University of Illinois Extension
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Mary Lester

Mary Lester was born in Michigan City, Indiana and raised in Kinmundy and Salem, Illinois. Her mother was a Home Bureau member and her father was a Farm Bureau member. Mary attended a one room school with her three sisters, one was her twin. In 4th grade she learned to play clarinet from her teacher, and her career took off, playing along with her classmates, for the townspeople at the community center.

Mary attended Salem High School, where she joined Future Homemakers of America. In her senior year, she volunteered in the kindergarten class and taught sewing.

In 1951 Mary wed, Chester Lester, a young man from a neighboring family. Chester enlisted in the Navy and they traveled from state to state, settling in Wadsworth in 1966. Mary has three children, nine grandchildren and three great grandchildren, who make their homes in many states, including Alsaka, Minnesota (Minneapolis), and in Milwaukee and Twin Lakes, Wisconsin.

Mary’s pedigree in LCAHCE starts in 1966 when she moved to Wadsworth. She joined the Wadsworth Unit and when it disbanded she joined Gurnee Evening Unit. In 1991, Mary co-founded the Town & Country Unit, which meets in the afternoons. Mary was President of Town & Country from 1991 to 2007 and Vice President from 2007 to 2011.

Mary has served on the County Board as Public Information Chairman in 1988, President 1990, Community and Family Outreach Chairman 1996, By-Laws Committee Chairman 1998, Family Living Chairman 1999, First Vice President, 2007 to 2011. She has volunteered at many events, such as bake sales, craft fairs, cookbook sales, County Fair HCE booth and at The Lake County Fair booth.

Mary was a member of the Family Community Leadership team, which trained HCE members to give lessons to the Units, until the FCL program was terminated. She was an active member of ACWW and attended conferences in New Orleans, Little Rock, New Zealand and Australia. Mary has been very instrumental in 4H. Working at the County Fair, judging food preservation, including canning and drying foods and this year she judged the cake decorating contest.

Mary is an active member of the Farm Bureau and is President in charge of programs for the Prime Timers. Mary has also put in countless hours volunteering at the USO, at Great Lakes Naval Training Facility from 2001 to 2005.

Mary’s accomplishments are far from over. She returned to college after her children were grown and taught special needs children at SEDOL in Gurnee for eight years and then in Round Lake Schools until her retirement. Mary served on the Milburn School District Board, working on referendums addressing education and building issues. Mary belongs to the Milburn Church in Lake Villa and has served on the church board and was President of the “Ladies Aide Society”, along with the many volunteer hours she has given the church for fundraising events.

Mary’s newest ventures continue, she is serving on the Auction Committee at her church, received her Health Certificate and most importantly, Mary used a computer for the first time. Mary Lester, Renaissance woman, and proud member of LCAHCE.

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Betty Wertke

The Lake County Association for Home & Community Education (LCAHCE) is proud to nominate one of our long time (42 years) members, Elizabeth Wertke, for the U of I Extension Lake County Hall of Fame. Betty exhibits outstanding leadership and service by enhancing the lives of individuals, families, and community through promoting, organizing and participating in quality educational programs and experiences.

Betty has a long and diverse history of volunteerism in Lake County. In 1962, Betty began volunteering with 4H as a leader of the Volo Busy Bees. She was a leader for 35 years working with generations of children including her own children and long after her children were grown. Betty served on the 4H Council during this period of time. It was through her participation in 4H that she learned of LCAHCE or Homemakers as it was commonly called in 1968. Betty says her biggest accomplishment with 4H was, “To see young people become adults then become leaders in the community and active in Extension work also. It makes you feel good to see these kids grown up and reminiscing about their experiences in 4H!”

