QUINCY -- John Heidbreder, who served on the Adams County Board longer than anyone else in history, said so long to his fellow board members Tuesday night after 42 years of continuous public service.
Heidbreder, who will turn 79 on Dec. 22, submitted his resignation on Dec. 4 for health reasons. But at the urging of friends and colleagues, he showed up for a farewell reception before Tuesday night's County Board meeting.
The law library in the Adams County Courthouse was packed with well-wishers who stepped up to greet Heidbreder as he sat in a wheelchair, shaking hands with his many admirers.
Kent Snider, the current chairman of the County Board, was joined by three former board chairmen in praising Heidbreder for his years of dedicated service on the board's Finance Committee -- a body that Heidbreder chaired for many years.
Heidbreder gained a reputation for serving as a watchdog over the county's budget and tax levy.
"He never wanted to raise taxes," Snider said. "John had some famous quotes, like, ‘If we don't need it, we don't tax for it.' "
One time, Snider recalled, a relatively new County Board member wondered aloud if board members should be allowed to receive medical insurance from the county as a fringe benefit.
"John said, ‘Over my dead body!'" Snider recalled with a laugh. "John is extremely conservative."?Snider said Heidbreder has served on the Adams County Board longer than any other person. "And in the state of Illinois there's only two people who have served longer (on county boards) than John," Snider said. "Third place in the whole state of Illinois. That's a pretty big achievement."
Former Board Chairman Mike McLaughlin also had high praise for Heidbreder, with whom he served on the board for 24 years.
"The citizens of Adams County owe John a great debt of gratitude for his dedication," McLaughlin said. "He's a legend."
McLaughlin recalled how he and Heidbreder would meet at least once a week -- sometimes as many as three times a week -- to work on the county's budget.
"John did the revenue, and I did the expense side of the budget," McLaughlin said. "On more than one occasion he told me we made a hell of a team. And we did."
Former Finance Committee Chairman John Johnson said Heidbreder served as a mentor to him on the committee.
"John taught me how to follow the money," said Johnson, who for a time took turns with Heidbreder alternating as chairman of the Finance Committee.
"He took me under his wing," Johnson said. "He taught you things about how county government works. He told you the whys, the wherefores and those kinds of things, and he tried to make you a better board member. I really appreciated that."
Jon McCoy, a former chief deputy for the Adams County Sheriff's Department, said he worked with Heidbreder many times on the department's budget.
"I spent a lot of years with John," McCoy said. "He was the finance guy. If you wanted something, you'd better have your t's crossed and your i's dotted. And I appreciate that, being a conservative myself. He kept us in the black."
In an interview, Heidbreder said he's proud of his work on the County Board. He said his goal was simply to provide "community service" to Adams County.
"And my best way of doing community service was following the numbers and asking questions," he said. "I believe Adams County is financially stable, and I, in some little way, helped that along."
Heidbreder's wife, Georgiann, said her husband's dedication to the County Board was well known to all members of their family.
"I can tell you one thing: We could not go on vacation if there was a County Board meeting. So our entire lives depended on the County Board meetings," she said. "A lot of times, I guess, I resented all the time he spent on it, but he loved it. I'm really sorry he can't do it anymore."
The County Board accepted Heidbreder's resignation Tuesday night. Snider said precinct committeemen will screen applications for the vacant position later this month and will make a recommendation to Snider for an appointment in January. To be considered, any candidate must be a Republican from the 4th District, like Heidbreder.
The person appointed to the vacancy will serve until the November 2020 general election. At that time the remaining two years of Heidbreder's unexpired four-year term will be up for election.