** FILE ** Staff Sgt. Michael Sutter, of Illinois, is shown in this undated image from video. Sutter was killed Friday, Dec. 26, 2003, in Iraq while trying to defuse a homemade bomb. Sutter was serving with the 745th explosive ordnance detachment Michigan Army National Guard unit. (AP Photo/WFLD-TV) ORG XMIT: CX101
Updated: July 9, 2014 2:09AM
Judy Sutter can picture the day when she and other members of her family can walk through a park in her hometown of Tinley Park and remember with others in the community her son’s sacrifice.
More than 2,000 signatures have been gathered by organizers of an effort to have a public park named in memory of Army Staff Sgt. Michael Sutter, and park district commissioners said they will consider the request.
“Hopefully, this will become a reality,” Sutter said after a presentation to park district officials last week.
Sutter, 28, was killed the day after Christmas 2003 after attempting to defuse a homemade explosive device while deployed to Iraq. He enlisted in the Army in 1994, less than a year after graduating from Andrew High School, and after eight years joined the National Guard.
“He’d only been in Iraq 21/2 months before he died,” his mother said.
Sutter was part of a bomb disposal unit attached to the National Guard’s 745th Ordnance Co. He had manipulated a robot to defuse one bomb, but a second explosive was inaccessible to the robot and Sutter was manually attempting to defuse it when it blew up a foot away from him.
Sutter’s father, John, was a longtime judo instructor in the park district, and Michael and his three siblings were involved in the program. Kim Fazio, who spearheaded the petition drive, began taking judo classes when she was 8 years old and spent 20 years in the program, ultimately earning a black belt.
Fazio said the Sutters “were like a second family to me,” and that John and Judy would pile kids into their van to drive to judo tournaments.
“Many times, Mike (Sutter) was one of our top team members” at competitions, said Fazio, who grew up in Tinley Park and now lives in Frankfort.
The online petition to name a park for Sutter started about a month ago, and Fazio said she hopes the park board will consider renaming an existing park.
“We’re not looking to change the name of a park that’s already been dedicated for someone,” she said.
At last week’s park board meeting — with several supporters of the renaming effort in the audience — Fazio suggested that commissioners consider renaming Freedom Park, east of the village library, to memorialize Sutter. She noted that his family “dedicated their lives” to the district, telling the board, “I can’t think of a more suitable honor.”
Park district director John Curran said district officials would consider the request. Board president Brian Younker told Judy Sutter after the meeting that he would contact her to talk about the proposal.
“We do recognize the great value Michael Sutter has done, not only for his community but for his country,” Curran told audience members.
Judy Sutter said her husband taught judo for the park district from 1975 until 2002, with hundreds of kids participating over the years. One of his former students is now the district’s judo instructor, she said.
Sutter said she is “overwhelmed by all of the support we’ve gotten” for the renaming effort and hopes the park board district will agree to honor her son.
“All I can do is ask,” she said.