Welcome to McHenry County's Finest, the Northwest Herald's new monthly Q&A series that will highlight area influencers – the people who have made the most impact, particularly behind the scenes, in our community.
We will be publishing a cover story featuring these neighborhood figures once a month.
Our first installment brings you Bob and Rosemary Blazier.
Married for 69 years, Bob and Rosemary Blazier still are active across McHenry County. Catch them out in the world, and you’ll likely find them holding hands or arm in arm.
Bob Blazier, 91, is a former superintendent of Crystal Lake Elementary School District 47, a former Crystal Lake Chamber of Commerce president and a former vice president of marketing and education for Northern Illinois Medical Center in McHenry (now Centegra Hospital – McHenry).
He helped found the Centegra Foundation, Raue Center for the Arts Foundation, McHenry County College Foundation and more.
Rosemary Blazier, 90, is a former physical education teacher and counselor in District 47, former president of the Service League of Crystal Lake and former religious education instructor at St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic Church, among many other positions. She helped found the first American Cancer Society 24-hour Walk/Run Against Cancer, now Relay For Life, in Illinois.
The Blaziers welcomed the Northwest Herald into their home for an interview.
In the living room are shelves full of books. Upstairs are hundreds of records and CDs. In the basement is a Yamaha drum kit where Bob Blazier sometimes wears headphones and plays along to his favorite tunes.
Here’s a snippet of a conversation with Bob Blazier:
Ed Komenda: Someone told me the best advice they ever received came from you: “Give back to your community.” Can you tell me about that philosophy?
Bob Blazier: It’s reciprocity. I still do my workshops for the bank. I do all the in-house programs. I just finished one on ethics. I did another one on cyberbullying – things that affect people in the service industry. A lot of it is seeing ways to pay back. Even opening a door for someone and smiling might make their day better. Most people often forget what the community has done for them, no matter how small it is. So you’ve just got to give back. It pays off. I used to tell bus drivers: “If on Monday morning a 7-year-old has saved you a piece of their birthday cake, you’re a good bus driver.” It’s as simple as that.
Komenda: What advice would you have for people navigating McHenry County politics?
Blazier: Think before you speak. What happens so often in local politics is people’s egos get the better of their good judgment. Then they do things before they think.
Komenda: How did you two meet?
Blazier: We were sophomores in college (Western Illinois University). We dated for three years and got married a week after we graduated. We just had our 69th wedding anniversary. It’s been a good marriage. When we got married, I got a job in Jacksonville, Illinois, as a P.E. teacher and coach, and she didn’t have a job yet. We moved there, and they heard that she was a P.E. teacher, too, at the school for the deaf. They called her and offered her a job, too. That doubled our income. I was making $2,950, and she was booked at $3,000, so she got a better job than I did. She reminded me a few times that she was the breadwinner.
Komenda: Who are your heroes?
Blazier: I admired musicians. When I was a sophomore in high school in Kewanee, we got on the train – sophomore biology students came up to Chicago to go to this Field Museum on a Saturday. I had a friend who was a very good student but also a disaffiliate, and he said, “You know who’s at the Chicago Theatre when we’re up there? Gene Krupa’s band.” Gene Krupa was a drummer. This guy’s name was Dick, and he said, “We could sneak out and go down to the Chicago Theatre for a show and get back before they miss us.” And I thought, “God, uh – OK.” Three of us ran down, and I’d never been to a theater in Chicago. We got to see a live jazz performance, ran back, missed a lot of what happened and faked it. That was my first introduction to live jazz.
Komenda: You joked you were the first “nonreader” to graduate college. When did you become a reader?
Blazier: I actually had a major in English. I had a minor in journalism. I was a columnist at Western Illinois’ newspaper. We’ve always been readers. A lot of different stuff. [I’ve been] a fan of jazz and a drummer since I was a little kid, so we have a pretty good collection of books on jazz and history of jazz, biographies. I’ve got about 700 CDs upstairs and 1,000 LPs that nobody wants. They’re streaming everything now.
Komenda: What do you get out of listening to jazz?
Blazier: It’s a true art from this country. A lot of the things that happened in jazz are the result of the rhythm. Of course, a lot of that comes in from the south – African-Americans and their ancestors brought a lot of things with them from a standpoint of rhythm and multirhythms. I appreciate the innovation of jazz. I’m really a fan of everything.
Komenda: You were on the Chamber for 17 years. In the role, you meet a lot different people. What makes a great community member?
Blazier: On the business side, we grew the Chamber from about 600 to a 1,000 members. A lot of it was personalizing and recognizing that the United States Chamber is in business for big corporations. So the local chamber has got to think that their average employer will be from one person to five. You’ve got to make the dues worthwhile for those people who don’t have a chief financial officer and a marketing director and people like that. They’re it. You do as much as you can to give them tools they can apply to their local business. You help them in any way you can from the standpoint of providing advice and giving information they can use. This is a good chamber here. It’s a strong chamber, and it continues to be strong. When Gary Reese took over, he continued to grow things. And now Mary Margaret Maule is doing the same thing.
Komenda: What advice would you have for people who want to have an impact on their community?
Blazier: Pick out something you’re interested in. We’ve been very fortunate to have opportunities. We’ve had a lot of opportunities in the community to get involved in things. Our philosophy has been [to] help them get started, but don’t try to continue to dominate how it works.
• Note to readers: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.