Blazing new trails in government, courts, schools, outdoors: Suburban history makers of 2022

For the suburbs, 2022 was a year of firsts on many fronts, most notably in the arena of state and local politics, but strides also were made toward greater representation in the judicial system and society.

Barriers were breached. Glass ceilings broken. And records set in personal achievement.

Here are a few trailblazing suburbanites who made history this year.

Legislative firsts

On Jan. 11, state Rep.-elect Nabeela Syed will be sworn in as the first Indian American woman and one of the first Muslims to be elected to the Illinois General Assembly.

The 23-year-old Palatine native will represent the 51st state House District. She is among the youngest members of the legislative body.

"It has been very eye-opening to embark on this new journey," said Syed, who now lives in Inverness.

Syed, the daughter of Hyderabadi-Indian immigrants, acknowledges there are many obstacles and barriers for young people seeking elected office. She is looking forward to having a seat at the table and is busy setting up her district office in Palatine to serve constituents.

"My identity made me work harder because you don't see people like me in office typically," she said. "I'm very excited about the response that we've had so far. A lot of people are hoping to see young blood in politics. I think our generation is very compassionate ... very hard working, and we are very politically active."

She's not the only history-maker in Springfield.

State Rep.-elect Hone Huynh became the first Vietnamese American member of the Illinois General Assembly, and state Rep.-elect Abdelnasser Rashid is the first Palestinian American to be elected to the state legislature, representing the 21st House District.

Meanwhile, state Rep. Delia Ramirez became the first Latina from Illinois, and in fact the Midwest, elected to Congress, after winning the 3rd Congressional District seat.

The district's boundaries - stretching from Chicago's Humboldt Park and Logan Square neighborhoods into historically red DuPage - were drawn by Democrats in the state legislature to create a second Latino-centric congressional district. About 44% of the voting-age population is Hispanic.

Ramirez is the daughter of Guatemalan immigrants. Her husband is a "Dreamer," a recipient of protections under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA.

Local trailblazers

Democratic state Rep. Deb Conroy of Elmhurst became the first woman to lead the DuPage County Board, an office held only by Republican men for generations.

Democratic state Rep. Deb Conroy of Elmhurst is sworn in as the first woman to chair the DuPage County Board, after generations of Republican men. Karie Angell Luc/for the Daily Herald

Conroy, 60, replaced outgoing county board Chairman Dan Cronin, an Elmhurst Republican, who did not seek a fourth term.

"We're celebrating. We made history," Conroy told the Daily Herald after her election victory in November.

Democrat Esiah Campos is the first Latino on the Lake County Board, representing District 16.

In Lake County, Esiah Campos, 26, of Round Lake Beach became the first Latino and youngest member of the Lake County Board. He will represent District 16, which centers on the four Round Lake communities that are heavily Hispanic in west central Lake County.

Lake County Clerk Anthony Vega of Grayslake is the first Latino and openly gay man to lead a countywide office.

And Lake County Clerk Anthony Vega, 30, of Grayslake is the first Latino and openly gay man to lead a countywide office. Vega was born to immigrant parents on Chicago's Southwest Side.

Setting the bar high

The Illinois Supreme Court, for the first time, has a majority of women - by a 5-2 count.

Justices Elizabeth Rochford and Mary Kay O'Brien, both Democrats, were elected to the high court in November. Justice Joy V. Cunningham was appointed to replace retired Justice Anne M. Burke.

Lisa Holder White is the Illinois Supreme Court's first Black woman. Jerry Nowicki/Capitol News Illinois

They join Lisa Holder White, who is the court's first Black woman on the court. Cunningham became the second, bringing the number of Black justices on the Supreme Court to three.

A historic Illinois Supreme Court will be led by Chief Justice Mary Jane Theis, who became the fourth woman to ever lead the state's high court. Jerry Nowicki/Capitol News Illinois

The historic court will be led by Chief Justice Mary Jane Theis, the fourth woman to be chief in the court's history.

Chantelle Porter is the first Black DuPage County circuit court judge.

The Illinois Supreme Court also appointed Chantelle Arie Porter as a judge in the 18th Judicial Circuit for DuPage County. Porter is the first Black woman to serve as a judge in the circuit.

"It never was my intention (to make history). I just want to be a good judge," said Porter, 41, of Carol Stream.

Top educator

Martina Smith became the first Black superintendent of the Algonquin-based Community Unit District 300.

  Martina Smith will be the first Black superintendent of Algonquin-based Community Unit District 300. Alice Fabbre/

She served as the district's assistant superintendent of Title I schools and will take the helm when Superintendent Susan Harkin retires at the end of the 2023-24 school year.

District 300 serves nearly 20,000 students in 26 schools. The district includes portions of Kane, McHenry, Cook and DeKalb counties.

Leading flocks

The Rev. Paula E. Clark was consecrated as the first Black female bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago.

The Episcopal Diocese of Chicago consecrated its first Black female bishop, the Rev. Paula E. Clark. Courtesy of Episcopal Diocese of Chicago

Clark was seated at St. James Cathedral in Chicago. The diocese serves churches across the Chicago area and suburbs.

Scaling new heights

Eighteen-year-old Lucy Westlake of Naperville became the youngest American woman to reach the summit of Mount Everest.

Lucy Westlake of Naperville poses in front of the summit of Mount Everest days before the 18-year-old succeeded in becoming the youngest American woman to reach the summit. Courtesy of Lucy Westlake's Instagram account

The Naperville North High School graduate stood on the summit of Mount Everest, 8,849 meters above sea level, on May 12. She climbed Everest through the night and arrived at the summit just after daybreak.

Record setter

Blake Hunter of Grayslake became a Guinness World Record holder for the most states visited by bicycle in 24 hours.

Blake Hunter of Grayslake bikes on a gravel trail at the Lake County Forest Preserves' Rollins Savanna in Grayslake. Hunter was confirmed in 2022 to be the Guinness World Record holder for the most states visited by bicycle in 24 hours. Candace H. Johnson-for Shaw Media

On July 16, 2021, Hunter rode his bike more than 141 miles through six states - New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island. He completed the record in nearly 12 hours. It took more than a year for the record to officially be certified by Guinness at

"The record was cool, and I'm glad I did it, but it was more about the entire process, instead of just the one bike ride," Hunter told the Northwest Herald.

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