Merritt E. Braga Archives
On this page:
From the Broadview Historical Society archives
Fact Sheet -- Merritt E. Braga
Born -- December 14, 1900, on Shoefactory Road, Elgin, Illinois
Parents -- Jeremia and Jessie Wallis Braga
Siblings -- sister Lenora, brothers George and Harold
Purchased Broadview Garage in 1920
Married Alice Johnson on February 2, 1922
- Donald, March 30, 1923
- Robert, December 11, 1925
- Norman, March 27, 1929
- Eleanor, October 28, 1930
As a widower he remarried, November 23, 1963, to Lula Mae McKinley of DeKalb, Texas
Appointed Special Police Officer, February 21, 1927
Appointed Election Judge, April 19, 1927
Appointed Village Collector, May 2, 1927
Appointed Election Judge, April 17, 1928
Elected Trustee, April 17, 1929
Elected Trustee in Special Election, April 1934
Elected Trustee, April 1935
First Election as President, April 1937
Story and pictures from the Suburban Life Citizen, Saturday, May 14 1977 :
Broadview's Braga: dean of them all
By Dave Masterson
The battle to reach the summit has been over for some 40 years for Broadview Mayor Merritt Braga. And lately it hasn't even been much of a struggle to stay "king of the mountain".
On April 19 the 77 year old Illinois dean of mayors clinched the title as the longest reigning president or mayor of a village in the state.
Heading an unopposed party for the third straight time, Braga easily swept through his 11th successive mayoral campaign. On the 2nd of this month a small group of observers watched as Broadview's head man recited the oath of office that would launch him into his 41st year as mayor.
Trustee Donald Wilcox's comment, "You should have this oath memorized by now," is well taken. Only one Illinois mayor, Henry Proesel, of Lincolnwood, has served longer as his village's political chieftain. Proesel has Braga beat in mayoral service by a year and a half, but the Lincolnwood mentor has hung up his gavel this year, and in 18 months Braga will be Illinois' all time elected official.
Those are heady credentials for an ex-auto mechanic from Shoefactory Rd., just outside of Elgin. But despite the fact that he appears an unlikely candidate for the title, Braga is the closest thing to a living legend that Broadview has to offer.
Nobody is breaking down the mayor's doors to take advantage of his sex appeal for TV commercials, and his manner of speech certainly lacks the honey-tongued glibness that others in his line of work might possess. He's never been mentioned on the Chicago area's best dressed men's list, and he hasn't ever hiked across the state. Yet it's this apparent lack of charisma that has solidified Braga's position in Broadview history and endeared him to the citizenry.
For 40 years Braga has conducted his presidential duties and his personal life with a "down home" approach. One of the area's few full time mayors, Braga keeps his office open to the public, free of frills, and out of the awe-struck category that most often accompanies veteran politicians like himself.
He and his wife Lulu May live in an unpretentious home that is no different in outward appearance than any other on its block. Both Bragas shun the aristocratic image and appear frequently at local organization functions, accept little or no fanfare.
This soft-core approach to life in government has been a successful one for the Broadview mentor, who has played an intricate part in laying the foundations of the village.
Under Braga's leadership, Broadview has been shaped into a thriving, well managed industrial and residential area of over 9,000. Village departments formed under the Braga regime are the envy of many area towns.
The Broadview fire department, Braga's pride and joy, is one of the five in Illinois to attain a Class 3 fire insurance rating. Braga points out that it was the first area department to employ full time paramedics and has always led the way in firefighting techniques and equipment.
The Village police and public works departments are also a comfort to Braga and the Broadview citizens and bow to no one in the area of efficiency.
All of these departments mesh with a smooth flowing governmental body under Braga that seems to function almost automatically.
But Broadview did not always have the Braga machine to grind out its wrinkles.
The mayor recalls that his first sighting of the village was in 1920 while working for his father on an out of town motorcycle repair job. At that time the Wheaton-based youth of 20 years was witness to an average looking scattered farmhouse community of about 250. But the development possibilities so entranced him that he decided to leave his father's motorcycle shop and make Broadview his home that same year. He never left.
"The community had real potential for shaping up and becoming prosperous, and I wanted to be a part of it," Braga recalled. "That was before anyone knew that Westchester would incorporate to our west and the forest preserve would take over our property to the east. Broadview was a big area at that time. We used to go over 800 feet east of First Avenue, and I guess I'm still a little bitter over losing the land that we once had."
