Late Crystal Lake Mayor Aaron Shepley remembered at Celebration of Life

Recollections of ‘Mayor Shep’ and his contributions shared during ceremony long-delayed because of pandemic restrictions

Former Crystal Lake Mayor Aaron Shepley is seen in a video speaking about the city he grew up in and loved during a celebration of life honoring him on Saturday, June 12, 2021 at Three Oaks Recreation Area  in Crystal Lake.  Shepley passed away last year.

Friend. Coach. Mentor. Public Servant. Photographer. “Brother from Another Mother.”

Aaron Shepley, who was Crystal Lake’s longest-serving mayor when he died last May, was remembered in many ways during a Celebration of Life for him on Saturday morning.

For his daughters Madison and Chase Shepley, Aaron Shepley was their biggest supporter.

Chase recalled that while her father had a sense of humor, he was still always loyal and dependable.

“We knew we could always count on him,” Chase Shepley said. “We had a rule in our family that you couldn’t call dad more than twice unless it was an emergency, because the third time, he would pick up no matter what.”

Chase Shepley smiles as she shares stories about her father during a celebration of life honoring former Crystal Lake Mayor Aaron Shepley on Saturday, June 12, 2021 at Three Oaks Recreation Area  in Crystal Lake.

Madison Shepley told those gathered at Three Oaks Recreation Center, where the Celebration of Life was held, that it comforted her to look in the audience and see so many familiar faces.

“It is particularly comforting to see faces of those I don’t know as well, because it just speaks to the impact that my dad had on so many people,” Madison Shepley said.

Speakers at the event came from multiple areas of Shepley’s life in public service and his career, including city officials; the vice president and program manager of Northwestern Medicine, where he worked as their vice president in the office of general counsel; the executive director of Pace Suburban Bus, where he served on the board; and Brett Hopkins and Tom Kundmann, with whom he founded the Crystal Lake Strikers Drumline.

Although each speaker had different memories of Aaron Shepley, spanning from his high school days to his time as mayor and at Northwestern Medicine, one “common thread” ran through all of them, current Crystal Lake Mayor Haig Haleblian said.

“That was his love for community, his love for family, and his love for the Strikers,” Haleblian said.

McHenry County Board Member Pamela Althoff, who also helped with planning the event, said it was extraordinarily difficult to grieve in the days after Aaron Shepley’s death during COVID-19, as pandemic restrictions did not allow for large events.

“That’s true, not just for the family, but I think for the entire community,” Althoff said.

Everyone coming together on Saturday, with a “huge amount of love,” was something Althoff never would have been able to imagine a year ago.

“It’s so wonderful,” Althoff said, noting the ceremony had attendees from Chicago and Wisconsin, as well as other states.

Haleblian said Saturday’s event could not have been done without the help of city staff.

“This was a Herculean effort,” Haleblian said. “It’s fitting, it’s overwhelming. It’s sweet. It’s loving.”

The Crystal Lake Strikers Drumline performs during a celebration of life honoring former Crystal Lake Mayor Aaron Shepley on Saturday, June 12, 2021 at Three Oaks Recreation Area  in Crystal Lake.

As an additional honor, Haleblian announced during his speech that Crystal Lake’s municipal center will be renamed Aaron T. Shepley City Hall.

In the future, Haleblian said he wants to work with the Aaron T. Shepley Foundation, and also see a bike path named in Aaron Shepley’s honor, as he was an avid cyclist. The Foundation, created by Shepley’s family, will begin reviewing applications for scholarships and grants to support Aaron’s priorities, such as community service, drumming, photography, leadership and athletics, in 2022, according to its website.

Last week, the Crystal Lake Rowing Club dedicated a boat, adorned with flowers and the words “Mayor Shep,” in the former mayor’s memory.

“Aaron was one of those rare individuals that, when you worked with him, he had a positive impact, not just on the people doing the job [at hand], but the people he came in contact with,” former Illinois State Rep. Mike Tryon said. “In many ways, Aaron was a role model.”

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