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A tribute to Chuck Papanos by Rick Hitchcock

Rick Hitchcock is the founder of Hitchcock Design Group, and has been involved in the Riverwalk as a consultant, a Riverwalk commissioner and as chairman of the Riverwalk Commission.

I have known Chuck since about 1977, give or take, and it is one of my great pleasures to say that aside from family, he is my closest friend. Professionally, Chuck has invested his career making our environment more beautiful, and since he joined the Park District, he has focused his talent on sustaining the Riverwalk as one of Naperville’s most powerful and enduring brands. Then, as now, Chuck always shifts attention and credit for the Riverwalk’s success away from himself and toward others. 
I was a cocky, young landscape architect, when I first met Chuck, who at the time, was running a garden center in Aurora. With his background in ornamental horticulture (and despite my rookie overconfidence), Chuck patiently helped me identify new plant cultivars and understand how certain plant choices may tolerate and even thrive in difficult commercial and public settings.

In 1980, Chuck was managing a large landscape nursery in Ottawa that had a lot of mature nursery stock. At the same time, as plans for the original two block Riverwalk started to emerge, Jim Moser, the first Chairman of the Riverwalk Commission, was eager to make a bold and immediate impression on the community and potential donors. Labor Day weekend, 1981 was selected for the dedication ceremony, and Chairman Moser wanted the Riverwalk landscape to look like it had been in place for years, not days, on dedication day. Consequently, he gave me the green light to design the landscape using some of the uncommonly large specimens at the Ottawa nursery, managed by Chuck. As construction of the Riverwalk hardscape advanced in the spring of 1981, Chuck and I spent many memorable hours riding up and down row after row of trees on his all-terrain vehicles at the nursery, hand-selecting many specimen shade and ornamental trees that are still flourishing, today. Because many of the trees were uncommonly large, and because construction was stretching well into summer, which is a poor time to transplant trees, Chuck made sure that the plants were harvested under optimal conditions, then pruned, stored and watered extensively to facilitate out-of-season transplanting. When the original segment was dedicated on Labor Day, 1981, it looked spectacular - thanks, in part, to Chuck’s tireless behind-the-scenes dedication. 

Japanese lilac trees bloom around the Dandelion Fountain

I was thrilled when Chuck joined the Park District in 2001 to oversee Riverwalk maintenance and was quickly assigned to be one of the District’s Riverwalk representatives on the Riverwalk Commission. Sure, it is - or was - his job, but he always leaned way into his work on the Riverwalk. He spearheaded the annual Riverwalk clean-up, for years, and he always gave special attention to every inch of the Riverwalk. Last Fling crowds? No problem. New people? No problem. While I was Chairman of the Riverwalk Commission, Chuck was always ready to go the extra mile. Chuck, Bill Novack and I drafted the position description, sold the idea to the city, reviewed and interviewed candidates, and (very fortunately) successfully filled the new Riverwalk Administrator position. His front-line perspective was instrumental in our selection. Surely, Chuck and Jan Erickson have become the Riverwalk’s Dynamic Duo. Also, while hardly glamorous, Chuck, along with Jeff Havel and Bill Epp, were instrumental in developing the Riverwalk Asset Management Plan (AMP) and systematically and tediously cataloging and assessing every asset on the Riverwalk. Today, the AMP remains a critical Riverwalk management tool. In short, Chuck’s participation on the Commission has been nearly indispensable. Fortunately, while his contribution to the Riverwalk will be missed, he has trained Tiffany, well, and we look forward to her continuing participation. 
I have had the good fortune of collaborating, socializing, vacationing (I won’t go into the details of a memorable flight to Florida in January of 1981), canoeing, picnicking and serving as a Riverwalk Commissioner with Chuck. He indulges me, when I whine, and he picks me up, when I am discouraged. He was my best man, when I married Jan, and after all of these years, he still shifts the conversation back to me, even when it ought to be about him.

Congratulations, my friend! Thanks for everything that you have done for the Riverwalk, the community and for me! I hope that you and Anne Marie find great joy and adventure in retirement. 

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