It wasn't long before young Braga dove headlong into village affairs. The fledging auto mechanic first served the wild town know as Oklahoma as a special policeman under another Broadview legend, Indian Joe Huszar. After a few years he was appointed village collector, a post he held from 1924 to 1926.
When fellow residents and garage customers persuaded him to run for trustee in 1924, Braga consented and capture his first political victory.
In 1926 Braga suffered his first and only political setback while attempting to retain his trustee post.
"If I remember correctly, there was a big outside vote brought in from the veterans at Hines Hospital," Braga remembered. "The opposition even went so far as to bring them to the polls on stretchers, even though some of them weren't really Broadview citizens."
The vote was a close one nonetheless, Braga losing 195 to 178.
But the people wanted him back. In 1933 Braga regained his trustee position and he was successful again in 1935 before running for his first mayoral election against incumbent Forrest Colburn in 1937.
"I felt that I was ready to lead at that time," Braga said. "The mayor was out of town a lot and didn't attend many of the board meetings. I was president pro-tem at a lot of the meetings, and I knew what was going on."
Running on a platform of solid zoning proposals, the young man from Shoefactory Road won 342 to 240 in the fist four year election term for a Broadview mayor. It was to be the closest anyone ever came to beating Braga for the head post.
Besides Colburn, six other candidates have attempted to dethrone the perennial front runner, but no one has been able to muster even 1,000 votes.
With no major issues in sight, entrants into the Broadview mayoral arena have failed to crop up recently. The last time anyone ran against Braga was in 1965, when Braga won easily against Robert Horn, 1,439 to 503. In 1961 Braga ran unopposed as he has for the last three elections, 1969, 1973 and 1977.
If a Suburban LIFE-Citizen random phone sampling is any indication, opposing Braga in Broadview is about as fruitful as a December corn harvest in Illinois.
Fellow mayors and village presidents surrounding Broadview are also quick to commend the man known as "the dean" of them all.
"I wish we had more like him," said ex-mayor Foster J. Pottle, of Berkeley. "I hope he's around for another 40 years."
"To me, he's the epitomy of what a government official out to be," said Mayor Sig Davis, of Bellwood. "He really cares for the residents."
"He's a very capable person who always has the interests of his community and Proviso Township at heart," Mayor Eugene Doyle, of Northlake, chimed in.
"His success is based on the fact that he's a people-man," said Robert Ingeman, LaGrange Park president. "There's nothing extraordinary about the way he approaches subjects except for the human aspect that he always seems to keep in the forefront."
"He's always extremely concerned about Broadview and Proviso Township," Stone Park Mayor William Francione added. "He's always made himself available, both to his residents and especially to the senior citizens of the area. He's never turned away anyone who had vital concerns of any kind."
"People call us at two, three and four in the morning, and it doesn't bother him at all," said Mrs. Braga. "He'll rush out and help them no matter what time it is, and that's the way it should be. I don't believe he'd have it any other way."
Contrary to the plaudits that Braga most often receives, there are some who believe that he has outlived his usefulness as a leader. One local politician, who wished to remain anonymous, pointed to the fact that Braga is forgetful at times and overly superfluous and vague in his answers to simple questions. yet at the same time this person admitted that Braga is certainly not a hindrance and in fact, may be the foundation for the smooth working village.
Despite the fact that he's constantly on a treadmill, Braga displays a vivacious attitude into commonly found in his particular age group. He pays no deference to his 88 years in administering to a daily log of meetings and appointments. In fact, he seems to thrive on it.
How long this pace can be kept is a question that Braga is not prepared to answer. A 12th mayoral term has not yet crossed his mind, but he does point to a number of goals that he wants to see accomplished before his political hat is finally hung on the rack.
Among these goals is a larger overhead water tank in Broadview, and another Braga dream, reliable public transportation for the people of his community.
The mayor is also fully aware of the racial changes that have and continue to take place in Broadview.
"I'd have to say that for a while Broadview was being oversegregated from Maywood at too fast a rate," Braga observed. "Blacks were moving into our northern section at a high rate, but this rate has slowed considerably as of late.
