District 202 has many outstanding alumni who have used their education and experience to become successful, positive contributors to society. The Foundation for Excellence Alumni Hall of Fame has been established to recognize and showcase outstanding graduates as part of the Foundation’s work to promote excellence and achievement for learners in District 202.
District 202 Honored Graduates
2017 Alumni Hall of Fame Recipients
1978 graduate (Education and Humanities)
Barbara Barrows is Nequa Valley High School’s first and only athletic director, serving in that role since 1997. In all she has worked for Indian Prairie School District #204 for 33 years as a teacher, coach and administrator.
She is credited with helping to build the school’s athletic program. In the process her teams have won 37 state trophies in 13 different sports and 10 state championships in seven different sports.
Professionally, Barrows has mentored, directed and helped develop 120 coaches serving over 2,000 student athletes annually.
Barrows is a member of the Illinois Athletic Director’s and the National Interscholastic Athletic associations. She has also served on and chaired numerous professional committees.
So great is her achievement and legacy in District 204 that the Nequa Valley High School sports stadium was renamed in her honor last fall.
Gregory Chapman is the founder of AeroTek Design Labs, LLC in Plainfield, which creates and designs equipment on aircraft used to connect travelers to WiFi service.
Chapman started his professional life at Commonwealth Edison, then worked for six years as a Plainfield Police officer.
He later earned his pilot’s license and worked for Air Phone, a company that tested cell sites around the country.
Chapman then started a charter flight service which served both public and private figures and celebrities.
He also supports numerous charities including the March of Dimes, the YMCA, the Plainfield Lions and the Plainfield Interfaith Food Pantry among others to which he donates anonymously.
As President of D’Arcy Automobiles Terry D’Arcy oversees one of the region’s largest group of automobile dealerships. He has served as President of the Buick GMC Chicagoland NW Indiana Dealer Assn., Chairman of the Chicago Auto Show, on the Board of Directors of First Community Bank, and a member of the Buick GMC National Dealer Council and the Illinois Toll Highway Authority.
However, his philanthropy far exceeds even his business success.
Mr. D’Arcy has been recognized for extraordinary commitment to many organizations including: the United Way of Will County; Joliet Park District Foundation; Joliet Junior College; University of St. Francis; Joliet Franciscan Learning Center; Joliet Historical Museum; Senior Services Center; Meals on Wheels, Silver Cross Hospital and Provena St. Joseph Medical Center, among many others.
In Plainfield, through personal involvement and/or corporate sponsorships, Terry D’Arcy has supported numerous activities and programs including: the Plainfield Winter Guard; Plainfield South High School spring musicals; the Plainfield East High School Eastside Shuffle 5K Run; the Plainfield High School—Central Campus cheerleading program; the athletic programs at all four Plainfield high schools; and the PHSCC Athletes Hall of Fame.
Dr. Allen Saxon is an accomplished and highly successful medical doctor and inventor who also loves playing the drums.
Saxon graduated cum laude from Washington University in 1971, got his medical degree in 1975 from Tulane University and interned at Michael Reese Hospital in Chicago. He completed his residency in general surgery at Rush-Presbyterian St. Luke’s Medical Center in Chicago, and then served there from 1980-81 as chief administrative resident.
Saxon served on 21 medical committees during his 35-year career as a general surgeon. He also served as an officer for both the Chicago Surgical Society and the Illinois Surgical Society, including a term as president of the ISS from 2013-14.
He co-authored four papers that were published in medical journals, and invented an innovative hernia repair mesh that received two United States patents.
Meanwhile, Saxon continues to play the drums, having sat in with members of several well-known bands. He published an article in Modern Drummer magazine, and played for more than 20 years with the Rockin’ Docs.
The band of physicians raised several thousand dollars for a child with anemia, and performed for 20 years at a Valentine’s Day dance to benefit the developmentally disabled.
Saxon now teaches surgical techniques part-time at Midwestern University, Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science, and Northwestern University School of Medicine.
Charles “Chuck” Willard’s long firefighting and public safety career has earned him many accolades for his community service, leadership and dedication.
Willard served the Joliet Fire Department from 1992-2014, rising through the ranks from firefighter to paramedic, to apparatus operator to lieutenant. He also served on the department’s Hazardous Materials Team for 16 years.
Willard focused much of his professional career on training and education for both himself and others. His unparalleled professional achievement earned him the position of Joliet’s Emergency Medical Services Coordinator. In that role he led outreach and education efforts with the community, scouting groups, churches and more.
