Chesterton Tribune



Former Clerk-Treasurer Gayle Polakowski dies at 67

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Gayle Polakowski, who for 25 years served the Town of Chesterton faithfully as its Clerk-Treasurer, died on Friday after a lengthy illness.

She was 67.

Yet to say that Polakowski was the town’s Clerk-Treasurer, even to say that she served as such for fully a quarter of a century, is mostly to miss the point. Polakowski was the hinge on which Chesterton made its pivot from 20th-century small town to 21st-century municipality. She kept the books clean and apple-pie. Town Council members came and went, department heads too, but she was a rock, Chesterton’s institutional memory. At times she was a mother hen to department heads in need of chivvying. At all times she was a polite but firm voice of moral authority.

Incredibly, preserved in the Chesterton Tribune’s archives are only three stories about Polakowski.

The first, dated May 27, 1980, announces her installation as National President of the Beta Gamma Upsilon sorority.

The second, dated April 27, 1987, introduces her to the town’s voters, as a candidate for the Republican nomination for Clerk-Treasurer. According to former Trib reporter Jim Hale, Polakowski disagreed with her opponent, William Darstek, on the proper role of clerk-treasurer. Darstek said the clerk-treasurer “should have input into policy and may sometimes ‘have to stand up to the Town Board.’” Polakowski’s position at the time will surprise no one who knew her as a by-the-book type: “Polakowski described the job as being greatly determined by town and state rules.”

The third and final story, dated June 20, 1990, reports Polakowski to be the 1990 recipient of the Athena Award, presented by the Duneland Chamber of Commerce. The name of that honor has since been changed to Duneland Distinguished Woman.

The Trib’s archives do include one remarkable document: a resume which Polakowski must have presented to Hale at the time he interviewed her in 1987. It goes back as far as 1960-64, when she attended and graduated CHS. Who still remembers that during those years she worked, first as a car hop, then a teletray operator, and finally at the fountain of Riggs’ Drive-Inn on South Calumet Road?

Who even knew that--for two years--she attended the Ray Vogue School of Dress Design in Chicago? In the summers she clerked at Inland Steel, then scored a full-time job there until 1969, when she went to work for the Arcata Microfilm Company.

Polakowski began making her mark in the community a few years later, in 1979, when she accepted the position as the Building Fund Secretary for the Duneland Family YMCA. In 1984 she became secretary and bookkeeper for the Westchester Chamber of Commerce and was working there when she first ran for Clerk-Treasurer, “at the urging of numerous supporters,” as Hale wrote in his story.

Polakowski was a mom too. Long before anyone had heard of soccer moms, she was one, and for many years a member as well of the Chesterton Soccer Club. She was also an assistant Brownie leader and served on the board of the Chapter I Program at Bailly Elementary and on that of the Parent Advisory Group.

And she was a Chesterton-Porter Rotary Club stalwart.

Polakowski came of age in an America where it was still unusual for women to become fully active, participatory, influential members of their community. But she did so with great grace.

She will be missed.

Chuck Lukmann, who served as Town Attorney during the entirety of Polakowski’s tenure as Clerk-Treasurer, knew her as well as anyone in the community. “Gayle was the epitome of a public servant, friend, and Chestertonian,” he told the Tribune today. “Personally, I have never enjoyed working with anyone as much as Gayle. She will be missed by all.”

Stephanie Kuziela, who succeeded Polakowski as Clerk-Treasurer, has this “favorite memory” of her. “I was working with her on the town’s budget two years ago,” Kuziela said. “I had a million questions as to what the purpose of certain funds was and what the required allocation was. Every day I spent working on the budget, I’d end up calling her at least 10 times. She knew every answer and was an excellent and patient teacher. I am very grateful to have had her as my mentor. Gayle’s love and passion for the town was inspiring. One of my greatest challenges is to fill the shoes that she left behind.”

Town Council Member Sharon Darnell, D-4th, has this to say about Polakowski’s integrity: “When I got into office in 2000, I was told, ‘You’re the only Democrat, be careful.’ They couldn’t have been more wrong. She was not only an associate and a colleague. She was a peer. And she became a teacher. And she became a friend. I don’t know if I deserved that. She was all of those things.”

“She could have taught a class on dignity,” Darnell added. “And we all should have taken it.”

Arrangements have not yet been announced.

Polakowski is survived by her husband, John; and her two children, Erik and Sara. Polakowski was a proud grandmother.


Posted 8/18/2014