DeKalb County Board Chair, Democrat Suzanne Willis, resigns

Willis steps down due to health reasons, DeKalb County Democrats to nominate successor

DeKalb County Administrator Brian Gregory, DeKalb County Board Chair Suzanne Willis, a Democrat from District 10, and Rukisha Crawford, a Democrat from District 6, talk after the Sept. 20, 2023 DeKalb County Board meeting.

SYCAMORE – Democrat Suzanne Willis has resigned as chairwoman of the DeKalb County Board, DeKalb County officials announced Friday.

DeKalb County Administrator Brian Gregory said it was Willis’ intention for the resignation to be effective immediately. County officials said Willis’ resignation was due to “health reasons,” according to a news release.

Willis did not respond to request for additional comment Friday afternoon. In a statement, however, she said she enjoyed her work on the County Board and with county staff.

“We have done some very important work together. I trust that this will continue into the future,” Willis said in a news release.

Anna Wilhelmi, chairwoman of the DeKalb County Democratic Party, said it was a surprise to hear Willis was resigning. Wilhelmi said she admired Willis’ work ethic and personality.

“She is so dedicated, and dedicated to working with all of the County Board members – and just a phenomenal leader,” Wilhelmi said. “And besides that really, a very kind person, and so we are going to miss her dearly.”

Willis, who represented DeKalb residents in District 10, served eight years on the County Board, and was elected Board Chairwoman in December 2022.

“She is so dedicated, and dedicated to working with all of the County Board members – and just a phenomenal leader. And besides that really, very kind person, and so we are going to miss her dearly.”

—  Anna Wilhelmi, chair of DeKalb County Democratic Party

She first joined the County Board in March 2016, after her husband, Frank O’Barski – a Democratic party County Board member – died Feb. 9, 2016, following recurring battles with cancer. Willis and O’Barski had been high school sweethearts. After a lifetime walking separate paths, they reunited and married in May 2013.

Chair of the DeKalb County Board, Suzanne Willis, a republican from District 10, asked DeKalb County Sheriff, Andy Sullivan to retract his decision to not enforce Illinois' new gun law. Willis is pictured talking during the Jan. 11, 2023 DeKalb County Board meeting.

Willis, 72, holds a doctorate degree in physics from Yale, retired from Northern Illinois University as a physics professor, and once spent three years as the president of the NIU faculty senate.

While elected to the DeKalb County Board, Willis served on the Board’s highway, planning and zoning and forest preserve committees. She served as vice-chair on the highway committee and the County Board. She was elected chair in 2022 after Democrats won a majority in the November 2022 election.

DeKalb County Board Vice Chairman John Frieders – who chaired the board while Willis was vice-chair – said he thought Willis always came to meetings well prepared.

“You could always discuss things with her and, she’d listen to what you had to say and, considered both sides of every issue,” said Frieders, a Republican who represents District 12. “She didn’t always agree with you, but she was always willing to listen and think about what you had to say. So, it was always very enjoyable being on the board with her and, she will certainly be missed in the future. She did a great job in her term as Chairwoman of the board.”

Frieders said the Board wishes Willis well in the future.

In a statement, Gregory thanked Willis for her eight years of service.

“Her approach to local government has been aimed at building consensus to find solutions that work for County Board Members and residents of DeKalb County,” Gregory said in a news release.

County Board members are expected to meet to nominate a successor for Willis’ position.

Democrats on the DeKalb County Board still outnumber Republican members 12 to 11 after Willis’ resignation. Wilhelmi said there are two or three Democratic Party County Board members she believes could become the next chair.

DeKalb County Democrats will have to caucus and nominate someone to fill the vacant District 10 DeKalb County Board seat.

Willis had previously said she didn’t intend to run for reelection. Wilhelmi said Laura Hoffman – a Democrat running for the District 10 DeKalb County Board seat in the 2024 general election – is ready to assume the role now. No decision has yet been made, however.

Though county officials are now planning for future meetings, Wilhelmi said Willis and her husband left a long legacy in DeKalb County Government.

“It is a legacy, and you know what it is ... it’s service. It’s service to others,“ Wilhelmi said. “That’s what this job is about, and so it’s like when you see people who are so dedicated to serve others – that is a legacy. What else, really are we here for?”

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