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updated: 12/27/2012 2:36 PM

Fox Valley People of the Year, 2012

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  • Jeff Turner's In the Neighborhood Deli has become a gathering place for many people to enjoy good food and good company. Turner, known in Elgin for his service to the community and the free holiday dinners he organizes, was named one of the 10 Outstanding Young People of 2012 by the Illinois Jaycees.

       Jeff Turner's In the Neighborhood Deli has become a gathering place for many people to enjoy good food and good company. Turner, known in Elgin for his service to the community and the free holiday dinners he organizes, was named one of the 10 Outstanding Young People of 2012 by the Illinois Jaycees.
    BRIAN HILL | Staff Photographer

  • Kalin Koychev in his home in Wheeling one week before he donated his kidney to Nathan Saavedra, 4, from Carpentersville.

       Kalin Koychev in his home in Wheeling one week before he donated his kidney to Nathan Saavedra, 4, from Carpentersville.
    Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • Belle Staurowsky of Oakwood Hills is the founder of Green Tara Project, which teaches self-defense to girls at risk of becoming sex slaves.

       Belle Staurowsky of Oakwood Hills is the founder of Green Tara Project, which teaches self-defense to girls at risk of becoming sex slaves.
    Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

  • Tina Hill, McHenry County Board chairman.

      Tina Hill, McHenry County Board chairman.

  • Bill Foster gives his acceptance speech after winning the 11th Congressional district election.

       Bill Foster gives his acceptance speech after winning the 11th Congressional district election.
    Laura Stoecker | Staff Photographer

  • New Kane County Chief Judge Judith M. Brawka

      New Kane County Chief Judge Judith M. Brawka

  • Cliff McIlvaine of St. Charles in 2011, at his home. He was found in contempt of court this year over his long-running home-improvement project.

      Cliff McIlvaine of St. Charles in 2011, at his home. He was found in contempt of court this year over his long-running home-improvement project.
    Daily Herald file photo

  • Jacobs High School graduate Evan Jager celebrates after winning the men's 3000 meter steeplechase at the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials June 28 in Eugene, Or.

      Jacobs High School graduate Evan Jager celebrates after winning the men's 3000 meter steeplechase at the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials June 28 in Eugene, Or.
    Associated Press

  • Love Elgin Day was initiated by Pastor Jeorge Holmes, an Elgin native who provided leadership at area churches between 2005 and 2010.

      Love Elgin Day was initiated by Pastor Jeorge Holmes, an Elgin native who provided leadership at area churches between 2005 and 2010.
    Courtesy of Gil Feliciano

  • Jaime Garcia is executive director and co-founder of Centro de Informacion in Elgin, which recently marked its 40th anniversary.

       Jaime Garcia is executive director and co-founder of Centro de Informacion in Elgin, which recently marked its 40th anniversary.
    Laura Stoecker | Staff Photographer

  • Rene Cruz hugs his father Florencio after being sworn in as Kane County's first Hispanic judge at a ceremony at the Kane County branch court in Geneva.

       Rene Cruz hugs his father Florencio after being sworn in as Kane County's first Hispanic judge at a ceremony at the Kane County branch court in Geneva.
    Rick West | Staff Photographer

  • St. Charles mayor Don DeWitte

      St. Charles mayor Don DeWitte

  • Lisa Hichens, Batavia's next schools superintendent.

      Lisa Hichens, Batavia's next schools superintendent.

 
 

What makes a person eligible for the end-of-the-year wrap on significant people in the Fox Valley?

Accomplishments or actions.

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Here is a look back at some of the people who made headlines in the Fox Valley in 2012.

Jeff Turner: Jeff Turner, owner of Elgin's In the Neighborhood Deli, was honored with the Illinois Jaycees highest award. The leadership and service organization named him one of the top 10 Outstanding Young People of 2012.

Turner, 38, organizes four community dinners each year, serves on the advisory boards of The Salvation Army and Elgin Community Network, is a member of Elgin Climate Change Organization, is on the board of Crusader Youth Football and is a member of the Elgin Jaycees.

