Photo: Joe Didier (center) of Sugar Grove, is the Sugar Grove 2013 Citizen of the Year, taking time to pose with his wife, children and grandchildren. Photo by Kimberly Anderson
SUGAR GROVE—In the minutes before Sugar Grove’s Citizen of the Year was announced at the Corn Boil Friday night, Joe Didier was sitting in a cart with his friend, Karen McCannon, looking around and wondering which “old fogey” was going to win this year.
Village President Sean Michels started describing the recipient, but even as Joe listened to the description, he had no idea that Michels was describing him. And then it hit him.
“I’m looking around as Mr. Mayor was talking about coaching Little League, and then volunteering for the Old Timer’s Committee, and no light bulb came on,” Didier said. “And then he said, ‘This man has an opinion, even if you don’t agree with it all the time,’ and I knew it was me. I turned to Karen and I said, ‘Oh, shoot!’ I never even thought of myself as being that.”
Though Didier was shocked to be named this year’s Citizen of the Year—“I was like a deer in headlights,” he said—it came as no surprise to those who know him.
Didier was independently nominated by three people, Helen Jorgensen, last year’s winner, Karen McCannon and Joan Perrin, none of whom knew the others had also nominated him.
“He’s just been sort of an unsung hero,” Perrin said. “He’s been volunteering wherever things needed to be done around town, and he’s been doing it for very many years. He’s always chaired the Old Timer’s reunion they’ve been having on Corn Boil weekend. Years ago, we had the sesquicentennial (in 1984), and he was the parade chair. At one time, he was a Little League coach and who knows what else. It’s all volunteer, and we need people like that in the community.”
In her nomination letter, Jorgensen said Didier was a “very active and a vital volunteer.”
“I just feel Joe is due this recognition for the many hours he has put in,” she wrote. “He tries to help maintain some of our original ideas and what we tried to accomplish over the years since Corn Boil began, when it was a fun community get-together.”
Didier, who is 70, has lived in Sugar Grove for 45 years. After he retired from the Illinois State Police in 1993, he started filling his time with volunteer activities.
“I always feel like he’s a type A personality, so he needs to keep busy,” said Mary Didier, Joe’s wife. “If you quit doing things, then you just get old.”
And he’s certainly been busy.
Though the Didiers spend a lot of time with their three daughters, their nine grandchildren and their great-grandchild, and though Joe still runs a painting business on the side, he’s found time to take on major roles volunteering for half a dozen community organizations.
He’s spent the last 10 years serving on various Corn Boil committees. As a member of this year’s facilities committee, he put in 80 hours over a five-day setting up the grounds for the Corn Boil, showing up at 7 a.m. last Wednesday to begin putting up posts and fencing, bring in generators and make sure that the park is ready.
“We had some helpers,” Joe said, “but like anything, there’s 25 people on the board and everybody says they’ll help. Come Wednesday morning, there’s just two of us standing there. I just help. I help everybody.”
Joe helped found Sugar Grove’s Senior Center five years ago and serves on the committee, planning events and luncheons for the area’s seniors.
He’s an advisory board member for Sugar Grove’s Community House, though he’s recused himself ever since the board started hiring him to repair things at the center.
He runs the Old Timer’s reunion for every Corn Boil, and he’s a trustee for the Knights of Columbus, a charity that serves adults with intellectual disabilities, at his church, Holy Angels in Aurora. The Didiers have belonged to Holy Angels for 47 years—long before St. Katharine Drexel opened in Sugar Grove—and Joe helps the parish’s Knights of Columbus with various functions. He’s run the free throw shooting contest and helped out with the pancake breakfasts, and he goes and prays outside Planned Parenthood in Aurora once a month.
“You put a lot of hours in, but at least you’re doing it for a worthy cause,” he said.
Joe also regularly shows up to comment at Village Board meetings, which is why Michels jokingly mentioned Joe’s opinions in his speech.
“The reason the mayor said that is because I only go to Village Board meetings to yell at the board for not letting businesses come in,” Joe said with a laugh. “I talked about the water park, the McDonald’s, video poker for the American Legion. That’s where the mayor was coming from when he said you may not agree with me, but I’ll say what I think.”
Although Mary knew about the nomination for a week—she had to make sure their children and grandchildren were there to watch Joe accept the Citizen of the Year Award—she managed to keep the secret from her husband.
“We did a good job keeping it quiet,” she said. “He was shocked, absolutely deer-in-headlights shocked. The kids got some good pictures of when they were announcing it. His expression was dumbfounded, just jaw-dropped. A lot of the people have told him that he really deserved it because he volunteers so much.”
Perrin said that’s why she nominated Joe in the first place.
“He’s always very congenial, always has a big smile on his face,” Perrin said. “It’s his volunteerism as much as anything. (He’s) always looking to get involved. (He’s) not looking for a pat on the back. So many people, if they aren’t getting paid, they aren’t doing it. If people like him don’t get involved and grab the horn, so to speak, things don’t get done.”