PEORIA, Ill. -- Gary Sandberg served as second district councilman from 1989 to 1997, when he ran successfully for at-large councilman.
He retained that seat until his passing some time last week.
"In terms of his length of service in the inspections department, his length of years as an elected official, both as a district person and an at-large person, that's something that's hard to replace,” says Peoria Mayor Jim Ardis. “The only way to replace it is to have that much time and depth of knowledge that he had."
For nearly 24 years he sat on the council, serving the past 14 of them with Ardis.
"You could always not just expect somebody to make sure that you were thinking outside of the information presented, but also added a little flare,” Ardis says. “He added some character to it. It was enough that at least made people pause enough to listen."
"Gary is Gary. That's what we would say, Gary is Gary,” long-time friend Pat Sullivan says with a smile. “He had a great heart, a great sense of humor, but you knew where he stood."
Sullivan says he last saw Sandberg Monday night at Kelleher’s, the restaurant owned by Sullivan.
He says Sandberg used his influence on council to ensure historic buildings like the Apollo Theater were maintained.
"He really loved the old section of Peoria, whether it's the East Bluff, West Bluff or Warehouse District, he loved history,” Sullivan says. “He loved saving buildings."
While the controversies surrounding Sandberg's career will be remembered in the coming days, right now city leaders are mourning the loss of a man they say constantly stood up for Peoria.
"You've got to understand Gary,” Sullivan says. “And people didn't understand him, and he did things for a reason, and he thought things should be for a reason, and he thought things should be simpler, easier than what they are, and he tried to live that life."
Mayor Ardis says there is no rush to fill the at-large council seat, which will remain vacant for the time being in Gary Sandberg's absence and honor.