When Jerry Webster entered the Army, he spent the next three years in Germany and Korea as a combat engineer specializing in explosives, which meant, he says, “They let me blow things up!” Another mission was building a road over a mountain in Korea, intended to serve as a bridge during flood season.
Those skills are still handy. Webster, who last week was elected president of the watchdog group Citizens United in Forest Park, is once more in the business of building bridges and, occasionally, handling explosives of a different type. An early member of CUinFP, Webster has been around to observe many village battles, starting with the debated over development of the Roos property on Harrison.
A big, soft-spoken man with gray hair, a gray beard and a hearty laugh, Webster has been a Forest Parker for about 16 years. The 62-year-old native of Battle Creek Michigan – “Yes, there’s Kellogg’s, but don’t forget Post!” he jokes – grew up mostly in Bensenville. He sees his role in CUinFP as setting the agenda to reflect citizen concerns, and to help the group “get back to doing some of the things we used to do – holding informational meetings, and with elections coming up, candidate forums, too.”
He describes the difference between a public servant and a politician: “The politician is out to promote his own career,” Webster says, while he notes that a public servant works toward the greater good.
Despite the election connection, Webster emphasizes: “We are not a political group – we are interested getting information out about issues, not candidates.”
He will not comment publicly on Mayor Anthony Calderone, who had appointed Webster to Forest Park’s recreation board. Of that post, Webster says only: “It was the recreation board; it oversees the village parks, not the big park which is run by the park district. Yes, I was on it for five years.”
Webster’s demeanor is calm but intense. During an interview in Starbucks just as the tremendous thunderstorm struck Friday afternoon, he remained totally focused on questions about his new role. The storm drew the attention of every other customer – but not Jerry Webster.
He proudly listed some of CUinFP’s accomplishments in its seven-year existence: pushing for the ethics ordinance – something new to the village, he says – and holding meetings to give residents input on building developments and teardowns.
Webster and his wife, Cecile, have an adult daughter, Shannon. He has worked as a machinist, but ended his career as a process server, and now spends his time reading and “using the computer way too much.”
As CUinFP president, Webster succeeds Karen Rozmus, who is still on the board. The other three board members are Bill Gertz, Amanda O’Connor, and Gwen Crayton. According to Rozmus, “we’re all kind of vice-presidents” but there are specific duties divided among the four veeps. Rozmus herself will be handling communication and press releases. O’Connor, she said, will be in charge of outreach and seeking to increase membership, as well as “focusing on partnerships with other community groups like Friends of the Parks.”
Rozmus is excited about helping continue what she called CUinFP’s core mission of creating awareness and involvement in local issues, and going about it by, among other things, promoting voter registration and holding candidate forums.