He is best known for his community dinners, which bring together more than 100 volunteers to serve hundreds of community members. The Thanksgiving luncheon started as a way to feed people in need but expanded with a February Have a Heart dinner and summer and fall meals following Neighborworks events as a way to bring people across Elgin together.

Ken Nicolai: Salvation Army Maj. Ken Nicolai runs the Golden Diners Program, which serves low-cost or free meals to seniors across Kane and McHenry counties.

The program was facing the prospect of putting people on a waiting list in 2012 -- a first in 40 years. Instead, Nicolai worked with Elgin officials to rent the kitchen at the Hemmens Cultural Center, which will save the program $200,000 a year. By switching to employing its own chefs instead of paying per meal to another company, Nicolai can identify new cost-saving measures and diversify the program. More volunteers will be able to help package the food.

And, with the savings, Nicolai is expecting to introduce Mexican and Laotian menu options in 2013, an initiative the Golden Diners had to put on the back burner because of cost restraints in prior years.

Cliff McIlvaine: The St. Charles resident spent a couple weeks in jail this year, as his decades-long home improvement project repeatedly failed to hit court-mandated progress marks per an agreement he signed, and because he refused to allow a city inspection of the house.

Construction continues on McIlvaine's residence. In August, Kane County Judge Thomas Mueller sent him to jail, ruling he was in contempt of court.

"You can't expect the city to turn a blind eye to other flagrant violations to the city code, and you've asked them to do that," Mueller said, noting that McIlvaine was thumbing his nose at the court.

"I am not thumbing my nose at the court," McIlvaine protested.

"You are. You are refusing to acknowledge the law," the judge said. "Now you're back before the court trying to rewrite the rules. It doesn't work that way."

The city's attorney will argue on Jan. 14 for permission to demolish McIlvaine's home or allow the city to perform repairs and send him the bill.

Bill Foster: The former 14th District congressman is returning to Washington, D.C., after defeating Republican Judy Biggert in one of the hottest races in the nation.

Foster benefitted from a new 11th Congressional District drawn by his fellow Democrats. He campaigned on being a moderate who will work across the aisle to create jobs, make reasonable entitlement reforms and address the deficit by increasing tax rates on the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans.

Kalin Koychev: Kalin Koychev, a 33-year-old Wheeling resident, donated one of his kidneys to Nathan Saavedra, a 4-year-old Carpentersville boy who suffers from prune belly syndrome, a rare birth defect that results in the lack of development of abdominal muscles and a shriveled stomach. It weakened Nathan's kidneys.

Koychev did not know Nathan. Koychev said the Daily Herald's ongoing coverage of Nathan's plight prompted him to give.

"I told myself 'It's me God wants to use to save the kid's life (and) I am available -- I would love to do it,'" said Koychev, who has two sons, one of them around Nathan's age. "I put myself into the shoes of his parents, how they feel."

The surgeries happened in June. Koychev has since bounced back from the surgery, but Nathan has been in and out of the hospital. He was most recently admitted to the hospital earlier this month because his white blood cell count was too high.

Belle Staurowsky: Belle Staurowsky of Oakwood Hills in McHenry County is the founder of the Green Tara Project, a one-woman nonprofit organization that teaches self-defense to girls who are victims of, or are at risk for, sex trafficking. Staurowsky, a first-degree black belt in karate, first visited India in 2010. This year, she went back in April and December.

She is focusing on setting up programs through nongovernmental organizations in India, and plans to start teaching self-defense classes for rescue organizations in the Chicago area as early as February.

Sex trafficking happens every day across the world, even if it's hard to fathom for people who lead comfortable lives in the United States.

"Women have to stand up against the men and say, 'Enough is enough. We are not commodities,'" she said. "They need to take that back to the men until they decide to stop treating them like commodities."

Evan Jager: Evan Jager, a 23 year-old from Algonquin, proudly represented the United States at the 2012 London Olympic Games in the 3,000-meter steeplechase, a track and field event.