"Still, despite the great rate of change, I would say that the transition has been above normal and has leveled off to an even keel. We've had very few problems in the past, and we expect very few problems in the future. I think a lot will depend on future economic situations.
Broadview's major growing pains are a thing of the past in Braga's mind, but this doesn't necessarily make his job any easier.
"Running a village from a mayoral post is definitely more involved now than when I first started 44 years ago," Broadview's head man observed. "There are a lot more committees, commissions and departments to look after, and there's more forms, and paperwork."
Yet Braga feels that he and his board have answered the challenge of red tape in government. He points to the high degree of services that residents get for their tax dollar. The mayor pinpointed low property and school taxes, along with low water rates as admirable Broadview qualities.
"I think that our local government has made the village a place where a person can work, live and enjoy his family in a pleasant community atmosphere," Braga summed it up.
When asked if he had ever thought of leaving that atmosphere for a more ambitious, Braga stated that he's had his chances but that he never regretted not taking them.
"I really owe the town and the people," Braga said. "I never wanted to leave, and I plan on staying the rest of my days. Broadview's my home.
From the pages of the Chicago Tribune:
RECORD BREAKING MAYOR STILL GOING STRONG
by Dave Masterson
Every day 78-year-old Broadview Mayor Merritt comes to work, he adds another page to the Illinois history record books. No one in the history of the "Prairie State" has wielded a presidential gavel for one city, town or village for as long as Braga has in Broadview. In over 42 years as his village's head man, Braga watched Illinois mayors come and go with the seasons from his vantage point seven miles west of Chicago.
This amazing tenure, spanning five decades, has earned Braga the unofficial "Dean of Illinois Mayors" title, and his unprecedented Illinois career has made him a local legend in Cook Country's Proviso Township.
He is cheered regularly at the Township's monthly Municipal League meetings where he is regarded as an institution to be revered and respected, and the applause grows louder each passing meeting.
Braga laid claim to the "Dean of Mayors" title this past November, when he surpassed the previous mayoral longevity king, Henry Proesel of Lincolnwood, who declined to run for re-election of 1977.
Although no official Illinois records are kept on the subject, Steve Sargent, Executive Director of the Illinois Municipal League has looked into the matter and is quick to concede that Braga is "by far the longest active mayor in Illinois history."
"I know of no one person now, or ever, who can come even close to matching Merritt's record," Sargent added.
Yet the hunched over frame that houses Braga's infectious spirit belies the heroic iron man status that he has attained. His rounded, slightly arched shoulders, deeply wrinkled face and kind smile would mark him "the loving grandfather type" in most circles. he is just that, with 13 to his brood, but it's the Braga handshake, still strong and firm, that confirms the uncommon greatness that lies within.
When conversation with Braga starts, the amused forewarnings from those close to him about the Mayor speaking in circles soon proves true. When questioned, Braga will many times hover above the subject matter at hand for what seems like an eternity suddenly darting in on the topic like a honeybee to a hive, clearing up the query in an instant.
He's certainly no honey-tongued charmer, but those who know him well do not attribute his 42 year reign to flash and grace, but to a single, simple emotions. He cares.
"His success is based on the fact that he's a people-man," says neighboring LaGrange Park Mayor Robert Ingeman.
"To me, he's the epitomy of what a government official ought to be," said nearby Bellwood Mayor Sig Davis. "He really cares for his residents. And they car for him."
In Braga's Broadview kingdom, his 10,000 residential subjects are the bosses. While other governments make a practice of tossing residents from one official to the next like a circus ball on a seal's nose, the face at Broadview's Village Hall counter is Braga's. The "Dean" is always there to help.
"I suspect the people like him because he's a doer," aid Braga-backer Fred Wedinger, President of neighboring Westchester. "He's never been the kind of guy who asks someone else to do something if he can do it himself. I've heard stories that in Broadview's early days, Braga was out there digging holes for light poles in the pouring rain. I've never heard about any other mayor willing to grovel for his people in that type of manner. He's one in a million."
"Part of today's mistrust of politicians by the people begins when a candidate makes loose promises," Braga observed in his Village Hall office, handling one small desk object after another as is his habit. "The people vote for these candidates and then the candidate doesn't follow through.
"I don't blame them for getting mad. I get a little fed up myself sometimes.
