We asked Matt Davidson, the former Legislative Director for the Illinois Municipal League for his thoughts on B.J. Hackler. Here is what he shared with us.
When former St. Joseph Mayor and Village Trustee B.J. Hackler passed, I lost one of my best friends and St. Joseph and Champaign County lost one of its biggest cheerleaders. He worked tirelessly in his life to make his village, region, and state better.
I always thought that his many years serving as a barber/beautician gave him great insights for being an elected official. Every day he knew what was important to his constituents because he received instant and unfiltered feedback from his customers.
I first met him when I served as the Director of Governmental Affairs for the Illinois Department of Transportation. Former Illinois State Representative Tim Johnson, who later recommended B.J. for a federal commission, called to see if we would review a road issue for St. Joseph. We made the trip over to St. Joseph and met with B.J. I came away impressed with the way he pushed for his village but did it in a very positive manner where you wanted to help if possible. In short, it quickly became evident that he was good at working with people and solving problems.
A few years later, I became the Director of Legislative Affairs for the Illinois Municipal League (IML). B.J. was on our board and later became the IML President. During my time there, we established a New Legislator Outreach Program to meet newly elected legislators, get to know them and acclimate them on the importance of local government. Former Champaign area Illinois State Senator Mike Frerichs was one we met with. He and his aide met us at Garcia’s Pizza prior to a Fighting Illini Basketball game. B.J. later relayed to me that Senator Frerichs sent him a letter sometime after that meeting and congratulated him on becoming or being re-elected a Republican Precinct Committeeman. B.J. was a staunch Republican just like Senator Frerichs was a solid Democrat but also realized when elections were over people had to work together to get things accomplished.
Another IML memory involved some legislation that presented an opportunity to help his village. The pending legislation was a fire caucus initiative that had been worked on for a considerable amount of time and had already passed the Illinois House. With St. Joseph being located right along the interstate, their local EMT service responded to many calls along the highway. He asked if it would be possible to add a provision to allow for his EMT service to recoup some of their costs. We went to meet with the late Senator George Shadid who was the Senate sponsor. Senator Shadid asked what was on my mind and I told him. He asked why he shouldn’t do it. I said to know a guy like Mayor Hackler is to like him. Said he is a solid Republican just like you are a solid Democrat, but you two have a lot in common. If you knew each other, you would get along beautifully. Senator Shadid said I can’t think of any reason not to do it. An amendment was added late in the legislative process, it passed the Senate, the House followed suit and was enacted into law.
Each year the IML hosted an annual convention. My brother-in-law was a former city councilman where I grew up. I still remember he and my sister coming to the convention and introducing them to many people from across the state. After the convention ended, they both said that of all the elected officials they had met that B.J. was one who absolutely stood out.
Finally, many Mayors across the state really enjoyed seeing B.J. at the many mayoral meetings and other events. He developed some solid relationships that lasted long after he left public office. Stan Weaver, the late Illinois State Senator from Champaign, spoke softly but carried a big stick. B.J. did too. He worked hard for his beliefs and his village benefited greatly from his efforts at the local, state, and national levels.
On a personal level, we had so many common interests. My only brother and his wife lived for a few years in St. Joseph. I will miss our conversations about St. Joseph, government, politics, the IML, Illini basketball and football, the Indy 500, and meeting for breakfast at El Toro, Cracker Barrel and lunch at Roch’s. It is fitting that the last two times I saw him we went to the ServPro cookout for the Vermilion Advantage (Danville Chamber) and breakfast at Cracker Barrel. I will always carry forward special memories of St. Joseph and the fine man they recently lost. It is only fitting that his Celebration of Life will be held at B.J. Hackler Park.