Betty has served in various capacities in her Volo Unit and the Lake County Association for Home & Community Education Board. Betty has served as President, Vice President, Secretary, Treasurer, and various Directors of Action over the years. Her most recent position was as 2nd Vice President on the LCAHCE Board. As 2nd VP, Betty was responsible for increasing our membership by working with the Unit 2nd VP and organizing events to increase membership. She organized a membership tea which was attended by many prospective members and organized a booth for the 2010 Lake County Fair. Betty is currently the Certified Volunteer Hours Chair as well as the Chair for the Annual Christmas Cookie Sale and the Annual Bake Sale which is held in cooperation with the Master Gardeners. She also Chairs the “Volo Clippers” which collects hundreds of dollars worth of coupons for the servicemen and their families. When asked what was your most memorable accomplishment with LCAHCE, she replied, “The formation of the Mes Amis Unit which was not only daughters of the Volo Unit members but also former 4H members. I am proud to see they are still an active unit to this day!”

While Betty was volunteering she was also helping to run the family owned and operated Skyline Motel in Volo and raising her family. Betty has three children, seven grandchildren, and ten great grandchildren who live all over the United States. She currently operates the motel by herself making all the day to day decisions. She credits her ability to do this to the leadership, communication, and organizational skills she learned through the Lake County Extension programs and partnerships(HCE and 4H). Betty was asked how does volunteerism affect your daily life in general, she smiled and replied: “I have a boring life for one thing. (We know this to not be true) I feel that I have learned so very much over the years. I get more out of giving and sharing than receiving. People skills, leadership skills, and organizational skills have helped me continue to run the business. You learn patience and learn not to sweat the small stuff!” Betty also feels The Lake County Extension offers the greatest opportunities for quality education to those who are not able or cannot afford to go some place else for the education. With the new technology, hopefully the educational material will get out to more people in our community. It was through the Extension service programs that Betty feels her opportunities were made available. “My life has been enriched by the people I have met and the opportunities to serve and work together to promote extension service in Lake County”.

Betty has a long list of accomplishments in her local community from serving on the Planning Commission and Zoning Board of Appeals for the Village of Volo to the Volo Business Association to the 4H Council, Home Economics Council, Lake County U of I Foundation Board, and Building Association of the U of I Cooperative Extension Service in Lake County. She has received awards and special recognition for her service in UICES/4H Leader (1997), Woman of the Year, Village of Volo (1996), and the LUCI (Recognized contribution of women in business) Award in 1998.

The Lake County Association for Home & Community Education Board would like to add Elizabeth Wertke to the Lake County Extension Hall of Fame for 2010 for her leadership and service to her community.

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Charlotte Bingham

Charlotte of Volo is a long standing (54 years) member of our organization. Charlotte exhibits outstanding leadership and service by enhancing the lives of individuals, families, and community through promoting, organizing and participating in quality educational programs and experiences. Charlotte’s journey with HCE began shortly after graduating from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a degree in Home Economics and Science. After two years of teaching, she began her employment with the University of Wisconsin Extension as an Extension Home Advisor! Through her job at the Extension in Madison Wisconsin she worked with 4-H and the wives of farmers in the area. She scoured the community to find leadership among parents of potential 4-H members! During this time she married and eventually moved to Illinois where she and her husband, Jack, raised three sons on the farm. No matter where Charlotte moved in Illinois, every HCE group welcomed her with open arms beginning with McHenry County and ending with Lake County! She can truthfully say she has enjoyed her experiences with HCE for 54 years! Charlotte has been very active on the unit level–holding most if not all of the positions in the Volo unit. She currently holds the position of Treasurer in the Volo Unit. Charlotte is always urging her unit and other unit members to better themselves. She encourages members to stop and think about various subjects, then write their memories down to be shared with others! She also is a former president of Lake County HCE, as well as, holding other positions such as 2nd vice president and the chairman for family and nutrition. Other organizations Charlotte has been involved with are the Young Women’s Committee at the Farm Bureau, the Registered Holstein Association, and the Lake County University of Illinois Extension Program Council.  Charlotte and sons present on average 3 scholarships at $2,500 each to deserving junior/senior students in the Agriculture School of the University of Illinois each year. Charlotte has instilled in her sons the importance of the Extension programs so much so that 4 of her 7 grandchildren are continuing the tradition of belonging to 4-H! Charlotte believes that “the Extension educates and improves lives–they really do know how to help people improve their lives.