"Take Senator Percy for example. About five years ago, the mayors of Proviso Township were planning to set up a mutual garbage refuse program that would have saved taxpayers 90 percent of what they now pay. We needed a little push from a friend in Washington, so naturally, we called Percy. He listened, promised to get right on it, then we never heard from him again. Maybe this last election will convince him not to take the small communities for granted."
Braga vows that he has never made a political promise outside his reach, which doesn't mean the local Broadview citizenry aren't among the best looked-after folks around.
"People call us at two, three and four in the morning and it doesn't bother him at all," said Braga's wife Lula Mae. "He'll rush right out and help them no matter what time it is. I don't believe he'd have it any other way."
Not many mayors would raise the hood of a woman-in-distress' stalled car, as one Broadview resident related, peel off his sports coat, and tinker with the insides of the engine until it was in working order.
And besides lending his mechanical genius to his residents, Braga gets downright adamant towards unscrupulous door-to-door vendors or fly-by-night operators who prey on the unsuspecting in Broadview.
"He's especially helpful to those aged people in our village who are taken for a ride by so-called furnace cleaning repairmen who offer service and deliver nothing," said long-time Village Clerk and Braga's right hand man Emil Parkes. "People call Braga when they get taken by these smooth operators, he tracks them down like a bound. A lot of the time he gets the people's money back or at least reduces the fee to a reasonable figure. He's never been the kind of man who can tolerate dishonesty when he can do something about it."
"He'll take their licenses away if he has to," added 31-year Village Attorney Albert Jantorni, referring to the con-men. "His diligent work in this area makes it tough for these kinds of people to take their shady businesses to other nearby towns too.
"Broadview residents who think they are being duped will call Merritt up and ask him to look at the work done in their homes. If Braga thinks that the job, like a roofing job or something, is not up to par, he'll go to the bank and have the payment check stopped. He's done this many times over the years.
"He especially looks after the older people in the village. There have been many occasions when older people who have no transportation have called him up, and he's driven them to their doctors or outpatient clinics or whatever. It's all part of the way he runs his office."
Still, even an angel of mercy has his or her detractors, and in Braga's case they are the few anonymous Proviso Township politicians who claim he is too old and too out of touch to be manning the rudder of Broadview ship.
"I still think I can do the job as good or better than anyone else," Braga replies to his detractors. "There are a lot of competent people around and I don't say I'm better than any of them. Yet when election time rolls around, it's always me they come to."
One angry group came to him prior to election time and Braga's actions during that stormy session would have silenced his few detractors. Two years ago, a residential organization stormed a Broadview Village Board meeting and made demands that Braga take some action on the move of a black family into a previously all=white section of the village.
When it became apparent that the light tapping of Braga's ever-present gavel would not silence the unruly hecklers in the group, Braga raised up on his hind legs and let out a torrent of verbiage in their direction, chastising the citizens as a father would his children. Soon the hall was again serene and the meeting flowed smoothly in the manner to which Braga is more accustomed. The problem never resurfaced.
"He's a very easy-going and friendly man," said Braga's granddaughter, Bonnie Schwanz. "He doesn't lose his temper very often, but I wouldn't advise getting on his bad side."
Not many people do, especially the members of the Broadview Village Board, a governing body with all the local control of the late Richard J. Daley Chicago's machine, minus the scandalous background.
When you think of Broadview government, only one party comes to mind; Braga's. Not one of the six village trustees are of a village party that is opposite the Mayor's. A Broadview board member from another political faction is a scarce as a mouse in an operating room and just about as welcome. The last time an opposing party trustee managed a seat on Broadview's Village Board was in 1955. He lasted one term.
Opponents of one-party government can find little fault with the way Broadview is being run. Taxes are some of the lowest around and services are considered the best in the area. The village budget is tighter than Tupperware and the constant local improvements keep Broadview's ever-changing face moving in the right direction.
"I don't like the word machine," Braga said. "It has too many bad connotations. I like to call it a working family.
"I think, and especially in our case, you can advance further with one party in control. We've proved that you can accomplish more for your people when the wheels move smoothly and you're not arguing and making asses of yourself in public."
Like Daley's old Chicago government, Braga's Village Board is composed of specially selected trustees via a complicated political party screening process. Many apply but few are chosen, and nobody, but nobody gets on the board these days without a word from Broadview's number one citizen.
