By Tony Scott
Former U.S. Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert had his day in court this week and local officials in Kendall County say they will wait for a final judgment before deciding what to do with reminders of his legacy in the wake of a federal indictment.
According to the indictment, Hastert agreed to pay $3.5 to a person he knew during his time as a teacher and wrestling coach at Yorkville High School to cover up past misconduct.
In 2012 Hastert was honored at the Historic Kendall County Courthouse in downtown Yorkville with a plaque containing his visage and list of accomplishments.
The plaque, paid for with private donations, hangs in the doorway to a meeting room on the first floor of the courthouse, next to a similar plaque honoring former Kendall County Republican Party Chairman and long-time State’s Attorney Dallas Ingemunson.
The bronze plaque has a bust of Hastert with his name under it and an inscription that reads, “Longest serving Republican Speaker of the United States House of Representatives.” The plaque also contains a list of his accomplishments including the year he coached and taught at Yorkville High School from 1965 to 1981 as well as his time in the state legislature during the 1980s. It also notes his time in Congress from 1986 to 2007 and his tenure as speaker from 1998 to 2007.
Kendall County Board Chairman John Shaw said the plaque would remain for now.
“My theory on this is that he is innocent until proven guilty,” Shaw said. “There have been some people that have asked about that. “Let’s see what happens here, I mean this is truly horrible.”
Shaw said that the allegations are serious and the justice system will determine what happens.
“This is a tragic day not only for the little town of Yorkville but also for this county,” Shaw said. “It’s a sad, sad day.”
He added that he and other donors did contribute money to pay for the plaque but it will be up to the board whether to remove it from the county property.
“It wasn’t that expensive but it was a nice gesture that we do something,” he said. “I mean that courthouse wouldn’t be there like it is if it wasn’t for him. Is it all erased, everything that he did that was right?”
Hastert helped secure federal funding to preserve and refurbish the courthouse, which has stood in place since 1864 and was rebuilt within the same walls after a fire in 1887.
Wrestling club mulling renaming local tourney
Hastert’s legacy as a wrestling coach has been honored with the Yorkville Wrestling Club’s annual invitational known as the Denny Hastert Yorkville Invitational held in January and February.
Chad Smith, president of the club, said last week that the group has considered changing the name but not made a final decision.
“Given all the news and the allegations we thought it prudent to consider a name change but no final determination has been made,” he said. “It has always been one of the best wrestling tournaments in Illinois and we don’t want anything to distract from that.”
Smith confirmed that that parents and local coaches run the program and Hastert isn’t connected to it other than it being named after him.
Smith added that the wrestling season begins in November and if they do change the name the club’s full executive board will likely do it before then.
“But we also believe that everyone gets their day in court as well,” Smith said. “We’ve had that tournament and we know it’s been successful. I know that we’ll continue to have an early spring wrestling tournament and it will be a success.”
Another piece of Hastert’s legacy hangs on the wall in the Oswego High School in the form of a plaque.
In 2011 Hastert was honored along with two other Oswego High School graduates as the first inductees into the SD 308’s Alumni Hall of Fame.
Honored during the district's Blue and White Gala held at Gaslite Manor in Aurora were Rita Bell Garman, class of 1961, Neil Mottinger, class of 1962, and Hastert, class of 1960.
Brian Graves, director of communications for SD 308, said the district has not determined yet if they will remove the plaque or what action they will take.
“There is a plaque over there in recognition of him, acknowledging him,” Graves said. “That (removal) would possibly be a board decision based on policy.”
Park sign remains in prominent spot
Elsewhere, in Oswego, a sign with Hastert’s name on it remains in front of the Oswego Village Police Department.
In 1982 Hastert helped arrange for the State of Illinois to donate the site of a former highway rest area along U.S. Route 34 across from the Fox Bend Golf Course to the Village of Oswego.
Later, in 1986, the village board voted to name the property Hastert Park in appreciation to Hastert for securing a $1.5 million Build Illinois public works grant for the village the previous year. The village built its current police station in 1990-91 on the park property but kept a wooden sign that reads “J. Dennis Hastert Park, Dedicated Dec. 1, 1986.” The sign faces busy Route 34.
Village President Gail Johnson said village officials have yet to consider what, if anything, they’ll do with the sign in the wake of Hastert’s indictment.
“I haven’t had a chance to talk to our staff or the board, but I’m sure it will be discussed at some point,” she said.
Johnson did confirm that some village residents have asked her over the past several days if the village will keep the sign in place.
John Etheredge and Lyle R. Rolfe contributed to this story.