Rasmus always had Rantoul's best interests at heart

RANTOUL — Champaign County Judge Heidi Ladd remembers Wayne Rasmus for his class and his humor.

Mr. Rasmus was a bailiff at the Champaign County Courthouse for 16 years, and Ladd said one incident early in their working relationship might have best summed up the man’s wit.

When Ladd first started as judge at the courthouse, she held court in the basement of the jail on Main Street under the current sheriff’s office. Rasmus was assigned as her bailiff. Ladd’s court clerk, Linda Osborne, had come to the court as well.

“We were bemoaning our lack of a window, and he drew a picture of a window and put it on Linda’s wall in her office and said, ‘If it gets too bad, just jump.’ That’s how he started. He was so much fun,” Ladd said.

The circuit judge said Mr. Rasmus was a “class act. He was old school, always a gentleman, always treated everyone with respect.”

Ladd said Mr. Rasmus never had trouble with any of the defendants “because he was good with people.”

Mr. Rasmus, who could have been awarded the title of “Mr. Rantoul” because of his myriad interests in the community, died on his birthday — Jan. 1. He was 89.

Many town fathers take an interest in their community because they were born and raised there. That wasn’t the case with Mr. Rasmus. A graduate of Loda Township High School, he came to Rantoul later.

His wife, Deena, opened Deena’s women’s clothing store in downtown Rantoul in the mid-60s. Mr. Rasmus and his wife, who died in 2007, were among Rantoul’s most-prominent citizens.

Mr. Rasmus wore a number of hats. In addition to a four-year stint in the Air Force, including two years in Okinawa during the Korean War, he served for 18 years on the Rantoul Village Board and for a number of years as executive director of the Rantoul Area Chamber of Commerce.

Podagrosi remembers
Former Mayor Katy Podagrosi called Mr. Rasmus “always one of the better board members Rantoul ever had.”

“When he and Deena had the dress shop, they were a pair that had so much interest in the village, and that carried over to his work with the board,” Podagrosi said.

“He was always in favor of everything that made Rantoul a better place to live in and do business.”

Podagrosi said Mr. Rasmus served on the village’s aviation committee following the closure of Chanute Air Force Base “and was active in promoting things to assure the success of the airport. Whatever he could do, he did.”

And prior to the closure of the base, Mr. Rasmus took several trips to Washington, D.C., to meet with members of the Armed Services Committee in an effort to keep the base open, Podagrosi said.  

His chamber days
Glenna Little, who served as chamber of commerce secretary for seven years when Mr. Rasmus was that business organization’s executive director, called him “just a wonderful man.”

“He was very professional at his job ... and he worked very well with everyone.”

Little remembers meetings of the Rantoul Area Industrial Development committee and the downtown business association that were held in the chamber office on North Garrard Street. There, planning sessions were held for countless promotions from Dollar Days to the Christmas celebration to the biggest one in town, the Fourth of July celebration.

Little said Mr. Rasmus also planned and ran the annual chamber banquet and met with Chanute officials on a monthly basis to welcome new enlisted men on base.

She said he had the perfect personality and temperament for the job.

“Wayne was just always welcoming,” she said. “He greeted people well. You never thought he wasn’t glad to see you. He was just very personable and a good person to represent the village.”

Mr. Rasmus was also active in his church, Rantoul American Lutheran, where he served on the church board.

A late-comer to golf
One of Mr. Rasmus’ favorite hobbies was golf — but in that regard he was a Grandma Moses type, if not in skill level, at least in age. He took up the sport in his 80s at the same time as his best friend, Doug Wright.

Wright said Mr. Rasmus bought a set of golf clubs 40 years before he ever really took up the sport.

“We played golf a lot,” Wright said, but Mr. Rasmus was legally blind in his later years and had to have help on the links.

He could see the ball but couldn’t line up the club, so Wright would put a piece of white adhesive tape on the club to help him do that. Then he would help his friend find the ball after he struck it.

Wright said Mr. Rasmus enjoyed boating. But when it came to water, he liked to be on it, not in it.

“Wayne didn’t swim, but one day we got a life preserver on him and got him down the ladder and told him if he would just turn loose of the ladder, he’d float,” Wright recalls. “Finally he did and said, ‘I’m floating!’”

It was a first for him.

Wright said Mr. Rasmus asked how deep the water was. Wright  told it was more than 300 feet. Rasmus grabbed the ladder and wanted back in the boat.

Wright said Mr. Rasmus was scheduled to travel to Champaign with Wright and his wife New Year’s Eve afternoon, but they learned he wasn’t feeling well.

After his daughter, Connie Franzen, took him to the emergency room at Presence Covenant Medical Center in Urbana, they learned he had had a mild heart attack.

Wright said Mr. Rasmus would later suffer several more heart attacks.

News-Gazette reporter Mary Schenk contributed to this story.



Categories (3):News, Living, People


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