'New day in Villa Park' for new Mayor Bullwinkel
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One day she's eating Thai food on St. Charles Road and the next she could be camping in the wilderness.
One night she'll be leading a village board meeting in Villa Park and the next she could be relaxing in Hawaii.
One afternoon Deborah Bullwinkel could be navigating a corporate dispute, helping clients of her communications consulting business work together, and the next she's back in the town she recently was elected to lead, holding meetings to develop a strategic plan.
Bullwinkel, 44, leads a busy life in which she's her own boss. She says her varied interests in traveling, being active outdoors, running her own business and making Villa Park a better place do not so much compete as complement each other.
Stepping into the village president role after winning 76 percent of the vote against former police chief John Heidelmeier in the April election, Bullwinkel says she will find time to attend community events, respond to neighborhood concerns and help the village map out its future.
As Bullwinkel adjusts to her new role, she said she is excited to bring communication and leadership skills to a town that could be on the cusp of a new era of progress and development.
"It's a new day in Villa Park, it really is," Bullwinkel said. "The vibe is pretty exciting now. I'm looking forward to rolling up my sleeves with the board and continuing to get things accomplished."
This new day dawns as Bullwinkel, with four years' experience as a trustee under her belt, takes over from Tom Cullerton, who is now the 23rd District state senator.
Bullwinkel said she wants to capitalize on a period of heightened interest in local government to make a road map for the future, addressing topics such as a possible hotel development, construction of an underpass or overpass to increase railroad safety and street repairs.
"Villa Park is really in its infancy in many ways," she said. "We have so many opportunities, just under the economic development umbrella. It's exciting now to sit there with the board and say 'Hey, Villa Park is arriving. People should take a little more notice in who we are.'"
Known as the Garden Village, Villa Park is home to 22,000, and Bullwinkel has called it her home since 1997. She moved here after spending most of her childhood in central Illinois, graduating from Eastern Illinois University and working for a few years in Chicago and Washington, D.C. Her husband, Michael Erlenbaugh, is a native of Villa Park who once worked as a paid on-call firefighter in town, and the couple lives in the "ABC Streets" neighborhood with their golden retriever, Colby, and cats Skylar, Daley and Scooter.
Bullwinkel got involved in local government by organizing a neighborhood watch program, then joining the chamber of commerce and the environmental concerns commission. She said people began prodding her during her time as a trustee, asking whether she would consider running for village president.
When this election cycle began, Bullwinkel filed nominating papers to run for both trustee and village president. But after several conversations with Trustee Al Bulthuis, the two decided she would seek the village's top role and he would remain one of six trustees.
"I think people really saw my level of commitment to this, just my level of responsiveness," Bullwinkel said. "I really didn't have to personally recruit any volunteers. People were coming out of the woodwork wanting to be a part of the process."
People like Kristin Krueger and Steve Seddon, both of Villa Park, offered to canvass their neighborhoods and pass out campaign materials after seeing traits they liked in Bullwinkel. Krueger said she appreciated Bullwinkel's efforts to improve the environment by starting the Villa Park community bike ride.
"She's knowledgeable and just a clear thinker," Krueger said. "I think she really wants the best for our little community."
Seddon said he valued her experience as a trustee.
"I've seen her be very attentive to details," he said. "I think she will have a plan and see it through."
While campaigning, Bullwinkel said she learned how much residents care about their hometown.
"I learned how loyal, passionate and protective our residents are of our town, and those are really great attributes to have," she said. "The residents are really proud of Villa Park, and I think at least those that showed up to vote see that there's a potential vision."
One challenge for Bullwinkel will be patience with the sometimes drawn-out process of implementing public improvements.
"I need to really be patient with myself," she said. "I'm so eager and ready to get going on things. I have to remember — breathe and focus."
She can draw on past experience in journalism as a reporter for the Lisle Sun and in nonprofit management for two mental health organizations as she collaborates with residents of all backgrounds to develop a strategic plan for the village's future.
"I really enjoy working with people. I have a shy side to me, but there's also an extroverted side to me, too," she said. "I'm excited that now I'm in a position where I can bring people together."
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