KIRKLAND – Flags around Kirkland flew at half-staff Monday in honor of Les Bellah, the community’s longtime leader, who died Sunday at OSF Saint Anthony’s Center for Cancer Care in Rockford. He was 68.
Bellah was first elected to the Village Board in 1983. He ran for the position two times before getting elected on his third try. Of his 30-plus years in office, he spent 16 years as Kirkland’s village president.
“He started as a Village Board member to make sure his family was going to be taken care of and that sort of snowballed into the mayor thing,” said Shannon Lee, Bellah’s daughter. “It was so important to him to let people know they weren’t alone in their struggles, and he was passionate about making sure people were taken care of.”
In November, Bellah announced that he would not be running for re-election. He was succeeded by current President Ryan Block.
Lee said she will remember her father as a wonderful human being who was passionate about caring for others.
“He taught us to be independent and compassionate,” Lee said. “His passion for music was amazing, his love for my mother was great, and he adored his four grandchildren and was proud of their accomplishments.”
She added that seeing her father with her daughter, Lizzie, the Saturday before his passing was a moment that she will forever cherish. The three were in Bellah’s hospital room, when he and Lizzie started singing “God Bless the USA,” his favorite song.
“Dad didn’t falter in the lyrics whatsoever, and that was awesome,” Lee said. “It was a pretty cool memory that will be treasured beyond infinity, that’s for sure.”
During his decades of service, Bellah helped lead the community through two devastating natural disasters, severe flooding in Kirkland in 1996 and a tornado that demolished the community of Fairdale in 2015.
Lee said that once he found out that she and her family were OK after the Fairdale tornado, Bellah went into protection mode and did everything he could to help the people of Fairdale, from providing police and fire services to fundraising.
“He didn’t sleep for four days after the tornado because he was so busy,” Lee said.
Rep. Bob Pritchard, R-Hinckley, knew Bellah since 2003 and said he was a model of trying to live life to its fullest and doing the best job possible for the sake of the people in his community.
“We talked quite frequently and he always tried to do his best, even when an issue he was dealing with didn’t always have the best answer,” Pritchard said. “The community certainly should recognize his efforts and mourn his loss.”
In honor of his 30 years of service to Kirkland, the Illinois House presented Bellah with a special certificate for helping to shape and guide his community.
“He demonstrated his compassion and leadership during that tornado, and I guess you could say he was really tested by fire,” Pritchard said. “Les always had the village at heart.”
Growing up, Lee said her father had a rough childhood that involved him moving around constantly and spending some time within the foster care system.
“I think that added to his need and desire to always have an open ear, always have open arms and always have an open door,” Lee said. “He really put forward that you need to hold friends as close as you hold family and moving around so much, he really wasn’t able to grow friendships until he was in high school.”
Sarah Slavenas, prevention program director for Safe Passage domestic violence and sexual assault prevention service, said Bellah had been a guest speaker at the agency’s Evening of Chocolate fundraiser in 2015, where he recounted his experiences growing up in a home where domestic violence had been a regular occurrence.
“I think this helped shape his commitment to agencies like ours and to the issue of domestic violence in general,” Slavenas said. “Having lived through something that traumatic, he was able to talk about it in a way people who may not have experienced it can better understand. We were really sad to hear about his passing.”
Although he was never able to serve because of health reasons, Lee said Bellah was very involved in supporting the armed forces and helped to fund a veterans memorial in the Franklin Township Park.
His childhood also prevented him from being actively involved in the Boy Scouts of America growing up, but he participated in multiple ceremonies of boys who attained rank of Eagle Scouts.
A die-hard Cubs fan, Bellah was in tears when third baseman Kris Bryant made the game-winning out to first baseman Anthony Rizzo in Game 7 of the 2016 World Series in November.
“He was sitting at home and when Rizzo caught the ball, I called him and we both cried our eyes out,” Lee said. “I wish there had been a nanny cam to see his reaction.”
Playing into his love of music, Bellah wrote and recorded a song years ago that his family has shared over the years titled ‘Those Doggone Cubs.’ A recording of the song is available on Youtube.
The family is planning on holding a celebration of Bellah’s life at Franklin Township Park in Kirkland at a later date for the public to share memories and stories.
“There will be no sadness,” Lee said. “Just a lot of silliness and fun like dad was.”
Bellah is survived by his wife, Patsy, with whom he shared nearly 50 years of marriage; daughter Shannon (Brian) Lee and son Scotty (Jamie) Bellah of Sycamore. He also is survived by grandchildren Naomi Franklin, Maddy Bellah, Lizzie Sechrest and Carter Fox Lee.