Board of Trustees Awards Two District Residents the Extraordinary Service Award

The Joliet Junior College Board of Trustees honored two District 525 residents and JJC alumni, Gary Cheney and Deborah Smith, with the 2015 J.D. Ross Extraordinary Service Award at its March 8 meeting.

The ESA is the highest honor bestowed on an individual by the college; it was developed by the Board of Trustees to honor residents who have given outstanding service to Community College District 525. The award is named for former JJC President J. D. Ross.

See event photos

L-R: Margo McDermed, Gary Cheney, Patricia Deiters.

L-R: Margo McDermed, Gary Cheney, Patricia Deiters.

Cheney, of New Lenox, was nominated by 37th District Representative Margo McDermed for his work with his organization ShareFest, which he founded in 2007. ShareFest, which began as a one-day festival of compassionate community service, is now a year-round opportunity for hundreds of volunteers to commit their time, talents and treasures to helping those in need.

“There is great reward in helping people,” Cheney said. “What I have done through ShareFest is find people who are already passionate about something, and I help them apply that passion.”

Some of the events and activities ShareFest has coordinated, under Cheney’s leadership, include: Recyclepalooza, where Will County residents can dispose of hazardous waste and electronics appropriately; a health and safety fair, with free screening and health advice from local health care professionals; the “Main Event”, where items are gathered to benefits troops; job fairs; projects to assist the elderly and others in need; and environmental clean-up days.

“JJC is an excellent learning institution, and I am humbled, honored and grateful to receive this award,” Cheney said. He also said he attended JJC in the late 80s, and is proud that his children and grandchildren have also studied at the college.

Smith, of Lockport, was nominated by JJC Business Professor Michelle Meyer for her volunteer work with numerous organizations and the programs she created to help underprivileged individuals and children throughout JJC’s district.

According to Meyer, Smith “tirelessly donates her time and resources to help active soldiers and veterans programs, our local environment, and economically disadvantaged people through the community.”

L-R: Michelle Meyer, Deborah Smith, Andy Mihelich.

L-R: Michelle Meyer, Deborah Smith, Andy Mihelich.

The groups Smith volunteers with include: Openlands and the Morton Arboretum, where she achieved a treekeeper certification so she could help with the Emerald ash borer issue affecting trees in the community; the Hope & Friendship Foundation, where she helps with their mission of providing meals and supplies to neighbors in need; Operation Care Package, where she helps create and ship packages to troops overseas, and lays wreaths on the graves of veterans in Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery each December; Lemont Medical Reserves Corps, where she took first aid and CPR training in order to be prepared to assist in emergencies if needed; and the Chicago Marathon, where she enjoys volunteering to help runners.

“I am extremely honored that Professor Michelle Meyer took the time to nominate me for this prestigious award,” Smith said. “When I attended JJC a few years ago as an adult nontraditional student, she was my adviser and professor who helped guide my path to a business degree. Her encouragement and commitment to her students is what originally inspired me to get involved, to volunteer and give back to our community.”

For more information about the ESA and to see past winners, visit

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