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Friday, September 29, 2023

Another toast to Bill Young as athletic fields are named in his honor


Above / Bill Young, right, often teamed up with Mayor Emeritus George Pradel to help promote public safety with a friendly presence at events such as the Naperville Jaycees Easter Egg Hunt at Frontier Park.

UPDATE / June 4, 2016 

At 10AM on Sat., June 11, the Naperville Park District will dedicate the athletic fields on West Street as the “Bill Young Athletic Fields.” The public is invited to the ceremony.

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The Park Board voted on April 14, 2016, to name the athletic fields on West Street in honor of former Naperville Park District Police Chief and former Naperville Central High School Dean Bill Young, whose lasting contributions to the community centered on inspiring young people in athletics and in life.

The athletic fields are located south of Aurora Avenue, just south of the Ron Ory Community Garden Plots and west of Edward Hospital at the intersection of West Street and Emerald Drive.

The address is 811 S. West Street in Naperville.

Bill Young / May 20, 1935 – June 4, 2014

Celebrated at the Riverwalk Grand Pavilion / June 21, 2014

By Scott Wehrli

bill young
Bill Young (Naperville Park District Photo)

On this beautiful day, Bill Young is with us. He is looking down at this large gathering and wondering if we got a permit. He is gazing out into this crowd thinking, “Man, those guys got old.” And he probably is trying to figure out what all the fuss is about.

Yes, Bill is standing watch over his favorite park, like he has done so many times before, but today it is our day to honor him.

Bill Young was a Division 1 college wrestler, a bull rider, a truck driver, a teacher, high school dean, a wrestling coach, a park commissioner, a police chief, an executive director and liquor commissioner. He loved his wife, Martha, his kids and grandchildren. To them, I thank you for sharing him with all of us. His friendship has indeed been a gift.

As a young man, Bill grew up in Harvey, Illinois, and was recruited to wrestle by Hall of Fame Coach Jack Roberson for Thorton High School. His talent on the mat led to his education at the University of Illinois and later to Northern Illinois University where he earned his Master’s degree.

His commitment to wrestling took him to Naperville Central where he coached his beloved Redskins his entire career and produced many state finishers and a state champion.
In 2006, Coach Young was elected in to the Illinois Wrestling Coaches Hall of Fame and was named Grand Marshal. Bill was proud to say he was friends with Yorkville coach Denny Hastert who later became Speaker of the House in Congress.

Denny wrote, “Bill was always just a good guy, and an excellent coach. He was a hard worker and toiled tirelessly on things he believed in, but most importantly, he was just a good friend.”

Could all of Coach Young’s coaches and wrestlers in the audience please stand and show coach your appreciation?

Around the time Bill got out of high school, he went to work at his dad’s riding stable. He must have done a pretty good job – because he eventually got promoted to be the guy who put the rings… on the nose of the bulls. Wild Bill had been born.

Of course, if he can put a ring through their nose, he could certainly ride them too, right? Well, with a bit of encouragement from Wild Bill’s friend, Jack Daniel’s, he became a bull rider.

Things were going well until one day Wild Bill, met ‘ole Hoot Owl. Hoot Owl (the bull, that is), bucked him off so hard, that Wild Bill ended up in the stands and got banged up pretty good. He was left with scars on his forehead that he never really talked about – that is, unless Johnny Cash was on the radio. He often sang the lyrics with him: “No fools, no fun, bull rider.”

Mr. Young began teaching at Naperville Central in 1960 and retired as a Dean of Students after 33 years. Generations of students have stories of Bill in that role. Early on Bill taught P.E and drivers ed., but it was his role as dean of students that he treasured the most. The consummate disciplinarian, Mr. Young would issue detentions – sometimes even on Saturdays.

He had some kids who were soooo bad that they had to serve a “dean detention” where they’d sit right in his office so he could keep an eye on them. In fact, my wife, Lynda, was one of those kids. Now, come to think of it, there sure seemed to be a lot of girls who got dean detentions with Mr. Young.

Whether it be his famous bonfires, pep assemblies or homecoming parades, Mr. Young always did his best to make sure his students had a memorable high school experience.

Throughout his career, he respected his role in the lives of young people. He realized that aside from their parents, high school students naturally came to their coaches and teachers to talk about their problems and important decisions in their lives. Mr. Young rarely told them what to do. Instead he guided them toward paths to success despite life’s imperfections.

Will those here the audience who remember their time with Mr. Young at Naperville Central please stand and join me in saying thank you to our dean?

