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posted: 11/12/2013 6:20 PM

Business, school leaders honored for service to Geneva

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  • Video: About Jean Gaines

  • Video: About Mary Stith


An advocate for children's welfare and one who looks out for Geneva's business community were honored Tuesday for their commitments to improving Genevans' lives.

Geneva school board member Mary Stith and Jean Gaines, president of the Geneva Chamber of Commerce, received the Wood Community Service Award at the chamber of commerce's annual awards banquet.

Thirty-six years ago, stay-at-home mother Jean Gaines took "a nice little job" as a part-time typist and receptionist for the Geneva Chamber of Commerce, even though she didn't know how to type. The staff was her and a director, and they sometimes had to go begging to local businesses for their salaries, she recalled in a 2007 Daily Herald article. Membership was about 60 businesses.

The job became full-time a year later. When the director quit in 1979, Gaines took over.

She now leads a group that counts about 600 members. It is the tourism arm for Geneva, adding three major downtown festivals, running Swedish Days, and organizing advertising campaigns for the city.

And Gaines has been relaying businesses' perspective on a variety of city, county and state issues, and helping the city to grow, while maintaining historic ambience in its downtown.

Whether on the clock or on her own time, Gaines has attended hundreds of state, city and county board meetings to do so. She's served on the city's strategic planning, facade improvement, Downtown Partnership, Downtown Steering and Third Street reconstruction planning committees, among others.

"(Her) sole purpose has been to make Geneva -- the city of Geneva -- a better place for visitors and residents alike," businessman Joe Stanton said in a video introducing Gaines. Stanton won the Wood Award in 2011.

And city administrator Mary McKittrick noted Gaines' undaunted spirit through challenges: "I've seen her endure violent weather, irate vendors and ferocious animals" at festivals, and still smile, McKittrick said in the video.

Her job required talent in many areas, according to a prepared statement from the chamber: managerial, financial, political, legislative, marketing and event planning and more. She did it while raising two children, an example daughter Kristine Holtz has come to appreciate.

"Strong families make strong communities, and strong communities, ones like Geneva -- with economic opportunity, safe and fun community events, and a vibrant and growing downtown -- help make strong families," Holtz said in a prepared statement.

Gov. Pat Quinn proclaimed Nov. 12 as Jean Gaines Day.

Education is her thing

Stith was honored for her devotion to Geneva's children. She is in the midst of her third term on the school board, and served for several years as its president.

Stith has been involved in the PTOs while her four children were in school, twice hosted foreign-exchange students, and served for six years with the Geneva Academic Foundation.

"I would encourage all younger parents: if you are looking for someone to emulate, this is your example," Geneva High School Principal Tom Rogers said in a video introducing Stith.

She teaches religious education, is a confirmation leader and a perpetual-adoration adorer at St. Peter Catholic Church in Geneva. Stith was in the Mothers Club of Geneva for eight years, including winning the Marcela Fuller Mother of the Year Award. She has also volunteered with Tri-City Family Services and Court-Appointed Special Advocates of Kane County.

"My mom has always said that, although she loved nursing and caring for people, if she had to choose a second career, it would have been teaching. She has had just as much impact as any teacher, administrator, and advocate as anyone I know. Her commitment to all children, not just her own, has made her a 'mother' to so many," her oldest daughter, Elizabeth Stith, said in a prepared statement.

About the award

The Wood Community Service award is presented each year to a person who has served the community in the areas of business, education, youth involvement, civic organizations, art, recreation, charity or government. It is named in honor of Bill and Elise Wood, and Nell and Burton Wood.

It has been presented since 1985. Winners were William C. Wood, Robert Joshel, Gloria McCleary, Allen Mead, Arthur Nelson, J. Roger Norris, Weldon Johnson, Jamie Daniel, Mack Olson, Rae Johns Ellsworth, Robert Krell, Richard Lindholm, Dave Rogers, Bruce and Carolyn Simpson, James T. Riley, Alden L. Odt, Sharon L. Jones, Steve Lillie, John Anderson, Mary Bencini, Mary Kay Brown, Stephen Persinger, Dr. Rodney B. Nelson III, Scott Lebin, Sam and Carolyn Hill, Kent Shodeen, Joe Stanton and Tim Vetang.

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