Shepley, Aaron T. "Simply the Best". Age 56, Mayor and lifelong resident and advocate of Crystal Lake, died peacefully at home on May 4, 2020. Aaron is survived by his loving wife and partner of over thirty years, Elizabeth "Regan" Daniels; his two daughters Madison and Chase Shepley; mother, Laverne L. (nee Mannheim); father, Darwin J. (Jan) Shepley; siblings, Darwin (Robbin) Shepley, Denise Evans, Hope (Joel) Amettis, Heather Tate, and Wendy Heaven, and mother-in-law, Janet Daniels; many loving aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces and nephews, and in-laws. He was preceded in death by his father-in-law, Donald Daniels,and brother-in-law, Mark Evans. No words can encapsulate Aaron's life nor the loss Aaron's passing has caused for his family, friends, colleagues, and the City of Crystal Lake. Words cannot capture his big laugh, his thoughtful conversation, his passion in every endeavor, the sound of his voice when he cheered for his girls at sports, his tone when he was trying to get people to work together, the sly corners of his smile, or the intuitive and experienced way he had of convincing you after a defeat that you had the power to do whatever you put your mind to. In Crystal Lake and the greater McHenry County community, Aaron Shepley was known to many as an ardent, intelligent, and dedicated advocate and public servant. For over twenty years, he worked relentlessly to make Crystal Lake a "great place to live." To the community, Aaron may be remembered for his many accomplishments and years of service. But to those he loved, Aaron was so much more. Aaron's work ethic and passion were in service to his competitiveness; the trio was his unmistakable trademark. Aaron lived to achieve PR's or "personal bests" and encouraged others to do so as well. He believed that everything was achievable if you were not afraid to work for it. To Aaron, each step in his life, every relationship formed, and accomplishment achieved was approached as a personal best opportunity. Aaron was a life-long athlete and teammate. "Shep" was a fiercely competitive Crystal Lake Central High School track and cross-country runner and the originator of the "Shepley Mile," a mile-loop-repeats run near College Street and Wallace Avenue. Aaron went on to become a successful student-athlete at Eastern Illinois University and a valued member of the EIU cross country team. At EIU, he forayed into politics, serving as an Elected Student Representative to the Board of Governors of State Colleges and Universities. He graduated with honors in 1985 with a bachelor's degree in political science. Following college, Aaron attended law school at the University of Illinois, where he served as an editor on the Law Review. In 1988, he joined the Chicago law firm Wildman, Harrold, Allen & Dixon and quickly proved himself to be a gifted litigator and trial attorney. There Aaron met, fell in love with, and married his colleague and best friend, Regan, and convinced her that commuting together to work from his hometown of Crystal Lake to Chicago would be fun. In 1992,Aaron was one of four associates invited to join nine former partners of Wildman, Harrold, Allen & Dixon to form Swanson, Martin & Bell, LLP."Taught by the best," as he would say, he was named partner in 1997, and forged bonds that remain strong to this day.In2002, Aaron joined Centegra Health Systems, embracing the healthcare industry with typical vigor, and serving in an array of positions, including Chief Quality Officer, President of its insurance captive, and General Counsel. He was an integral part of the construction of Centegra's Huntley hospital, the development of its open-heart program, and Centegra's merger with Northwestern Medicine. Since 2018, Aaron proudly served as the Vice President, Office of the General Counsel at Northwestern Medicine and was pursuing this new role with his characteristic diligence, intelligence, enthusiasm, optimism and of course, competitiveness; he was planning his next personal best. To Aaron, personal bests were to be chased down, achieved, and then broken. He would say they are to remind you of what you are capable of and drive you to push further. Aaron took a personal bests-approach to life, not only as an athlete or professional, but as a community advocate and leader.In1995, Aaron helped organize his neighbors to oppose development plans to a historic neighborhood in Crystal Lakea unifying move that ultimately led to his involvement on the Crystal Lake City Council. In 1997, he became a member of City Council, and in 1999 he was elected as Mayor, a position he would hold for 21 years, longer than any other prior mayor. As Mayor, Aaron strived to bean advocate for the City of Crystal Lake and the "folks' who called it home. He once said that, "the role of the mayor should not be to force his vision on the people, it should be to have the vision to know what the people want." It was with this vision that Aaron sought to help the City of Crystal Lake and its citizens achieve its personal best. To better serve Crystal Lake, Aaron took on regional responsibilities, including serving on the board of directors for PACE Suburban Bus, the Illinois Municipal League, and JourneyCare Hospice. A quintessential Renaissance man, Aaron pursued his many interestsbiking, drumming, woodworking, photographywith laser focus and "personal best" passion. Despite having begun with no prior training, he could ultimately teach a master class in them all. His cycling career began in 1991when he walked into the local bike shop looking for someone to compete with in a 2-man time trial race. That trip was the start of life-long friendships and a two-decade career in competitive cycling that included years as a Category 2 rider with Team MACK and winning the 1996 Tour of Illinois race series in his age class. Aaron was always finding new outlets to funnel his creativity into. Music, wood-working and photography gave him the most joy, which he ultimately shot right back out to others. Aaron's personal goal of learning to play the drums and love of the movie "Drumline" resulted in another personal best: The Crystal Lake Strikers Drumline. He was so proud to be one of three founders of the drumline who together developed it into a far-reaching organization that has provided a musical outlet, instruction, and support for experienced, as well as aspiring, musicians of all ages. His most recent passion was action photography, born from his love of sports and of taking pictures of his family. What started as a typical Aaron obsession (lots of gear and equipment), expanded into his next PR. He quickly moved from taking photos of Chase's rowing competitions, to being asked to take photos for other college events. He created the Aaron Shepley Action/Sports Photography website so that the athletes and colleges could access and download their pictures for free. Here again, his "it never hurts to ask . . .the worst they can say is no and you aren't any worse off than when you started" mantra took him down a new personal best path. Ultimately, however, Aaron's greatest personal best was his family. Nothing was more important than "his girls"Regan, Madison, and Chase. Aaron ran ahead of the course at Veteran's Acres to cheer on Madison during cross-country races and encourage her to do her besteven at the very hardest of hills. A move that he would repeat in other ways throughout her adult career. "Just keep your head down and put in the work." Aaron ran along the banks of rowing regattas, cheering on Chase forcefully enough to give the boat a tailwind, and more importantly, coached her on how to articulate and harness the "edge" they shared. Aaron celebrated his girls' victories and felt the pain of their losses as if they were his own."You just have to stay tough. You know how to do that." He was so happy that his girls chose to "shelter in place" at home with their by then bearded dad(described by some as looking like an aging rocker and a college poetry professor) and fully committed to our quarantine relief events, most recently a70's-themed house party with a rollicking evening of quarters. Aaron lived and taught us that personal bests are moments in time to reflect on and use to grow and improve. We know as a family that Aaron will continue to be with us wherever we go encouraging us to take the next step to our personal best. He was simply, the best. More than thathe brought the personal best out of all of us. A private service was held May 9, 2020. A celebration of Aaron's life will beheld when the social distancing requirements in place for the COVID-19 pandemic are lifted. Memorials may be made to the Aaron T. Shepley "Shep" Community Fund, a non-profit fund established with the kind assistance of Home State Bank,our dear friend Pamela Althoff, and many others, to continue Aaron's support of community programs.
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Published in Chicago Sun-Times on May 17, 2020.