Mother of the Year letters

Cathie Smith, Mother of the Year

Growing up and thinking about getting married someday I heard the same stories and jokes that everyone hears: beware the monster in law, mother in laws can be so difficult, what if you fall in love with someone whose mom doesn’t love you, etc.

But when I married my Menard County husband, I had the complete opposite experience. Cathie Smith is not like the mothers-in-law from movies or bad jokes…she is the most perfect example of what a strong mom and an even stronger woman should be, not only for me…but my daughter as well.

Cathie has become more than just a mom to me. As a transplant from the big city, Cathie has guided me through what it means to raise three children in a rural county. Our cattle farm children have known the life of growing up on and around the farm because Cathie has taken their hands (and mine) and led them through it. She’s taught me the work involved in being a mom, the balancing act of being a good teacher and a good mother, the importance of finding friends that become family and all the really important things…like the difference between supper and dinner.

Cathie Smith survived a traumatic brain injury during the Lake Petersburg tornado years back, and that was when we all saw what a truly incredible force of nature she is. She rebounded from a life-threatening injury with the courage and grace that she handles all things. And she did it with the perseverance that make her a good example every single day.

I am blessed to have Cathie as a mother in law, blessed that she raised a wonderful son who honors and supports women, blessed that she is an integral influence in my own three wonderful children, and blessed to be part of a community that has been shaped in part by her kindness, hard work and dedication. We love you, Cathie!

-Mary Kate Smith, daughter-in-law


Pam Brooks

Pam Brooks is my sweet and loving daughter-in-law. She is always there when anyone needs her. She’s a nurse and works full time. When my husband had bladder cancer, she helped us so much, so we could keep him home and fulfill his wishes! We couldn’t have done it without her!

When her brother had a son born with cleft palette, she got them in at St. Jude’s right away so he could get the surgeries he needed!

She became a grandma in July 2018 to a precious baby girl and bends over backwards watching the baby so her mommy and daddy can work.

She’s married to my son Brad Brooks and mom to two grown children Zach and Rylee.

She works from home for Humana. She provides meals when she needs to.

Pam just deserves this award so much. She would be so surprised!

-Margo Brooks, mother-in-law


Genevieve Campbell

Genny Campbell, our mother of the year, is mom to 3 kids, 7 grandkids & 3 great-grandkids. She sets good examples for others, always there to lend a helping hand to friends, family & even strangers. She volunteers & is a very active member of the Women of the Moose and for many years she has judged 4-H cake decorating along with giving classes to anyone who has even a little interest! She was always there for us as we were growing up, whether teaching us things like cooking, family values or other important things in life like “if you don’t have anything nice to say, then don’t say anything at all”. She not only has enough energy, time & love for us but also for others who need it.

Our family has always had the comfort of having home canned food which of course was also grown by our family. Something that all three of her children also now do and will hopefully pass on to all of our children. She shares her love of cooking & many, many recipes! She always finds the time to help my sister & I can homemade pie fillings, teaching her 7-year-old great-granddaughter to make jams & jellies and her grandson’s wife to make rock candy and anyone else who asks.

Mom was home with us as we were growing up and then decided to stay home again when her first grandchild was born. She has been there for all of her grandchildren & is currently the bus stop for some of her great-grandchildren. Hanging out at Grandma & Grandpa’s gives the grandkids opportunities that not all kids have these days from helping in the garden, going fishing, caring for livestock, climbing trees to home cooking. Every grandchild has done cake decorating to some degree from simple cupcakes to 4-H Grand Champions!

The youngest great-grandchild has food allergies to gluten & yeast yet she never feels left out or different. Mom finds ways to create recipes (even though it requires fixing 2 complete meals at times) from bread to Camille’s favorite s’mores to birthday cakes!

Our Mom is a big supporter of our Dad, from going dancing (which is one of Dad’s favorite past-times) to being the “manager” of his country music band! Our parents have been married for 58 years in March!

We feel that because of the kind of person that Mom is, full of energy, love and kindness, we have been given so many opportunities in life! We have been taught values & important life lessons that we can all pass on to the next generations!

That’s just some of the reasons we feel our Mom is “Mother of the Year!”