He then volunteered to be the first Emergency Coordinator for Plainfield Township, and has worked locally, regionally and at the state level to organize rescue and recovery efforts. He is in his third term as a Plainfield Township trustee, and is concurrently serving as Township Clerk.
Willard also realized a lifelong dream when he recently earned an Associate’s Degree from Kaplan University – and made the Dean’s List, to boot.
2016 Alumni Hall of Fame Recipients
Pathophysiology and Pharmacology.
She is also a clinical instructor in the Generalist Entry Master’s program and Capstone advisor in the Generalist Entry Master’s program.
Kujath previously served as a clinical research nurse specialist and clinical instructor at the University of Chicago’s Clinical Research Center.
She also worked as a registered nurse at the Orthopaedic and Sports Medicine Center in Bloomington and OSF Saint Joseph’s medical Center in intensive care, surgical/orthopaedics, the telemetry unit and the oncology departments.
She is a heavily published author, much sought-after speaker in her field and has won many professional honors and accolades.
Kujath double majored at Illinois Wesleyan University earning Bachelor’s degrees in Nursing and Business Administration and graduating Cum Laude. Kujath then earned both a Master’s degree and Doctorate in nursing at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
During her FBI tenure Fletcher provided executive oversight for the development of the Basic Field Training Course for new agents and intelligence analyst trainees, and the first integrated approach to training of agents and analysts in the FBI’s history.
Upon graduation, Fletcher held an administrative position with Railoc Company Inc. In 1977 she took her first government position as a Data Control Clerk for the Department of Energy, Chicago Operations Office in Argonne, Illinois.
Fletcher transferred to the Las Vegas Division of the Social Security Administration in 1981, serving six years as a Data Review Technician before transferring to the Federal Bureau of Investigation in 1987.
With the FBI Fletcher served as a financial analyst for four years, then developed a specialized accounting system in 1991. The system was distributed throughout the FBI, and received the U.S. Department of Justice’s Attorney General’s Award for Administrative Support in 1992. Fletcher changed the focus of her career to information technology and became a computer specialist.
In 1996, Fletcher was promoted to the Administrative Officer in the Las Vegas Division where she was responsible for all of the support operations for the division for 10 years.
In 2006, Mrs. Fletcher transferred to FBI Headquarters’ Human Resources Division as the Unit Chief of the Support Management Development Unit. During this assignment, she initiated professional staff management training and led a team to establish competency modeling and professional staff career development for professional staff in the FBI.
Hensel, a Plainfield native, attended Illinois Wesleyan University where he earned academic accolades and graduated with an education degree. He taught in Minooka, Wyoming and Galesburg, Illinois before returning to PHS in 1981 to teach physical education and math and coach boys golf and varsity basketball. Hensel also served as dean of students and then assistant principal at PHS.
Then, as did for so many, the 1990 tornado changed Hensel’s life. Hensel was heavily involved in the process to move PHS to the former Joliet Catholic High School building. Later he helped plan, develop and open the new Plainfield High School, and was named its principal in 1997.
Then, in 2000, as District 202 began experiencing tremendous growth, Hensel opened Plainfield South High School – the first of what would be three new District 202 high schools. He served in that role until his retirement in 2004.
Whether as a teacher, coach or administrator, Tom influenced many young lives over his 33 year career in public education. His dedication to Plainfield Schools is well recognized and respected.
Hensel was also very active outside of school. He coached softball and baseball, conducted summer basketball camps and taught high school religious education classes.
Tom and his wife, Amy have three children, all of whom have graduated from Plainfield High School.
After graduation DiLeo earned an undergraduate degree from Southern Illinois University, then attended the University of Illinois for her Master’s degree.
DiLeo started teaching at Crystal Lawns Elementary in the spring of 1985. She moved to Walker’s Grove Elementary in 1992 and stayed for seven years as well. DiLeo was named Central Elementary School assistant principal in 1999 and then principal in 2001.
She and her husband, Alan have three children: Lindsay, who lives and works in Chicago; Michael, who is graduating from Benedictine University in May 2016; and Julianne, who is graduating from the University of Wisconsin – Madison in May 2016.
He also runs the Gehrke Laboratory at Harvard Medical School where he studies RNA viruses that cause hemorrhagic fevers, and is also a Professor of Heath and Sciences and Technology at Harvard Medical School.
