Chicago Illini of the Year Award (Est. 1997)

Co-sponsored by the University of 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.

2017 Recipients

  • Rebecca A. Snyders Darr, ’90 LAS

    Driven by her passion to end domestic violence and homelessness, Rebecca A. Darr, ’90 LAS, has grown the Palatine, Ill.-based WINGS Program, Inc., into one of the state’s largest social service agencies for women and children fleeing domestic violence. First as executive director (1999-2014) and then as CEO (2014 to present), Darr has played a pivotal role in WINGS fulfilling its mission of providing housing, integrated services, education and advocacy. To that end, she has helped increase the nonprofit’s assets (which includes apartments and homes for domestic violence victims) from $600,000 to more than $25 million. Darr also developed new funding sources for WINGS, which allows the organization to achieve its objectives with less than 15 percent of its funding being generated from government funding.

    A past recipient of the United Way’s Executive of the Year award, Darr also serves on several boards and coalitions that advocate for stronger legislation and increased awareness related to domestic violence, including the Illinois Coalition Against Domestic Violence, the Chicago Metropolitan Battered Women’s Network and the Cook County Commission on Women’s Issues.

    A native of Alton, Ill., Darr graduated from Illinois with a degree in psychology and is a current member of the Dept. of Psychology’s alumni advisory board. She and her husband, Joe, ENG ’90, MS ’92, live in the Chicago area with their three sons.

  • Mary Kay Kretch Haben, ’77 BUS

    Mary Kay Kretch Haben’s distinguished business career includes executive roles at two of Chicago’s best-known companies: Kraft Foods and the Wm. Wrigley Jr. Co.

    Over a 27-year career at Kraft, Haben, ’77 BUS, led several multi-billion dollar divisions as president, and oversaw the growth of iconic supermarket brands such as Philadelphia cream cheese, Kraft Macaroni & Cheese, A.1. Steak Sauce and DiGiorno pizza.

    In 2007, Haben accepted a position with Wrigley as president, North America, the company’s most profitable region. After Wrigley was acquired by Mars, Inc., in 2008, she successfully integrated Wrigley gum’s operations into Mars Confections, and oversaw such brands as Skittles, Starburst and Orbit gum in the U.S. and Canadian markets until her retirement in 2011.

    Haben currently serves on the Boards of Directors for Bob Evans Farms, The Hershey Co. and the Off the Street Club, Chicago’s oldest boys and girls club, and she serves on the Board of Trustees for Equity Residential. Previously, she served as a board member for Liz Claiborne.

    Haben received her undergraduate degree in business administration from Illinois, joining her husband Ed,’77 BUS, and sons, Mike, ’10 BUS, and Jack, ’13 MEDIA, as UI alumni. A strong advocate on behalf of the University, Haben served as chair of the University of Illinois Alumni Association Board of Directors, and is a member of the University of Illinois Foundation Board of Directors.

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

    Appointed to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois by President Ronald Reagan in 1985, Judge James F. Holderman Jr. enjoyed a distinguished 30-year career as a federal judge, including seven years as Chief Judge. During his tenure, Judge Holderman presided over more than 10,000 cases, including some of the region’s highest profile cases, such as those involving the Chicago Cubs and former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich. After retiring from the bench in 2015, he joined JAMS (previously known as Judicial Arbitration and Mediation Services) as a mediator, arbitrator and trial consultant.

    Leading organizations such as the American Bar Association, American Inns of Court and the Chicago Bar Association have recognized Judge Holderman for his varied contributions to the legal community, which includes authoring law review articles and book chapters, directing legal education seminars and teaching at law schools. For 22 years, Judge Holderman served as an adjunct faculty member at the University of Illinois College of Law where he held the title of the James C. Wood Distinguished Lecturer in Intellectual Property Law, a topic on which he is regarded as one of the nation’s foremost judicial experts. Most recently, Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner honored Judge Holderman with the 2017 Order of Lincoln award, which is the state’s highest honor for professional achievement and public service.

    A native of Morris, Ill., and married to Paula Hudson LAS ’76, Holderman is a proud “Double Illini,” having earned both his undergraduate degree in agriculture as well as his law degree from Illinois. He is also a past president of the College of Law’s Board of Visitors.

Past Recipients

  • 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