-Gail Helton, daughter


Carla Campbell-Jackson

Last year, I submitted my Mother’s name and she is still wonderful, so I am submitting her entry again. My Mother, Dr. Carla Campbell-Jackson, is extraordinary. She is very special because she has helped hundreds of people in every city where she has lived. She always extends a helping hand for the less fortunate. For example, my mother donates clothes, shoes and food to the poor. She visits the jails and has even spoken at jails in the areas to help inspire. She is so dynamic that she has been recognized all over the world:

  • Received the President George Bush Points of Light Award
  • Received NBC’s Woman to Watch Award
  • Received the Dr. Martin Luther King Community Service Award
  • Received the Spirit of State Farm Award
  • Received the YWCA Woman of Distinction Award
  • Radio Personality for 94.9 FM

My mother was raised by a single mother in St. Louis, Missouri. She beat the odd and obtained her bachelor’s degree, MBA and her Ph.D. I am so proud of my mother. Every day, my mother makes sure I understand how blessed and fortunate I am. I have seen her assist so many people that now I am in the “giving and helping” business as well. This past December, I was chosen as Illinois’ Kindness Ambassador and was featured on the front page of the Pantagraph newspaper. I received 100 new toys from the Hasbro Toy Company and I was honored to provide all of those toys to the children of the Bloomington Housing Authority. My mother was there to assist me every step of the way. A few weeks ago, my mother and I spent time at the Salvation Army in Bloomington, Illinois. We provided care packages for those in need. My mother and I also provided tons of toys, clothes and books to the Goodwill.

My mother does not judge others in a negative way. Even though we are blessed to have a beautiful home and beautiful cars, my mother does not treat others as if they are not important. Instead, she treats everyone she meets with dignity and respect. She has even taught me the importance of always treating everyone kindly and she shares how people should not engage in any bullying activity.

This past weekend, I participated in a Speech Meet and won the title of SUPERIOR! My mother practiced with me every day, even when she was tired. My mother helps me to do great things. She also helps any of her family members and friends and will travel miles to make a difference in their lives.

Even though my mother is a business leader at a Fortune 500 company, she always makes time for me. She attends all of my concerts, plays and Speech Meet. She loves her family and she loves to praise God, as well. My mother should definitely be chosen for Illinois Country Living’s 2019 Mother of the Year. She deserves this title because she helps everyone who crosses her path and she does it with a beautiful smile on her face. My father and I love Dr. Carla Campbell-Jackson!

-Bradley Ross Jackson, son


Karen Harms

Four knee surgeries – on the same knee – in less than a year would break just about anyone, right? Not my mom! Despite setbacks from repeated infections and daily IV antibiotics, my mom kept her spirits up and never quit doing for others. Without a doubt, Karen Harms is your 2019 Illinois Country Living Mother of the Year.

Retiring 10 years ago after a 33-year career as a kindergarten and first grade teacher, mom immediately jumped deeper into helping others. Coordinating the monthly Red Cross platelet drive in Fairbury, she ensured its success as a leading platelet drive in the state. Her organization of scheduling donors, her baked goodies and themed decorations, her friendly conversations with donor and workers – all contributed to our community’s pride and support of the drive. Not letting her connection to the elementary school fizzle out, she leads a yearly assembly in support of the school’s blood drive, directing student as they sing, there’s something red that everybody needs, and blood is its name-o. B. L. O. O. D.” to the tune of “Bingo.” Nothing like a first-grade teacher’s enthusiasm to bring down the house!

Mom volunteers in our rural church too. Along with other retired ladies, she makes quilts for WELCA distribution and assembles school, health and baby kits, as well as shoeboxes for Operation Shoebox. Funeral dinners, though a morbid thought, are second to none with mom’s leadership! Prairie Lands Foundation, Friend of Dominy Library Delta Kappa Gamma, Illinois Retired Teachers, Shakespeare Club, Livingston County Home and Community Education, and Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle – to all of thee she givers her time, talents and leadership. Too busy to help on the farm? Not my mom! She fits in time in the spring and fall to run numerous trips with my dad and uncle to and from the fields as they tend more than 3,500 acres.

With all of these commitments, you might think mom doesn’t have time for anything else. Not my mom! As a mother of three and grandmother of eight, she and dad are number one supporters, attending music performances and sporting events from elementary through high school, cheering on their grandchildren and always congratulating them on a job well done. Mom makes holiday celebrations more than just holidays; they are events! My mom’s plates of scrumptious Christmas cookies rival that of any professional bakery. From beautifully set tables to delicious homemade meals and fun family games, our family of 16 loves big and laughs hard. As she dances with sparklers on July Fourth and wears elf hats at Christmas, she lives up to her nickname – Crazy Grandma Karen!

