Whether one measures a man’s life through his accomplishments, his devotion to family, his sacrifices made for the greater good, his dedication to his work or the legacy he leaves behind, Dale Chiavene in his 94 years had a life well-lived.
The Streator High School graduate, World War II veteran, architect behind the growth of Streator Unlimited and former mayor of his hometown died Saturday at the age of 94.
His impact, however, can be seen all over Streatorland – and beyond.
“He just had good energy and a good heart,” said daughter Debbie Gibbons, who survives along with her sister, Darcy Mollo, and brother, David Chiavene. “He believed in everything he did and everyone he did it with.”
The sizable footprint of Dale Chiavene’s life includes his military service with the United States Naval Construction Battalions – known to history as the Seabees – where he served in World War II as a construction specialist with combat training.
In 2012, he was named Streator’s Veteran of the Year during the city’s Veterans Day celebration for his service, which saw him labor in the Pacific Theater building airfields, cartographing unmapped islands on the march to Japan and aiding in the construction of the nuclear tests conducted at Bikini Atoll.
It was a part of his life he talked about more in recent years, especially since the death last year of his beloved wife, Dee, whom he married in 1948 and was devoted to throughout both of their lives.
After time as a draftsman at Anthony Company, Chiavene moved on to what would prove to be his life’s work: serving as executive director at Streator Unlimited for more than a quarter-century.
“There are still employees here who worked with him, and nobody has ever had a bad thing to say about him,” current Streator Unlimited Executive Director John Mallaney said. “When you’re the boss of a company, you don’t always know what people really think of you until you’re gone. If that’s any indication, people thought very highly of Dale.
“You appreciate people who you know will help you if you need help, and Dale would always, always do that for me.”
His work enriching the lives of the area’s disabled led to his expanding Streator Unlimited to provide better long-term care, fill the lives of those in his charge with purpose and make the nonprofit more financially viable. He brought those goals and his relentless, problem-solving mind to what is now the federal government’s National Council on Disability and the formation of the Illinois Association of Rehabilitation Facilities, where he served as a founding board member.
“Dale always seemed to have a pulse on his community,” said Carl La Mell, a former IARF board member alongside Chiavene. “He also was a great advocate for people with intellectual/developmental disabilities.
“His demeanor always invoked respect, and he deservedly received respect from his peers.”
Dale Morrissey – a facility executive director himself and immediate past president of the IARF who considered Chiavene both a mentor and a friend – worked under Chiavene at Streator Unlimited for a couple of years in the mid-1970s.
“Dale was very, very involved in a leadership capacity, and I learned a lot from him,” Morrissey said. “Dale had this ability to show you how working with people was very important. Whether it was a person with a disability or a fellow care professional, it was very important to treat everyone the same.
“He had that philosophy of service that we’re all in this together.”
Chiavene was elected mayor of Streator in 1987, an office he held until 1991, serving during a pivotal time in the city’s history as it transitioned to the city manager form of government.
During this time, he was also an active volunteer at Engle Lane, using his mind for design, woodworking skills and basement workshop – where he also built toys for his grandchildren and great-grandchildren along with radio-controlled model planes – to construct sets, and also co-founded the Streator RC Flyers, pursuing his lifelong passion for aviation.
“He was always talking about aircraft,” said fellow RC Flyers member John Chorak, whom Chiavene recruited to join the club. “He was a prolific builder, and he was so into the club. He wanted it to succeed, and the energy he had as an older man? More energy than a lot of us.
“The club was his passion. He lived for it.”
“I had a great admiration for the man, No. 1 as a leader of his family,” son-in-law Pat Gibbons said. “He was the most loving, leader-of-the-pack family man I’ve ever seen.
“In order, he believed in God, family and serving each other.”
“And his country,” Debbie Gibbons added. “And his city.”
Dale Chiavene’s family asks that memorials in his honor be directed to Streator Unlimited.