WOOD RIVER — After a lifetime of dedication to the city of Wood River, Mayor Fred Ufert passed away Wednesday morning at the age of 65.
“To me, it’s a great loss to our community,” Wood River City Clerk Jan Sneed said. “He was a wonderful man and served well, not just on the City Council but with the school district, as well.
“This is a huge loss for our community.”
Ufert died Wednesday following emergency heart surgery performed earlier in the week. City Manager Jim Schneider said Ufert knew something was not right on Monday.
“He came in complaining of back pain,” Schneider said.
After tests late Monday revealed he had suffered an aortic aneurysm, he was flown to Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis, where he underwent emergency surgery. By Tuesday he was listed in serious condition, and he died around 8:30 a.m. on Wednesday.
“He was a great mayor and a caring person,” Schneider said. “He truly lived Wood River. He treated everyone equally and looked into every complaint. He had a lot of friends.”
Leroy Emerick served as mayor of Wood River from 1990 until 1994.
“Fred came in after I got out of government,” Emerick said. “The guy had his heart and soul into Wood River; he did a lot of things for this community. He coached the American Senior Legion baseball team for several years and he did an outstanding job.
“I don’t think anybody could match up to his service to the community. He was at City Hall about every day and it became part of his life.”
As of press time Wednesday morning, Schneider had spoken with the city attorney and together they were formulating a plan for the city, he said.
“Fred was all about Wood River and wanted to see the city prosper,” Schneider said. “That is in the front of our minds right now as we move forward.”
Since 1953, the city has adopted a “council-manager” form of government, where the city manager works closely with the City Council regarding community growth and financial matters. The mayor and city manager work together approving annual budgets and determining the property tax levy.
Madison County Board Member Robert Pollard remembers Ufert coaching little league baseball from Pollard’s days playing softball as a child.
“When you think of all of the corruption in politics, no one had a bigger heart for the community than Fred did,” Pollard said. “He was the first guy to call and congratulate me when I won the election.”
Cynthia Ellis of Alton had been friends with Ufert for years. She recalled a story he told of serving on City Council following his term as a School Board member.
“Since he didn’t get paid for serving on the School Board, he didn’t even realize he was going to get paid for serving on the City Council,” Ellis said. ““That was the kind of man he was. He cared about the residents.
“I adored him. I knew if I needed something I could call Fred.”
Ufert’s son Dave told AdVantage News Wednesday morning his father would be remembered by all those whose lives he touched.
“We couldn’t be more proud to call him our father, grandfather, husband, friend, coach and mayor,” he said. “He touched so many lives it’s unbelievable. You are remembered by the marks you make in life and he made too many to count.
“Thank you for all the support and prayers we have received from everyone,” Ufert said.
Ufert served on the City Council from 1999 until 2005, when he was elected mayor. He leaves behind Gale, his wife of more than 20 years, and four children.