Gehrke attended Eastern Illinois University where he received his Bachelor degree. He then attended Case Western Reserve University where he earned his Ph.D. Lee did his post-doctoral work at MIT.
In addition to being a distinguished scientist, Gehrke is also a talented musician, a proud father and grandfather.
2015 Alumni Hall of Fame Recipients
Business and Commerce & Community Service and Volunteerism
Mr. John Berst is the president and CEO of Components Express, Inc., an international computer cable manufacturer headquartered in Woodridge, Illinois. He is nominated in the Business and Commerce, Community Service and Volunteerism and Philanthropy and Non-Profit Service categories.
Berst lost his left leg below the knee in 1962 to bone cancer. From 1970-90, he regularly visited with young cancer patients and their families to support them as they dealt with amputation.
Since 1993, he has sat on the Board of Directors for the Barr Foundation, a non-profit organization that helps amputees with prosthetic rehabilitation.
He and his family also host a special event each year for physically and mentally handicapped adults at their home in Portage, Wisconsin.
Plainfield Central High School — Class of 1964
Arts and Entertainment & Government and Military
Mr. Roger Sebby, retired United States Air Force Lieutenant Colonel and music conductor with the United States Air Forces Band. Sebby is nominated in the Arts and Entertainment category.
Sebby returned to Plainfield after graduating from college to teach band, choir and general music at Indian Trail Middle School, where he also started beginning and intermediate strings programs.
Subsequently Sebby was appointed a graduate assistant at Western Illinois University where he earned a master’s degree.
While there he auditioned and was appointed as Commander/Conductor of the United States Air Force Band program.
With the Air Force Bands, Sebby conducted and performed around the world, touring in over 35 countries in the Pacific theater, Europe and Eastern Europe.
Sebby, who won numerous awards for his exemplary musical leadership also served as adjudicator for the Dixie Classics Music Festival in the United States, and festivals in Japan, Hong Kong and Spain.
Plainfield Central High School – Class of 1968
Education and Humanities
Dr. Lea Johnson, president of Maria College of Albany, New York. Johnson is nominated in the Education and Humanities category.
Johnson comes by her education career through her mother, Elinor Nemanich who taught English at Indian Trail Middle School. She graduated from Lewis University with a degree in psychology, and later earned degrees in public relations, nursing and higher education management.
Maria College named Johnson as its president in May 2012. She is only the fourth president and the first lay president in the school’s 57-year history. Johnson has earned praise for her spirit of transparency and open communication style. She has led the development of seven new baccalaureate degree programs, and has increased scholarship funding, among numerous significant achievements in her short tenure.
Before joining Maria College, Johnson served as dean of the School of Business at American International College where she restructured and improved the MBA and Healthcare Management programs.
She also served for 10 years as the division director at Northeastern University for more than20 undergraduate and graduate programs. She is the founding director of the Bouve Institute for Healthcare Leadership and Professional Development at Northeastern University.
Johnson has been nationally recognized for her work with curriculum development and partnership building.
Plainfield Central High School Class of 1990
Arts and Entertainment
Justin Ahrens, principal and creative director for Rule 29 Design, a strategic design, branding and communications agency in Geneva, Illinois. Ahrens is nominated in the Arts and Entertainment and Philanthropy and Non-Profit Service categories.
Ahrens and his associates are committed to “making creative matter” by both incorporating great design and helping others think differently about the world around them. They accomplish this through proactive involvement in social causes including significant work in Africa.
Ahrens has served on boards for various groups including the HOW Design Conference and the AIGA professional association for design.
He regularly speaks at design and business conferences about creative inspiration, leadership and design strategy.
Ahrens has served as an adjunct design instructor and helped with senior- and graduate-level design and strategy classes at Notre Dame and Kent State University, where students and professionals work together on social issues.
2014 Alumni Hall of Fame Recipient
Plainfield High School – Class of 1964
Government and Military Category
Mike Collins graduated from Plainfield High School in 1964. He earned an Associate’s Degree from Joliet Junior College. Mike served our country for four years in the United States Air Force. His career in law enforcement began in his hometown of Plainfield where he was a police officer for one year. He then joined the Illinois State Police and worked as a state trooper for 29 years. He received several honors during his years with the state police including the Congressional Medal of Merit honoring the heroism he displayed when he rescued a semi driver from a burning cab seconds before it exploded.
