JJC Honors Community Members, Alumni at Inaugural Night of Stars
Five individuals were honored for their service to the local community and to Joliet Junior College at the inaugural Night of Stars on Thursday, May 10.
JJC has a long history of recognizing community members. The Night of Stars, presented by the college’s Foundation and Alumni Association, combined several past events into one evening of celebration and recognition. Roughly 165 people attended the event, held at the Renaissance Center in downtown Joliet.
“All of you are connected to JJC in different ways,” JJC President Dr. Judy Mitchell told the audience. “And it is through these diverse relationships, partnerships, and networks that we are able to make a difference. The people we are honoring this evening have impacted their communities in transformational ways and we are proud to call them members of our JJC family.”
J.D. Ross Extraordinary Service Award
Jeff Eberhard of Morris is well-known for his volunteer work in both Will and Grundy counties. One of his projects, the Emergency Homeless Pack, got its start after he saw a need to help the local homeless population. Eberhard is also the creator behind Micro Food Pantries, which house non-perishable food and are stationed across the local area.
“It’s the little things you can do for others,” Eberhard said in his acceptance speech. “I can’t say that it wasn’t always this way but life has a certain way of seasoning you.”
Eberhard, whose children help him fill the homeless packs or add pantry items, encouraged others to involve their loved ones when helping those in need.
“If you have children and you want to give back in a small way, go to the grocery store with them and buy some food, and go to one of these little micro pantries… put something in there and teach them to give back, and what it means to give back.”
Humanitarian and Distinguished Public Service
Terry Kunze has made a difference in the community by forming two clubs for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities: The Aktion Club (a part of the Kiwanis family) and the Transition Club. In addition to her work in the local community, Kunze serves as the administrator of the Illinois Eastern Iowa District for the Aktion Clubs.
“I am not doing this on my own. It takes a village,” Kunze said Thursday night, and thanked the Kiwanis Club of Joliet for their support.
“I share this award with them, as well as the teachers and advisors who take up leadership roles at every meeting… I also share this with the Aktion Club members, who have warm and generous hearts and are always eager to help those in need.”
Kunze also thanked her husband and her adult daughter, Missy, who has Rett syndrome and requires constant care.
“Missy does not speak. She uses a wheelchair to get around. She cannot use her hands. But it’s her smile is the impetus and the motivation for the person that I am today,” said Kunze.
Susan H. Wood Hall of Fame Award
JJC Board of Trustees Chairman
Wunderlich Builders, Inc., Owner
Robert Wunderlich has served on the JJC Board of Trustees for 42 years. In addition to his work at the college, which also includes 20 years as the chair of the JJC Building and Grounds committee, he owns the contracting business Wunderlich Builders, Inc.
“I’m very humbled to get this award,” he said. “Susan Wood was the executive administrator for Elmer Rowley, the first president of the JJC current campus. He was the first president when I was a student here. And I’ve been here through every president since.”
Wunderlich thanked his family, and joked about having to plan their family vacations around his Board of Trustee meetings, which Wunderlich said he did not miss the first 18 years on the job.
“JJC will be the first choice for all students. It’s the best choice.”
Distinguished Alumni Achievement Award
Jay D. Bergman ’68
President and CEO, Petco Petroleum Corporation
Chairman of the Board, First Secure Bank Group
Jay D. Bergman of Joliet, a past president of the JJC Alumni Board, is known for being the longest-serving member of the Illinois State University Board of Trustees (2003 to 2017). In 2017, he won the Illinois Community College Trustees Association Alumnus Award to recognize his success. He’s currently serving his eleventh year as a member of the Illinois Board of Higher Education and owns several banks and a nationwide energy company that’s the largest of its kind in Illinois.
“I’ve received some awards from some other educational institutions over the years but this one is pretty special because it’s the school where I started my college career,” Bergman said Thursday.
In his acceptance speech, Bergman read a passage from “The Prospects of the Small College,” published in 1900 by published by William Rainey Harper. Harper, then president of the University of Chicago, along with then Joliet Township High School Superintendent J. Stanley Brown, founded JJC in 1901 as an experimental postgraduate high school program.
“Millions of Americans wouldn’t have benefited from the skills they learned at a community college were it not for William Rainey Harper,” Bergman said. “Thousands of us here in Illinois would not have been able to benefit from the people that learned a skill at community college.”
Ed Czerkies ’57
Businessman and Philanthropist
For more than 47 years, Ed Czerkies of Joliet built homes and industrial facilities in and around the local area. Although his passion is in construction, he also enjoyed teaching in the building program at Joliet Township High School. He was also a member of the United States Naval Reserve. Czerkies is philanthropic and often donates in the memory of his late wife, Carolyn Czerkies – including an endowed scholarship for nursing students at JJC.
Czerkies, who attended JJC when it shared space at the high school downtown, says he’s impressed with what the college has become.
“The foresight that people had to come from Joliet Central to where they’re at, to buy that property and start what they did – it’s amazing.”
Czerkies also applauded the college’s nursing department, which he recently toured.
“It’s amazing where they’ve come. In fact I believe that nurses are going to replace doctors. They’ve become so educated.”
"It was an honor to be in a room with so many people that not only support the college but also those that do great things to help so many in our community. Our donors make such a significant impact on the students we serve," said Kristin Mulvey, JJC executive director of institutional advancement and executive director of the JJC Foundation.
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