Chicago Illini of the Year Award (Est. 1997)

Co-sponsored by the Illinois Alumni Association and the Chicago Illini Club, this award recognizes the accomplishments of Chicago-area graduates of the University. Up to three distinguished alumni who live and work in Chicago or a Chicago suburb are honored each year.

2018 Recipients

  • Thomas DiSanto, '87 ACES

    A soybean options trader by day, DiSanto doubles as one of the nation’s most respected names in country music and Chicago hospitality.

     From the trading pits of the Chicago Board of Trade to his ownership of Joe’s on Weed Street and Joe’s Trackside, Chicago’s only off-track betting facility, DiSanto has employed and mentored many fellow Illinois alumni over the past three decades. He regularly sponsors Illini events at his Chicago-area establishments, a hospitality portfolio that also includes Bub City, Joe’s Live Rosemont, and Three Dots and a Dash.

     DiSanto’s passion to support various Chicago causes, such as Lurie Children’s Hospital, the Greater Chicago Food Depository and Chicago Children’s Charities, is matched only by his spirited commitment to the University. A member of the Centuria Circle of the U of I Foundation’s President’s Council, DiSanto is particularly connected to Illinois Athletics and has endowed a golf scholarship.


  • Dr. Elizabeth Pieroth, '88 LAS

    Pieroth is a board certified clinical neuropsychologist and recipient of the University’s 2016 LAS Alumni Achievement Award. Considered one of the nation’s top sports concussion experts, she serves as a head injury specialist for the Chicago Bears, Blackhawks, White Sox and Fire, and is associate director of the NorthShore University HealthSystem Sports Concussion Program. In recognition of her two decades working with NHL players, USA Hockey honored her with the 2016 Excellence in Safety Award. Most recently, the NFL named Pieroth to its Head, Neck and Spine Committee.

     Pieroth’s expertise extends to the youth ranks as well. She works with colleges and high schools across Illinois, and serves on the USA Football Heads Up Advisory Committee, the U.S. Soccer Concussion Task Force and the Amateur Hockey Association of Illinois Safety Committee.


  • Steven Thayer, '88 LAS

    Thayer is a founding partner of the Chicago-based law firm Handler Thayer, and serves as chairman of the Commercial Practice Group, which focuses on real estate, sports, entertainment, and corporate and business law. During his career, Thayer has represented entrepreneurs and business owners in the formation, funding and sale of their businesses. In addition, he performs financial and estate planning for families. In 2013, he was a finalist for the prestigious Family Office Review Award—Best Private Client Lawyer in North America.

    Thayer has been involved in various civic and community causes, including the Hinsdale Public Library Foundation, Hinsdale Village Caucus, Committee of 100 Community Leaders, Entrepreneurs Organization, Sigma Chi Fraternity alumni organizations and the University of Illinois Foundation’s President’s Council.


Past Recipients

  • 2017

    • Rebecca A. Snyders Darr, ’90 LAS

    • Mary Kay Kretch Haben, ’77 BUS

    • Judge James F. Holderman Jr., ’68 ACES, JD ’71

  • 2016

    • William T. Barry, ’77 BUS

    • Phillip C. Goldstick, ’53 BUS

    • Craig W. Vodnik, ’92 ENG

  • 2015

    • Dr. Pedro J. Cevallos-Candau, MS ’77 ENG, PHD ’80 ENG

      Co-Founder, CEO and President of Primera Engineers Ltd.
    • Jeanne K. Gang, ’86 FAA

      Founder and Principal of Studio Gang Architects
    • Howard T. Griffith, ’91 LAS

      Former NFL Player, Lead in-studio analyst for the Big Ten Network and a co-host for ESPN-Radio Chicago
  • 2014

    • Carrie J. Hightman, ’79 LAS

      Executive Vice President and Chief Legal Officer, NiSource Inc.
    • Stephen D. Bardo, ’90 LAS

      College Basketball Analyst, ESPN, Big Ten Network and Fox Sports 1
  • 2013

    • Jesse H. Ruiz, ’88 LAS

      Partner, Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP
    • Celene Peurye-Hissong, ’74 LAS, MSW ’76

      Principal Focused Philanthropy
    • Ryan Baker, ’91 MEDIA

      Sports Anchor/Director, WBBM-TV/CBS 2 Chicago
  • 2012

    • Carol Hillsman Sagers, ’79 MEDIA

      Founder and Consultant, CHS Marketing Consultants
    • Samuel Mendenhall, ’88 CBA (UIC), JD ’91 LAW

      Equity Partner Winston & Strawn
    • The Hon. Timothy C. Evans, ’65 LAS

      Chief Judge of the Circuit Court of Cook County
  • 2011

    • Howard M. Katz, ’82 ACES

      Senior Executive Vice President Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises
    • Mary Frances Fagan, ’76 MEDIA, MA ’83 LAS

      Director, Corporate Communications, American Airlines
    • G. Thomas Castino, ’60 ENG

