By Pam DeFiglio, Patch.com
Did you know Skokie mayor George Van Dusen cooks a good spaghetti sauce, has a Ph.D and is an avid fan of baseball and books about Abraham Lincoln? Here's our conversation with the mayor, following a list of sometimes-quirky, sometimes-revealing questions.
Patch: What's a favorite book, movie or publication?
George Van Dusen: Any book or movie on Lincoln. Everybody liked Doris Kearns Goodwin's book. The biography by David Donald is extraordinary. He’s one of the premiere Lincoln scholars. It's a very good book.
Patch: How did you like the Lincoln movie?
Van Dusen: I loved the movie. What I liked about it the most--well obviously Daniel Day Lewis' portrayal I loved. But a lot of the secondary actors were good. The fellow who played Seward was in perfect character, even his mannerisms, having a cigar in his hand, even the way he had his hair combed was very reminiscent of the Secretary of State.
When I went back the second time to see it, I tried to pay more attention to the sound effects. I thought the producer did a marvelous job of recreating the sounds-- you could hear the boards Lincoln walked on creaking a little.
Spielberg wanted to use a watch that is believed to have been Lincoln’s, but for some reason he didn't use it. He sent some sound technicians, and had them record the sound of it opening and and closing. So when he took out the watch in the movie, it was the sound of the real Lincoln watch opening and closing. That attention to detail was great.
Patch: Who cooks in your house and what do they cook?
Van Dusen I used to do most of the cooking. My wife Susan now does most of it. She cooks a variety of things. She cooks very healthy, let’s put at that way. She makes a great chicken pot pie. My specialty is, I love to grill. I make a very good spaghetti pasta sauce, but it’s not the healthiest in the world. I put meat in it.
Patch: What are your hobbies, sports or interests?
Van Dusen: Baseball is my number one sports interest. I was a long distance runner, but had to give that up a couple years ago. So I cycle and I read. A friend of mine, Michael Dorf, and I are working on a book together. Our former boss is Congressman Sidney Yates; the book is about how in the 70s, 80s and 90s, Congress was able to get a lot done despite having ideological differences. My boss was a liberal Democrat, but he worked well with the conservative side, like Henry Hyde.
Michael worked in the Washington office for about 10 years, then returned to private law practice, and I was in charge of Yates’ district operations, I was with him 26 years.
Patch: Did you start right after college?
Van Dusen: I was in my final month in the Ph. D program at Loyola, working on my dissertation. Yates hired me after the '72 election. He said the only promise I had to make him was to finish my dissertation. He said, 'I don’t want your mother calling me telling me I’m working you too hard.'
Patch: So you're a Ph.D then?
Van Dusen: I got the Ph.D. in American and Russian history. But I don't use the title.
Patch: So what did you do in the job?
Van Dusen: I was in charge of the district office from early 1973, and he (Yates) retired officially in January 1999. He didn’t run for reelection in 1998.
Patch: What did you do next?
Van Dusen: Then I became mayor of the village of Skokie, just purely by accident. Mayor Gorell had decided to retire. The village board selected me to finish out her term--I was a trustee. Then I ran for election.
I taught on the adjunct faculty at Oakton Community College. I taught one or two courses a semester.
Patch: Did you teach earlier in your career?
Van Dusen: I taught a couple evening classes at Loyola, but it got to be too much. Then I got married, and kids and mortgage intervened (the Van Dusens have two grown sons) so I didn’t return to teaching until '98 or '99.
Patch: So are you in your fourth term as mayor?
Van Dusen: This is my 14th year as mayor. I’ve been elected 3 times.
Patch: Where did you grow up?
Van Dusen: Detroit, Michigan. I was at the University of Detroit, and the chair of the history department gave me an application for graduate school at Loyola. His name was Father Muller. I told him I wanted to go to the University of Michigan. He said, 'George, I didn’t ask you to fill it out. I said fill it out.'
Then I got a phone call, telling me I had gotten a scholarship. So I accepted.
I love Chicago, so I thought 'what a great opportunity.'
Patch: What’s an important value your parents taught you?
Van Dusen: Honesty. Always be honest.
Patch: What is your age?
Van Dusen: 70.
Patch: What are your religious or spiritual beliefs?
Van Dusen: Jewish.
Patch: I'm curious--your last name sounds Dutch.
Van Dusen: It is Dutch. My family came over in the 18th century. They came from a town called Van Dorssen, got married in Amsterdam, and went to New Amsterdam which became New York.
Patch: Wow, I seldom meet people whose ancestors came to America in the 1700s.
Van Dusen: Actually, they came sometime in the 1600s. There's one part of the family that went to Vancouver. They were industrialists and became rich. There’s a huge park there called Van Dusen Park. My branch of the family went to Toledo, and part to Detroit.
Patch: How would you describe your political beliefs or leanings, on the national scene? Obviously you worked for a Democratic Congressman.
Van Dusen: I am a balance-the-budget Democrat, conservative on economic issues, moderate to liberal on social issues.
Skokieans, did you learn anything about your mayor? Have any questions for him? Tell us in the comments.