Giving to others and staying busy – this has kept my mom’s spirits up despite a long year of surgeries and recoveries. While many may want to call our mom “mom,” it’s my brother, sister and me who are the lucky ones. YOUR Mother of the Year, without a doubt, is MY mom!

-Angie Kratochie, daughter


Clara Klein

My mom Clara Klein is an inspiration and blessing to me and our entire family. She is turning 90 years old in August 2019. Clara grew up in a rural area near Moquoketa, Iowa on a family farm with five brothers and one sister. After her family moved to Savanna, Illinois, she graduated high school, then became a teacher of a one room school house in Jackson County, Iowa for three years. She enjoyed her years as a teacher then married our dad Albert and they settled in rural Savanna. They had seven children and taught us to be responsible, respectful and value hard work.

Mom was a stay-at-home mom, she taught Sunday School and encouraged our involvement in Youth Group and 4-H clubs. We were involved with our large extended family with many aunts, uncles and cousins. Along with bailing hay, working the large family garden, and taking care of animals, we enjoyed swimming and skating on our pond, camping and family reunions. These events took work, I recall mom in the background quietly accomplishing many tasks for our family; washing clothes using a wringer washer, hanging them on the line to dry, canning vegetables from the garden and preparing daily meals. Mom always had a green thrum and loved perennial flower gardening and flower arranging.

Mom started working at Eaton Corporation in Savanna in 1972 to help with extra expenses. She worked there for 19 years while raising her family. Her children started finding their way in life and there were graduations, weddings and grandchildren to enjoy. After mom and dad retired, they enjoyed several cross-country trips in their RV. This sparked my curiosity and love of adventure. Sadly in 2002, Dad died after a four-year battle with cancer with mom by his side. She demonstrated great strength throughout his illness, treatments and after his death.

Throughout our lives, Mom has been a central figure, quietly orchestrating life and work on the farm with a busy family. She raised us in the Lutheran church and has been a member of the Women’s group and Altar Guild throughout her adult life. I learned to value service to others and a solid faith in God. Mom taught me to face life’s hardest challenges head on and choose to find happiness. She reinforced my faith in God, mankind and basic goodness in the world.

Today, Mom has 20 grandchildren and 30 great grandchildren. She is actively involved in our daily lives and looks forward to major events of graduations, weddings and holidays. Mom is active in our local Historical Society Museum, the Women’s Service Club, volunteering at church with Altar Guild, Women’s Society and the local thrift store. She continues to enjoy flower gardening, digital photography and Facebook. She has taught us by example to be strong, to take life as it comes and make the best of each challenge and opportunity we encounter. It is an honor to nominate my mom Clara Klein for this award.

-Pam Delp, daughter


Jane Lang

Movie: Wonder Mom

Leading Actress: Jane Lang

Supporting Actors: Jon Lang, Michael Lang, Amy, Jon, Rutger, & Eli Smith

Before she was Mom or Gamma, she was Jane. The little princess of the Bud & Shirley Tester and sister to Tom & Dave, she was raised in Beloit with the world at her finger tips. Jane loved fashion and friends. She worked hard to pursue a career after college only to learn that her heart belonged to Jon a pig farmer/firefighter. She disliked the crazy hours so while feeling worlds apart she went back to school to get her teaching degree in Family & Consumer Science (Home Economics). She married Jon and began a career in teaching. Loving everything she was doing to shape young minds, she found herself throwing up in her classroom sinks learning that life was going to change her path again. Convinced that she could do both Mom and Teacher, Jane left her home daily to shape young minds for seven months to realize the love of being a mother was something far bigger than teaching. Instead of fighting the battle of being a working mom, she dropped her dreams to stay home to raise her babies where she finally discovered her full powers and true destiny. She was meant to be a mom that put her children first being the chauffeur, play date organizer, fashion designer, seamstress, personal chef, laundry master, boo-boo fixer, number one fan/cheerleader, homework master, 4-H leader, and never missing a big moment for her children even after she went back to teaching High School Foods classes. She continues to defend her selfless mom title in being there for both her children and now her grandchildren to this day.

She has been hiding the shadows of her children to let them shine, but truly who is she? She is the Wonder Mom the star of the show. Her emotional and physical strength to protect her family makes her Wonder Mom. This last year was a rollercoaster from her losing both her parents 40 days of each, retiring from teaching, still balancing being wife, mother, and gamma along with her church activities and VetsRoll fundraising, she handled it with grace and faith. She learned it is time for her to take time for herself so we all can enjoy life this blessed life together. Her faith has made her stronger and taught all of us that is the leading lady in our lives. She may appear to play the supporting role, but her actions speak volumes. You are our Wonder Mom! We will love you forever, we will like you for always, as long as we are living our wonder mom/gamma you will be!