At the Olympics, Jager advanced to the finals of the event and finished sixth. Jager competes all over the world and has previously set an American record in the event -- this marked his first Olympic Games. Jager is a Jacobs High School alum and trains in Portland.

Tina Hill: Ten-year veteran Tina Hill was elected chairman of the McHenry County Board, ousting Ken Koehler, who with eight years on the job had been the longest-serving chairman.

The board picked Hill, 52, of Woodstock, as its new leader in December.

"I think that I prevailed because I have worked with my colleagues and they know me and trust me," Hill said.

Hill said she will focus on seeing through the creation of a unified development ordinance, and will also push for better transportation options, and work with state leaders to ensure local school districts aren't saddled with debt in an effort to reform the state's pension system.

Don DeWitte: Don DeWitte, the mayor of St. Charles, announced he will not seek a third term, ending a 20-year career in politics in 2013.

The decision followed his acceptance of a position with Wine Sergi Insurance. The company provides some insurance for St. Charles.

On the other hand, Batavia Mayor Jeff Schielke decided to seek a ninth term.

Jeorge Holmes: Jeorge Holmes, former pastor at Elgin's Highland Fellowship Church, started reaching out to the faith community in September 2011 to organize the first Love Elgin Day April 28, 2012.

Dozens of churches came together to provide services to the city population in need, reaching more than 2,000 people. The event offered free food, clothing, medical service, bike repair, vehicle checkups, haircuts, makeovers, legal advice, help with job or college searches and other services from area nonprofits.

Four churches hosted the massive event, which grew even bigger for the second Love Elgin Day Sept. 29 and served even more people. The plan is to continue the events the last Saturdays in April and September every year.

Sue Klinkhamer: Sue Klinkhamer, the former St. Charles mayor, defied the experts, and the wishes of the Kane County Democratic Party, by waging a self-professed non-campaign for Kane County Board chairman. She won the primary against Bill Sarto of Carpentersville, but couldn't beat Republican Chris Lauzen on election night.

Lisa Hichens: Lisa Hichens, principal of Batavia High School, was chosen in November to become the district's next superintendent, when Jack Barshinger retires in June.

Judith Brawka: Judith Brawka was the first woman elected as chief judge in Kane County. Formerly the presiding judge of the civil division, and once the county's public defender, she took over in December for Robert Spence, who was appointed to the state's 2nd District Appellate Court.

Jaime Garcia: Jaime Garcia, co-founder and executive director of Elgin's Centro de Informacion, helped usher the Spanish language information service center through its 40-year anniversary celebration in 2012.

Centro offers workshops and trainings, operates an emergency food pantry, hosts English classes and is a point of entry for Spanish-speaking residents in a 25-mile radius looking for help navigating U.S. institutions. Centro de Informacion, under Garcia's leadership, has been a key player helping local undocumented youth apply for deferred action for childhood arrivals that began Aug. 15. Deferred action gives immigrants a reprieve from the threat of deportation and the opportunity to work in this country legally.

Rene Cruz: Cruz, of Aurora was appointed to a Kane County court vacancy in December, becoming the county's first Hispanic judge.

More award winners: Clayton Muhammad, the East Aurora District 131 media relations director, won the Kane County Sheriff's Roscoe Ebey Award, for his work mentoring young men in the Boys 2 Men program he started in 2002; Geneva Cultural Arts Commission Chairman Tim Vetang won the Wood Award, Geneva's equivalent to citizen-of-the-year, in November; William Kelly of St. Charles received the Charlemagne Award in February for his volunteer work, including support of Special Olympics and the Fox Valley Special Recreation Association; and Lil Adams, named Sugar Grove's Citizen of the Year in July for her 35 years as a director and the manager of the Sugar Grove Community House.

Daily Herald staff writers Lenore Adkins, Elena Ferrarin, Harry Hitzeman and Tara Garcia Mathewson contributed to this report.

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