Judy Baar Topinka was born in the Chicago suburb Riverside to first generation Czech- and Slovak-American Lillian and William D. Baar. She spoke excellent Czech. She never ceased to be a part of the Czech-American Community in Chicago, supporting projects aimed at preserving the Czech history here, attending cultural events and famously instructing other politicians on how to polka, whether they enjoyed it or not.
After graduating from the Northwestern University, Topinka became a reporter for several suburban Chicago newspapers. Her impressive political career goes back to 1980, when she won a seat in the Illinois House of Representatives. She achieved many “firsts”. After serving in the Illinois Senate, she was the first woman to become State Treasurer, as well as the first woman to be elected to three consecutive terms, and the first Republican to hold the post in more than 32 years. During her last term as Treasurer, she was the only Republican to hold statewide elected office in Illinois. In 2002, she was elected Chair of the Illinois Republican Party, holding that office until 2005. In 2006, she became the first Republican woman to be nominated for Governor of Illinois. In spite of the defeat in the election, she came back as the Illinois State Comptroller, thus becoming the first woman in Illinois to hold two different statewide elected offices. She was re-elected State Comptroller in 2014, however, never assumed the office due to a sudden passing. President Barack Obama issued a statement, in which he called her “an institution in Illinois politics.”
“Topinka’s magnetic, one-of-a-kind personality brought a smile to everyone she met, and she had a servant’s heart, always only caring about what was best for the people of our state.” These words of Illinois Governor, Bruce Rauner, truly capture how she is remembered.