The Braga systems draws no public denouncements in its lack of political choice. On the contrary, Braga's office wall is impressive evidence that the people like the way things are run.
The plaques and citations come from local business associations, the Public Works Department, the Park District, the Moose Lodge, the Police and Fire Departments, the local Boy Scout Troop and many others, all expressing one sentiment as stated on businessmen's plaques.
"In appreciation for the man who dedicated over 40 years of unselfish loyal service . . . . through your efforts, the town is a better place to live."
"In all my years on the scene I've never seen a village government that works as efficiently as does Broadview's," said Attorney Jantorni. "And everything is above board. We've never had a scandal here."
"It's just a matter of looking for needs and fulfilling those needs," Braga comments. "You simply make sure that all of your departments operate at maximum efficiency. We keep close track of our budgets. There's no monkeyshines, not a lot of borrowing or overspending.
"Any government has to operate in a businesslike manner. It's no big secret, though it's not often done. No business can survive if it continually overspends and doesn't provide the service. So how can governments expect to survive when they're constantly operating in the red."
Broadview residents respond favorably to this kind of logic, and so did a group of Proviso Township Republicans in 1962 who requested the Mayor run for the Illinois Senate.
"I had to turn them down," Braga remembers. "I told them I had a job to do in Broadview. They argued that my good name and the local support would make me a sure winner.
"But how would it have looked one year after the local mayoral election, for me to run out on the people I promised to serve as mayor?
"No, I have no regrets about not running that year. But maybe I could've helped straighten out some of the things that have happened downstate since then and done some good for this area.
"Then again, maybe I wouldn't have liked it all. I like the idea of being a small town village mayor because you're closer to the people. They're your neighbors. It's kind of like we're all in this together."
And the "neighbors" like Braga too. In eleven mayoral elections, not one opponent has received 1,000 votes against Braga. Four of the last five elections, "the Dean" has run unopposed, with the last opponent back in 1965.
But the road to victory wasn't always smooth and the Braga name didn't always mean certain victory.
In 1926, Braga tasted political defeat for the first and only time when he ran as an incumbent Village Board trustee.
Braga related that the election was a hotly contested one in which nearby Hines Veterans Administration patients were brought to the polls on stretchers to vote for his opponent. And according to Braga, many of the patients weren't even Broadview residents.
But that was 52 years ago. Nowadays, it would seem that Braga's political opponents would be the ones needing stretchers, especially if residential opinion is any indication of his surefire status.
"Of course he's unopposed," one resident said prior to the 1977 mayoral election, "he'd better be."
"He always is," said another, and a third added; "Now just who would run against him?"
Only "Father Time" can seriously be considered an opponent for the popular Mayor at this point in his career. And Braga's health record seems to rival those Russian yogurt fanatics who regularly live past the ages of 90. The Broadview Institution has never been laid up for any length of time due to illness, and two routine hernia operations were the only causes for trips to the hospital.
Not much has ever brought Braga down over the years. The untimely death of his first wife, Alice, was a crushing blow in his life as was his 1926 loss. But real bitterness enters his voice when he talks about the Broadview that was lost to him and his villagers.
"When I first came here in 1917 we had a real potential for shaping up and becoming prosperous. Then Westchester came along and incorporated to our west and the Forest Preserve claimed the area to the east of us. Before we could do anything we were boxed in. Nowadays there's nowhere for our village to grow. We could have been a lot bigger than we are now. Still, we're been very fortunate. We've come a long way."
The way has been even longer for Braga, who was born in 1900, the second of three children, just outside of Elgin on Shoefactory Road.
Times were tough for everyone in the early 1900's, and the Braga family was no exception. Young Merritt was forced to quit grade school in order to help support his family, which he did as a bicycle and motorcycle repairman in his father's shop.
It was on a 1920 motorcycle repair excursion that he first laid eyes on his beloved Broadview, known in those days as "Oklahoma" because of its tendency towards wildness.
Braga was so impressed by his new discovery and the possibilities the village offered that he immediately moved in, married his first wife Alice soon after, and bought a house and garage, the latter which was turned into one of the first auto repair shops in the area.
It wasn't long before Braga, then 20, became entangled in the seven-year-old village's inner workings. While operating his garage, he also served as a special deputy under Broadview's legendary marshal, Indian Joe Huszar, who already had a reputation as being an arresting officer, judge and jury all rolled into one.
