The embodiment of all things safety|Statue pays tribute to 'Officer Friendly,' aka Mayor Pradel
June 5, 2007 — Source: Naperville Sun, The (IL) — Author: Kate R. Houlihan
About 30 years ago a photograph of a serious-looking police officer named George Pradel, then known best by Naperville schoolchildren as "Officer Friendly," ran in the Naperville Sun.
Pradel had a dead-pan expression on his face as he told a girl pedaling around on a Big Wheel bike during the Safety Town program that she was going the wrong way on a mock one-way street.
Little did anyone know that the photo of the cop-who-would-be-mayor would be the inspiration for the final sculpture in the first phase of the Century Walk public art project.
On May 29 "Officer Friendly" was unveiled in front of Washington Junior High School before a crowd of more than 100, including Mayor Pradel himself.
"Wow," he exclaimed after pulling off the blue tarp that covered the artwork with grandsons Nick, 12, and Zach, 9.
"Everything is just right," Pradel said. "The stripes. The belt, the weapon, the keys. It's just right."
The sculpture depicts a smiling Pradel, albeit younger and thinner, in a police uniform guiding a young girl on a Big Wheel bike, a one-way sign nearby. The girl is going the wrong way on a stretch of mock road like the kind found at Safety Town, and a young boy dressed as a crossing guard is holding out his hand to stop her.
Guiding the youth
Pradel earned the respect and admiration of Naperville youngsters when he would spend his days as a police officer teaching the finer points of safety to them. Although a permanent home for the Safety Town program didn't come about until 1996, Naperville kids had been learning about hand signals, rules of the road and personal safety through mock drills and simulations in temporary locales since 1978.
"It's right on," said Pradel's daughter Carol, who added it was fitting that the sculpture was installed near Washington Junior High School. The Pradel children all attended the school and George Pradel's father worked there.
"It's like a sweet memory," she said.
Carol Pradel said seeing the artwork also reminds her of the happy times she had helping her dad set up Safety Town at different locations in Naperville.
"This is wonderful because this is what it's all about," she said. "To see him happy and to see people appreciating what he did while he's around to see that," she said. "... We couldn't be happier for him."
Also in attendance were 6-year-old Hannah Lingafelter of Wilmington and Bryce Bosley, 8, formerly of Naperville and now of Arkansas. The two children were the models for the youngsters depicted in the sculpture, which was created by Sarah Furst of the Joliet-based Friends of Community Public Art.
"I just had to stand there," Bosley said after the unveiling as he leaned upon the sculpture likeness of him. "It was really hard."
Furst said the sculpture took six months to complete, with a start date of April 2006. It was Furst's first contribution to the Century Walk project, which now boasts 30 pieces of public art throughout the downtown area.
Looking to the future
Although "Officer Friendly" is the final piece in this first phase, Century Walk Corporation President Brand Bobosky said there is much still to come.
Bobosky said the project is looking to broaden its mission of placing historically significant artwork roughout the downtown and the community.
The group, which gets its funding from both private and public sources such as the city's Special Events and Cultural Amenities Fund, also is looking to expand what kind of art gets placed in Naperville. Bobosky said the placement of a "Cat in the Hat" statue near Nichols Library is one of the next ideas floating around.
But Tuesday's focus was all on one friendly - and humble - guy.
"This isn't about me," Pradel said. "This is about the spirit of our community helping children in our community become leaders."
Contact Kate Houlihan at email@example.com or 630-416-5224.
Mayor George Pradel in his "Officer Friendly" days.|Kate Szrom / Staff photographer Christina Plummer, 6, right, inspects the "Officer Friendly" sculpture, modeled after cop-turned-mayor George Pradel, May 29 in front of Washington Junior High School.|Mayor George Pradel in his "Officer Friendly" days.