      Retired President and CEO Underwriters Laboratories
  • 2010

    • Richard C. Romano, ’54 LAS

      Founder & Chairman, Romano Brothers & Co.
    • Robert D. Kleinschmidt, ’63 FAA

      President, Powell/Kleinschmidt Inc.
    • Ronald W. Bess, ’69 BUS, ’72 MEDIA

      President and CEO, Euro RSCG Chicago
  • 2009

    • Avy H. Stein, '77 BUS

      Managing partner, Willis Stein & Partners LLC
    • Cirilo A. McSween, '54 LAS

      Owner, Cirilo McSween Insurance Agency, Founder and President, Black McDonald's Operators Association
    • Gail Veasman Kellogg, '65 LAS

      Retired Principal, partner and Consultant, Hewitt Associates
  • 2008

    • Paul Schrage, MS ’59 MEDIA

      Retired Senior Executive Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer, McDonald’s Corp.
    • Sheldon B. Rubin, ’64 LAS, ’66 VM, DVM ‘68

      Former Owner and Director Emeritus, Blum Animal Hospital, Author
    • Caroline Becker Joss, ’84 ACES

      Co-founder and designer, Caroline Rose Inc.
  • 2007

    • Roger Plummer, ’64 ENG

      President & CEO, Plummer & Associates Consulting
    • Robert Falls, ’76 FAA

      Artistic Director, Goodman Theatre
    • Richard Cline, ’57 LAS

      Chairman & Director, Hawthorne Investors, Inc., Managing Partner, Hawthorne Investments, LLC
  • 2006

    • Pamela Bristow Strobel, ’74 MEDIA, JD ’77 LAW

      Retired Executive Vice President and Chief Administrative Officer, Exelon Corporation
    • John David Mooney, MFA ’65 FAA

      Founder and Artistic Director, John David Mooney Foundation
    • Howard Engle, ’72 BUS

      Partner, Deloitte & Touche LLP
  • 2005

    • Thomas Miner, JD ’53 LAW

      President of Thomas H. Miner & Associates, Inc., Chair and Founder of Mid-America, Committee for International Business and Government Cooperation
    • Jack Klues, ’77 MEDIA

      Chairman and CEO, Starcom MediaVest Group
    • Carol Ross Barney, ’71 FAA

      Founder and President, Ross Barney & Jankowski
  • 2004

    • Cary D. McMillan, ’80 BUS

      Chief Executive Officer, Sara Lee Branded Apparel
    • W. Gene Corley, ’58 ENG, MS ’60, PHD ’61 ENG

      Senior Vice President for Engineering, Construction Technology Labs, Inc., Head of Federal Investigation into Collapse of World Trade Center Buildings
    • Corinne J. Wood, ’76 LAS

      Former Lieutenant Governor of Illinois
  • 2003

    • Robert P. Crawford, ‘59 MEDIA

      Retired “Dean” of Chicago Broadcast Journalists, more than 40 years with CBS and WBBM
    • Dr. Emiel Hamberlin, ‘77 EDM, ‘83 EDD

      Biology and Horticulture Teacher at DuSable High School Inductee, National Teachers’ Hall of Fame; Golden Apple Award
    • Doris Christopher, ‘67 ACES

      Chair and Founder, The Pampered Chef
  • 2002

    • Ralph Johnson, ‘71 FAA

      Director of Design, Perkins & Will
    • Eli Cohen, ‘55 ENG

      Principal Engineer, Thornton Tomasetti Engineers
    • Cheryl Berman, ‘74 MEDIA

      Chief Creative Officer, Leo Burnett USA
  • 2001

    • Thomas Tunney, ‘77 ACES

      President, Ann Sathers Restaurants
    • Mark Tebbe, ‘83 ENG

      Chair and Founder, Lante Corporation
    • Mary Dempsey, MS ‘76 GSLIS

      Commissioner, Chicago Public Library
  • 2000

    • Arnold Weber, ’50 LAS, AM ’51 LIR, HON ‘97

      President Emeritus, Northwestern University
    • Lynn Martin, '60 LAS

      Chair, Deloitte Touche's Council on the Advancement of Women, former U.S. Secretary of Labor
    • Avis LaVelle, '75 MEDIA

      V.P. for Government & Public Affairs, University of Chicago Hospitals, former Press Secretary for Mayor Richard M. Daley
  • 1999

    • Sam Skinner, '60 BUS

      Capital Partner & Co-chairman, Hopkins & Sutter Former U.S. Secretary of Transportation and U.S. Chief of Staff
    • Johnny "Red" Kerr, '54 ALS

      President, Kerr Financial Services Announcer for Chicago Bulls Basketball Team
    • Nicole Hollander, '60 FAA

      Sculpter, writer, creator of comic strip “Sylvia”
  • 1998

    • Sheldon Good, '55 BUS

      Chairman Emeritus, Sheldon Good & Company
    • Tonise Paul, '79 MEDIA, MS '80 MEDIA

      President and CEO, BBDO Chicago
    • Lester McKeever Jr., '55 BUS

      Managing Principal, Washington, Pittman & McKeever
  • 1997

    • Joel Weisman, '63 BUS

      News Analyst and Private Attorney, Siegman & Weisman, Ltd
    • Carol Marin, '70 LAS

      News anchor, CBS News
    • Roger Ebert, '64 MEDIA

      Film Critic, Author