Braga didn't much care for the way Indian Joe operated his frequent traffic stops, and the mayor relates how the Broadview marshal was eventually placed in prison where he spent the rest of his days for taking bribes and accepting jewelry in lieu of jail bonds.
Braga's first real brush with local government came soon after, when he was appointed Village Collector. He so impressed the local citizenry that he was asked to run for the Village Board as a trustee in 1924, which he did. Victory number one.
Following his disappointing political defeat in 1926, Braga regrouped, captured his lost trustee post in 1933, and won again in 1935.
By 1937 I felt I was ready to make a go at being mayor," he related. "All I needed was for somebody to approach me. When they did, I accepted eagerly."
It was to be the closest mayoral race Braga was ever in. Noting the hodge-podge village setup, Braga ran on a platform of solid zoning proposals and building codes and eventually registered a 342-240 victory over incumbent Forest Coburn.
When Braga first took office, Broadview, like most of the nation, was sunk in the throes of the great depression. At first, the tight money hampered his zoning and building plans.
Then came the pre-World War II defense boom, and led by a revitalized economy and Braga's progressive party, Broadview experienced its biggest growth period.
From there, it was one stunning victory after another, both at the polls and in village progress. The Braga-led Village Board took aim at one area of improvement at a time, strengthening the Police Department, now recognized as one of the most progressive in the area, and forming a volunteer firefighter force, in which Braga, not one to be left out of anything, was named Assistant Chief.
By 1955, industry had discovered the village, prompting the local leaders to convert the Fire Department into a full-time force.
The almost instant excellence of that department drew even more industry Broadview's way, providing the village with a sound tax base and fiscal security that exists to this day.
"It's been a wild 15 years," recalls the second Mrs. Braga, Lula Mae. "We're up at six every day, eat breakfast together and go our separate ways. We try to keep in touch by phone during the day, and at night there's always one function or another to attend."
Through it all, Braga remains a simple, unpretentious man. Not the country club sort of person by any stretch of imagination, he revels in the simple pleasures of fishing, hunting and dabbling with car engines during what free time he has.
Though his garage was sold and torn down in 1972, Braga still enjoys getting elbow-deep in a car engine.
"I've met a lot of important people with grease on my hands." he chuckles.
It's this lack of regard for pretentiousness and his caring virtues that prompted the local citizenry to sponsor a recent testimonial dinner in Braga's honor. A few weeks after the tickets went on sale, it became a standing-room-only affair, with speaker after speaker hailing the Illinois' Dean's many accomplishments in front of the 700 present.
In addition to the plaques, trophies and other awards, the Village Board went one step further, re-naming a local street "Braga Drive," an honor usually reserved for deceased heroes.
The gesture deeply touched Braga, who noted that running his mayoral office has not been easy in light of increasing bureaucratic pressures, especially in the past 10 years.
"There's too much paperwork, too many commissions, too much telling the little guy what he has to do," Braga says. "The standards are always changing.
"Integration and busing are forced down the throats of the citizens, especially in smaller towns. These are the types of things that make people move out of a community.
"But all things considered, I'm very happy. Never in my wildest dreams did I think back in 1937 that I'd still be mayor in 1979. It's just something that happened. People kept asking me to run, so I did. I owe the people a lot.
"And," said the grandfather figure, with a twinkle in his eye, "If my health is as good as it is right now, I'm a candidate in 1981."
The above is a "reprint" of an undated Chicago Tribune feature article, courtesy of the Broadview Historical Society archives. References in the article indicate it was written after September 25, 1978 (the date of the testimonial dinner mentioned in the article) and before his death in February 6, 1980.
From the Suburban Tribune, Central Cook County, September 8, 1978, Area Publications Corp.
decades merit a special thanks for Mr. Mayor
by Lori Rotenberk
Towns people and others who breeze past his tidy office each day like to refer to him as a legend.
Stationed in a stiff leather chair behind the desk that has been his companion for so many years, Merritt Braga smiled and said Broadview has never done him wrong.
For the last 40 years Braga has served as the mayor of Broadview, giving him the Illinois record for the highest number of years elected to public office. Now the people want to let the 77-year-old know that they appreciate it.
