A plaque commemorates Linda Kunze Plaza outside the Main Street Train Station.

By Maureen Callahan

Linda Kunze was the kind of person every town needs. The connector of people she knew should meet. The organizer of festivals and community-building activities. The welcoming recruiter who constantly looked for ways to improve the look and feel of Downers Grove.

Kunze was Executive Director of the Downtown Management Corporation from 1999 to 2018.

“Downers Grove was kind of like our third child,” laughed Mike Kunze, husband of Linda Kunze. “The kids came first, then Downers Grove, then the dog. And I fit in there somewhere, too.”

She was the definition of a good friend and neighbor. “We always knew that but didn’t fully realize the extent of it until her wake,” said Mike. “Almost every person that came through the line that day had a story about how she had helped them with one thing or another.”

“My mom was one in a million,” said son Bryan. “She was the kindest person anyone ever met. She would go out of her way for anyone.”

Linda served as Executive Director of the Downtown Downers Grove Management Corporation. Prior to that, she held a post with the Chamber of Commerce. When the downtown renovation began in 1998, Kunze was at the center of the effort. She worked with building owners to recruit businesses that fit into the up-and-coming theme of improvement.

Whenever the Kunze family took a vacation or day trip, Linda took notes on other towns she liked. “If a place caught her eye, we would always stop and talk to people,” said Mike. “When we went to restaurants we liked, Linda always spoke to the manager to try to get them to open another location in Downers Grove.”

She cared a lot about Downers Grove and was proud of how the town had changed in the decades since she and her family first moved here. She was instrumental in working with the business owners and village in promoting the town and getting it to be a place where people who had grown up here would want to come back to raise their children.

And it worked. Like so many other families, Linda and Mike were thrilled when daughter Jennifer Schwendener and her family returned to Downers Grove to build their lives.

The Kunze Family at daughter Jennifer’s wedding.

So many of the fun, festive activities that now draw people in and have become Downers Grove traditions were at least partly her idea. “When Linda had an idea, you might as well just get on board,” Mike laughed. “She worked the edges to get everyone into the fold.”

Linda talked the Downtown Management Corporation into taking over the Friday night car show from Herbert’s Men’s Store. “Before long, people were coming from out of state to show their cars,” said Mike. She did the same for the Fine Arts Festival, which she also helped to expand, drawing talent from out of the area.

The Christmas parade and town tree lighting also came about under Linda’s influence. She commissioned a crew to build the Santa house, which included Mike and her son Bryan. She always went to great lengths to source an authentic St Nick.

She did all of this with love because she cared. “There was hardly a night or weekend she wasn’t at something for Downers Grove,” said Jennifer. “She could get along with everyone, so she was in charge of a lot.”

Linda fought leukemia for nearly two decades. “She fought hard and with a smile,” said Mike. “The staff at Loyola loved her. She was honored at a well attended banquet as Patient of the Year one year.” Despite the exhaustive efforts of stem cell marrow transplants, Linda passed away in 2018.

But she will never be forgotten. Her imprint is everywhere on a beautifully updated downtown that has turned Downers Grove into a west suburban destination. Her memory is around every corner, especially in her memorial plaza outside the train station.

Certain people are synonymous with a community. Downers Grove will always remember Linda Kunze for her big heart, generous spirit, and ‘I Will’ attitude.

Food Drive volunteers Elaine Pagels, Lynn Hill, Tamy Bobbitt, and Dan Wood of the Pagels Group with Kelly Bennett of Boerman Moving & Storage

Annual Pagels Group Food Drive honoring Linda Kunze

One of the best ways to remember someone is to make a donation in their honor. Right before Linda Kunze passed away, she was in the process of organizing a food drive for FISH Pantry, alongside Downers Grove Berkshire Hathaway realtors, Elaine and Brita Pagels.

“Linda suggested this time of year as she knew fall is the leanest season for FISH Pantry,” said co-organizer and longtime friend, Elaine Pagels. “Also, she didn’t want to compete with the Girl Scouts who hold a food drive in September. She was always thinking of someone else.”

This year marked the 6th anniversary of the event.

Each year, Berkshire Hathaway Downers Grove, 5150 Main St., serves as a drop off point for nonperishable items which are then turned over to FISH Pantry to assist local families experiencing food insecurity.

Rocco & Rocco Salon and Day Spa got on board as well, with drop off bins in their lobby. Boerman Movers donates the boxes and moves the food to FISH Pantry.