RANTOUL – The mayor who provided leadership to Rantoul during the closure of Chanute Air Force Base is moving away from the village.
Katy Podagrosi said she and her husband, Ernie, are moving to Tifton, Ga., (about 60 miles from the Florida border) to be closer to her daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren.
"My son-in-law is a civil engineer for Heatcraft in Danville, and they are closing in the coming months," Podagrosi said. "His job is moving to Tifton, Ga., and they are the only family we have left here."
She added that Ernie, who is incapacitated, will need other family members nearby to help care for him.
"It will be nice to have family members to stay with him as I go shopping or whatever," Podagrosi said.
Podagrosi has been a fixture in Rantoul for nearly five decades. When she moved to the village from Georgia in 1960, Chanute Air Force Base was near its peak.
"My husband was in the military, and he had overseas assignments right away," Podagrosi said. "I was home raising the kids and getting them started in school."
A journalist who won awards for a story about a baby who died of sudden infant death syndrome, Podagrosi served as the editor for The Rantoul Press from 1967 to 1975, chronicling the lives of the families in the military-based community.
Years later, she would use her journalistic skills to write a history book, "Eye of the Storm: Chanute Closes," a first-hand account of Rantoul's painful transition from Air Force town to industrial community.
After leaving the Rantoul Press, Podagrosi served as the executive director of the Armed Services YMCA.
In 1984, Podagrosi was appointed as mayor of Rantoul, a post she held for 12-and-a-half years.
Mayor Neal Williams said that a plaque will soon be dedicated at the Forum Fitness Center to recognize Podagrosi's contributions to Rantoul.
"Katy meant a great deal to the village," Williams said. "She was very instrumental in trying to keep the base open. Katy was always our go-to person."
During her tenure as mayor, Rantoul built a new police station and wastewater treatment plant and attracted a major new employer, Eagle Wings Industries.
But Podagrosi may best be remembered for her leadership after Dec. 29, 1988, when the Pentagon announced Chanute would close.
"We had trying times, but the threat of closure brought our community closer together than ever before," Podagrosi said. "Dealing with the federal government, especially the Air Force, was like pulling teeth."
Just minutes after the Rantoul Village Board voted to create a village administrator position in 1996, Podagrosi resigned as mayor.
"I will miss my good friends, and I will miss the community," Podagrosi said. "A part of me will always be in Rantoul."