November 19, 1929|
Cook County, Illinois
|Died: September 5, 2015
|Earned run average||4.36|
Chester K. Stranzcek (November 19, 1929 – September 5, 2015) was an American businessman, politician, and former Minor League Baseball player who was the mayor of Crestwood, Illinois, for 39 years, from 1969-2007. He drew national attention during his tenure for cutting expenses in part by privatizing city services, and for refunding residents' property taxes for more than a decade. He was also known as a colorful character with outspoken views on political and social issues, sometimes using a town billboard to express his beliefs.
Stranczek was born in Cook County, Illinois, on November 19, 1929. He was the first of eight children born to Polish immigrants Josephine & Kanty Stranczek. Only Polish was spoken at home, and Stranczek began to speak English in first grade. He died in 2015.
Stranczek worked on his family's farm until graduation from high school in 1949, when he joined the Salina Blue Jays as a pitcher in the Kansas Oklahoma Missouri League. In 1951, he was drafted into the Army. During the Korean War, Stranczek spent 17 months on the Army's baseball team, which was headquartered in Tokyo and toured the Far East. He returned to minor league baseball in 1954, playing with the Burlington Bees before joining the Baton Rouge Red Sticks. In 1955, Stranczek tore the ligament in his right knee, which ended his baseball career.
Business and political career
After his injury, Stranczek returned to Illinois, and worked for a trucking company before starting his own business, Crest Fuel & Materials, in May 1959. He married Diane Buska in 1961 and they had two sons, Michael (born 1961) and Robert (born 1964).
In 1969, Stranczek ran as a Republican for mayor of the village of Crestwood. It was a post he would hold until his retirement in 2007. He declared his intention to run the town like a business, and through a series of privatizations raised enough business revenue for residential property tax rebates. Those began in 1993 with a total $1 million rebate which increased annually until 2009, when city officials were sued for providing drinking water from a contaminated well. It was found that since the early 1980s the mayor and other officials had opted to tap water from a contaminated source rather than fix a leaky water main.
Stranczek retired mid-term in 2007, at age 78. He was succeeded as mayor by his son, Robert Stranczek. Chester lived in Florida until his death in 2015; at the time of the water contamination issue, he was found "not competent" to testify or face appropriate charges in the poisoning scandal.
Water contamination scandal
In April 2009, the Chicago Tribune reported that for 40 years the city had been drawing drinking water from a well contaminated with toxic chemicals. By secretly drawing water from their contaminated well, Crestwood officials saved $380,000 a year that otherwise would have been spent maintaining the water system, and avoided routine testing that would have alerted authorities to toxic chemicals in the village's drinking water.
In April 2013, Crestwood police chief Theresa Neubauer, who was also the city's water commissioner, and certified water operator Frank Scaccia were both found guilty of lying to environmental regulators about water quality. Chester Stranczek had been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, and was found not competent to testify about the pollution charges.
- Hudzik, Sam. "Long-Time Mayor Signs Off". WBEZ Chicago Public Radio. wbez.org. Archived from the original on 13 December 2013. Retrieved 24 May 2013.
- Ancestry.com. Cook County, Illinois Birth Index, 1916-1935
- Kucek, Anna Maria. "40 Years After Leaving Baseball, He's Still in There Pitching". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 22 May 2013.
- "Minor League Baseball: Chester Stranczek". Baseball-Reference.com. Retrieved 24 May 2013.
- Byrne, Dennis. "Mayor Returns $48 Million to Taxpayers, Then Retires". heartland.org. The Heartland Institute. Retrieved 24 May 2013.
- "From the Archives: Poison in the Well". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 24 May 2013.
- "Lawyers: Ex-Mayor Not Competent to Testify in Tainted Water Case". NBC Chicago. Retrieved 12 November 2013.
- Hawthorne, Michael. "Ex-official guilty in tainted water case". chicagotribune.com. Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 24 May 2013.
- Tarm, Michael (29 April 2013). "Theresa Neubauer Guilty: Ex-Crestwood Official Convicted Of Lying About Tainted Water". Huffington Post. Retrieved 24 May 2013.
- Career statistics and player information from Baseball-Reference (Minors)
- Chicago Tribune: Poison in the Well (story archive)