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In 1950, Elaine Friedman asked her husband Jerry to drive her up to Highland Park to attend a wedding shower.
Having always wanted to live in a small town, and looking to kill some time, he decided to check out the next-door sparsely populated community of Northbrook. The following weekend they came back, bought a home on Church Street, and never looked back.
Today, 70 years later, it is widely accepted that Jerry Friedman, both as a village government official for 20-plus years and as a community force for decades more, was one of the most consequential players in the development and maturation of Northbrook as an economically vibrant, upscale suburb.
Friedman, who died Sept. 9, 2019 at age 94, was praised by Ron Bernardi, another longtime pillar of the Northbrook community.
“Thank you for being a pioneer, doing the tireless work, laying the foundation, having the vision for the future for Northbrook, that we all enjoy today and for generations to come,” he says in an online posting.
Friedman, who was 17 when Pearl Harbor was attacked, got permission from his father to serve in the Marines. He served in the Pacific theater and was awarded two Purple Hearts. He then graduated with business and law degrees from DePaul University, became a C.P.A. and went on to be a co-owner of a successful paper packaging business, Chippewa Paper Products, that primarily serviced the food industry.
In 1959, village president Bert Pollak selected Friedman to become a member of the Plan Commission after hearing him speak at a public meeting. He was soon a Village Board trustee and served as Village Board President from 1973 to 1981.
Early on, Friedman spearheaded the development of a master plan and helped squire the village through the go-go growth years of the 1960s and 1970s.
For a time, that growth was so rapid that the village board met twice a week and held sessions on Saturday mornings, too.
“It was quite hectic with expansion of the village and developers coming in every week,” he said in an interview with “Northbrook Voices,” an oral history project produced by the Northbrook Historical Society and Northbrook Public Library. It got to the point where he sometimes lost his voice at board meetings just from reading the ordinances out loud, he recalled.
Among his notable achievements was the establishment in 1963 of the water treatment plant. As he explained it on “Northbrook Voices,” the village had been buying water from Glencoe, which kept raising its rates when Northbrook expanded and needed more water.
Glencoe then got other lakefront communities to join them in refusing to give Northbrook riparian rights.
“We were just about ready to give up when I always say God came to our rescue,” Friedman said. North Shore Congregation Israel had purchased lakefront land in Glencoe to build a larger temple and made a deal with Northbrook to let them build their facility.
To this day, Northbrook is the only off-shore community that draws water directly from the lake. But there was more to the politics of water, as Friedman explained.
“If some developer in an unincorporated area wanted to get our water they had to incorporate and in order to incorporate they had to abide by our zoning and building codes, and we were able to control to a large extent how the village was developed.’’
In a village newsletter, current Village President Sandy Frum has called the water system “one of our greatest assets … thanks to the foresight of our village officials, under the direction of our past village president Gerald Friedman.”
Friedman was also instrumental in converting the fire department from a volunteer force to a professional full-time department and in getting full time ambulance service.
The Northbrook Civic Association, of which he was a member, paid for the first ambulance. He also helped enact the 1968 Fair Housing Ordinance and development of Northbrook’s industrial park at the site of the former Sky Harbor Airport. Further, he stood firm as Highland Park brought a series of lawsuits against the village trying to block the development of Northbrook Court, which opened in 1976.
In retirement, Friedman devoted time to numerous non-profits including the Northbrook Symphony, which he helped get off the ground, and Jewish Council on Urban Affairs. He also managed to hit three hole-in-ones on the golf course.
“I was there for one of them,” said his son, Matt Friedman.
Friedman was a man of deep faith, and was a founding member of Congregation Hakafa. He was selected to be its first president and remained a vital part of its leadership to his final days.
Rabbi Bruce Elder said of Friedman: “He was a rock of our community and a friend to each of us. We could always count on him being there. We miss him dearly.”
Rabbi Robert Marx, who founded Hakafa in 1983, called Friedman’s life one “devoted to great ideas and challenging ventures” and his leadership at Hakafa “an enduring inspiration.”
“Jerry Friedman was my friend,” he continued. “During these past few weeks, as the light grew dim, we unashamedly said that we loved one another. To both of us this was a powerful acknowledgment of the battles we had fought together as well as of the joys that had enriched the hours we spent together — with our families, our congregation, and our friends. Jerry was genuine. He was genuinely genuine. For 50 years he was part of my life. I have lost — we all have lost — a leader, an inspiration, an irreplaceable friend.”
Gerald Friedman, son of the late Mollie and Sam Friedman, was husband of Elaine Friedman, brother of Bernard Friedman and the late Harriett Cohen, father to Terri Murphy and her husband Tom, Matthew Friedman and his wife Wendy, and Sidney Friedman, and grandfather to Molly and Meaghan Murphy and Rebecca, Hannah and Zoey Friedman.