Longtime Crystal Lake Mayor Aaron Shepley, 56, was pronounced dead Monday morning, officials confirmed.
A cause of death has not yet been determined, although the situation did not appear suspicious, McHenry County interim Coroner John Miller confirmed. An autopsy will be performed at a later date. Shepley is survived by his wife, Regan Shepley, and his daughters, Madison and Chase, a family whom colleagues agree Shepley loved to no end.
The city of Crystal Lake announced the news about its longest-serving mayor in an official statement Monday.
“Mayor Shepley loved Crystal Lake and was a strong advocate for our community,” according to the release. “We celebrate his life and trust that his legacy will inspire all residents and businesses to serve their community. The city of Crystal Lake extends our deepest condolences to his family during this difficult time.”
Shepley served as the mayor of Crystal Lake for more than 21 years and was elected in April 2019 to another four-year-term. His plans for Crystal Lake included drawing in businesses to fill the city’s vacant storefronts, particularly along Route 14.
Before he was elected mayor, Shepley, who also served as vice president and senior associate general counsel at Northwestern Medicine, spent two years as a City Council member from 1997 to 1999.
“As the city’s longest-serving mayor, he impacted the community with a positive and empowering message,” according to the release. “Mayor Shepley championed a united City Council, working together for one purpose and vision: to make Crystal Lake a great place to live.”
In his spare time, Shepley enjoyed sports and action photography, and drumming. He eventually transformed his hobby into Strikers, a well-known drumline that has marched hundreds of miles in local parades, performed on TV and donated about $50,000 in college scholarships.
Strikers also has spun off into five educational programs involving more than 100 students.
“Aaron was a literal force of nature who loved the city where he grew up and the drumline he founded,” the Strikers posted on their Facebook page Monday. “The Strikers would not exist today without his vision, energy and drive. We are all blessed to have been touched by him.”
Shepley’s efforts to improve his community extended beyond the Strikers and Crystal Lake, however.
Former Crystal Lake Chamber of Commerce President Mary Margaret Maule got to know Shepley over the years through his work with the McHenry County area in several different capacities. Word of his death came as a surprise to Maule, who remembered Shepley as an active person, who valued his health.
“It just goes to show you that every day’s a gift and you really have to let the people around you know how you feel about them,” she said.
In addition to running a “fair and effective government,” Shepley appeared to strike a healthy work-life balance, Maule said, noting that the only thing Shepley loved more than Crystal Lake was his family.
“He was a very committed family man and it showed in how he positioned himself,” Maule said. “He was very proud of his kids.”
Those who knew him well, such as neighbor and friend Gary Reece, remember Shepley as a “family man,” a “terrific husband,” an avid bicyclist and the drummer of their five-person band – What About This?
Shepley’s mantra throughout the band’s stint was simple and he seemed to execute it effortlessly in area of his life, Reece said.
“ ‘I don’t care what we play, let’s just play,’ ” Reece said, quoting Shepley. “And that was Aaron’s – I think his attitude towards life. ‘It doesn’t matter let’s go out there and do it.’ ”
By all accounts, Shepley wasn’t one to beat around the bush or make excuses, an attitude Reece wishes more people would adopt.
“You just have to embrace each day, and wake up and not make excuses, and do your best every day, and live your life, and love your family, and appreciate your friends,” Reece said.
From a professional standpoint, McHenry County Board Chairman Jack Franks described Shepley as a “tireless public servant who cared deeply about the Crystal Lake community.” Franks lauded the mayor for his involvement with the MCRide para-transit service and the Pingree Road Metra station.
“Most importantly, Aaron was a humble man who told anyone who would listen that behind every good elected leader was an army of dedicated and talented civil servants,” Franks said. “Mayor Shepley’s death has ripped a huge hole in the Crystal Lake community.”
Throughout his years in Crystal Lake, Shepley worked hard to create an “inviting and collaborative” business environment for the city, Crystal Lake Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Bill Eich said.
“On behalf of the Board of Directors and staff at the Chamber of Commerce, our heartfelt condolences go out to Mayor Aaron Shepley’s family,” Eich wrote. “His accomplishments and dedication to making Crystal Lake a great place to live and work will remain with us for a long time to come.”
McHenry Mayor Wayne Jett also took to Facebook Monday morning to express his condolences.
“While I have only been able to work with Mayor Shepley on municipal matters for a few years, I am in awe of his personal and professional accomplishments, which include having served as the mayor of Crystal Lake for more than 20 years,” Jett wrote.
The McHenry mayor went on to say he would personally miss Shepley’s experience and insight, which helped transform the city of Crystal Lake, “even in difficult times.”
Other organizations including the Raue Center for the Arts and the McHenry County Youth Sports Association spoke fondly of Shepley, whom they described as a “friend” and a “supporter.”
“Mayor Shepley was an integral part of Raue Center’s history. He not only was a huge supporter, he helped steer the creation of the Raue Center as mayor as well as a long-standing member of the Advisory Committee,” the center posted on Facebook Monday.
Shepley also served as a board member on the community advisory board for Shaw Media Illinois. Shaw Media President and CEO John Rung said Shepley was a “positive force” with no shortage of ideas for Crystal Lake’s future.
“He loved everything about the community,” Rung said. “He took ownership of anything that touched Crystal Lake.”
It wasn’t immediately clear what Crystal Lake’s leadership would look like moving forward, but Maule hopes the community will continue to feel Shepley’s influence through its City Council.
“I think people will find in the coming months how truly blessed they were to have his leadership for the past 20 years,” Maule said.