John Schoeberlein, who served as Vienna’s steady-as-you-go town manager for 26 years before retiring in May 2011, died May 30 at age 74.
Schoeberlein collapsed while doing yard work and could not be revived by rescue personnel, said his wife, Julie, whom he married in June 1969.
Schoeberlein was a respected leader and well-liked by town residents and staff, said Bill Murray, a retired master police officer with the Vienna Police Department.
“He did what was right, even when it was difficult,” Murray said. “His door was always open and he was easily approachable. I enjoyed being around him and would frequently sit and chat with him in the early morning hours at Town Hall. He was funny and blunt and I loved that about him.”
Born in Aurora, Ill., Schoeberlein graduated from Lake Forest College near Chicago. He served as county administrator in Winnebago, Ill., city manager and assistant city manager in Pompano Beach, Fla., and city clerk in Highland Park, Ill., before becoming Vienna’s town manager in April 1985.
Schoeberlein oversaw about 175 employees and laid off none of them during his tenure, the result of what he said were careful spending policies.
“When times are really good, we don’t overspend or go overboard,” he told the Sun Gazette after announcing his impending retirement in November 2010. “We try to be very level through good times and bad. By being conservative in budget and management, we’ve been able to avoid layoffs.”
Schoeberlein’s main policy: Treat people equally and deal with them in an honest, forthright and respectful manner.
“It doesn’t matter whether they’re citizens, employees or members of Council,” he said. “You must give people the opportunity to speak their mind and not show any favoritism. I learned a long time ago that the person you talk to today with a complaint might be your boss tomorrow.”
During his tenure, the town government built a new police station, the Northside public-works facility, Town Green, Sarah Mercer Park and Vienna dog park; performed renovations at Town Hall and the Vienna Community Center; and commissioned streetscape improvements along Maple Avenue and Church Street, including period street lamps and brick sidewalks.
Schoeberlein also had to tackle crises that cropped up. Northeast Vienna residents in 2003 raised hackles about noise and odors emanating from a mulch-grinding facility. The town ameliorated the problem, but some residents still would like to see the facility removed and a park created in its stead.
A Fourth of July fireworks malfunction in 2007 injured numerous people seriously and led to a spate of lawsuits, including a $4.75 million settlement three years later with a Vienna woman who had suffered burns, shrapnel wounds and brain injuries.
Sometimes problems stemmed from staffing issues.
“Personnel problems crop up from time to time,” Schoeberlein said. “They take the most out of you as a manager.”
Council members who served with Schoeberlein marveled at how he satisfied a rotating band of elected officials.
“Historically, it is a person’s ability to weather those changes on Council that determines how long they keep that job,” said former Council member Michael Polychrones. “That’s a testament to how he’s been our manager all these years.”
Schoeberlein was a “principled individual and a man of great integrity and he did not appreciate when other folks he came in contact [with] were not,” Polychrones said.
When Polychrones as vice mayor led the town in fall 1999 after Mayor Charles Robinson’s health began to fail (he died in January 2000), Schoeberlein provided a “steadying influence” to help him fulfill his duties, Polychrones said.
“I remember sitting in his office at Town Hall and saying, ‘OK, now I really don’t know what I’m doing,’” Polychrones recalled. “To which he replied, ‘Don’t worry, neither does anybody when they are first elected. Just do what you think is right and all will be OK.”
Former Council member Edythe Kelleher told the Sun Gazette in fall 2010 that she has sensed Schoeberlein was about to retire when he removed his Blenko glass collection and an old Wrigley Field seat from his office.
Schoeberlein guided the town through many technological changes and ably communicated with the Council, staff and residents, Kelleher said. Not everyone agreed with his replies, but they always knew Schoeberlein was “thoughtful, fair and responsive to them,” she said.
During his retirement, Schoeberlein and his wife enjoyed playing bridge and visiting Caribbean islands, including Puerto Rico, St. Thomas and the Dominican Republic.
Schoeberlein did not like belonging to groups, but was a lifelong member of a long-suffering contingent: Chicago Cubs fans. Family friends had season tickets, so the Schoeberleins always were able to obtain seats if they wished to see a game.
“He had autographed drawing of the 1969 Cubs,” his wife said of the team that was in first place for 155 games that season, then lost the pennant to the New York Mets. “When you’re heart’s broken, you’ve got to have a reminder.”
After retiring, Schoeberlein continued to live in Vienna. In addition to his wife, he is survived by their son, Adam Schoeberlein of Vienna, and one grandson.
Schoeberlein will be cremated and there will be no formal funeral, at his insistence, his wife said. Those who wish to make donations should do so to the charity of their choice, she said.