SHABBONA – Jon Ritter, Shabbona’s assistant fire chief, grew up in the village’s fire station and would lounge around the living room area with fellow children of firefighters while his mom, Rose Schultz, an emergency medical technician captain, went out to fight fires.
Ritter has lived in Shabbona all his life and joined the Shabbona Fire Protection District when he was 16.
Now 28 and married to Sam Ritter (who also volunteers with the department), he’s looking to join the ranks of elected officials in the village.
“Shabbona’s a great town,” Ritter said Feb. 22, the day after he announced his campaign for village president. He was perched on the back bumper of a fire engine at the Shabbona fire station, resting his broken leg that’s had him laid up for a few weeks. He broke it playing soccer.
“It’s a great community full of great people, and I just want to help them succeed. It’s my home,” Ritter added.
If elected, Ritter would be in familiar company at least. The Village Board already has three elected firefighters, and a fourth, Richard Lockowitz, is running in the April 2 election, too.
Ritter is aware that an elected body full of firefighters could be a cause for concern but emphasized the autonomy of each group. He said both entities operate separately, unlike larger cities such as DeKalb, in which the fire department is a branch of the municipal government.
“The [Shabbona Fire Protection District] is volunteer and not a full-time position,” Ritter said. “We’re different entities from the village. We have our own board of trustees. So I think I can easily maintain both positions.”
Ritter’s got some competition. Interim Village President Don Goncher, 68, is a retired police chief who hasn’t taken to his “retirement” in a traditional manner.
Instead, he was appointed interim village president in May after long-time Village President Claudia Hicks retired.
Goncher now is inspired to take on the role full-time in an elected capacity with a campaign slogan, “Experienced, ethical, unbiased.”
“I’m looking at the village in terms of preparing for the future challenges it’s going to face and setting in place goals to guide and address those challenges,” Goncher said. “Many would say you’re trying to make a bigger Shabbona. Well, not really. I’m trying to make a better Shabbona.”
Goncher retired as police chief of the West Chicago Police Department after serving 31 years, and has lived in Shabbona with his wife of 45 years Susan, since 2010. He said he’s learned a lot in his
11 months in the role, and said his experience managing the police department’s $5 million budget, along with a career in public service in a municipal agency, make him a prime candidate for the job.
“I think in order to run a business, you have to have some experience,” Goncher said. “And I think I have the experience the job requires.”
Goncher has spent the past few months working with neighboring municipalities across DeKalb County to bring more economic development to downtown Shabbona. He’s also been eyeing grants to use for better sidewalks and parking areas downtown.
“We’re also working with the state, because in 2025 we’re supposed to get work [done] on Route 30,” Goncher said. “And we’re working on getting some new businesses in town.”
Through Goncher’s leadership, the village recently passed an ordinance to regulate solar gardens, a growing aspect of agrarian communities.
Ritter is quick to acknowledge that he’s got a ways to go in terms of learning the in’s and out’s of government work. But he said he’s ready to take on the challenge.
“It’ll obviously be a huge learning curve at the village,” Ritter said. “I’ve never been a politician before, and I never will claim to be one. I’m sure it’s not easy, but it’s a task I’m willing to take on.”
Ritter said his biggest goal if elected is to be a voice for his fellow Shabbona folks.
“Fire department aside, this is important to me,” Ritter said. “I’m here for all of them in any way, not just fire related. I feel like people can count on me.”
Although election day isn’t until April 2, early voting already has begun, and residents can cast their ballot at select locations.