Simpson grad leads Chicago

Register Staff Writer

David Orr wasn’t particularly interested in politics when he attended Simpson College in Indianola in the 1960s.

But former teachers and classmates of Chicago’s interim mayor said Thursday that he must have been bitten by the political bug in his later years.

Orr, 43, is a 1966 Simpson graduate with a major in history. The Chicago native temporarily took over the top post after the death of Mayor Harold Washington on Wednesday.

Joseph Walt, chairman of the history department, said Orr was a “good, diligent history student,” but not particularly politically motivated.

“That must be something he discovered an interest in later,” Walt said.

Orr spent a semester studying in Washington, D.C., said Don Wagner of Humeston, a fraternity brother and classmate, but never stumped for particular candidates. Wagner said Orr, a Democrat, is supporting Illinois Senator Paul Simon in the race for president.

Orr served as an officer of the Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity at the college. “He was an excellent organizer, a real good leader,” said Donald Koch Jr., also a 1966 graduate of Simpson and one of Orr’s fraternity brothers. “He had a way with people and of getting them to do things. He had that knack.”

Others were surprised to find Orr in his new post.

“It’s hard to picture him running the city of Chicago,” fraternity brother Glenn Kuehl of Indianola said. “When you know a person when they are 19 or 20 and then 20 years later he’s where he is today, it’s a little surprising. He was a take-charge kind of guy, though.”

The one place he wasn’t a “take-charge kind of guy” was in pranks. “He wasn’t one of the greater pranksters there, but he wasn’t innocent, either,” Kuehl said. “He was involved in his share, but I wouldn’t say he was as ornery as the rest of us.”

Wagner said Orr’s college classmates gathered recently for a reunion and took the opportunity to play a joke on Orr. They called the alderman at 3 a.m. and claimed to be a resident of his ward, complaining of a smelly garbage truck parked near the resident’s home.

“He had to be straight” at first, Wagner said. “But when he figured it out… I won’t tell you what he said.” After graduating from Simpson in 1966, Orr toured the United States in a Volkswagen bus, Wagner said, visiting college friends along the way. He taught history and urban affairs at Mundelein College before defeating three challengers to win election to the Chicago City Council in 1979. He served the 49th Ward and was chosen vice mayor after last April’s city elections.

He will serve as interim mayor until the City Council meets and chooses one of its members as acting mayor, or until the current term expires in 1991.

Wagner predicted that his former classmate would do well. “If he doesn’t, it won’t be because of lack of ability or effort,” he said.

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