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News

Morris loses political patriarch

James R. “Bud” Washburn, who died early today, served as mayor of Morris from 1981 to 1993. (Photo Provided)
James R. “Bud” Washburn, who died early today, served as mayor of Morris from 1981 to 1993. (Photo Provided)

A state political leader who returned to become mayor of his hometown, James R. &#8220Bud” Washburn, 86, died early today. After serving 10 years in the Illinois House, Washburn returned to Morris in 1981 and was elected mayor, serving three terms. City Clerk John Enger, who served on the city council with Mayor Washburn and then as clerk under him, said Washburn changed Morris with the institution of the Tax Increment Financing District. In 1986, Morris became one of the earlier communities in the state to adopt a TIF District. The TIF provided the city with revenues needed to upgrade the infrastructure, a process that continues to this day. During the 1980s and early 1990s, the city undertook a series of projects to separate the storm and sanitary sewers in the older parts of the city. This brought the city into compliance with the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency and largely eliminated flooding caused when the combination sewers would back up into basements. In 1991, the city built a treatment facility to remove naturally occurring radium from the drinking water, one of the first towns in the state to undertake this type of project. Washburn also oversaw the upgrade of the Morris Municipal Airport, when the runway was extended from 2,900 feet to 4,000 feet. The runway is now being extended to 5,000 feet. Mayor Richard Kopczick said he knew Mayor Washburn through their families, but not through politics or elected office. &#8220He and my father were great friends. They were both ex-Marines,” the current mayor said. &#8220I always respected him,” Mayor Kopczick said, adding the city continues to build on what Washburn started. A native of Morris, Washburn attended local schools, North Central College and the University of Illinois. He entered the United States Marines in 1942, and served as a pilot aboard an aircraft carrier in the Pacific during World War II. He attained the rank of major. After the war, he returned to Morris and was elected Grundy County treasurer. In 1966, he was elected to the Illinois House of Representa-tives and served a total of 10 years. During that period, he served as chairman of the House Appropriations Commit-tee and leader for the Republicans in the House. &#8220He enjoyed being mayor,” Enger said, &#8220but it was in the legislature where he got along as well with many Democrats as Republicans.” Enger said Washburn was able to work with the Chicago Republicans, who were really Democrats, and they were able to get things done. He was good friends with several Chicago Democrats, Enger said, including Jesse White, current Illinois Secretary of State. During that period, the Illinois House was elected on a cumulative basis. Three candidates were elected to the House from each district, with two from one party and the third from the other party. In Chicago, this meant two Democrats were elected from each district, but the elected Republican, was actually a Democrat. After leaving the Illinois House, Washburn was named director of the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs. He held this position for three years and, in 1978, was named Man of the Year by 13 statewide veteran's organizations. In 1981, he was elected mayor and became the city's first full-time mayor. When he took office, Morris was operating with little money, but he was able to balance the budget. He was able to get more than $7 million in federal and state funding for local projects. In 1993, Washburn sought a fourth term as mayor, but was defeated by Robert Feeney.

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