ROCK FALLS – In late 2012, Tony Arduini stepped down as the longtime Whiteside County Board chairman, but he couldn't leave county government entirely.
It was his life.
Arduini, 92, died Tuesday in his Rock Falls home. He served nearly a half century on the County Board – more than two decades as its chairman.
The loyal Democrat hadn't attended a board meeting in months, although he showed up for some committee sessions.
"He was a man with a big heart and a good sense of humor," member Bill McGinn, D-Sterling, said in an interview. "He was a legend in the county. He'll be missed by Democrats and Republicans."
In recent years, Arduini was hospitalized a number of times, but he stayed on top of county business.
In 2012, he decided to run again for his Rock Falls seat, but privately told others that he would step down as chairman. Shortly after his re-election, he announced his intentions publicly.
"I think it's time to quit," he said in a Sauk Valley Media interview.
The board elected Jim Duffy, D-Sterling, as his replacement and selected Arduini as the vice chairman.
"I miss him. He reminded me of my dad," said County Clerk Dana Nelson, who takes minutes of board meetings. "He was so knowledgeable and up to date on everything. He was pretty no-nonsense."
That "pretty no-nonsense style" kept meetings under Arduini rolling along. Colleagues joked that Arduini picked up the pace when his beloved Cubs were on TV that night.
Arduini, a retired used car salesman, joined the board in 1965. Before that, he spent a dozen years as a justice of the peace, a position eliminated in the mid-1960s.
In September 2012, the County Board surprised Arduini by honoring him as the longest-tenured county board member in Illinois. The ceremony was attended by his wife, Arlene, and other family.
He also received a proclamation from Gov. Pat Quinn, designating the day as Tony Arduini Day.
"I'm glad we all get along once in a while," he joked. "We've done well over the years. I'm proud of you."
After others praised him, the chairman returned to his no-nonsense style.
"I'm learning more about myself," he said. "Now, can we get back to work?"
Alderman Glen Kuhlemier, a two-time Rock Falls mayor, crossed paths with Arduini just prior to his first mayoral term that began in 1983. Over the years, Kuhlemier admired Arduini's passion for the communities he served.
"Tony was one of the most dedicated public servants I've ever seen," Kuhlemier said. "His heart and soul has always been Whiteside County."
Kuhlemier worked with Arduini on many issues that crossed city and county lines, including the enterprise zone, ambulance service, and the landfill.
"It was always really easy working with him," the Second Ward alderman said. "He wasn't very vocal, but he still let you know if he didn't agree with something."
Kuhlemier understands as well as anyone how difficult it can be to weather decades of political storms.
"It's easy for people to say 'throw the old rascals out' if they are unhappy with local government," Kuhlemier said. "Experience is so important, and Tony's experience and expertise will be sorely missed."
Another former Rock Falls mayor, David Blanton, met Arduini more than 30 years ago. Blanton and Jim Arduini, Tony's brother, were running for Rock Falls City Council. The trio helped each other with their campaigns. Early on, Blanton said he realized what a caring person Tony was.
"He just loved his community, and he wanted to make it the best place possible for everyone," Blanton said.
Whether or not you agreed with him, Blanton said, Arduini earned the respect of most.
"He was always fair, and he stood up for what he thought was in the best interests of the community," Blanton said.
Blanton visited Arduini often, right up until the last time the former board chairman was hospitalized. He enjoyed their chats that always included family and politics.
"We've lost a great community leader," Blanton said. "He'll be missed not just for his public service, but on a personal level as well."
Arduini is survived by his wife, three children, 28 grandchildren and many great-grandchildren.
Visitation will be from 4 to 7 p.m. Thursday at St. Andrew Catholic Church in Rock Falls. The Mass of Christian Burial will be at 10:30 a.m. Friday at the church.