve on the executive committee of our regional Council of Government, the WCMC. I am the chairman of the WCMC Central Council Transportation Committee and represent the central suburban region on the Council of Mayors of the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning. I am also a director on the Illinois Tollway Board.

The board of trustees consists of six civic-minded residents who volunteer their time to help inform policy. Each trustee represents a specific geographical area of the Village. Once elected, however, all trustees are asked to make decisions based on the benefit to the entire village as a whole and not just their specific area of town. Thankfully, these two objectives do not often conflict with each other.

The most important aspect of my role is listening and responding to residents in a thoughtful, effective, and fiscally responsible manner – and at the same time this can also be a most challenging part of my role. Meeting the challenges of improving aging infrastructure with limited resources is an ongoing struggle.

Without a doubt, the most rewarding aspect is meeting people I would never have known otherwise. State and federal elected officials impress me with their dedication. It is a true pleasure to meet and get to know residents of all ages. Our staff is second to none: professional, caring, and devoted to improving the quality of life in Western Springs. This ethos starts at the top and permeates down to all levels of service in the Village.

I am especially grateful for our local elected officials. Each trustee and our clerk is committed to serving to make the Village a better place for residents, and I am so thankful for their service and camaraderie.

What advice would you give to someone considering public service?

If you have an interest, give it a try! Start out by volunteering on a commission or advisory board. The candidate resume for advisory boards and commissions can be found on the Village website. Submit an application and when there is an opening, all resumes will be considered.

In addition to your service as President, you are also an attorney and a yoga teacher. Could you tell us a bit more about your professional life?

My husband, Terry, and I met in law school, and we both received our degrees from Seattle University in 1987. After school, Terry joined the Navy and I worked for a labor law firm in San Diego. Two years later, we received orders for Sicily, where I picked up the odd civilian case. After leaving the Navy, we returned to the Chicago area and stumbled on Western Springs as the place mid-way between my south side roots and his north side roots. I did not work outside the home while our five children were young, but once the youngest entered first grade I returned to law and worked for a small firm specializing in ERISA law. When the firm closed shop, I retired from law and trained to teach yoga. I’ve been teaching yoga since 2009.

Instead of practicing law, I now practice yoga!

The “President’s Corner” of the WS website details your experience with education. Please give us one or two take-aways on this important subject.

I started the President’s Corner in an effort to increase public outreach on issues of interest on a more frequent basis than the bi-monthly Tower Topics newsletter. In September, look for a new format designed to share information more quickly, with a weekly update called Tuesday Topics.

Throughout my children’s primary education, I was fortunate to join and lead the Field Park PTO, the Western Springs Foundation for Educational Excellence and be a member of the D101 Board of Education. Each organization plays a vital role in the overall public education of our children, but in a different capacity. The PTO provides fundraising to support the school’s extracurricular activities, WSFEE fundraisers and events support extracurricular educational opportunities to the whole district, and the school board sets policy for the administration. In each role I met many moms and dads, and of course professional staff, dedicated to giving school children the best possible educational experience.

Could you give us a little personal detail—where did you live before Western Springs? What commended the town to your attention?

I grew up in Beverly on the southwest side of Chicago. I attended Sutherland grade school and Morgan Park High School. I received my BA from Miami University of Ohio, and JD from Seattle University. My husband and I have lived on the east coast, west coast, and overseas. But when it was time to return home, Western Springs stood out to us, not only for its geographic location, but as a great place to raise a family with its hometown charm. We love the community atmosphere, friendly neighbors, rich history, and quaint downtown. You can’t beat the location— close to both airports and just 20 minutes from downtown Chicago by train.

You and your husband Terry raised your five children in the Field Park neighborhood where you remain today. What time period would this be? What changes have you seen?

Terry and I moved to a cute house on Wolf Road in 1992. It was the best block to raise a family with friendly neighbors and practically every house had kids the same ages as ours. But we quickly outgrew that house and in 1999 moved to a different block in Field Park where we also found wonderful neighbors who became good friends. Over the years, I have to say the biggest change has been the shift away from a dry town, a move that was vital for the economic viability of our restaurants in the Village. There have been other changes here and there, but I like the fact that Western Springs has maintained a quiet, neighborly feel and hometown charm throughout those changes.

How have you and your family used the library? Is there something you’ve read recently that you would recommend?

Terry and I are big readers and I have very fond memories of participating in the kids’ summer reading program at Thomas Ford Library when our children were young. It was always a treat to ride our bikes to the Library so that the kids could check out books and videos. The celebration at the end of the summer program was something the kids looked forward to all summer long.

Today, I do most of my reading on Kindle. I need to become more familiar with the Library’s lending program for e-readers so that I can take advantage of that program.

Terry and I belong to a couples’ book club and it’s so fun to read books that I would never have otherwise picked out. It’s also a good excuse to get together with friends on a regular basis!

Some of my favorite summertime reads include the Detective Gamache series by Louise Penny and the Maisie Dobbs series by Jacqueline Winspear. Other all-time favorite reads include: The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown, Nutshell by Ian McEwan, and Cloud Atlas and The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell.

Do you have any other thoughts you’d like to share with your neighbors?

It is a privilege to serve as your Village president. Feel free to contact me any time at agallagher@wsprings.com or 246-1800 ext.118. My open-door weekly office hours on Tuesday afternoons will resume once Village Hall renovations are complete and it reopens to the public.

Your Village government is led by a committed and talented board of trustees and an outstanding professional staff. While we are in the midst of very challenging times, we will get through this together. Looking ahead, I am excited for our future as we continue to improve upon the things that make Western Springs the best place to call home. 

“The Ford Member Connection” spotlights Western Springs residents with interesting stories and relationships to the Library. Please let us know whom you’d like to read about.