Deep roots provide Peach passion to serve city

Paul Thissen

It’s easy to make Dick Peach an offer he can’t refuse.

“I have a serious mental problem,” he said. “I don’t know how to say no.”

Ask Peach, 57, manager of Dempster Auto Rebuilders, 2001 Dempster St., to list the local organizations he’s involved with and he has trouble remembering them all.

He is a board member of the Evanston Chamber of Commerce, chairman of the Small Business Commission, vice president of Evanston’s Rotary Club, chairman of Evanston’s charitable fund and numerous other positions.

He says he does it because he loves Evanston and takes its politics personally.

“It’s my town,” Peach said. “Don’t fuck around with my town … or I’m not going to hold any punches.”

Peach speaks jovially and informally, rarely letting any silence into a conversation and never hesitating to give his opinion about anything. Usually those opinions are about Evanston — conversations with Peach often wander back to the politics of the city.

“It goes on in his office all day long,” said Bill Warak, an employee at Dempster Auto Rebuilders, who said Peach is always talking to customers about Evanston politics.

At work Peach sits in the small office in the corner of the building when he’s not in the garage or in the parking lot inspecting a customer’s car.

One vinyl imitation-wood wall is nearly obscured by countless photographs of youth baseball teams the company has sponsored. These photos and a few computers may be the only additions to the room in decades — nearly everything else is yellowed with age.

Peach became manager of Dempster Auto Rebuilders 15 years ago when he quit his job at a nearby body shop. His job search took about 15 minutes and a two-block walk.

He’s not the first of his family to run a business in that part of town — one of his grandfathers opened a florist’s in 1905. His family has lived on Evanston’s west side in the Fourth Ward ever since.

Peach was “born and bred” in Evanston, and his sons, 32 and 12, are the fourth generation in his family to go through Evanston’s public schools.

After graduating from Evanston Township High School, Peach earned a degree in fine arts from the Art Institute of Chicago. He worked his way through school in the press rooms of Rand McNally, which used to have a plant in Evanston.

He has not spent his whole life here, however. He has toured with a professional auto racing team, lived in England while serving in the U.S. Air Force and spent a few months “wandering around” San Francisco in the early 1970s.

But Evanston always drew him back.

“He’s one of the most committed people I know to Evanston in terms of his passion, belief and willingness to make extraordinary civic contributions,” said Jonathan Perman, executive director of Evanston’s Chamber of Commerce, who has known Peach for about eight years.

Peach may be willing to sacrifice his time, but don’t expect him to run for elected office anytime soon. He thinks he can be more effective without serving as an elected official.

The school boards and City Council tend to lose track of the big picture, he said, and activists wait until the last minute to complain.

“You get a handful of people at the 11th hour screaming up the podium (about most issues),” he said, citing the recent controversy about trees that might be cut down along McCormick Boulevard.

Though it sometimes bothers him, Peach said he sees a bright side of the active Evanston community.

“It’s one of the beautiful things about Evanston — people are willing to speak up,” he said. “There’s a lot of people in this town who get involved … it makes for great partnerships because it gets things done.”

Reach Paul Thissen at [email protected].