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  Last year more people used the County's forest preserves than visited Yellowstone National Park.

Unsung Heroine Award Winners

The following amazing women were honored as Unsung Heroines from the 13th Cook County Board District by Commissioner Larry Suffredin.

Unsung Heroine honorees were selected based on their contributions to their communities, families and professional endeavors that are vital, but seldom recognized. The recognition is overseen by the Cook County Commission on Women’s Issues.

2021: Jane Balaban
2020: Kathy Tate-Bradish
2019: Karen Chavers
2018: Emily Williams Guthrie
2017: Josefina Alvarez, PhD
2016: Gloria Iverson
2015: Lydia Vivas
2014: Tricia Edwards
2013: Virginia Beckett
2012: Corrie Wallace
2011: Aline Lauture
2010: Sue Carlson
2009: Mary Adair
2006: Rogers Park Young Women’s Action Team
2005: Jean Cleland
2004: Muriel Chalem
2003: Lali Watt

The following are brief biographies on each of the Unsung Heroines listed above.

2021:  Jane Balaban
Jane Balaban is a tireless champion of the forest preserves and an environmental volunteer extraordinaire. Her efforts have contributed to dramatic improvements in the local forest preserves and brought together hundreds of volunteers annually who work to enrich the biodiversity of public nature preserves. She helped found the North Branch Restoration Project to take care of the forest preserves along the North Branch of the Chicago River. After 45 years, their experienced stewards now manage 20 sites from Chicago to Northbrook. The land is visibly healthier. Her outreach has resulted in thousands of youth volunteers who will ensure the Preserves endure for future generations. Jane connects schools, faith communities and the general public to the local natural areas that enrich their lives. She is a consummate diplomat who is beloved and respected by fellow volunteers and valued by Forest Preserve staff and elected officials who benefit from her deep commitment.  Read more.

2020: Kathy Tate-Bradish
Kathy Tate-Bradish brings energy and commitment to her volunteerism in civic and community development in the greater Evanston area and globally over more than 35 years. 
She founded and runs the ABCs of Sex Education to teach HIV/AIDS education and offer workshops in rural Kenya.  She developed a curriculum which trains Kenyan farmers to teach their peers HIV prevention with a focus on role-plays and breaking social taboos around sex education and HIV testing.  The ABCs teaches the internationally endorsed cornerstones of comprehensive sex education: Abstain, Be faithful, and/or use Condoms correctly and consistently.  The program has reduced teen pregnancy by 25% and increased condom use and HIV testing by 20%. She has transformed the initial volunteer organization to a structured professional Kenyan NGO with field staff and a Managing Director. More than 70,000 Kenyans have been taught by ABCs’ trained community educators since 2008.  Locally, she is active with the League of Women Voters and has moderated countless forums around Cook County and advocated for reform and participatory democracy.  She actively volunteers with the Evanston Lighthouse Rotary Club, North Shore Senior Center, Chicago Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired and New Foundation for Hope.

2019: Karen Chavers*
Karen Chavers was a champion in the fight for fair housing and community preservation and a mentor to many. She led the Evanston Neighborhood Conference and its teen empowerment program for nearly 20 years. She was a founding board member of the Shorefront Legacy Center. She served as board president of Open Communities and then helped organize North Suburban Housing Partners. She was a board member of Turnstone Development and treasurer of the Housing Authority of Cook County. She served as Commissioner Suffredin’s District Director from 2003 until her death in 2018.

2018: Emily Williams Guthrie
Emily Williams Guthrie is a tireless community advocate and dedicated volunteer. She was instrumental in bringing First Night Evanston back after a five-year hiatus. First Night Evanston aims to bring performing artists to a community at a reasonable price to celebrate New Year's Eve as an alcohol-free event. Additionally, Guthrie is director and past chairman of Evanston Safety Town, a summer camp for 4 to 6-year-olds that focuses on safety instruction. A large part of Safety Town's success is the 100 teen volunteers who counsel 1 to 3 children each. Safety Town has been an inspiration to many communities around the country.

2017: Josefina Alvarez, PhD
Josefina Alvarez is a volunteer extraordinaire with Mental Health America of the North Shore. She assists with youth and families living with mental health challenges. She has been an active volunteer since 2012 and served as President for three years. She has devoted countless hours to recruiting, training and supervising volunteers, conducting community outreach, raising much-needed funds and advocating for inclusive policy that increases access to vital care that can save lives, strengthen families and enrich our community.

