By Larry Atseff
There are many women in Oak Brook who have a passion to lead and/ or volunteer. From time to time, we want to acknowledge their contributions to Oak Brook. In addition to Merry Cheng, here are four more women you should know more about.
Karen and her husband Gabor moved to Oak Brook in 1973 with their kids, Jim and Nancy. A family tradition for them? Jump in and help where you can. The warm, welcoming climate at Christ Church got them involved almost immediately with the huge Young Couples Club there. In 1976, Karen was appointed to the Oak Brook Plan Commission by President George Howell. It was a chance to spend countless hours learning about Paul Butler’s vision that became The Village of Oak Brook. She was elected to the Village Board of Trustees in 1985 and continued to enjoy the friendship of Mr. Butler and the Butler family. In 1991, Karen was elected President of the Village and subsequently won two more elections, serving until 2003. “During those years, we were building a village!” and Karen loved every minute of it. It was an important time for Oak Brook and the village was looked upon for leadership throughout the region. The Metropolitan Mayors Conference – including Chicago and the suburbs from 5 surrounding counties was a collaboration between Karen and then- Mayor Richard M. Daley of Chicago, and it was born at the Oak Brook Bath & Tennis Club! Oak Brook was also part of the U.S.Conference of Mayors by invitation of Mayor Daley, who recognized the influence Oak Brook had over the region. While in office, Karen was twice elected as President of the DuPage Mayors and Managers Conference; served as vice-chairman of the DuPage County Stormwater Management Committee; and was an active member of the Emergency Management and Disaster Mitigation Committees for both DuPage County and the State of Illinois. In Karen’s view, intense attention to that subject – the safety of our people in a tragedy, natural or manmade – is the primary responsibility of the President of the Village. It is not to be taken lightly! What is she most proud of, looking back at all those years in office? “Ethical government, without question!! The people of Oak Brook should demand no less! Employees LOVED working at a place they could be proud of, and the residents shared that pride.” Karen also served two different two-year terms as President of the Oak Brook Women’s Club, and two terms as President of the Oak Brook Community Caucus is currently serving as Chairman of the Board of Trustees at her church and was recently appointed to the Board of the DuPage County Historical Museum, and is Secretary on the Graue Mill and Museum Board of Directors.
Minnie is an excellent example of how women, and the Oak Brook Women’s Club, have had a positive impact on the village of Oak Brook. Minnie and her husband Donald, now in their 90’s, moved to Oak Brook in 1970 and built their home. Donald wanted to be closer to his office in Oak Brook, where he worked as a manufacturer’s representative for industrial products. (They could literally see each other from the home to the office). At the outset, Minnie was a stayat- home mom, with 2 boys. As a new resident, Minnie was also looking for ways to get to know people; she heard about the Oak Brook Women’s Club and joined. It was the first women’s group in town. They characterize themselves as an organization dedicated to its members as a source of information, a support group, social networking, and entertainment. She has been President twice. One approach has been to find a worthy cause and focus the efforts of the group on it. Years ago, at one neighborhood picnic, attended by some of the Oak Brook volunteer firemen, she found out that the fire department was in need of a firetruck. Minnie had found a worthy project, and so had the Oak Brook Women’s Club. To the community, she says “Thank you for your continued interest in the Oak Brook Women’s Club and our yearending donations. We always try to make them of interest—community-wide.”
Two Village Clerks Serving Beyond The Call Of Duty: Linda Gonnella and Charlotte Pruss
The job of Village Clerk is not the most glamorous or visible position in village government, but it is a vital position. Village Clerks must seal and attest all contracts of the Village and all licenses, permits, and “such other documents as shall require this formality.” They must be custodians of all records which are not assigned to custody of some other officer. They are to keep a register of all licenses and permits issued including payments and keep a register of all officers and other records required by the Board of Trustees. Deeds, the original of all annexation plats, plats of subdivisions, easements, vacated properties, titles, and other such records, and all official contracts and documents to be kept by the Village Clerk in the Village archives. Keep an index of the files. Attend all meetings of the Village Board and keep a full record of its proceedings in the journal which shall be preserved by the Clerk. Be custodian of the Village Seal and affix its impression on documents when required. In Conduct of Elections, the Village Clerk shall keep a record of the election and appointment of officers and exhibit the name of officers and when they were elected, and dates when they leave the office. Post results of any election or appointment within 5 days. In other words, the Village Clerk is the official record-keeper of all activities involved in running the Village. Paying close attention to detail, knowing the rules, and being well organized are pre-requisites. Linda Gonnella was the Village Clerk for Oak Brook for 18 years, from 1989 to 2007.
She learned as a Girl Scout and from her mom how to take responsibility and how to be organized. She learned the importance of keeping records correctly. Over time she took on responsibility for pensions for police and fire department employees. Because she knew the importance of records, she has also served as a historian for the Oak Brook Women’s Club. As she puts it, “I loved the job, the responsibility, the attention to detail you have to have to be successful.” During her tenure, Linda took formal classes to become a Certified Municipal Clerk and became widely respected among her peers in the Village Clerk community. One of her biggest accomplishments was the conversion of all paper documents to electronic storage, overcoming a fear that going electronic would lead to loss of control. She helped at the state level to lead clerks in local governments throughout Illinois in making a successful changeover from paper records to electronic record-keeping. Outside of being Village Clerk, she has used her talents in community fund-raising for several non-profits over the years. Charlotte Pruss is the current Village Clerk and has been elected 4 times since 2007. Prior to becoming Village Clerk, she held director positions in human resources at University Hospital and Hartgrove Hospital. At Rush Presbyterian St. Lukes Hospital she served as Assistant Director for Personnel & Budget, managing a budget of $5 million. At one point, she managed quality and cost control for the food production of a hospital serving 5,000 meals per day. In short, she brought great practical experience to the position of Village Clerk, in managing people and budgets. Over and above fulfilling her official responsibilities of Village Clerk, she says, “I have become the “go-to” person when people call the village and ask questions about village services. I usually have the answers.” Speaking of informing the public, one of Charlotte’s most valuable contributions has been her initiative to televise Trustee Board meetings on the internet. Thanks to her efforts, Oak Brook has been one of the first municipalities to televise such meetings. In addition to being Village Clerk, she finds time to be a member of the Oak Brook Women’s Club.
*Photos provided by the Village of Oak Brook