DeKALB – When she’s not working, Amy Polzin can usually be found volunteering.
“I don’t have any money to donate, but I have time to donate,” said Polzin, the office manager of Northern Illinois University’s geology and environmental geosciences department. “I do whatever I can.”
Polzin, who has spent decades involved in the Kishwaukee Kiwanis Club, was recognized Thursday night as the 2012 ATHENA Award recipient. Last year’s recipient, Jane Levinsky, described Polzin as an altruistic and strong, a natural-born leader.
“Our new ATHENA, she just makes it happen,” Levinsky said.
The ATHENA Award, which has been given annually since 1990 in DeKalb, honors women who have excelled professionally and philanthropically, and has empowered women in some way, said Margo Sutorius, co-chair of the ATHENA leadership committee and the 2009 recipient.
In a biography read before the crowd of more than 100 in a packed banquet room at the Best Western DeKalb Inn & Suites, 1212 W. Lincoln Highway, Polzin was described by an unnamed colleague as being the “institutional glue that holds the department together.”
Cheryl Nicholson, a friend of Polzin’s who accompanied her to the awards ceremony, said Polzin is a tireless volunteer.
“She does it with such ease and grace,” Nicholson said. “She never seems overwhelmed.”
Polzin worked her way up in Kiwanis, serving twice as president of the Kishwaukee Chapter and as a lieutenant governor in the larger organization. She is a member of the chapter’s board of directors and part of the Kirkland Lions Club and the Hiawatha Education Foundation.
Polzin, before and after receiving the award, said she was humbled to be named alongside the others who were nominated this year.
“It’s very, very humbling, especially after listening to all those bios,” Polzin said.
The other 2012 ATHENA Award nominees were Kay Chase, a nurse and caseworker at the DeKalb County Health Department and foster mother for more than 40 children; Jennice O’Brien, director of web communications at NIU who volunteers at her children’s school; Erin Nolan, a graphic designer at OC ImageWorks who sells her artwork for environmental causes; and Eva Rey, president of DeKalb Kiwanis, who volunteers at her church as well.
In separate interviews, the women described the nomination as humbling, as they each said they could name a number of other women who could be in their place instead.
“I’m just doing what I do,” O’Brien said.
Also honored that night were the 2012 Women of Accomplishment, Micki Chulick and Rosalie Hewitt. Both women were recognized for their work professionally, philanthropically and their empowerment of women; they’re just retired, Sutorius explained.
Chulick, was the executive director of Community Coordinated Child Care (4-C) for 33 years before retiring earlier this year. Hewitt is a professor emeritus of American literature at NIU.
Although she retired years ago, Hewitt still teaches semi-regularly, and helps out a number of libraries in the area.
“The education you receive through reading can provide a background and foundation to any career,” Hewitt said, who also volunteers her time as a tax preparer for low-income residents.
Chulick remains active in the community by serving on the boards of local foundations and commissions.
“It’s the way I was brought up,” Chulick said when asked why she continues to volunteer. “You give back to your community that has given so much to you.”