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Margaret Hilliard

Margaret was born and raised in Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin. Margaret is in the middle of the six children from a proud Irish family. She got her gift of cooking and generosity from her parents. These qualities were especially evident through her mother, Mary. Mary managed a small-town restaurant for over 35 years. A good work ethic and great hospitality made it a happy place for several generations to meet and eat.

 After high school, Margaret found employment in sales. She traveled throughout the Midwest in that capacity. In 1969 at a trade show in Chicago, she met Tom Hilliard, who worked for Lake Cook Farm Supply. They were married in 1970 and moved to Grayslake. Margaret was invited to an American Unit meeting by a neighbor and joined in 1971. She has held every office in the unit at least once and has been president many times.

 Margaret held many offices on the Lake County Association for Home and Community Education Board, including 1st vice president, treasurer (two terms) and president (two terms). At the state level, she served as district 2/3 director, representing 18 counties on the Illinois Homemakers Board and the Family Community Leadership Board. Margaret has been a devoted member at all levels.

 Margaret has worked diligently for Extension as well. She has served as a 4-H leader and on the 4-H Council, the 4-H Foundation and home economics councils. She also took advantage of any training offered and became a master food shopper and master recycler. She especially enjoyed working with students and teachers to help them earn an Earth Flag.

  In 1989, she had the good fortune to be asked by Extension to be one of six women to represent Lake County for Family Community Leadership training. It was a wonderful partnership between University of Illinois Extension and the Illinois Association for Home and Community Education, funded by the Kellogg Foundation. Family Community Leadership offered training in leadership and communication, group process skills, community affairs and public policy, volunteerism, and adult education. This program was a catalyst for the years she has advocated for the homeless and hungry in Lake County.



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Margaret Sneesby

Margaret Sneesby, an energetic 93-year-old volunteer who began her University of Illinois Extension involvement in 1945 as a 4-H leader.   At that time the “Home Bureau” sponsored 4-H Clubs and she was asked to be a sewing leader when she accompanied her mother to one of the meetings.  With two young daughters also in the program, Margaret was “hooked” for good.

 Margaret has served in numerous capacities with the Extension partner organization, the Lake County Association for Home and Community Education (LCAHCE).  Margaret was President of the LCAHCE in the 1960’s, 1970’s, and the 1990’s. She also held the position of International Director on the county level. Margaret held various positions on the Illinois Association for Home and Community Education (IAHCE). She says “the eight years I served on the state board as a director at large was my most satisfying accomplishment.”    In that position she took responsibility for developing a national and Illinois program for voluntary action in answer to President Nixon’s call for volunteerism.   Margaret also served on the Extension Advisory Council and was president of the Extension Building Foundation She also found time to help out at the Lake County Extension office.

 Compiling and publishing the history of LCAHCE, 1932-1999 was her most recent achievement. The book entitled “Lake County Our Heritage” is a detailed historical account of the organization, which is known for their impeccable records.  LCAHCE beginnings were at a time when cars were purchased for $475, rent was $10 a month and food preservation education was a high priority.  The educational component of LCAHCE was tied to the close partnership with the University of Illinois Extension, which still continues today. 

 Margaret traveled to conferences in Oslo, Perth, Hamburg, Nairobi, Killarney, the Channel Islands and Vancouver on behalf of LCACHE and Associated Country Women of the World.  Through her worldwide travels, Margaret found that there are more similarities between people than there are differences.

 Throughout the years Margaret volunteered in her children’s schools as well as in her church. Margaret even sang in the church choir for 67 years. At one point she was the program director with the Warren Township Seniors.

 To this day, Margaret is still volunteering! As a talented artist, Margaret teaches “rosemaling” which is a Norwegian art form of hand painted stylized floral designs on wood. She teaches this art form to adults in the Spring & Fall.

Margaret says her eyesight is good and continues to needlepoint and cross stitch. She commented that she must keep her hands and mind busy!

 Margaret was born and raised in Waukegan. In 1943, during war time, she and her husband made their home in Gurnee where she still lives today. She has two daughters, 3 granddaughters, and 6 great grandchildren of which there are 4 boys and 2 girls.

