Longtime Sterling Heights mayor Richard Notte dies
Within hours of learning beloved Mayor Richard Notte had died, Sterling Heights officials were pushing to rename city hall after him.
It was, said one politician, almost a given.
"You think of Sterling Heights and you think of Richard Notte," said Macomb County Executive Mark Hackle. "He was an icon."
From Warren to Detroit, his death drew reaction, whether a moment of silence or a flag flown at half-staff.
Notte, who served as Sterling Heights mayor for more than two decades, usually sporting his familiar fedora hat, a wry smile and bursting with enthusiasm, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer four months ago. He was 76 and was the city's longest-serving mayor.
City Manager Mark Vanderpool called him "a rock star in our city."
"He was a great mayor, and I think that's why he kept getting elected," he said.
Notte won 11 consecutive two-year terms in the city of 131,000, starting in 1993. Before becoming mayor, he served 10 years on the City Council. He was the city's first mayor to be directly elected by a popular vote.
His decades of public service left a mark on the city, Vanderpool said.
"Sterling Heights is renowned for being financially and politically stable, a good place to live and raise a family and (for having) a strong business climate," he said. "The mayor played a huge role in those accomplishments."
The council will consider a resolution at the Nov. 5 council meeting whether to rename the municipal center the Richard J. Notte Sterling Heights City Center, said Mayor Pro Tem Michael C. Taylor.
"It is assured to pass," he said.
The council began talking about memorial plans when it learned of Notte's illness.
"Knowing that he had pancreatic cancer, we were doing some brainstorming," said Councilwoman Deanna Koski. "We were looking for something to do to show our appreciation for everything Mayor Notte did for us."
City officials and residents remembered Notte as a man who made community outreach a priority, even in his part-time position. He seemed everywhere: Charity balls, ribbon cuttings and scout ceremonies, said Community Relations Director Steve Guitar. He was recognizable by the distinctive hat he often wore at events.
"He was a people's mayor," he said. "He was very down to earth."
The city's residents appreciated the effort, Vanderpool said.
"I remember 20 years ago, I was only 4 four years old and Mayor Notte hosted our grand opening here in Sterling Heights. He let me help him cut the ribbon, and from that day on, he became 'Uncle Notte' to me," said Marina Pilibosian, CEO of Birmingham Jewelry in Sterling Heights.
"He was a man I always looked up to. His memory will be everlasting in my heart."
Before taking public office, Notte spent 45 years with Ford Motor Co., where he held several positions with the United Auto Workers union.
He was an advocate of the American Cancer Society and Relay for Life, as well as the Sterling Heights Read Aloud program. He established the annual Richard J. Notte Scholarship for Public Service Endowment in 2010, which awards a college scholarship to one student each year.
In 2013, Notte was inducted into the Macomb Hall of Fame.
Hackel credits Notte, a longtime friend of his father, with convincing him to run for Macomb County sheriff back when he was a police captain.
"He asked me to lunch ... and he shared some stories about my father," said Hackel. "He asked if I was thinking about running for sheriff. He flat out said if you run for sheriff, you'll win."
He did. Hackel said Notte hosted a party for him the night of the election. "He was one of the most excited people there," said Hackel. "He wanted nothing from me, but he saw something in me."
Warren Mayor Jim Fouts said he met Notte about 25 years ago when the mayor visited Sterling Heights High School to speak to Fouts' American government class.
"He was always cordial, kind, humble and considerate with the students," he said. "They say nice guys finish last, but in Richard Notte's case, this was a nice guy who finished first."
Fouts said he ordered the flag at Warren City Hall lowered to half-staff, and Detroit's City Council observed a moment of silence Tuesday in recognition of Notte's service.
Taylor will remain mayor pro tem until the council appoints someone to fill the vacancy. The council has 60 days to make a decision.
The city announced visitation 3-9 p.m. on Saturday and 1-9 p.m. Sunday afternoon at Wujek-Calcaterra Funeral Home in Sterling Heights. A scripture service will be held at 7 p.m. Sunday. A funeral mass will take place at St. Blasé Catholic Church, 12151 15 Mile, at noon Monday. Internment will follow at White Chapel Memorial Cemetery in Troy.
All non-essential city offices will be closed between 11:30 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday for the funeral. The city clerk's office inside City Hall will remain open because of the election on Tuesday. Absentee voters can come in between 8:30 a.m. until 4 p.m. to request and receive a ballot over the counter.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Sterling Heights Community Foundation and its Mayor Richard J. Notte Public Service Scholarship Endowment. Checks can be mailed to: Sterling Heights Community Foundation, PO Box 7023, Sterling Heights, MI 48311-7023.
Condolences maybe sent to the family in care of Sterling Heights City Hall, 40555 Utica Road, PO Box 8009, Sterling Heights, MI 48311-8009.
Hackel said Notte wouldn't want people to be sad. He said Notte experienced adversity with the death of his wife and daughter, but still found the good in life.
"He was one of those guys that celebrated life every day," said Hackel. "He loved being the mayor and he was so appreciative every day."