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Local Column

Schrader: 2 community activists leave town

If you were to make a list of the 10 most influential women in northern DeKalb County, both Kay Shelton and Misty Haji-Sheikh would likely be on it. But the two activists will no longer be involved in local affairs, as they both have moved away.

Kay married Ed Kozak last summer and then decided to take a position at the Northern Illinois University campus in Naperville, moving to Bolingbrook. Misty and her husband, Michael, recently moved to a small community near Las Vegas after his retirement from teaching at NIU.

Kay is probably best known as the longest-serving president of the Lincoln Highway Association (seven years and counting), a nationwide group promoting the highway and its history. She said she plans to hold that position at least through 2020 when the national conference will be held in Illinois. This year is the centennial of the first military convoy to travel the transcontinental route, which included Dwight D. Eisenhower in the caravan.

Shelton also can be credited with revitalizing the dormant chapter of the League of Women Voters of DeKalb County and has headed the group since it was reorganized. In that role, she moderated several candidate nights for local elections, which were both well attended as well as broadcast live on the community cable TV channel.

I would venture to say she is also a workaholic, holding down no less than three jobs for years. Shelton taught classes at Kishwaukee College, worked on the staff at NIU and worked weekends at Walmart in the pharmacy department. She really hasn’t changed her work habits as she transferred to the Walmart store in Oswego, still works for NIU at the Naperville campus and plans to continue her ties to Kish College, teaching online courses in anthropology and archaeology.

She also mentioned her time on the Egyptian Theatre board as a rewarding experience. She now represents the League of Women Voters on a statewide committee called Transform Illinois, which is examining consolidating purchasing for local governments and studying some other unification issues.

In Haji-Sheikh’s 18 years in the county, she got involved through political activism, which saw her elected as a Democrat to the DeKalb County Board. She also finished second out of four candidates in the race for DeKalb mayor in 2017. She said her most rewarding experience was serving on the County Board’s Forest Preserve District committee, where they greatly increased the amount of open lands and created a nationally recognized birding area at the Afton Forest Preserve south of DeKalb. She also spent time on the finance, economic development, and health and human services committees during her six-and-a-half years in office.

Asked when she first met her husband Michael, she said it was in third grade in Arlington, Texas. They continued through school together, both even working at Six Flags Over America as teens. But she didn’t begin dating him until he had earned his bachelor’s degree, one of three degrees he earned at the University of Texas at Arlington. She also graduated from UT.

Something Haji-Sheikh will be remembered for in recent times is her lawsuit to overturn the buyout package for departing NIU President Doug Baker. The university board of trustees voted to award Baker a $650,000 severance package, but violated the Open Meetings Act, she contended. A lawsuit followed and she was victorious, forcing the board to re-approve the buyout. And the judge granted her $56,000 in legal costs that she incurred. She then worked with a state legislator to limit the amount public boards can pay departing executives and that has now been made into law.

Misty commented that the small community where they are moving isn’t even incorporated, so that will likely curb her political activism. But she has found a new interest – archaeology, and has already begun taking part in dinosaur fossil digs not far from their new home.

Both women have been great newsmakers over the years and deserve kudos for their dedicated community service and statewide efforts in the public interest.

• The columnist can be reached via email at barry815@sbcglobal.net or through P.O. Box 851, DeKalb, IL 60115. His past columns can be found on his website www.dekallbcountylife.com.

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