2016: Gloria Iverson
Gloria Iverson is a special education teacher turned social entrepreneur. She envisioned a business in which people on the autism spectrum could practice and implement work expectations in a retail setting. She created and opened two businesses to achieve her goal.
Mini Man Monkey Brains, a penny candy store, opened in 2014 in downtown Skokie and employs people on the autism spectrum. The store recently relocated, and Iverson opened Nixie Gallery, an art gallery, next door. Nixie Gallery provides an opportunity for talented local artists to show and sell their work with revenue from the gallery increasing the amount of money that is paid to children with autism who work for therapeutic reasons at Mini Man Monkey Brains

2015: Lydia Vivas
Lydia Vivas saw a need for Latina women in the community to receive information in Spanish and feel connected to other Latina women, so she created HUG (Hispanic Unity Group). HUG has monthly meetings at Niles West High School and the group provides space for women (and sometimes me) to listen to guest speakers talk about a range of topics. Vivas worked on the development and implementation of Encuentro Cultural Latino, a grassroots community effort to provide a space for young Latino students (K-12) and their parents to learn Spanish. Lydia worked diligently to create a successful curriculum in Spanish for the younger population of students that included storytelling with an emphasis on vocabulary and arts and craft projects designed to incorporate the themes and vocabulary of the lesson.
Read more.

2014: Tricia Edwards
Tricia Edwards was recognized for her nearly two decades of work providing performing arts opportunities for at-risk youth and people of all ages. She founded T.E. & Company Inc. in 1981 as a non-profit Children’s Theater Performing Arts organization. Her programs serve inner and outer-city students and help them succeed academically by giving them the ability to choose something positive. Her mission has been to motivate, help and challenge children and develop skills that will help them in the future.

Ms. Edwards has written, directed and produced more than 5,000 plays and shows that contain messages about positive attitude and goal motivation. She has produced and created over 5,000 episodes for Evanston Community Television (ECTV) and is very active with youth programs at Faith Temple Church of God In Christ in Evanston.
Read more.

2013: Virginia Beckett
Virginia Becket is a licensed attorney who was recognized for her significant pro bono legal work. She has served as a pro bono attorney for the Chicago Legal Advocacy for Incarcerated Mothers (CLAIM) where she helped incarcerated mothers retain parental rights or change and revoke guardianship. She has also volunteered weekly since 2009 with the Coordinated Advice and Referral Program for Legal Services (CARPLS) to provide pro bono legal advice.

Beckett says she volunteers her legal expertise “because of the difference it can make in the lives women who have few options." According to Beckett, "A large majority of the clients were abused as children and are struggling with addiction and/or depression. Because these women are in jail, they are often in terror of permanently losing all contact with their children. Through CLAIM, we can help them start to take the steps they need to take to get their lives back on track.”
Read more.

2012: Corrie Wallace
Corrie Wallace served as the Director of the Niles Township Schools’ ELL (English Language Learner) Parent Center which serves the largest growing population of immigrants and refugees outside of the City of Chicago. She successfully runs the ELL Center on a shoestring budget – and turned it into the only immigrant parent support center in the nation. She has created a safe environment and an environment which fosters learning and acceptance. Corrie is beloved by parents of all races and ethnicities. She also serves as secretary on the Board of Directors of Interfaith Housing Center of the Northern Suburbs.

Corrie has said that she appreciates the opportunities that she has been afforded, and always welcomes new challenges. According to Corrie, “Tomorrow isn’t promised, so I must take advantage of the inherent gift of the present by continuing to stand up for what I believe in by making positive changes, one step at a time.”
Read more.

2011: Aline Lauture
Aline Lauture is dedicated to helping the people of Haiti. She has provided incredible support and assistance following natural disasters. She founded an organization to provide proactive assistance, the Haitian Congress to Fortify Haiti –

Lauture assisted Haitian refugees escaping political persecution in the 1990s. She mobilized humanitarian relief efforts after Hurricane Jeanne struck in 2004. Following the devastating January 2010 earthquake, she worked tirelessly to mobilize volunteers and provide humanitarian relief to Haiti.
Read more.

2010: Sue Carlson
Sue Carlson is guided by a deep faith that calls her to meet the needs of the “least of these” in our society. She pursues avenues which lead to social justice for the poor, the weak and the outcast. Tirelessly, she works to correct wrongs in housing patterns and the distribution of wealth. Her efforts are firm, but not headline grabbing. She works well with others, even when they may discount her insights, information and wisdom.
Read more.

2009: Mary Adair*
Mary Adair single-handedly organized the “Armchair Travel” program at the Wilmette Public Library for over 20 years. Before that she did a similar volunteer venture at another venue in the district for about 15 years. She finds volunteers for about 50 programs a year. She started each program with a warm welcome and a couple of jokes. She is a caring, humane person who has made a huge difference to many people’s lives in her little corner of the world.