-Amy, Rutger and Eli Smith, daughter and grandsons


Betty Petzing

I would love to nominate my Mom Betty Petzing of Altamont for the 2019 Mother of the Year.

In order for you to know how much she deserves this, you will have to know that she is the last person who would think she deserves this because she is always doing everything for others.

She is a widower after losing her husband and my stepdad in 2014 after a battle with lung cancer. She immediately showed me how strong and brave she really is, even though I thought I knew.

Her main focus is on taking care of anyone else that she is able to help in any way, shape or form.

Mom’s big enjoyment is helping kids with horses, as Mom has been glued to horses since she or anyone else can remember. She shows her Appaloosa “Zip” every year at approved shows, achieving invitations to the Fort Worth, TX World Championship show every single year, as well as regional club high point awards in over 6 different events. She shows in halter classes and all the western and English riding classes her and Zip can fit in. Oh, and Mom is only 78 years old… she inspires everyone she meets at the horse events and in daily life.

Mom routinely gives horse magazine subscriptions to children she knows are trying to learn and get more involved with horses. She also has several neighbor kids who love to come work with Zip and ride him and learn from him and Mom, in order to tweak their showing and horse management skills.

Mom and her close companions Zip and dog Uno enjoy their 10 acres of heaven in rural Altamont. Mom’s work ethic has her at any given day mowing, tree trimming, pasture seeding, burning leaves, feeding birds and everything in between.

Once a week she meets up with her “cool kids” (Grief Group Support members) at Altamont McDonald’s to visit and check in. They can get a bit loud at times but who is going to tell a group of cool ladies like this to quiet down??

I have talked about how Mom takes care of everyone but herself, but her family gets the best from her. We are small but tight. She has taught me, her only child, to be tough but kind. She has taught me to know when to worry and when to let it go. Most of all she has taught me love by her example of loving life and all that it brings and to constantly look at ways to live it for all its worth.

-Connie Durbin, daughter


Cathy Russ

Generous, nurturing, compassionate, and loving are just some of the words I could use to describe my mom. My mother, who is also my best friend deserves to be the “Mother of the Year” for 2019. As the oldest sibling in my family, I have watched my mom pour out her love for us. After a long day of teaching, she always had plenty of energy and love to make our favorite dinners, play board games, help us with our homework, and read with us each night. My mom, along with my dad were always our best “fans” and supported every activity we joined in school. My mom made sacrifices for our family, by giving up what she liked to do and took on a second job so that we could enjoy family trips together in the summer and take fun day trips to the zoo, museums, or parks. Her hard work ethic taught us that money doesn’t grow on trees and that we have to work hard and prioritize what’s most important in life. She always put others first and was always volunteering at the hospital, our church and of course at our grade school and high school by being an active parent and President of our parent organizations. My mom is a very talented woman who has shared those special gifts with her students by being an advocate for their future and with us by encouraging us to reach for our dreams and providing us with the opportunity to go to college and earn our degrees. She is a very creative and organized individual who takes the time to make every holiday, birthday, and family get together extra special. Christmas wouldn’t be the same without a gift made with love from our mom. One year, our special quilts were literally “stitched” with love. When you enter our house, it’s a warm and loving atmosphere with the aroma of fresh baked goodies and a delicious dinner ready to be served. You would never leave our house hungry! My mom has taught us to enjoy the simple things in life and that is why we look forward to spending family time together, whether we’re on a day trip, playing games, watching movies, or just relaxing on the deck. I often teach my young students about gifts that are “priceless” and think back to all the special memories I have from when I was growing up. The special memories are the gifts that will last a lifetime and mean more than anything. I’m honored to have such a wonderful mom and best friend and thankful for all the family memories that are engraved in my heart. Every mom deserves to be “Mother of the Day” because they are special gifts to us. But I believe my mom deserves to be Mother of the Year for 2019! I love you, Mom!

-Lori Russ, daughter


Hilary Seavers

I want to nominate my daughter for Illinois Country Living Mother of the Year. This may seem unusual, but ours are unusual circumstances.

My name is Sandra Evans and my daughter is Hilary Seavers. She is an electric cooperative member. She resides in West Frankfort, IL, and is part of your SouthEastern family.

