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Former Elmhurst Mayor Abner Ganet Dead at 86

He saved many lives during World War II, including that of world renowned author Elie Wiesel.

Abner S. Ganet, 86, of Elmhurst, died Saturday, March 31.

Ganet was born July 7, 1925. He was mayor of Elmhurst from 1977 to 1985, and was the former owner of Leonard's Men's Store in Elmhurst.

Ganet, who was trustee emeritus of Elmhurst College, was awarded the Elmhurst College Founders Medal in 2010. A Jan. 28, 2011, article on the Elmhurst College website touches on his "remarkable life."

As a member of the U.S. Army at the end of World War II, Ganet and his unit liberated Jewish prisoners from the Buchenwald concentration camp, where Holocaust survivor and author Elie Wiesel was held prisoner. Ganet's service during the war earned him a Purple Heart and two Bronze Stars for bravery.

"Years later—in 1994—(Ganet) met Elie Wiesel when the Nobel Peace Prize-winner was the guest speaker at the college’s annual Holocaust Education Project," the Elmhurst College article states.

Wiesel told Ganet he would have been killed at Buchenwald had Ganet’s division not liberated the camp.

"Wiesel encouraged Ganet to tell his story, and Ganet was inspired to begin sharing his Holocaust experience with school and civic groups," according to the article.

Ganet donated the money from his speaking engagements back to Elmhurst College. He also established the Abner S. Ganet Scholarship for Urban Studies.

This year, he received an honorary degree from Elmhurst College, which was to have been awarded at the college's 141st commencement ceremony Saturday, May 26.

In an obituary posted by Elmhurst College on Monday, college President S. Alan Ray was quoted as saying he will miss Ganet's perspective.

“Abner always spoke his mind, and that’s rare today,” Ray said. “Although I did not always agree with him, I have no doubt that he always spoke from his love for the College and our mission. He wanted us to succeed by facing reality on its own terms, not how we'd like the world to be.”

Ganet was a retired executive at the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority, during which time he was involved in the development of McCormick Place and Navy Pier in Chicago. His civic involvement in Elmhurst included service as president of Elmhurst Rotary, president of Elmhurst Chamber of Commerce, chairman of the Elmhurst YMCA and member of the Elmhurst Memorial Hospital Board of Governors.

He is survived by his wife, Janet (nee Dustan); his children, Marcey (Dr. Kenneth) Siegel, Fred (Martha), Larry (Gale) and Edward (Cheryl); his grandchildren, Jacob (Eryn) Siegel, Rachel (David) Kayser, Josh (Carli) Ganet, Jessica Ganet, Haviva Siegel, Max Ganet, Simon Ganet, Elliot Ganet, Nina Ganet, Eli Barr and Leah Barr; his great-grandchildren, Casia Siegel, Garrett Siegel, Benjamin Kayser and Lucy Ganet; and his sister, Leonore Leven.

A memorial service will be held at 10 a.m. Friday, April 6, at Congregation Etz Chaim, 1710 S. Highland, Lombard. In lieu of flowers, memorials will be appreciated for the Elmhurst College Holocaust Guestship, 190 Prospect Ave., Elmhurst, IL 60126.

Arrangements were made by in Elmhurst.

Life.Is.Good April 02, 2012 at 12:44 PM
R.I.P. Mr. Ganet
John McDonough April 02, 2012 at 02:18 PM
Mr. Ganet's service was lifelong and lives on. His annual Veteran's day visits with the students at Sandburg to recount his amazing history remain some of the most important lessons our kids have brought home from school. His life story is still raised in our discussions as an example of true service. Our family is grateful.
knowyourhistory April 02, 2012 at 02:35 PM
May God bless this hero. The Students and Faculty of Jackson Middle School will miss his stories, encouragement, and humor. Mr. Ganet, may you rest in peace knowing that your story lives on. Thank you for your service to our community, country, and humanity.
Alan Brinkmeier April 02, 2012 at 07:19 PM
I was there the evening when Abner Ganet first met Elie Wiesel in 1994. Wiesel was presented with the first Niebuhr Medal ever given by Elmhurst College. That first discussion between the two men was fancinating. It led to a great outpouring of memories that Abner Ganet had been keeping to himself. Just as Abner Ganet was witness to the horrors of Nazi atrocities, we were all witness to Abner Ganet being able to grow into the role of historian that left us with the truth about that horrific time in the 20th century. I spoke to Abner Ganet many times about this. Abner Ganet will always be remembered for his message and this lesson.
Deke April 02, 2012 at 09:25 PM
Abner Ganet was the Mayor of Elmhurst when we moved here in 1982. We came to know him through occasional trips to Leonard's. On Veteran's Day 2002 ( a few months after the death of my father, a WWII vet), Mr. Ganet spoke at the annual service at the Elmhurst Veteran's Memorial. Although he did not speak long, his words were haunting. He had witnessed human depravity at its worst while helping to bring about the ultimate triumph of good over evil. Abner Ganet was a very good, good man. Thank you, Mr. Ganet, for your service to our country and the cause of freedom. To the Ganet family, please take comfort in knowing that Mr. Ganet was a remarkable, respected and honorable man to whom this nation and all who love freedom are indebted.
Ami Wagman Kulik April 04, 2012 at 07:27 PM
Abner Ganet was a true American hero, teacher, and friend. Many students in Naperville will not forget the recounting of his experiences during WWII. We will forever remember the man who took time out of his life to educate students in the hope that man's inhumanity to his fellow beings will never be repeated. His courage and that of his generation will live in our hearts for years to come. Thank you, Mr. Ganet.
HBS April 04, 2012 at 10:17 PM
Please know that he did not pass away from complications during surgery. He never made it into surgery. I'm his granddaughter, and I was there. He was a gift to the world, he was amazing. Thank you all for your fond memory sharing and please continue to pass on his messages and teachings to other people.
kristen April 21, 2012 at 12:27 AM
Mr. Ganet came to speak at my school, Sandburg Middle School, almost every year, and was an example of everything good in this country. They don't make many people like Mr. Ganet anymore. It's too bad more students won't benefit from his slideshow and first-hand accounts of WWII. God Bless Mr. Ganet and his family.
Karen Chadra (Editor) April 21, 2012 at 02:05 AM
Thank you for that clarification. So sorry for your loss. I never met your grandfather, but, like the comments here, I've only heard wonderful things about him.
Friend February 14, 2013 at 08:40 PM
I just want people to know that Abner's influence stretched to New Smyrna Beach, Florida (Near Daytona Beach). He would come every year and speak at my high school and talk about his war experiences. His speech was the greatest educational moment I have ever witenessed. I am so upset to learn what has happened. He was one of the greatest of the 'greatest generation."

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