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HomeIllinois NewsRIP: Donald Totten February 19, 1933 — April 2, 2019

RIP: Donald Totten February 19, 1933 — April 2, 2019

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Don-TottenDonald Totten – one-time state senator, Cook County GOP chairman, and Illinois/Midwest Chairman of 1980, 84 Reagan Campaigns – passed away at age 86 

By Joseph Morris –

With sorrow I advise of the death Tuesday of Donald Totten, 86.  He was with his children in North Carolina at the time.

Don Totten was a rarity:  A highly principled political thinker who was also a highly practical political leader.

He was a major figure in conservative and Republican politics in Illinois, the Midwest, and the nation.

He was, for many years, the elected Republican Committeeman of Schaumburg Township in Cook County, Illinois, who built a highly efficient and very effective community-based political organization that, in its ability to marshal the troops, adapt ever-changing technology, teach conservative principles, train street-level campaigners, and win elections.  He called his organization "ROOST":  The Republican Organization of Schaumburg Township.

It was a model of modern suburban and urban community organizing.  He would do simple things;  for example, he would keep track of public records such as the issuance by local towns and villages of occupancy permits for new housing as cornfields were turning into bedroom suburbs;  when new homeowners would move in, he would send them a welcome letter and dispatch the neighborhood precinct captain to the house to introduce herself and present a welcome basket — along with a warm, friendly, and immediate connection to the local Republican Party.  ROOST maintained a full-time office staff that enabled Don to function as Schaumburg's ever-vigilant and omnicompetent ombudsman, always ready to help a neighbor with a problem with government or other community institutions.

He was a strong believer in America and in welcoming newcomers to this country, helping to inculcate them in the principles of the American Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution.  He took great pleasure in helping people navigate the shoals of the immigration and citizenship process, often accompanying them to naturalization ceremonies and making sure that, if possible, the same day they received their Certificates of Naturalization they registered to vote — and they received their membership cards in the Schaumburg Township branch of the Republican Party.

He also served, by turns, as an Illinois State Senator; the Chairman of the Cook County Republican Party;  a member of the board of directors of the Illinois Conservative Union; the founder and first Chairman of the American Legislative Exchange Council;  a member of the board of the Regional Transportation Authority (serving northeastern Illinois);  a U.S. – Canada International Boundary Commissioner (proudly noting that on his watch America's northern border was never invaded once);  the Illinois and Midwest director of Ronald Reagan's insurgent Presidential campaign of 1976 and his victorious Presidential campaign of 1980;  and, in a rare defeat, the man who lost the 1982 Republican Primary for Illinois Lieutenant Governor to George Ryan (think of what might have been gained for Illinois, and what ignominy the Republican Party might have been spared, had Don won that election).

I note, as a point of personal privilege, that Don was the manager of my campaign for President of the Cook County Board in 1994.  I often recall with pride that in that election, although I lost, I received half a million votes — this in Cook County, then no less than now, a Democratic Party stronghold.  In fact, in that campaign I received more votes than Lori Lightfoot received in winning her race for Mayor of Chicago in a low-turnout election this week.  (To be sure, I ran countywide, in the suburbs as well as in Chicago, but if I didn't get more than her 365,000 votes in Chicago I came close.)  Don Totten was a big part of that.
 
Don was preceded in death just last June by Joyce, his wife of 63 years, whom he met in their native New Jersey.
 
The family life of Joyce and Don Totten was not spared tragedy;  they lost their first child, Donna, at the age of 7 to leukemia.  
 
They had three more wonderful children, who all survive Don:  Diane Faldstein of Mooresville, North Carolina;  Robert (Cyndi) Totten of Jacksonville, Florida;  and Kathy (Mike) Weber of Cornelius, North Carolina.    Don and Joyce are also survived by at least seven grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
 
Funeral arrangements are being handled by the Ahlgrim and Sons Funeral Home, 330 West Golf Road, Schaumburg, Illinois  60195.  More information will be available on-line at  www.ahlgrimfuneral.com  or by telephone at (847) 882-5580.  I am told that the family hopes to have a death notice in the newspapers this coming Sunday.
 
In Schaumburg, Chicago, Illinois, and across America, we have lost a friend, a neighbor, and a captain of Edmund Burke's "little platoons".  He was street-smart and idea-rich, a man with an incisive mind and a gentle sense of humor.  He was an American patriot who did all that he did in service to the American people, firmly believing that America is the world's best hope.  He once said to me that "To be born an American is to be dealt three aces on your very first day."  And if Don Totten was your friend, you had that fourth ace.
 
May the memory of Don Totten always be as a blessing.

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3 COMMENTS

  1. I recall Don Totten from when as a college kid I volunteered for the Illinois Citizens for Reagan in ’75. As Quixotic as that venture was (with most of the IL GOP backing President Ford) Don was the high-energy, hands-on office manager – present there as often as his State Senate schedule would allow.
    I later chatted with him when we bumped into each other on the dance floor at an ’80 Reagan inaugural gala as he was gleefully participating in the festivities.
    I really am hard-pressed to think of a GOP committeeman in the current crop that can be considered a fraction as energetic and principled as Don Totten was.

  2. Light years removed from the current Cook County Republican Party Chairman or the current leadership. A Reaganite leader in Cook County?
    Totten was ousted from his County Chairmanship in 1988 (with the help of Sheriff O’Grady — who Totten helped elect in 1986) and lost Schaumburg Township about one decade latter.

  3. Those of us who love America and want the best for future generations could learn profound lessons from those who came before us, such as Donald Totten. As Mr. Morris beautifully describes in this tribute, the effort and level of personal outreach that was done in the past by the Illinois Grand Old Party truly made it “grand” and growing. I hope and pray that some of their time-tested wisdom will return and the party will once more be Grand and growing. Mr. Totten was instrumental in the Illinois Conservative Union, as were Joseph Morris and others. As current Chair of the ICU, I’m proud to lead the organization they established and built. I hope to honor their legacy by learning from and adapting many of the tried and true methods with which they had so much success.
    Thank you, Donald Totten, for your service to Illinois and our nation. May God bless and comfort your family as they grieve your loss.