Fox Valley residents made their marks in 2014

Residents of the Fox Valley made their marks in many ways in 2014.

Be it breaking a barrier, blazing a trail or following in a role model's footsteps, their contributions helped make the suburbs special and a place we call home.

The following, in alphabetical order, are some of the people of the year.

F. Keith Brown

The Elgin man, who was the first African American to serve as circuit judge and chief judge in Kane County's 16th Judicial Circuit, retired over the summer after nearly 23 years on the bench. He planned to engage in more philanthropic endeavors, travel more, learn a new language and work for a Chicago mediation firm.

"This is a great job and I love it," he said. "(But) I've always said to myself that I wasn't going to define myself just being a judge. I want to explore other opportunities."

Fred Heid

After Community Unit District 300 superintendent Michael Bregy resigned to head Highland Park-based North Shore School District 112, the district launched a nationwide search for his replacement, ultimately tapping a Florida administrator to become its next superintendent.

In May, District 300 announced that Fred Heid, chief academic officer for Duval County Public Schools in Jacksonville, Florida, would assume the helm at the sixth largest school district in Illinois.

Heid, a first-time superintendent who is bilingual, came from a kindergarten through 12th grade school system significantly larger than District 300. It includes 168 schools with more than 127,000 students and about 11,000 employees.

Hampshire-based District 300 has 27 schools, nearly 21,000 students and roughly 2,500 employees.

"Mr. Heid comes to the district with extensive qualifications," District 300 board President Anne Miller stated in an announcement. "One of his many strong attributes is student academic improvement."

Pete and Bill Karambelas

The father and son team shared their story of spending more than a year searching for their son and brother, Tom. Tom Karambelas was found inside a freezer in the first place police looked and several people searched at least five times thereafter. A business operated out of the building the entire time Tom Karambelas' undiscovered body was missing. The father and son have many questions about how and why it took so long to find Tom Karambelas. Local police departments pointed fingers at each other for the flawed searches.

James Keegan

Keegan took over as St. Charles police chief in July, but he didn't waste time making a mark. In his early months in office, Keegan has pushed for multiple enhancements to fines and licensing requirements for businesses that have been hot spots for police intervention in recent years. That includes new licenses for massage parlors, penalties for the owners of tobacco shops who sell to minors and steep fine increases for people charged with alcohol-related offenses. So far, aldermen have embraced every single one of his suggestions.

Don Kramer

Kramer, a Geneva Republican, succeeded in his second bid for Kane County Sheriff, easily winning the four-year post over Democrat Willie Mayes Sr. Kramer followed in the footsteps of his father, George, who served as Kane County Sheriff from 1978 though 1986. The elder Kramer also was on hand to see his son take the oath of office.

Russell Laine

Longtime Algonquin Police Chief Russell Laine retired in December and is one of three candidates to become the next United States marshal for the northern Illinois district. He was recommended to President Barack Obama by U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin and Mark Kirk. Laine, 63, had been Algonquin's chief since 1985. Other finalists for the marshal's job are Joel Kirch, the current acting U.S. marshal for the district, and Calumet City Police Chief Edward Gilmore.

Laine has served 39 years in law enforcement, almost 30 of which have been with Algonquin. He previously was the police chief in Bartlett.

Anna Moeller

Elgin Councilwoman Anna Moeller became the Democratic representative for the 43rd House District March 30, after Keith Farnham resigned his seat. Farnham pleaded guilty Dec. 5 in federal court to transportation of child pornography and admitted to the 2,765 images found on his computers of children engaged in sex acts. He will remain free on bail until he is sentenced March 19. Rose Martinez was appointed to replace Moeller on the city council. Moeller was elected in November.

Mary O'Brien

O'Brien received the Wood Community Service Award from the Geneva Chamber of Commerce in November. She volunteered her time in many ways, serving as president of the Geneva and St. Charles Rotary clubs, volunteering for TriCity Family Services, aiding Court Appointed Special Advocates - Kane County, and was on the Elgin Community College Board. O'Brien is the chief executive officer of Fox Valley Orthopedics Institute, helping to grow the practice from three doctors in one location to more than 20 in multiple locations during her 28-year tenure.

