Community mourns loss of County Board member Polly Berg

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-110796445527824.jpg’, ‘Photo by Sylvia Doyle’, ‘Polly Berg poses with some native wildflowers that grow along the roadsides she sought to save from mowing and spraying by the county.’);

Feb. 9, 1928 – Feb. 5, 2005—A compilation of remembrances from friends

The sudden death of County Board member Polly Berg will have a profound impact on our entire community. She will always be remembered for her impeccable service, accessibility, and respect for her constituents. Her influence in the Rockford area transcended political party lines and geographic boundaries. Her responsibilities—which she willingly assumed—went further than the job description.

Prior to her 12 years’ service on the County Board, she was employed for a few years at CETA, the federal jobs training program, during the early 1980s. During that time, she worked under Lou Tangorra at the Youth Employment Service division. She did promotion for youth and adult job training and employment. Sue Molyneaux, a former planning director under CETA who now works for Rock River Training Corporation, CETA’s successor, remembers Berg. “She was always concerned about people and helping our disadvantaged youth and adults,” said Molyneaux. “We will miss her a lot in the community.”

While employed there, Polly started an independent community newspaper, The Rockford News Report, of which she was editor and publisher. It ran on a semi-monthly basis for a couple years. The first issue, dated Oct. 1, 1981, reflected some of her enthusiasm for environmental issues and community activism. It included a “Meet your legislators” series, an article on “Who says downtown is dead?”, a feature on Rep. E.J. “Zeke” Giorgi, and an article on a Rockford falconer, Jack Oar, who tried to protect endangered species. When Copy Editor Susan Johnson, who also worked with Berg at CETA, found the old newspaper, she noted that Polly had recently sent a letter to columnist Dr. Robert Hedeen, expressing appreciation for his article about the peregrine falcon. Polly made reference to an earlier article about Jack Oar that she had sent to Illinois Wildlife—possibly the same article.

On the County Board, Polly had an outstanding record of voting to support environmental issues, and was instrumental in organizing the Pesticide Task Force, educating the public on the adoption of integrated pest management policies that minimize the use of hazardous chemicals.

She worked for many years to convince the County Board to enforce a roadside habitat management policy aimed at preserving wildlife in the right-of-way along county roads, and posting areas where native species can survive without being mowed or sprayed. Using only natural roadside wildflowers, Polly’s floral arrangements won numerous awards at the Winnebago County Fair.

Polly was extremely concerned about the important issue of continuing erosion along the Rock River, and opposed IDOT’s destruction of trees and prairie habitat in the Illinois Route 70 project. She visited the Ditzler family, who lost part of their land to a Winnebago County quick-take highway project. She also worked hard toward establishing an ordinance against open burning.

A friend who wishes to remain anonymous said, “She was independent-minded and was sometimes snubbed by members of her own party, including Doug ‘Quick-Take’ Scott.”

Pete MacKay worked with her on the County Board, and as Rockford Township Highway Commissioner, he agreed to severely limit spraying on Rockford Township right-of-ways because of public health considerations, and to limit mowing to no farther than the bottom of the ditch in order to preserve the habitat.

“Polly was a dear friend of mine for years,” MacKay recalled, “and although we had some disagreements, we had more agreements than disagreements. It is unlikely that a more dedicated representative of the people will be elected in her district for years to come, if ever.”

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