Longtime Joliet plan commissioner was dedicated to city
By Denise M. Baran-Unland Correspondent May 12, 2013 8:36PM
Updated: June 14, 2013 6:07AM
It’s no surprise that Al Wilhelmi knew the name of every street in Joliet.
In the 99 years before his April 24 death, Mr. Wilhelmi lived on several, was employed on several and eventually oversaw the growth and development of all the city’s streets.
Yet his fascination with streets began long before the naming of Al Wilhelmi Drive or his 1964 appointment to the newly formed Joliet Planning Commission, where he served as chairman for more than 31 years.
In the early part of the 20th Century, Mr. Wilhelmi’s father, John, drove a steamroller for the city of Joliet, with young Al riding along on occasional paving jobs, according to Mr. Wilhelmi’s son Allan.
“I can remember my grandfather at age 75, with a pipe in his mouth, driving a roller right on Chicago Street and putting on another layer of blacktop,” Allan said.
Mr. Wilhelmi lived on Nicholson Street until 1927 when his parents moved to 817 Mason Ave. In 1933, he graduated from Joliet Township High School and began working as a stock clerk for Barrett’s Hardware on Ottawa Street.
A few years later, Barrett’s added a wholesale company at Henderson Avenue and Jackson Street and Mr. Wilhelmi went to work for it. In 1938, another employee, John Alden, began Alden Auto Supply right next door and brought Mr. Wilhelmi with him as a salesman to outlying communities.
In the early 1950s, Alden sold his business, and the new owner named it Joliet Auto Supply. Before the end of the decade, several of its employees, Mr. Wilhelmi included, bought it. Mr. Wilhelmi remained with Joliet Auto Supply until he retired in 1979.
Although he was not athletically inclined, Mr. Wilhelmi became a coach in the Rivals Park Little League because Allan began playing baseball. He also solicited additional sponsors to grow the number of teams from six to 12 and got donations of materials so the league could have an announcer’s booth and concessions stand.
Before the decade ended, Mr. Wilhelmi had moved his wife Mildred and sons Allan and Richard to Bevan Drive, then a remote part of Joliet’s West Side. By the time Mayor Maurice Berlinsky appointed him to the planning commission, Mr. Wilhelmi’s reputation in the city was solid.
“He was not a glad-hander kind of guy. He was just down to business and a strong stickler for the rules,” Allan said. “Even when he was making life difficult for the developers, they always knew he was fair.”
As Mr. Wilhelmi became busier, he had little time for his hobby of racing pigeons, an interest that begun in boyhood. Allan recalls his father talking about putting crates of pigeons onto railroad cars destined for parts of Iowa and Nebraska for 500-mile races. At the destination, the pigeons would be turned loose to find their way home.
“When we lived on William Street, I remember him sitting on the porch and shaking a can of corn to lure them into the coop,” Allan said. “Then he would take the band off and put it into a clock and pull the lever to stamp the time on the band. At the next meeting, they’d find out who won.”
Contact Denise M. Baran-Unland at 815-467-5249 or email@example.com.