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.
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.
Rebecca A. Snyders Darr, ’90 LAS
Mary Kay Kretch Haben, ’77 BUS
Judge James F. Holderman Jr., ’68 ACES, JD ’71
William T. Barry, ’77 BUS
Phillip C. Goldstick, ’53 BUS
Craig W. Vodnik, ’92 ENG
Dr. Pedro J. Cevallos-Candau, MS ’77 ENG, PHD ’80 ENGCo-Founder, CEO and President of Primera Engineers Ltd.
Jeanne K. Gang, ’86 FAAFounder and Principal of Studio Gang Architects
Howard T. Griffith, ’91 LASFormer NFL Player, Lead in-studio analyst for the Big Ten Network and a co-host for ESPN-Radio Chicago
Carrie J. Hightman, ’79 LASExecutive Vice President and Chief Legal Officer, NiSource Inc.
Stephen D. Bardo, ’90 LASCollege Basketball Analyst, ESPN, Big Ten Network and Fox Sports 1
Jesse H. Ruiz, ’88 LASPartner, Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP
Celene Peurye-Hissong, ’74 LAS, MSW ’76Principal Focused Philanthropy
Ryan Baker, ’91 MEDIASports Anchor/Director, WBBM-TV/CBS 2 Chicago
Carol Hillsman Sagers, ’79 MEDIAFounder and Consultant, CHS Marketing Consultants
Samuel Mendenhall, ’88 CBA (UIC), JD ’91 LAWEquity Partner Winston & Strawn
The Hon. Timothy C. Evans, ’65 LASChief Judge of the Circuit Court of Cook County
Howard M. Katz, ’82 ACESSenior Executive Vice President Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises
Mary Frances Fagan, ’76 MEDIA, MA ’83 LASDirector, Corporate Communications, American Airlines
G. Thomas Castino, ’60 ENGRetired President and CEO Underwriters Laboratories
Richard C. Romano, ’54 LASFounder & Chairman, Romano Brothers & Co.
Robert D. Kleinschmidt, ’63 FAAPresident, Powell/Kleinschmidt Inc.
Ronald W. Bess, ’69 BUS, ’72 MEDIAPresident and CEO, Euro RSCG Chicago
Avy H. Stein, '77 BUSManaging partner, Willis Stein & Partners LLC
Cirilo A. McSween, '54 LASOwner, Cirilo McSween Insurance Agency, Founder and President, Black McDonald's Operators Association
Gail Veasman Kellogg, '65 LASRetired Principal, partner and Consultant, Hewitt Associates
Paul Schrage, MS ’59 MEDIARetired Senior Executive Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer, McDonald’s Corp.
Sheldon B. Rubin, ’64 LAS, ’66 VM, DVM ‘68Former Owner and Director Emeritus, Blum Animal Hospital, Author
Caroline Becker Joss, ’84 ACESCo-founder and designer, Caroline Rose Inc.
Roger Plummer, ’64 ENGPresident & CEO, Plummer & Associates Consulting
Robert Falls, ’76 FAAArtistic Director, Goodman Theatre
Richard Cline, ’57 LASChairman & Director, Hawthorne Investors, Inc., Managing Partner, Hawthorne Investments, LLC
Pamela Bristow Strobel, ’74 MEDIA, JD ’77 LAWRetired Executive Vice President and Chief Administrative Officer, Exelon Corporation
John David Mooney, MFA ’65 FAAFounder and Artistic Director, John David Mooney Foundation
Howard Engle, ’72 BUSPartner, Deloitte & Touche LLP
Thomas Miner, JD ’53 LAWPresident of Thomas H. Miner & Associates, Inc., Chair and Founder of Mid-America, Committee for International Business and Government Cooperation
Jack Klues, ’77 MEDIAChairman and CEO, Starcom MediaVest Group
Carol Ross Barney, ’71 FAAFounder and President, Ross Barney & Jankowski
Cary D. McMillan, ’80 BUSChief Executive Officer, Sara Lee Branded Apparel
W. Gene Corley, ’58 ENG, MS ’60, PHD ’61 ENGSenior Vice President for Engineering, Construction Technology Labs, Inc., Head of Federal Investigation into Collapse of World Trade Center Buildings
Corinne J. Wood, ’76 LASFormer Lieutenant Governor of Illinois
Robert P. Crawford, ‘59 MEDIARetired “Dean” of Chicago Broadcast Journalists, more than 40 years with CBS and WBBM
Dr. Emiel Hamberlin, ‘77 EDM, ‘83 EDDBiology and Horticulture Teacher at DuSable High School Inductee, National Teachers’ Hall of Fame; Golden Apple Award
Doris Christopher, ‘67 ACESChair and Founder, The Pampered Chef
Ralph Johnson, ‘71 FAADirector of Design, Perkins & Will
Eli Cohen, ‘55 ENGPrincipal Engineer, Thornton Tomasetti Engineers
Cheryl Berman, ‘74 MEDIAChief Creative Officer, Leo Burnett USA
Thomas Tunney, ‘77 ACESPresident, Ann Sathers Restaurants
Mark Tebbe, ‘83 ENGChair and Founder, Lante Corporation
Mary Dempsey, MS ‘76 GSLISCommissioner, Chicago Public Library
Arnold Weber, ’50 LAS, AM ’51 LIR, HON ‘97President Emeritus, Northwestern University
Lynn Martin, '60 LASChair, Deloitte Touche's Council on the Advancement of Women, former U.S. Secretary of Labor
Avis LaVelle, '75 MEDIAV.P. for Government & Public Affairs, University of Chicago Hospitals, former Press Secretary for Mayor Richard M. Daley
Sam Skinner, '60 BUSCapital Partner & Co-chairman, Hopkins & Sutter Former U.S. Secretary of Transportation and U.S. Chief of Staff
Johnny "Red" Kerr, '54 ALSPresident, Kerr Financial Services Announcer for Chicago Bulls Basketball Team
Nicole Hollander, '60 FAASculpter, writer, creator of comic strip “Sylvia”
Sheldon Good, '55 BUSChairman Emeritus, Sheldon Good & Company
Tonise Paul, '79 MEDIA, MS '80 MEDIAPresident and CEO, BBDO Chicago
Lester McKeever Jr., '55 BUSManaging Principal, Washington, Pittman & McKeever
Joel Weisman, '63 BUSNews Analyst and Private Attorney, Siegman & Weisman, Ltd
Carol Marin, '70 LASNews anchor, CBS News
Roger Ebert, '64 MEDIAFilm Critic, Author