Utica mourns longtime trustee Ron Pawlak

‘He would do anything for anyone’

He helped steer Utica through floods and a killer tornado and in plotting a path to rebuilding. Through all the turmoil, Ron Pawlak was always cool and composed.

Utica now is mourning a longtime village trustee who was active in Utica’s recovery and did it all with humility and a down-to-earth nature. Pawlak, who logged a quarter century on the Utica Village Board, died Thursday after years of declining health. He was 77.

“He was a true gentleman,” said Village Attorney Herb Klein. “I had the pleasure of working with Ron for nearly 20 years. He cared tremendously about Utica and was very dedicated to serving its residents.”

“Ron was a fantastic person,” Mayor David Stewart said. “He would do anything for anyone. I’ve personally known Ron my entire life and he was a friend.

“Ron was the village’s most senior trustee having served more than 25 years. He was very dedicated to our community. Ron loved the Village of Utica and we are so thankful for all his dedicated service. He will be greatly missed.”

Pawlak and wife Mary together served on the Utica Village Board almost continuously since the mid-1990s. He was retired from Sauer-Danfoss and was repeatedly elected on pledges to keep taxes in check, boost tourism and improve village infrastructure. He was successful on all counts.

Trustee Jim Schrader, who served many years on the village board with Pawlak, called him an “invaluable” source of knowledge.

“Decisions are always easier when you have that guy in the room who’s seen it all before,” Schrader said. “I liked that we could disagree about a topic and yet not be disagreeable. That’s the guy I knew. Every town should have an ‘R.P.’ The world would be a better place if everyone took the time to volunteer on his level.”

Former Utica Mayor Matt Jereb remembered Pawlak was a mentor who “allowed me to feel immediately comfortable serving as an elected official.”

“During my time as mayor Ron was always very supportive and worked collaboratively with me in getting things accomplished throughout the village,” Jereb said. “His dedication and commitment to the Village of North Utica is unmatched, was a staple of our small community, and will be sorely missed.”

Pawlak’s service was briefly interrupted in spring 2013 when he finished fourth in a contest for three seats on the Village Board. Though gracious in defeat, he wasn’t off the board long. After the sudden death of Trustee Shelba Bimm, then-Mayor Fred Esmond wasted no time appointing Pawlak to fill the vacant seat.

Village Engineer Kevin Heitz remembered Pawlak as an endearing character with a knack for connecting with his constituents.

“Many will forever be grateful for trading gardening and deer hunting stories with Ron and will miss his smile and the laughter he produced with his quick wit,” Heitz said. “But Ron’s true Utica legacy from my perspective is the love for the community that he and Mary have instilled in everyone they have ever come into contact with, not to mention the direct family who continue this legacy on. For this, the Utica community is forever changed for the better. Thanks Ron.”

Visitation will be 4 to 7 p.m. Tuesday at Burgess Funeral Home, La Salle, with a Scripture service at 6:30 p.m. Private burial will be at a later date.