The Broadview Business Association is sponsoring a testimonial dinner for Braga at 6:30 p.m., Sept 25. The dinner will be held in the Carlisle Banquet Hall, 435 E. Butterfield Rd., Lombard. Tickets are $12.50 and can be ordered by mail through the Broadview Business Association, 1600 Roosevelt Rd. 60153, or by calling Manuel Gill at 865-2528.
The dinner is hardly a goodbye, but merely a thank you, said Gill, treasurer and former president of the business association.
"Most of the people in this town have grown up with Braga as mayor," said association president Timothy Howe. "Rather than wait to honor Braga we decided to do it now and to do it right."
Braga became mayor in 1937. Before taking office, he served 6 1/2 years on the village board.
He recalled his introduction to Broadview as "off to a good start in my mind, from the very beginning.
"I was born in Elgin and have lived here and there," Braga said. "Then in 1920, I bought a garage on 14th Street and opened up a mechanic's shop. That's how I got to know the village officials and the people, from fixing their Model T's up right."
Since the days when Braga stepped in, Broadview has left the age of Model T's and grown into an industrial and residential town of more than 10,000 people.
A library, the fire and police departments, schools, and churches have sprung up under Braga's keen and watchful eye.
"The years have passed. I've seen many a good board member come and go," Braga said. "Residents come and go, and the town is still growing. It's been something to see."
"I've gotten awards in my day," he said, referring to those he received from the Moose, Jaycees, the Exchange Club. "But this is very nice."
"We've always wanted to do something for Mayor Braga, but his time the business association had the right idea," said Village Clerk Emil Parks, who has known Braga for more than 20 years. "Braga is the type of man who's a legend to us -- he has no competition and he always comes out on tops."
Parks said that no invitations are necessary for the testimonial. Everyone is welcome.
What has been Braga's key to success for these last 40 years?
"The people accepted me and the manner in which I handle business," Braga said. "I enjoy it. I try not to make promises I can't keep. I remember, too, that saying from my childhood. Treat others how you wish to be treated. I've never tired being mayor of Broadview.
From the Suburban Tribune, Central Cook County, February 6, 1980, Area Publications Corp.
Mayor for 42 years dies at 79
Broadview Mayor Merritt Braga, the longest serving village official in Illinois, died Tuesday afternoon in Oak park Hospital, Oak Park. He was 79.
"It's certainly a sad day for the village of Broadview," Emil Parkes, village clerk and a good friend of Braga's said Tuesday. Braga served as mayor of Broadview, population 9,000, for 42 years.
Braga was hospitalized Jan. 15 with back problems and contracted pneumonia, Parkes said. He is survived by his wife, Lila Mae, three sons, and one daughter.
Broadview has been Braga's life -- from 1927 when he was elected to the village board until his uncontested big for re-election as mayor in 1977. He was an auto mechanic until he retired in 1972 because his duties at the village hall required more time.
Information concerning funeral arrangements and memorials wasn't available Tuesday, but may be obtained from the Broadview Police Department, 345-6556.
From the Suburban Tribune, February 8, 1980, Area Publications Corp.
Mayor is leaving a full legacy
Funeral services for Broadview Mayor Merritt E. Braga, 79, who held village office since 1927, will be at 2 p.m. Saturday in the Broadview Funeral Home, 2020 Roosevelt Road.
Visitation will be from 2 to 9 p.m. today in the funeral home. Donations to the Merritt E. Braga Memorial may be made at the village hall, 1600 Roosevelt Road.
Braga, who died Tuesday in Oak Park Hospital, where he was hospitalized for respiratory problems, was mayor of Broadview for 42 years. He was the longest serving village official in Illinois history.
"Perhaps my greatest accomplishment is the development of the streets and water system," Braga said in 1978 at his office in the village hall, which he helped plan. "I started the project in the late 1930s and just two years ago (1975) we finished putting in the street lamps at 25th Street and Roosevelt Road."
In the years since he first was elected mayor in 1937, Braga was instrumental in the orderly development of the village and its industrial complex. Although criticized at the time by residents who said he was making a factory town out of Broadview, Braga ensured the comfortable financial position that Broadview enjoys today and encouraged "no-nuisance" types of industry to locate there. His accomplishments include the development of building and fire codes, a master plan for the village, and the installation of streets and sidewalks.
