Former Urbana mayor, longtime legislator dies

Former Urbana mayor, longtime legislator dies

URBANA – Stanley B. Weaver, 78, a longtime Republican state senator and former mayor of Urbana, died at 10 p.m. Tuesday at his home.

Few people in public life engender the kind of reverence that Weaver had among colleagues and friends who knew him. Through 10 terms in the Senate, opponents couldn't come close to unseating him. Both in his elections and in the Senate, Weaver prevailed without costly campaigns and grand speeches but with quiet authority and an intimate knowledge of the players and procedure.

"There'll never be another Stan Weaver," said his successor and protege, Sen. Rick Winkel, R-Champaign.

Winkel now literally sits in Weaver's chair in his Senate office. He uses Weaver's desk and credenza there, too.

"There's not a day I don't think of him," Winkel said. "Try as I might, I'll never be him. He was a man who let his actions speak. He wasn't a flamboyant man or given to thunderous speeches. But he got so much done for us. If there was anything I learned from Stan, it's not about us, it's about the community and the people we serve."

Sometimes called "Landslide Stan" for his invincibility at the polls, Weaver was elected mayor of Urbana three times, the first in 1956; he served one term as a state representative and 10 as a state senator, announcing his retirement in December 2001.

Born in Harrisburg on May 23, 1925, Weaver attended Urbana schools, where he played football at Urbana High School and graduated in 1943. He went to Michigan State and the University of Illinois, and graduated from the Indiana College of Mortuary Science.

He served in the Army Air Force during World War II in the Pacific, earning five battle stars. He was a member of the crew that flew peace delegates to the Tokyo ceremonies ending the war.

He was the sole owner of Weaver Memorial Chapel funeral home when, in 1956, Cunningham Township Assessor Larry Taylor told him he was going to start passing petitions for Weaver in the Urbana mayoral election.

"I never said no," Weaver recalled years later.

During his tenure as mayor, the old city building was razed and a new one built. Nearly nine blocks of downtown Urbana were cleared for the Lincoln Square development, the first indoor shopping mall in downstate Illinois. During his time as mayor, and later as a state legislator, Weaver continued to work full time as a funeral director.

He and former Champaign County Coroner Tom Henderson operated the Weaver-Henderson Funeral Home in Urbana.

In the Senate, Weaver was famous for his support of the UI.

He helped bring an estimated $1.1 billion worth of construction projects to the university since 1970, as measured by UI officials. Earlier this year, a scholarship was named in Weaver's honor.

Dozens of area governments are grateful to Weaver for various park grants, road projects and other help he has provided their communities.

Former Urbana Mayor Jeff Markland remembered first meeting Weaver at the old Race Inn restaurant on Race Street in downtown Urbana. Markland's father had a paint store downtown. Weaver and Markland's father were part of the group known as "Chickens Come to Roost," that had their own spot reserved for coffee each morning.

"He was one of the leaders, as a young kid and later as a young adult, you looked up to. As I got involved in politics, he was a mentor both as a former mayor himself, then as a leader in Springfield, he was the one everyone was still talking about. When I became mayor, he was a leader in Springfield.

"He was a man you wanted to have in your corner."

Markland recalled that when he was mayor, the city was trying to get Illinois 130 moved from its route through the city of Urbana to University Avenue.

"We had a plan, money set aside, everything. It was still going to be six or seven years to get the state to move on it. We thought of calling Stan. He was over at the funeral home at the time. He came over, looked at the plans, and said he thought he could help us.

"He made a call, talked about five minutes to a friend and came back and said, 'It's done.' I thought he meant moved up on the state's priority list and he said, 'No Jeff, it's done.' That's the kind of influence he had."

Kirk Hard worked with Weaver daily through most of the 1980s and 1990s as the UI's legislative liaison and later as head of state relations. Weaver's office in the Senate building was usually Hard's office as well.

"It was a privilege watching him work. He was a real hero of mine, a great man," Hard said. "There are no politicians left like him, selfless, never promoting himself. He taught me how the legislative process was supposed to work, and how it did work."

For most of his Senate career, Weaver was the ranking Republican on the Senate Rules Committee, gatekeeper of what got voted on and what didn't. Politicians from both sides of the aisle, lobbyists of every stripe and friendly newspaper reporters knew their way to his office.

"We spent a lot of time playing cards and talking," Hard said. "He exerted tremendous control of the process, exerting his influence on a lot of bills even if his name wasn't on it. And of course he did a lot for the UI that wasn't on the radar screen at all, even when he got a lot of abuse from his own party for it."

When industrialist Arnold Beckman gave the UI $50 million to build a building in the late 1980s, he wanted it done in 18 months. Former President Stanley Ikenberry said no problem. And went to Weaver. To build the Beckman Institute, the UI needed private land, and to get the private land, they needed so-called quick-take authority, an accelerated eminent domain procedure.

"It was very controversial, locally and in the Legislature. It wasn't easy, but Stan got it done and the institute got built in time," Hard recalled.

Similarly, former Champaign Mayor Virgil Wikoff, who also served in the House while Weaver was in the Senate, recalled Weaver's influence in getting a special state appropriation of more than $900,000 from state lottery money after NCAA sanctions penalized the UI Athletic Association over a highly contested case.

"Gov. Thompson came over in a helicopter and signed that bill. That was all a credit to Stan," Wikoff said. "Stan loved the university like no one else."

Several people remarked on the timing of Weaver's death – as the UI Board of Trustees prepares to vote Thursday on whether to retire Chief Illiniwek.

Winkel sponsored in the House and Weaver in the Senate the bill that would have bound the UI to maintain Chief Illiniwek. It passed both chambers overwhelmingly, but then-Gov. Jim Edgar changed the wording to give trustees the authority to retire the chief, which they will vote on Thursday.

"If they do pass this thing to retire the chief, Stan would be glad he's not here to see it," Wikoff said.

Likewise, Winkel said, Weaver was from an era when the idea of retiring the chief would never have been thought of, much less openly advocated.

"Interesting timing, isn't it? No one did more for the UI than him," Winkel said. "We're really going to miss his wisdom. Every bit of advice, action, piece of counsel. He'll be missed."

Funeral arrangements were incomplete at Renner-Wikoff Chapel, 1900 S. Philo Road, Urbana.

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