Mr. Collins was a Plainfield Fire Protection District Trustee for 12 years and served the community as a volunteer firefighter for 13 years. He was elected to the position of Plainfield Village Trustee and held that responsibility for eight years. Mike was elected Plainfield Village President in 2009.
2013 Alumni Hall of Fame Recipients
Plainfield High School – Class of 1954
Throughout the past six decades, Bonnie Lutter has dedicated her life to making Plainfield an outstanding place to live, work and raise a family. Her community service and willing volunteer spirit is a testament to her commitment to others. Bonnie gave countless hours of volunteer time doing a wide range of jobs at Central Elementary School, as a den mother and Brownie leader, as an assistant at athletic events at Indian Trail Middle School and Plainfield High School and as a community summer league softball coach for 12 years. She is an active member of Wheatland Presbyterian Church and has been a Joliet/Will County Project Pride Member since 1992. She has served as a Will County election judge for over 30 years.
Bonnie was elected as a District 202 school board member where she served for 12 years including terms as vice president and secretary. When she was a member of the school board, Bonnie served on the Wilco Career Cooperative Board for 12 years, including 10 years as its president. Following her service as a District 202 board member, Bonnie has remained active as a school board ambassador. Throughout her years of service, Bonnie has worked to ensure that students receive the quality education they so deeply deserve and has supported, celebrated and valued the outstanding staff members of District 202 for what they do every day in our schools.
Plainfield High School – Class of 1969
Science and Technology Category
Cliff Bender graduated from Iowa State University where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Architecture in 1973. In 1979, he opened CA Bender and Associates in Crest Hill, Illinois. He joined the firm Healy, Snyder, Bender in 1983 which is now known as Healy Bender. Cliff has been associated with the firm for 30 years.
As one of Healy Benders’ three principals and the Director of Architecture, Cliff has led the development of more than 100 architectural projects over the past decade – the vast majority of those being schools. As you look around District 202, the vast majority of our schools bear Cliff’s signature style. In addition to his work for his alma mater, Cliff’s designs can be seen in more than a dozen other Illinois communities, as well as in Indiana, Minnesota, Colorado and North Dakota.
In addition to being an award winning architect, including recognition from the Illinois Association of School Boards for excellence in design of educational environments, Cliff gives back to the communities he works for in a variety of ways. He assures that he and his associates take part in educating youth about the field of architecture through career days. He also has provided a book for the libraries at the ribbon cutting ceremonies of the schools in order to inspire future architects.
The Foundation for Excellence is proud to say that Cliff served as an active member of our trustee board for many years assisting in our fundraising efforts in order to provide grants, scholarships and special programs for students throughout the district. His support continues to this day.
Plainfield High School – Class of 1989
Medicine and Health Category
Dr. Jeff Ryan graduated from Plainfield High School in 1989. He went on to attend the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to study biology and then to the University of Illinois Chicago for medical school. Dr. Ryan completed a three-year residency at UIC hospital. From there he has dedicated his profession to providing health care to American Veterans. Currently, Dr. Ryan serves as Deputy Chief of Staff for Outpatient Services at the Jesse Brown Veteran Medical Center in Chicago Illinois. He continues to practice internal medicine while also directly overseeing outpatient services including staff, residents and patients.
2012 Alumni Hall of Fame Recipients
Plainfield High School – Class of 1959
Community Service and Volunteerism Category
Judy Pilcher Avery has lived in Plainfield all of her life and has a very special feeling for the Plainfield community. Throughout her school years, she was active in choir, athletics and the future homemakers club. Following graduation she attended Illinois State University and worked at Northern Illinois Gas.
In 1963, she married Clyde Avery and helped with the family business, Avery Gravel Co. She has raised four children and now has 12 grandchildren.
Judy is a strong supporter of her hometown and has dedicated her time, talent and treasure to assure that Plainfield remains an outstanding place to raise a family. She is an active member of the Plymouth Congregational Church and was a parent volunteer when her children attended Plainfield Schools. Judy was a PTA volunteer, a sports booster and a band booster. She received the Indian Trail PTA Lifetime Award in 1982 for her dedication to the school community.
Her volunteer efforts and generosity have had great impact on Plainfield. In the late 80’s Judy served on the Friends of the Park District Board and in 1997 her family donated acreage for what is now Avery Preserve. Judy serves on a committee to promote Edward Plainfield Cancer Center and has served on the Will County Community Foundation.
