West Chicago resident Richard “Dick” Truitt will be the honored Grand Marshal in Saturday’s Railroad Days Parade in West Chicago. He is one of the few remaining brave soldiers who served during the invasion of Normandy, as a tank driver. He took part in the Battle of the Bulge in the 3rd Armored Division, 83rd Reconnaissance Battalion, in World War II. He was injured twice during these campaigns.
At the end of the war in 1945, Truitt returned home to West Chicago, Illinois, and soon married his high school classmate, Catherine Harbelis, a cadet nurse. He chose teaching as his profession and worked locally for the Waterman and Wheaton School Districts, teaching primarily 5th grade, and completed his Master’s Degree at Northern Illinois University. Truitt was instrumental in shaping youth both in and out of the classroom, and is known in the community for establishing the local football and wrestling programs
“It will be a great honor walking alongside him in the parade this weekend,” said Mayor Ruben Pineda, who has known Truitt all his life and remembers the impact he had on him as a mentor and leader. “I remember the day he called me over to Reed-Keppler Park and pointed out an old, underutilized structure known to residents as Scout Cabin. He said, ‘Ruben, I want you to make a youth center out of this and you’re going to run it.’ I was 12-years old. That made an impression on me.”
Truitt continued his lifetime of community service and involvement, which included serving as an Alderman and City Clerk, and as Mayor from 1971 – 1977. His contributions to West Chicago’s future may be seen today and will be enjoyed by future generations of West Chicagoans.
Perhaps the most significant hometown accomplishment by Truitt was his championing of a tract of land vacated by West Chicago’s stockyards in 1960. The land, which was purchased by a developer sat vacant because of its natural water retention. During his tenure as Mayor, Truitt, a nature enthusiast, made the discovery that its plants were very special. While taking a class on prairie plants at the Morton Arboretum, he recognized plants that he had seen when playing as a boy at the stockyards in the 1930s. He engaged ecologists to inventory local species, eventually cataloging 622 plant and animal species – making it one of the most ecologically diverse areas in Illinois.
Through his passion, insight, and advocacy, Truitt convinced the Forest Preserve District of DuPage and the City of West Chicago to purchase the property in 1979. It subsequently received the highest level of protection with the rare designation of a State Preserve, the West Chicago Prairie Forest Preserve. An approximate one-third section was dedicated in 2006 as the Truitt-Hoff Nature Preserve, in honor of Mayor Truitt and Melvern Hoff, founder of the West Chicago Prairie Stewardship Group.
Today, Dick Truitt enjoys his children, Doug, Sue, Tim, Dan, Tom, and Bridget, his 14 grandchildren, and his 22 great-grandchildren. His sons, Tim and Tom, and his great-grandson, Henry, will be by his side in the Railroad Days Parade this Saturday as he is honored as the true hero he is.
The Railroad Days Parade steps off at 3:00 p.m. on Saturday, June 8, 2019. The parade will start at Ingalton Avenue and Wendall Street, heading south on Ingalton, west on Washington Street, and north on Arbor Avenue.
About West Chicago
West Chicago is a diverse, family-oriented community with a rich cultural mix and a proud heritage. It is the first Illinois community established by the railroads and continues to be a convenient transportation hub served by three major rail lines, Illinois' third-busiest airport and three state highways. For more information, call Rosemary Mackey, Marketing & Communications Coordinator, at (630) 293-2200 x 139.