By Erick Johnson and Carmen Wray-Woodson, Gary Crusader
For many people in Gary and Northwest Indiana, John S. Visclosky was the real deal. He believed in old school politics when sincerity and public service were inseparable. Most of all, he loved people and people loved him.
Years before the rise of Black political power led to the historic election of Richard Gordon Hatcher as the city’s first Black mayor, Visclosky was a charming politician who steered the city through a dark period in 1962 after Mayor George “Cha Cha” Chacharis pleaded guilty in 1961 to conspiracy and tax evasion. He served for one year as Gary’s interim mayor until Judge A. Martin Katz was elected in 1963.
On Friday, March 31, Visclosky, known to many as “Johnny V” died after living an extraordinary life of 101 years.
Family and friends all over Gary and Northwest Indiana remembered Visclosky during services at Brothers Funeral Service on Monday, April 3 and at St. Mary Catholic Church on Tuesday April 4. His son, longtime U.S. Congressman Peter Visclosky, remember his father as a man with a zest for life and humanity.
“Johnny V loved his family and he loved people-because he never met a stranger, Visclosky said in a statement. “He loved life and he always loved the city of Gary and his people.”
Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson said “I am saddened to hear of the passing of former Gary Mayor Johnny Visclosky. My prayers go out to Congressman Pete Visclosky and his family. I was privileged to know Johnny V and hear his recollections in city hall. It was an honor to have him at my inauguration and I will always remember him fondly.”
The son of an immigrant family of Croatin-Slovak descent, Visclosky became a model of the American Dream. Johnny’s first job was caddying at age 11 at Turkey Creek Country Club. Visclosky was forced to quit high school after his father died on Dec. 23, 1929 at the start of the Great Depression. Visclosky later returned to Lew Wallace High School in Gary to earn his diploma.
During World War II, Visclosky was among thousands of men who joined the U.S. Navy in 1942, where he served as a Chief Petty Officer. Three years later, Visclosky was discharged and returned to Gary to continue a life in public service.
Visclosky served in three positions in Gary from 1948 to 1963. They included deputy city controller, then city controller. In the 1950s the mob and organized crime flourished in Gary while neighborhoods remained segregated. Mayor George “Cha Cha” Chacharis, an immigrant from Greece, would follow in the footsteps of his corrupt predecessor, Peter Mandich. After both were indicted and jailed on corruption charges, Visclosky served as interim mayor, steering Gary with integrity and wholesome politics.
He was proud of his membership in the Ironworkers Local 395 and worked through the union following his service as mayor.
His son Peter said, “His theory of public service was straight forward – make sure people had access to good jobs and help people out. The rules of his house were simple – always respect every person you meet and always do your best. His wish would be to remember a good laugh you had with him and do somebody a favor in his memory.”