Judy got involved as a YMCA Board Member, a Capital Campaign Committee volunteer and as a member of the YMCA Facility Committee when plans were being made to construct a YMCA in Plainfield. In addition to Judy’s willingness to give of her time as a volunteer, she donated millions of dollars to assure that Plainfield would have a state-of-the-art YMCA facility which would be available to every Plainfield resident regardless of their ability to pay for services. As a result of Judy’s generosity, vision and hard work, an award-winning YMCA facility, CW Avery Family YMCA, opened in Plainfield in 2006.
Plainfield High School – Class of 1965
Education and Humanities
Dr. Burt Saxon attended Plainfield Schools from 1952 until his graduation from Plainfield High School in 1965. Following high school graduation Burt majored in economics at Carleton College in Minnesota. He pitched for the baseball team and did volunteer work. He decided to become an inner city high school teacher, hoping to do for his students what his Plainfield teachers had done for him. At graduation, he received Carleton’s Second Century Award for service and leadership.
Burt received his Master of Arts in Teaching degree from Wesleyan University in 1971. He taught social studies at Lee high School in New Haven, Connecticut. In 1975, he began doctoral study at Teachers College, Columbia University, receiving his educational doctorate in 1977. From 1980 until 2006 Burt was the facilitator of the Talented and Gifted Program at Hillhouse High School. He also served as varsity tennis coach.
Burt is a five-time Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute Fellow. In what Burt calls his “part-time jobs” he is a freelance writer. He has co-authored eight textbooks and taught seminars on educational policy at Yale University from 1976 until 2009. He still teaches Educational Psychology at Southern Connecticut State University.
During the 2004-05 school year, Burt was named New Haven Teacher of the Year and was selected from more than 48,000 public school teachers to be named Connecticut Teacher of the Year. Dr. Saxon is known for his interactive teaching style, in which he uses debates, films, small group discussions and role playing to keep his teaching informative and stimulating. Even more so, he is known for going the extra mile with students and encouraging them to go on to college.
2011 Alumni Hall of Fame Recipients
Plainfield High School – Class of 1958
Community Service and Volunteerism Category
As a Student Services Department secretary at Plainfield High School, Karen Hamilton always put the needs of students above all. That attitude is still evident in Karen’s life today as she volunteers in the Plainfield community and takes exceptional care to look after the less fortunate. Since 1993, she has spearheaded the Needy Family Drive that provides families with a meal and gifts during the Christmas season, making sure that each family member’s needs are considered in soliciting donations from the community. Even after her retirement she has continued to lead this worthwhile cause. Karen is also very active with the Lions Club and the Plainfield High School Athletic Hall of Fame.
Plainfield High School – Class of 1977
Dr. Bradley Barnes is a leader in the field of dental health serving his patients at his Normal, Illinois practice, working with colleagues at the national, state and local levels, and perhaps most impressively serving underserved patients in desperate need of treatment around the world and here at home. He has served on dental mission trips to Swaziland Southern Africa, Haiti and Northern Africa. As Co-Chairman of Illinois’ Mission of Mercy, Dr. Barnes brought together more than 1,000 dental professionals to meet the needs of more than 2,000 underserved patients throughout Central Illinois at a free clinic.
Plainfield High School – Class of 1988
Government and Military Category
Following graduation from PHS in 1988, Christopher Cozzi attended the U.S. Air Force Academy where he was a Distinguished Graduate and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant. In his almost 20-year military career, he as piloted KC-10 tankers and C-5 airlift aircraft and served on missions in over 10 major operations including Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. He commanded the 37th, later re-designated then 802nd Operations Support Squadron which included maintaining and operating Kelly airfield, Lackland Air Force Base, Texas. At the time the base was a key hub in evacuation efforts for Hurricanes Gustav and Ike and was named Air Force Air Education and Training Command’s Air Traffic Control Facility of the Year and Airfield Operations Facility of the Year in both 2008 and 2009. In addition to his outstanding military career, Chris and his wife Gina (PHS Class of 1989) are raising 5 children.
Plainfield High School – Class of 1988
Government and Military Category
Dr. Julie Ruddy is the Supervisory Clinical Psychologist and Head for Recruit Mental Health at the James A. Lovell Federal Health Care Center in North Chicago, Illinois for the U.S. Navy. She has full clinical and administrative supervisory responsibility for all levels of military and civilian staff. Throughout her career she has served the mental health needs for the Navy as both a Naval Officer and civilian. Her resume includes a long list of honors and impressive research.