She cajoled and encouraged others to share their travel experiences over 1000 times and helped develop an amazing amount of community spirit around this program. The presenters have had a chance to be less shy, learn to use new technology (slides to digital presentations) and bridge the generation gap. Good things happen when 16-year-old boys present to 80-year-old seniors. Mary understands this and knows that her impact is far beyond telling people about far off lands. At age 89, she is the kind of person you can’t say “no” to - she convinces everyone they can be a public speaker. Young and old come together and learn and laugh together.
Read more.

2006: Rogers Park Young Women’s Action Team
The Rogers Park Young Women’s Action Team is a youth-led, adult-supported social change project that empowers young women of color under 21 years old to take action on issues that affect their lives -- particularly issues of violence against girls and young women. The YWAT believes that girls and young women should be free from violence.

Commissioner Suffredin first met the YWAT teen leaders when they shared the results of their comprehensive research about Street Harassment and Teen Dating Violence. The organization began in 2003 under the sponsorship of the Between Friends Chicago. The organization is now sponsored by the Rogers Park Community Action Council.

Those who see YWAT in action are impressed by the passionate will and organizing strategies displayed by the teen leaders as they reported to the community their research results. Their focus on collective action, consciousness-raising, and community education needed to end violence against girls and young women was compelling. Commissioner Suffredin responded when challenged by the young women of YWAT and strongly supported their “R-E-S-P-E-C-T Campaign” during the spring/summer of 2004. Working in partnership with local elected officials, law enforcement and business leaders, the group successfully advocated for better lighting on two main streets and conducted an educational/marketing campaign to raise awareness about the issue of street harassment in Rogers Park. YWAT launched Teen Dating Violence Awareness Week - October 17-23rd 2005 - which was recognized with a proclamation from Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley.
Read more.

2005: Jean Cleland*
Jean Cleland has been championing issues of affordable housing and social justice since the 1950s. In 1965, she founded the North Shore Summer Project that picketed real estate offices that discriminated against customers based on race, religion or ethnic background. She was responsible for bringing Martin Luther King to the Village Green in Wilmette that summer to deliver a speech on anti-discrimination issues to an audience of over 10,000.

In 1972, Cleland became a founding board member of the Interfaith Housing Council of the Northern Suburbs. She continued her involvement with that organization until her recent retirement from the board. She also served as chair of the Wilmette Housing Commission and, in that capacity, led the Wilmette community in overcoming opposition to the creation of three low-income senior buildings. She recently was a founder and active member of Mixed Use for Mallinckrodt, an ad hoc citizen’s group formed to ensure affordable housing would be created.
Read more.

2004: Muriel Chalem*
Muriel Chalem of Evanston has a long history of involvement with the community. She organized the first ever First Night Evanston, an event that has puts Evanston on the map as a place to be each New Year’s Eve, and continued to serve on its board. First Night Evanston celebrated its 11th year on New Year's Eve 2003 and is the largest event of its kind in Illinois. The 2003 celebration had 250 performers at 17 different venues and attracted a crowd of many thousands who came from all over the area to partake in the fun.

Chalem is also a founding member of Mikdosh El Synagogue and, with her late husband, founded the United Soccer Association of Evanston. She is a former president of the Evanston Arts Council and currently serves on the board of Next Theater. Read more.

2003: Lali Watt
Lali Watt was selected as the 13th District’s Unsung Heroine because of her remarkable efforts that spearheaded a grassroots campaign and led to the successful passage of a $25 million bond referendum for the Wilmette Park District in March 2002. The referendum approved the purchase of 17 acres of land that included open space and historic Mallinckrodt College buildings.

Concerned that the campus would be demolished and the land developed without any community input, Watt organized the Citizens’ Action League for Mallinckrodt (CALM) and served as its President and Treasurer. Under her leadership, community members waged a thriving education campaign, which persuaded local elected officials to support the desires of the Wilmette voters and successfully passed the referendum.

Watt is also a board member of Friends of Battered Women and their Children, co-chair of the Illinois CPA Society’s Strategic Planning Committee, member of the Community Review Commission of the District 39 Board of Education and on the board of the Community Supported Agriculture Learning Center at Angelic Organics.
Read more.

* Deceased


More about our Unsung Heroines

2021:  Jane Balaban
2020:  Kathy Tate-Bradish
Karen Chavers
2018:  Emily Williams Guthrie
2017:  Josefina Alvarez, PhD
2016:  Gloria Iverson
2015:  Lydia Vivas
2014:  Tricia Edwards
2013:  Virginia Beckett
2012:  Corrie Wallace
Aline Lauture
2010:  Sue Carlson
2009:  Mary Adair
Rogers Park Young Women’s Action Team
2005:  Jean Cleland
2004:  Muriel Chalem
2003:  Lali Watt

Paid for by Larry Suffredin and not at taxpayer expense. A Haymarket Production.