Wayne Parson

Parson, an assistant chief with the Sugar Grove Fire Protection District, was named Sugar Grove Citizen of the Year in July. Parson has volunteered with the annual Corn Boil festival, coached girls' softball, participated in the fire district's money collections for the Muscular Dystrophy Association, been a line judge at high school football games and was affiliated with the Illinois High School Association for 25 years.

Pat Perez

Perez retired from his post after serving eight years as Kane County Sheriff. He was the only Democrat elected to a countywide office during his entire term, a symbol of his popularity and credibility throughout the county. Perez created a new website for the department, transitioned the county into a new jail and oversaw the construction of a $1.9 million shooting range for the 244 officers who served under him.

Deb Perryman

Elgin High School environmental science teacher Deb Perryman was named the 2014 Environmental Educator of the Year by the Environmental Education Association of Illinois. The Streamwood resident has taught biology and environmental science at Elgin High for nearly 21 years and she, with the help of her students, turned the roughly 40 acres of natural areas next to the high school into an outdoor classroom.

Joanne Spitz

Spitz received the William D. Barth Award from TriCity Family Services for her volunteer work. In 2013, the Batavia woman helped found Community Helpers Impacting People in Need - Batavia to aid homeless students in the Batavia school district. As a member of the Batavia Bicycle Commission, she organized a drive in 2014 to give repaired bicycles to needy children. She also serves on Friends of TriCity Family Services, organizing its fundraising events and working especially with its Adopt-a-Family program that provides gifts to needy clients.

Carolyn Sprawka

The Batavia woman was named the 2014 Roscoe Ebey Award winner, which is the Kane County Sheriff Office's highest civilian award and equivalent of Person of the Year, for her volunteer work at Hesed House in Aurora and Lazarus House in St. Charles. About 30 years ago, Sprawka first volunteered at an 11 p.m. to 3 a.m. shift at the Aurora homeless shelter and went on to serve as president of the board of directors. She also is part of the Illinois Coalition to End Homelessness. "When you actually do the work, it's not an 'us and them' (situation), it becomes a 'we' (situation)," she said.

Jose Torres

Torres resigned as superintendent of Elgin Area School District U-46, the state's second-largest school district behind Chicago, to lead the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy in Aurora.

Torres has spent nearly 30 years in education and he came to U-46 in 2008 after serving as regional superintendent at Chicago Public Schools, and previously working in school districts in California, Baltimore and Washington, D.C. The U-46 school board appointed Torres' former chief of staff, Tony Sanders, as CEO with Kenneth Arndt serving as interim superintendent.

Don Kramer
  Sugar Grove Citizen of the Year Wayne Parson laughs with friends after receiving his award. "There's a lot of people that got this award that are right here in this park tonight. It's great company to be in. It's a great honor to have this," Parson said. Laura Stoecker/
  Kane County Sheriff Pat Perez, left, honored Carolyn Sprawka, center, with the Roscoe Ebey Award on Thursday. The highest civilian honor was named after an Aurora Township man and World War II veteran who was killed by a home intruder in 2007. Harry Hitzeman/
  Deb Perryman's love for the environment started at an early age and has become her life's passion. The Elgin High School teacher was recently named the 2014 Environmental Educator of the Year by the Environmental Education Association of Illinois. Brian Hill/
  Elgin Area School District U-46 superintendent Jose Torres talks about leaving the district for Illinois Math and Science Academy in Aurora. Torres has been with the district for about six years. Rick West/
  Former Elgin city councilwoman Anna Moeller was elected as state representative for the 43rd House district. She had been named to the position in March to fill the vacancy of Keith Farnham, but November saw her elected by voters. Rick West/ ¬
Russell Laine
After the departure of Michael Bregy, Community Unit District 300 named Fred Heid its next superintendent. Heid is a former administrator for the Duval County Public Schools in Jacksonville, Florida. Courtesy of The Gainesville Sun
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