DeKALB – A typical workday at Northern Illinois University might see Debra Boughton finish a full day and then drive into the night, sometimes to neighboring states, to cheer on her Huskie students, 2014 Athena Award recipient Wendy West said.
Boughton’s commitment to building community among the women of DeKalb was only one of the accolades used to describe Boughton, the 2019 Athena Award recipient, and the DeKalb Chamber of Commerce’s 30th recipient. She also is a co-founder of Gather, a women’s leadership group in its second year with the Chamber, which helps strengthen business and nonprofit community and professional and personal relationships for women.
“It’s the little things,” Boughton said about her work with Gather and why fostering relationships among women is so important. She spoke after a special ceremony Tuesday at the Barsema Alumni and Visitors Center, 231 N. Annie Glidden Road.
“Knowing that someone’s going through a situation that you might be going through, too, and having that network right away,” Boughton said. “Knowing that we have people behind us that are going to support us no matter what, if you fail or succeed in a job, they’re there for you.”
Boughton’s award is the 30th award presented to a female community member who has served as a role model to encourage women to reach their full leadership potential. She is entering her 10th year with NIU as senior associate athletic director, chief financial officer, chief of staff and senior women administrator.
Other Athena Award nominees were Amanda Christensen of the DeKalb County Regional Office for Education; Tynisha Clegg of the Family Service Agency of DeKalb County; Amy Doll of the DeKalb Park District; Terri Goodman of Bill White’s C.A.R. Hospital; and Kim Launer of Royal Travel & Tours.
Nominees are eligible if they live or work in DeKalb and show dedication to serving their community and empowering other women leaders. They’re scored by people who are not members of the DeKalb Chamber of Commerce via letters of recommendation sent to the chamber on their behalf.
Boughton, who grew up in Austin, Texas, and worked at Texas State University before coming to NIU, recognized her fellow nominees and said the Athena Award is a “testament to what we’re trying to build.”
After joking that she “wore a dress for this,” Boughton spoke about her work founding Gather and her mentorship with other women as a certified rape aggression defense instructor. She said inspiring moments come from seeing women finding their voice.
“Part of this RAD thing is that you say ‘No’ loudly,” she said. “And it’s oftentimes that women never hear their voices until they have a voice. So I think it’s critical for us to continue to do that.”
Susan Doubler, an NIU retiree who worked for the NIU Procurement Office for 31 years, and fellow NIU retiree Margaret Phillips, who worked in NIU’s Office of Student Housing for 35 years, were honored with the 2019 Women of Accomplishment Award. Phillips said the honor “means a lot” to her, and that she felt touched when her former boss wrote a letter of support on her behalf.
Doubler said her award came unexpectedly after Ging Palma Smith, 1994 Athena recipient, asked if she could nominate her.
“I’m very honored,” Doubler said. “It’s a great group of ladies, and they all deserve every award they could possibly get because they do a lot of work.”
The DeKalb Chamber of Commerce began awarding women with the Athena in 1989, and Boughton marks the 30th woman to be recognized. During the past 23 years, 66 women also have been recognized with the Women of Accomplishment, Chamber Executive Director Matt Duffy said.