Retired deputy city clerk has sand and sun in mind
By Anthony Caciopo
Regional News Editor
It was a festive afternoon last Friday at Palos Heights City Hall with good food, good company and good cheer. But every once in a while, a moist eye could be observed.
“It’s overwhelming,” said retiring Deputy City Clerk Patricia “Pat” Shepard as she stepped away from the boisterous City Council meeting room that had been temporarily turned into a party place.
“It’s been very emotional for me from the time I walked in the door here,” she said of the special gathering dedicated to her.
Shepard was feted by about 60 co-workers, friends, family and Palos Heights residents whom she had served for more than 15 years in her key role in city government.
But soon, that role will be in the hands of someone else.
Shepard retired Jan. 11, the day of her send-off and there were plenty of people sad to see her go.
“Pat’s been a tremendous asset to the city,” said Thomas Kantas, the Palos Heights city clerk. “If there’s something that needs to be done, she does it.
“When she told me she was leaving, I told her that for selfish reasons I’m heartbroken, but for you, I want you to enjoy,” he said.
“She’s been the backbone for me,” said Mayor Bob Straz. “She’s there all the time. She answers questions, she knows where to go for the answers. That’s a lot of our business. Our elected officials don’t do all the stuff, the staff does most of it.”
Shepard came to Palos Heights from a municipal job in Oak Forest in Oct., 2003.
“I was hired as the mayor’s administrative assistant,” she said. “He needed a secretary and assistant. I needed a change and somebody referred me this way. It was the best decision I ever made.”
In 2005, Shepard was appointed deputy clerk. In that role, she handled a wide variety of duties. She helped with record-keeping; preparing agendas for the City Council and the city’s various committees; serving as recording secretary for the committees; responding to Freedom of Information requests; assisted with the preservation of historical documents and worked on special projects.
“Skills-wise, she’s handled a lot of the writing for various newsletter and journals we have to put out,” said Straz.”She’s been involved in our website, she’s been instrumental in a lot of the innovations we’ve made in the mayor’s office, a lot of the transparency.”
She was also at the frontline with what is perhaps a public servant’s most demanding boss—the public.
“You can imagine some of the calls I get as an alderman,” said Don Bylut of Ward 1. “She gets these times 50. There’s a lot of people who don’t know who their alderman is, they don’t even know we have wards. But they know to call City Hall and ask for the mayor. They get Pat first. She’s always professional and I can guarantee she’s always nice to everybody.”
The same professionalism and helpful temperament was also shown to her colleagues, said Bylut, who admitted to awkwardness in his earliest meetings when he was elected to the City Council. Shepard was always helpful.
“You have to get the feel, the lay of the land,” he said of his period of acclimation to his then-new role as alderman. “The smile never left her face.”
Shepard greeted many of the guests with her 20-month-old granddaughter, Kate Kolar in her arms. Other family at the retirement party included a sister, an aunt and two sons, Craig and Kevin.
“I made the decision six months ago to retire, but you start thinking, debating…did I make the right decision? You start realizing you’re not going to be with these people,” she said.
“But it’s time.”
Shepard, who resides in Tinley Park, has plans for her new life and free time.
“I’m going to take some time to figure out what the next chapter is going to be,” she said.
“My youngest son and his family live in New Mexico, so I’ll be able to visit there more often. I’m going to do things I really enjoy doing: reading, walking—I will be at Lake Katherine quite a bit—sewing and lots of hobbies.”
But it’s no surprise that even though a Chicagoland winter grip hasn’t yet taken its usual brutal hold this year, Shepard has someplace sunny and warm in mind.
“I have a vacation booked already,” she said, admitting with a smile that she’ll be on a beach somewhere.