Herbert L. Woolhiser

Gazette Article by:Laurie Starrett
Appeared in the Gazette: Fall 2000

A valuable and beloved citizen

Tucked away on the bluff above Tower Road Beach in the northeast corner near the picnic area is a small wildlife and bird sanctuary, consisting of a trickling pool surrounded by flagstones nestled in trees and spring blooming wildflowers. This sanctuary was built in honor of Herbert L. Woolhiser, Winnetka’s village manager from 1917 to 1951.

Born March 27, 1886, in South Wayne, Wisconsin, Woolhiser was an honor graduate of the University of Wisconsin, where he received both his bachelors and masters degrees in engineering. From 1912 to 1917, he held engineering positions with the Railroad Commission of Wisconsin and with a private consulting firm.

In 1917, Woolhiser became acting village manager of Winnetka, replacing the first manager who was called to duty in World War I. Woolhiser later wrote, “My first contact with the Village Council was most pleasant and confirmed my good impressions of Winnetka. I refer to the fine community spirit of the village.” His “temporary” post lasted 34 years! In addition to manager, Woolhiser was superintendent of the Public Works Department from 1920–1928 and superintendent of the Winnetka Park District from 1920–1939.

Harold Jensen, a longtime Winnetka resident and village employee, remembers his colleague as an articulate, soft-spoken man who was interested in the betterment of the community. Jensen says, “I had a lot of respect for the man. He could have gone a lot further in the private sector as an engineer. He really dedicated himself to making Winnetka the nice village it is today.”

Many significant changes occurred during Woolhiser’s tenure including: the introduction of the Winnetka Plan; construction of the present Village Hall; enlargement of the filter plant, electric plant and water works; introduction of the landfill method of garbage disposal; addition of new parks; Tower Road Beach and the Skokie Playfields; the Skokie Lagoons project; and the railway grade separation project.

Jensen remembers Woolhiser initiating many of these projects, and working hard for their completion. “He oversaw everything. When he made a point, he made it quietly and he usually was correct. The Council would almost always go along with him and okay whatever project he came to them with,” Jensen offered.

Evidently Woolhiser was a meticulous man too. Douglas Williams, our present village manager, tells the story that he heard Woolhiser required all of the window shades in Village Hall to be drawn to exactly the same height. To this day, when Williams goes into the Council Room for meetings, he checks to make sure the shades are the same level.

Woolhiser was married to Alice Evans Woolhiser and had two daughters. He was a president of the International City Managers Association, a member of the Western Society of Engineers and the Isaak Walton League. He was known as an outdoor enthusiast, hence the choice of a garden pool for his memorial. He died while he still held office on October 7, 1951. His picture hangs in Village Hall above a plaque that reads:

In Memoriam
Herbert La Due Woolhiser (1917-1951)

A valuable and beloved citizen, a zealous public servant, whose stature can best be measured by the admiration and affection in which he was held by those who knew him, and whose memory will ever remain a cherished inspiration to those who were privileged to serve with him.

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