Born Dec. 15, 1900, near Elgin, Braga first noticed Broadview as a young man living in Forest Park. One day, while driving down Roosevelt Road to his motorcycle and bicycle shop in Wheaton, he noticed a "for sale" sign on a mechanics garage. he bought the garage and a nearby house in 1920, and soon after married.
"I saw that cars were going to be a big item," he said, so he moved his house a half block down to its present address, 2130 S. 14th Avenue, hoping to build a larger auto repair garage on adjacent land.
However, his dream was postponed until the late 1940s because of the Depression and World War II.
His business was good. He met a lot of famous (and some infamous) people, such as state senators and Broadview's own notorious "Indian Joe", with overalls and greasy hands.
Braga claimed he first saw the inside of the village hall when "Indian Joe" Huszar, Broadview's one-man police force in the early 1920s -- later indicted and convicted for extortion and assault -- hauled him in for speeding.
Braga, because he was one of the few Broadview residents who owned a motorcycle at the time, was recruited to be an auxiliary policeman in 1927. He also became village collector that year.
He became interested in village government at about the same time because residents seemed disappointed in the village board members' lack of concern, he said. He was defeated by eight votes in his first try for the village board in 1926, an election that was filled with politics, he said.
But he came back for the next year to win a two-year village board term. In 1936, board members were calling Braga the next village president because the current one was continually missing meetings, Braga said.
Braga was a member of the village fired department in 1948 and the volunteer firefighters elected him chief. But unable to handle all his village duties, he appointed James G. Cote as chief in 1951, a position Cole has held since.
The library, park district, churches, and schools are other projects Braga help coordinate.
He served as president of the Illinois Municipal League in 1961 and was chosen "Citizen of the Year" of Proviso Township by the Moose Lodge No. 777, Bellwood, in 1962.
Recently, Crescent Drive, in the center of Broadview's industrial area, was renamed Braga Drive in his honor.
From the Suburban Live Citizen, February 8, 1980
Mr. Broadview will be missed
By Jeanne Sanek
LIFE staff reporter
Broadview will not be the same without the man who made the town what it is today.
That's the opinion of several people who knew and worked with the late Merritt Braga, village president.
"Merritt's death leaves me empty for words and thoughts; we was a fine gentleman, I knew him for 27 years prior to becoming village clerk, we saw a lot of the problems within the village and took care of them before they happened," Emil Parkes, village clerk, said.
Parkes in describing the devotion and continuous service Braga gave to the village, said "Merritt was Mr. Broadview.
Village attorney, Albert Jantorni, described Braga as "the heart of Broadview."
Jantorni said: "He was compassionate, he always took time for residents and tried to handle things personally.
Jantorni was appointed in 1945 by Braga, and described their working together as "a long pleasant association. I learned so much regarding municipal government from Merritt."
"Due to Braga's outstanding qualities as a man and a village president, Broadview was a smooth running village," said Jantorni.
Braga was the longest active mayor in Illinois history. He served in the village government for more than 50 years.
He was described as knowing the village, knowing the people, and knowing his job. Last year Braga claimed the title of "Dean of Mayors."
While operating a garage in Broadview at the age of 20, he became interested in the village's inner workings.
Braga's first real attempt in local government came upon his appointment as village collector. He was then asked to run for the Village Board as a trustee in 1924, which he did, and claimed his first victory.
In 1937 Braga ran for village president on a solid platform of solid zoning proposals and building codes and won. He remained in the office continuously until his death.
Trustees available for comment had nothing but hope for the continuation of the running of the village in a smooth fashion, because that's the way Braga would want it.
Trustee John Rodgers, said; "I'm so glad I knew him, he is a legend in Broadview.
Rodgers said Braga was a quiet, strong man, and you could see his wisdom without a doubt.
"He was truly a mayor for the people; the board learned so much from working with him, that I hope we can continue to run the village smoothly and efficiently form him now."
Senior Trustee Gus Macaluso has served as a trustee for eleven years and described Braga as: "A very patient man who was always willing to listen to the people, he was honest and sincere."
"He was the man that built the town," said Michael Flood, trustee, "He produced growth in Broadview throughout the years."
Services will be conducted at the Broadview Funeral Home, 2020 Roosevelt, today 2 to 9 p.m., the funeral service will be at 2 p.m. on Saturday.
Braga articles and pictures gallery at Merritt Braga continued
Last Modified: 02/19/2003