PRINCETON —áSeven women from the Illinois Valley were honored Thursday during the seventh annual Illinois Valley Living Women of Distinction Awards Banquet held at The Cider Mill in rural Princeton.
The featured women are those who have made a difference in the Illinois Valley and who serve as role models and leaders in their career fields or communities.
This year’s honorees were Lisa Aber of Buda, Donna Braida of Princeton, Angie Charlet of Kewanee, Kirsten Johnston of Walnut, Jane Kunkel of Spring Valley, Aseret Loveland of Spring Valley and Mary Jane Thornton of Henry.
Each women received an award for their distinction and got the opportunity to share about what drives their passion for what they do.
Aber is founder of the Buda Community Club, commissioner on the Buda Village Board and president of the Sheffield Historical Society. She is also currently the postmaster in Granville.
In the past two years, she’s taken on two projects that she’s very proud of. One was getting the Illinois Department of Natural Resources to reopen the Mautino State Fish and Wildlife Area, and the other was heavily advocating for reconstruction of Route 40 near Buda, which has badly deteriorated over the years.
“I wanted to show people that when you come together as a community, your voice will be heard. You have to use your voice to help your organization in your community and those around you,” she said. “Use your voice and stay involved, and you can make big changes in your community.”
Braida is a per diem retired occupational health nurse for Perry Memorial Hospital, which is the place she’s served a variety of positions throughout her career — from serving as a candy striper as a teenager to playing an active role in the hospital's Auxiliary, where she assisted in fundraising for new hospital equipment.
Braida has been an active volunteer in the Princeton area over the years. She has served on the Homestead Planning Committee and volunteered for the Lovejoy Homestead. She is also the founder and chairwoman of the Jay Braida Golf Outing, which raises funds to assist a community member who is battling cancer. She currently serves on the Bureau County Board.
Braida said she could not do what she does without faith, family and friends. She considers the volunteer work to be fun.
"It might be a lot of work to some people, but I enjoy it immensely," she said. “It makes my heart just swell knowing I'm out doing all these fun things.”
Charlet is the senior director of quality and operations at Illinois Critical Access Hospital Network. She is past president of the Illinois Organization of Nurse Leaders, and sat on their board for 12 years. Charlet is currently the vice president of the National Association of Rural Health Clinics. She also sits as an advisory member for the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy for the quality metrics and reporting.
Charlet offered one secret for success, which is to find jobs and mentors one is passionate about. She encouraged people to find those mentors who never quench one's spirit — the people who drive and motivate others.
"Every one of us has that encouraging spirit to do more and be more," she said.
Johnston is owner and operator of Pass it Along in Walnut, a successful non-profit resale shop that have given back more than $150,000 to the community. She is a driving force for the Walnut community. She is a member of the Walnut Bible Church, Working on Walnut (WOW) Committee and Walnut Chamber of Commerce.
Johnston was unable to attend Thursday’s luncheon. However, her daughter, Hannah Cadwell, accepted the award on behalf of her mother. Cadwell read a message prepared by Johnston, which expressed her gratitude for her family and friends who stand behind her through her endeavors.
Kunkel has given her time to numerous organizations throughout Spring Valley over the years. She is a member of Immaculate Conception, the first Catholic church established in Spring Valley. She has volunteered more than 50 years at St. Margaret’s Health, helping with blood drives. A neat fact about Kunkel is that she is an 18-gallon blood donor. Kunkel was also once a member of the Thompson’s Rexall Girls Softball team, known as the Rollo Girls. She nannied for 16 years for two doctors’ families, and for 25 years she worked as a dental assistant for four area dentists. She also has shared her love of photography in her community.
She said she never participated in any organization to receive an honor, but did so to help improve her community. She encouraged others to be active and share their talents to do the same.
Loveland is the assistant director of admissions, records and transfer services at Illinois Valley Community College. Loveland played a significant role in initiating a program at IVCC that assists first-generation college students in getting the resources and support they need to succeed in college.
Loveland became inspired by this idea when she began meeting countless students experiencing the same challenges she did throughout college. She knew helping these students would be a good way to put her talents to use.
"When you read the things you've accomplished and someone writing what you accomplished, it really does something to you," she said while recognizing her colleague who nominated her as a women of distinction.
She added that she couldn't do the work she does without the support of her mother and husband at her side.
Mary Jane Thornton
As a retired art teacher, Thornton has been a volunteer for Gateway Services in Henry for five years. She has also helped with projects for the Marshall-Putnam Fair, Bureau County Fair and annual ARC convention.
For nine years, Thornton volunteered for Character Counts in Henry, and she has also served as a board member. She is an active volunteer for the Veterans’ Walk at Stoner Park in Henry and served the Henry Food Pantry, Bible School in Henry, Boys Scouts, Girl Scouts and Marshall County Youth Football program.
Thornton was nominated by the staff at Gateway. She said while she was honored to accept the award, she was also humbled by the recognition as she loves what she does for Gateway.
"I love it so much that I don't feel I need any recognition, because I get so much out of it," she said. "I'm sure they get something out of what I do there, but I get so much more than I am able to give to them."