We all know Bill appreciated the finer things in life, and the occasional sampling of bourbon or Hamm’s Beer was no exception. In fact, this expertise in fermentation and distillation lead to his role as the longest serving liquor commission member in Naperville’s history. To put that in to perspective, Commissioner Young served under five different mayors – including our current Mayor Pradel who is approaching his 20th year in office. Now that’s a lot of liquor (and, boy, did we love the research)! I’ve been fortunate enough to serve with Commissioner Young on the liquor commission and can attest to his breadth of knowledge – not only of the law and our ordinances – but his commitment to what is best for Naperville. As a hearing officer, Commissioner Young was tough, but fair; and respected by the liquor licensees, city prosecutors, his fellow commissioners and the mayors he served.

In the 60’s Bill Young helped create the Barn recreation center and soon after the Naperville Park District. In the 70’s he served as a board member and started its police force. Over time, Chief Young obtained his first police car – a Plymouth Fury he bought from the City for a $1. And each summer and winter when school let out, Chief Young would patrol the parks to keep kids out of trouble.

As time went on, the park district grew as did its police department. Chief Young enjoyed hiring new officers and, in many cases, he was their very first introduction to a career in law enforcement.
Over the years, the officers who worked for Chief Young have gone on to work for local, state and federal law enforcement agencies all over the country and most every one of those officers will never forget their first Chief. These officers were left with Bill’s indelible mark.

He taught us to spend our time solving problems rather than writing tickets. He taught us how he could pin an assailant with his toe. When driving a little too fast, he’d remind us he was once a driving instructor. And most importantly, he taught us that “we’ve all got problems,” but some people need us when they do.

Chief Young’s respect for those in law enforcement, and especially the Naperville Police Department, was built on a foundation of friendship and dedication to the men and women who put on a uniform.

Will those officers who worked with Chief Young over the years please stand and give a last salute to him?

Bill was not a religious man, but on occasion religion would find him… Like one day when he pulled into Pioneer Park. He saw men dancing, in long white robes, and they were drinking red wine. “Violators,” he thought.

When Chief Young confronted them, they exclaimed, “But even Jesus Christ drank wine.”

Without pause, Bill responded, “Not in Pioneer Park, he didn’t.”

Parades were one of Bill’s favorite things. He’d ride in his police car and loved to wave at the crowd, many of which would yell out “Hey, Coach” or “Hi, Mr. Young.”

Bill had so many students over the years that there was just no way he could remember all their names, so “Hi Ya,” or “Hey You” became his safe, go-to response.

Walking alongside the Chief at the Last Fling or Ribfest was always a treat. So much so, we’d make the new guy do it… You see, Bill couldn’t walk ten feet through one of those crowds without having a young woman hug him or an old wrestler challenge him.

Bill loved parties. At his house there were three kinds: Fourth of July, his birthday and fudge. For decades after the fireworks on the Fourth of July, Bill and Martha would open their home to the police who had just gotten off duty and volunteers from the event.

His birthdays were mysterious. Nobody ever seemed to know how old he was.

And the fudge parties normally happened around the holidays and there was whiskey and Bill made fudge. We’d listen to country music, tell the same stories, and he was happy.

Bill Young loved this town, but he loved the people more. He was a tough guy, an athlete, a cowboy.

Bill taught us about people. He heard. He cared. He helped. He took us into his home. He let us make mistakes – and challenged us to fix them.

Bill wasn’t perfect. He was authentic. As so many of you have said, “He was like a father to me,” and we’ve all been blessed to have had him in our lives.

Bill was a gifted teacher, but never received a Golden Apple award and that’s OK. What motivated him was watching others succeed and his nurturing wisdom has lifted thousands.

Take part of him with you. Don’t let the legacy of Bill Young go in vain. Coach people to succeed and teach with passion. But most importantly, listen – like he did to you. Make him proud.

Thank you Bill. We love you. William 1, you are 10-42. You will not be forgotten.

Bill Young was known to be present when longtime friend Scott Wehrli celebrated business successes for Naperville. (PN File Photo 2008)

Scott Wehrli is a native Napervillian. Mayor George Pradel and Laura Young also participated with loving remarks during the tribute on June 21, 2014. The Mayor and Carol Pradel led all in attendance by singing, “I Did It My Way.”

Originally posted online July 1, 2014, when the tribute appeared in the print edition of Positively Naperville.

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PN Ombudsman
PN Ombudsman
An ombudsman is Scandinavian in origin dating back to Viking times; and refers to a community representative; usually acting independently on behalf of an organization, body of elected officials, or civic group. Thanks Scandinavia for inventing ombudsman.


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