Longtime McHenry Mayor Sue Low talks city's milestones during final days in office

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McHENRY – A 14-year run as McHenry mayor is coming to an end for Sue Low.

On April 17, Low attended her last regular City Council meeting as mayor of McHenry.

“I’ll really miss her,” 6th Ward Alderman Geri Condon said. “Sue was very instrumental to me being on the council. I always admired and looked up to her.”

A lifelong McHenry resident, Low’s career in public office started in 2001 as a 3rd Ward alderwoman. Two years later, Low ran for mayor in 2003 and has held the office since.

“In the very beginning, one of the reasons I ran for alderman was for the plans to building the Riverwalk and wanting to improve the downtown area,” Low said.

McHenry Area Chamber of Commerce President Kay Bates said Low always was mindful of local businesses.

“Since I’ve known her, she has always maintained a strong shop-locally mentality and has encouraged residents to support their local businesses,” Bates said.

Now in her final days in office, Low said some achievements she’s extremely proud of as mayor include her dedication of the Vietnam Memorial in 2014 and her work on the downtown area.

“Having grown up here my whole life, the heart of McHenry is the downtown area for me,” Low said. “While I was in office, we really focused on Veterans Memorial Park being a centerpiece of our town and placing a lot of emphasis on our downtown.”

In February, the City Council approved a measure to bring back the McHenry indoor theater, which closed in 2014.

“She’s done a great job of helping with us in the process,” said Don Tonyan, owner of the indoor theater building. “She’s always been a mayor who looks out for people’s best interests and has been great to work with on this project.”

Low also attended many events dedicated to veterans and was made a member of the Warriors Watch Riders, a group that helps veterans.

“She’s always had a very positive outlook about everything, and she’s really been active in the community and attended every event she could,” said Kim Loewe, who is the owner of Kiera’s Confections in McHenry and president of the McHenry Area Downtown Business Association.

At her final City Council meeting, some of Low’s last moments as mayor involved declaring May 5, 2017, Main Street Station Day to honor McHenry’s Mexican restaurant, and recognizing the completion of the city’s new consolidated dispatch center’s expansion and renovation project. The new center will serve as the dispatcher for 16 area agencies.

“[McHenry Police] Chief [John] Jones and his staff have just done an incredible job with being named a dispatch center, and then utilizing the space that we already have to accommodate an expansion,” Low said.

Jones gave Low credit for the dispatch center’s completion, saying she was an important part of the negotiations.

“She’s always been supportive of the McHenry Police Department,” Jones said. “If we swear in a new officer, she’s always there in attendance.”

Her tenure hasn't been completely free of controversy. Low enacted a policy in 2013 to limit communication between aldermen and staff because of one alderman's "antagonizing" behavior. The policy banned unscheduled meetings between the City Council and staff. It also made it so questions on City Council agenda items or implementing city policies are required to be sent by email to the mayor and the city administrator.

Even with some bumps, Low said that what makes McHenry stand out from other cities is how rich the community is in spirit and volunteerism.

“St. Baldrick’s Day was one of the most unifying events I’ve ever experienced,” said Low, who has shaved her head four times to benefit childhood cancer research. “To me, being a part of that and joining forces with [McHenry High School] District 156, and expanding that from a school activity to a community activity, really was an amazing experience.”

Before she was mayor, Low attended the University of Wisconsin – Whitewater, where she received a bachelor’s degree in special education. She later would earn a Master of Education degree from National-Louis University.

In other milestones, Low was presented the Frank E. Low Award in 1995 and was a recipient of the Marian Central Catholic High School Distinguished Alumni Award in 2004. She also served as chairwoman of the McHenry Fiesta Days Committee from 1985 through 1994.

Low was a special education teacher for 31 years before deciding to retire in 2005. However, the McHenry mayor said she never truly felt retired since she was in office.

As for future plans, the McHenry mayor said she’s been volunteering at the FISH of McHenry Food Pantry and will continue to do so. Low also said she’s getting married in May.

Low will attend the city’s Annual Meeting on Monday. It will be her last meeting as mayor. She will be succeeded by local businessman Wayne Jett, and she said she is optimistic about the direction the city is headed.

“Any success that we have had is because we have the most outstanding staff,” Low said. “Our staff is so dedicated and committed to McHenry, and the thing I think has made us so successful is their willingness to collaborate with one another.”