Hilary is the wife of Kyle and the mother to two beautiful children, Ava, age 8 and Joel, age 3. She teaches third grade at OLMC in Herrin, IL. Hillary is an outstanding, caring mother to her children, but for the past 10 weeks, Hilary has “mothered” me, her mother!

I lost my husband and Hillary’s daddy, Tom, quite tragically, suddenly and unexpectedly on November 1, 2018. Tom was a wonderful husband and a truly remarkable and dedicated father and grandfather. Tom and I would have been married 40 years this month, January. He took care of me in all matters. I did not realize how spoiled I was!

After his passing, I was a wreck and so heart-broken. My daughter, Hilary, put aside her own grief and stepped up in more ways than I can say to help me. She now takes care of me in all matters. And now she spoils me! I feel that I should comfort her, but she comforts me… all the time.

She makes certain to see me several times a week and we talk several times daily. She addresses all my day to day needs. And she makes it her mission to keep me busy! She always makes sure there is a reason for me to get out of bed each morning.

Whether it be spending time with my grandbabies or running errands with her, Hilary always had something planned that always includes me. In the past 10 weeks, she has had me at parades, Christmas light shows, overnights, shopping, vising, dinner and on and on. She has helped me with decisions and tasks that I could not have handled by myself. And she always makes me feel like my presence is necessary and important to her. We have cried, laughed and prayed together.

So many of my friends tell me how strong they think I am, but its Hilary’s constant presence and her ability to make me feel so needed and keeps me going. Of course, through all of this, she is still a devoted mother to her babies and a wonderful wife to her husband.

I just wanted her to know how very much I appreciate all she has done and continues to do for me, so why not nominate her for this award. Not many mothers can thank their daughters for being good mothers to them. Thank you, Hilary, don’t know what I would do without you and your family.

-Sandra Evans, mother


Jill Varel

What qualities make up a mother?  Some would say being loving, kind, and hardworking.  I agree with those qualities, but being a mom is much more than that.  Being a great mom is an even harder title to earn.  Moms wear so many hats throughout the day with all the hard work they do:  cooking, cleaning, laundry, grocery shopping, child care, manager of bills, therapist, chauffeur, nurse, and secretary to name a few.  Plus, some moms squeeze in time to have a full-time job as well. My mom not only meets all titles/qualities, but she exceeds them!

When I was little, I grew up watching my mom cook. She would work all day then come home and have a homemade, hot, and delicious meal on the table every night.  As I grew up, she started to teach me tips and secrets on how to cook and bake our favorite meals.  As an adult, I am very picky due to no one being able to make food like my mom.  When I moved out and into my home, you would not believe how many calls or texts I sent my mom asking how long do you cook soup bones, what temperature do you bake a roast, and how do you get the fried potatoes to taste delicious yet crispy?  Mom also taught me the importance of having meals and soup in the freezer at all times. You never know when something will come up and there is no time to cook, and you never know when someone will be sick and need homemade beef or chicken noodle soup!  There have been several occasions when either my sister or I called mom asking for her soup when we were sick and did not have any on hand.  Even if she did not have any, she would whip up a pot of soup for us and bring it right over.  One day I hope to be as great of a cook as my mom. 

Like I said before, my mom has always worked a forty-hour job on top of being a great mom.  She has taught me to find a job you love, and you will never work a day in your life.  My mom goes above and beyond at her job.  She is always volunteering to help the service club, year book, musical, PCCS program, and award ceremonies.  She helps out with so many groups at school and devotes a lot of time to all the organizations.  All the kids at school know Mrs. Varel and always say hi or stop in her office to talk.  She makes a relationship with all the kids and cares for each and every one of them. 

When I moved out, we got a lab puppy.  Now mom always had the rule no dogs in the house, so when she found out our dog stays in the house, she thought I was crazy.  The more she was around Ruger the more she fell in love.  Mom has never been a big dog person, but she is wrapped around his big paw.  She will run to our house at lunch to play with him and feed him lunch when we work long days.  She puppy sits and even stayed at our house for a week while we were on our honeymoon.  Watching her with our dog just melts my heart. 

I have so many more stories on why my mom is so great and trying to summarize them is hard.  She has done so much for her family and always puts herself on the back burner.  I would like to say, Mom you are the best mom in the world, and I love you!  It makes me so happy to not only call you mom, but now you have earned a new title and been promoted to Grandma!  You have taught me everything I know, and I hope I can be half as great of a mom as you have been to me. 

-Julie Endres, daughter

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