 Margaret says that there was always a “full round of chores to do—it was her life—she enjoyed it and whole heartedly supports the work of the University of Illinois Extension”!

 Margaret’s favorite quote by Martha Dunlap which exemplifies her life’s work as an outstanding community volunteer is:

  “He who graduates today and stops learning tomorrow is uneducated the next day“.




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Jane Ellen Keroson


Jane Ellen Keroson spent her early childhood living in Indiana. She remembers when she was 7 or 8 years old going with her mom to different neighbor ladies’ houses for meetings. They talked, had refreshments and made plans to do different activities, including putting on a play at the local fall festival, where all the husbands also participated. This was Jane Ellen’s introduction to Home Extension.

 Jane Ellen started her 4-H career when she was 9. Her family moved to Gary, Indiana, in 1960. Jane Ellen went to the county fair looking for a 4-H club to join and was told that there were none in Gary. However, a lady had inquired about starting a club, but knew nothing about 4-H. They both lived in the same part of the city and together they started the first 4-H club in Gary.

 Her family moved to Wisconsin before the year was over. So she never got to participate in the fair there, but was able to join a club in Elroy, Wisconsin. However, she moved before that fair began. Luckily, she moved to Lake County and joined two 4-H clubs, where she completed her 4-H career. Two years after moving to Lake County, Jane Ellen joined a lady as a cooking project leader and taught six girls how to bake. Two years later, she left when her own daughter came along. When her daughter was old enough to join 4-H, Jane Ellen joined with her. After helping the leader for two years, Jane Ellen took charge and was leader until 2010. Since then, she has joined another leader and presently helps with the Chain O’ Lakes 4-H Club.

 In 1970, during the time Jane Ellen was waiting for her daughter to be old enough for 4-H, she found a Homemakers group in Lake County and joined the Hickory Knoll Unit. Jane has held the offices of 2nd  vice president, secretary and 1st vice president. She is currently president and has been for more years than she can remember.

 She has attended many state Home and Community Education conferences, starting when they were still held on the University of Illinois campus and everyone stayed in dorms. This provided her the opportunity to be a “college student.”

  Jane Ellen has served on the Youth Council; she was chair of the Executive Council and was overall superintendent of the Home EC 4-H projects at the county fair for more than one year. She belonged to the Home EC 4-H Committee and was the child care project superintendent for several years. In addition, she  has been a member of the 4-H Pop Committee and is a fair associate member. It is impossible to guess the number of hours that she has volunteered for 4-H at the county fair. It’s in the thousands.

 Being an active member of HCE for the past 43 years, Jane Ellen has had the opportunity to hold the offices of librarian and president and is currently the 1st vice president at the county level. Jane Ellen was recommended and was chosen to represent our district to serve on the University of Illinois Extension Advisory Board for six years. During those years, she was secretary for three of them. As part of the board, she represented Illinois in Washington, D.C. Jane Ellen said Extension convinced her to take that first plane ride to Washington, D.C. Extension has given her the opportunity to go to several states, including Alaska. And she is looking forward to Hawaii!

 During the time Jane Ellen was president of the Lake County HCE, she was fighting breast cancer. It was Extension that helped her pull through, giving her something important to accomplish. Jane Ellen feels that all the leaders and friends she has met through HCE and 4-H have helped mentor her and made her feel like family.

 Never one to back down, Jane Ellen has helped Hickory Knoll grow by bringing in three new members. Jane Ellen is proud that her mother and her daughter were both members of the Hickory Knoll Unit. There were three generations of members at the same time for several years.

 Jane Ellen has also served on the Lake County Foundation for over 25 years and was secretary for many of those years. In addition to all those organizations, she served as room mother for both her children’s classes for several years and taught Bible school when her children were young. Jane Ellen is also a tenant representative for her floor in the apartment complex where she lives and serves as secretary of that group.

 She feels that her two greatest achievements were being recognized by the Golden Apple Committee for all her work at Lake County Extension and being inducted into the Illinois 4-H Foundation Hall of Fame at the Illinois State Fair in Springfield. She is also first recipient of the first Leader of the Year Award here in Lake County.

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