DOWNERS GROVE – Michael Cassa vividly recalls his third day on the job in July 2011.
The new president and CEO of the Downers Grove Economic Development Corp., Cassa received a walking tour of downtown Downers Grove from a person with intimate knowledge of the business district: Linda Kunze.
Cassa immediately was struck by the attention Kunze received.
“People were saying hi, honking,” Cassa recalled. “Everyone knew her.”
Cassa and many other members of the Downers Grove community were saddened Sept. 26 at the news of Kunze’s death.
“She was the best advocate the downtown could have had,” said Cassa, who worked regularly with Kunze on a variety of projects affecting the business community. “She will be greatly missed.”
Kunze, 66, was the executive director of the Downers Grove Downtown Management Corp. for 20 years.
But she never viewed her responsibilities with the organization as a job, Cassa said.
“I’m sure there was never a thought in her mind that she would work anywhere else,” he said. “She was in the job she was in because she loved it. Linda was never off the clock.”
Although Cassa partnered with Kunze on several projects, they also developed a close friendship over the years.
"She became a good friend," Cassa said. "I was very sad to learn of her passing. It's also a loss to the downtown. She poured her heart and soul into the downtown."
Erin Venezia, marketing director for the Downers Grove Downtown Management Corp., called Kunze her friend, boss and mentor.
"Her smile brought a sense of calmness to even the most stressful situations," Venezia said in an email. "Linda's caring and kindness was contagious. She was downtown Downers Grove's biggest advocate. Her dedication and passion has given us the downtown we all know and love, today. She will truly never be forgotten, but will always be missed."
Commissioner Bill White called Kunze a “true champion” for downtown Downers Grove.
“Her energy and relentlessly warm and cheerful mood was contagious and always left me with confidence that our downtown community was in good hands,” White said. “It's a cliche to say Linda will be missed, but it's also 100-percent true. Linda Kunze will be missed.”
Laura Crawford, president and CEO of Chamber630, said her memories of Kunze came back to her during funeral services Sept. 29.
“As we said goodbye to Linda last weekend, I felt that we likely will never again see the beautiful and vast outpouring of sadness and love for someone with such tremendous dedication and passion for the village of Downers Grove and especially its downtown,” Crawford said in an email. “Linda Kunze – like none other.”
Liz Chalberg, president of the Downers Grove Historical Society, said Kunze's ongoing efforts to grow and promote downtown Downers Grove will not be forgotten.
"Linda is one of those true pillars of the community who will be remembered for her successful efforts to reawaken the downtown and direct the development of this now economically viable heart of the community," Chalberg said in an email.
Mayor Martin Tully described Kunze as "the hub of the wheel on which downtown Downers Grove progressively turned for two decades."
“She not only touched and made many people's lives better, she touched and made better an entire community,” Tully said in a Facebook post announcing her death. “Linda and her wonderful family are in all our thoughts and prayers. In that she was someone who worked tirelessly to improve our downtown and entire community, she more than deserves to rest in peace. She surely was one of our finest citizens."
Practically every downtown event was conceived and organized by Kunze, Tully added.