Three Distinguished University of Illinois Alumni to be Honored at Chicago Illini of the Year Award Ceremony

Three University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign alumni have been selected as the 2017 Chicago Illini of the Year award recipients: Rebecca A. Snyders Darr, Chief Executive Officer, WINGS; Mary Kay Kretch Haben, Retired President, North America at Wm. Wrigley Jr. Company; and Honorable James F. Holderman Jr., Retired Chief Judge, U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.  

Award recipients will be recognized at the annual Chicago Illini of the Year Award ceremony on March 7 at the University Club of Chicago. Award-winning WGN anchor/reporter and University of Illinois Alumni Association Board Member Andrea Darlas will emcee the event. University of Illinois Trustee Jill Smart, University of Illinois President Tim Killeen, and University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Chancellor Robert Jones will participate in the ceremony.

“The success of our graduates is a true indicator of the University of Illinois System’s impact and excellence,” Killeen said. “These three distinguished alumni and their rich legacy of achievement reflect the power that our nearly 140,000 living Illini in the Chicago region hold to drive progress in the workplace and in their communities.”

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Rebecca A. Snyders Darr received a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences in 1990. Ms. Darr has devoted her career to helping others and has grown the Palatine, Ill.-based WINGS Program, Inc. into one of the state’s largest social service agencies for women and children fleeing domestic violence. Through her leadership, WINGS opened the first domestic violence shelter in the northwest suburbs in 2005, and it has helped more than 2,000 women and children escape an abusive or homeless life.  A past recipient of the United Way’s Executive of the Year award, Darr also serves on several boards and coalitions that advocate for stronger legislation and increased awareness related to domestic violence, including the Illinois Coalition Against Domestic Violence, the Chicago Metropolitan Battered Women’s Network and the Cook County Commission on Women’s Issues. She also serves on the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Department of Psychology Alumni Advisory Board. She is originally from Alton, Ill.

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Chicago, Ill. native Mary Kay Kretch Haben received a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the College of Business in 1977. Her business career includes executive roles at Kraft Foods and the Wm. Wrigley Jr. Co. During her 27-year career at Kraft, Haben led several multi-billion dollar divisions as president, and oversaw the growth of brands such as Philadelphia cream cheese, Kraft Macaroni & Cheese, A.1. Steak Sauce and DiGiorno pizza. In 2007, she accepted a position with Wrigley as president, North America where she successfully led the integration of the Mars Confections and Wrigley gum businesses and led the growth and development of brands like Skittles, Starburst and Orbit gum in the U.S. and Canada. Haben currently serves on the Boards of Directors for Bob Evans Farms, The Hershey Co. and the Off the Street Club, Chicago’s oldest boys and girls club, and she serves on the Board of Trustees for Equity Residential. Previously, she served as a board member for Liz Claiborne. A long-time University of Illinois volunteer, she previously served as chair of the University of Illinois Alumni Association Board of Directors, and she is currently a member of the University of Illinois Foundation Board of Directors.

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Honorable James F. Holderman Jr. received a bachelor’s degree from the College of Agricultural Consumer and Environmental Sciences in 1968 and a Juris Doctorate from the College of Law in 1971. Appointed to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois by President Ronald Reagan in 1985, Judge Holderman enjoyed a distinguished 30-year career as a federal judge, including seven years as Chief Judge. During his tenure, Judge Holderman presided over more than 10,000 cases, including some of the region’s highest profile cases. After retiring from the bench in 2015, he joined JAMS (previously known as Judicial Arbitration and Mediation Services) as a mediator, arbitrator and trial consultant. For 22 years, he served as an adjunct faculty member at the University of Illinois College of Law where he held the title of the James C. Wood Distinguished Lecturer in Intellectual Property Law, a topic on which he is regarded as one of the nation’s foremost judicial experts. Most recently, Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner honored Judge Holderman with the 2017 Order of Lincoln award, which is the state’s highest honor for professional achievement and public service. He is past president of the College of Law’s Board of Visitors. Holderman is a native of Morris, Ill.

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The Chicago Illini of the Year award was created in 1997 and is co-sponsored by the UI Alumni Association and the Chicago Illini Club. The awards are presented to graduates of the Urbana-Champaign University who reside in the greater Chicago area and are recognized for overall professional achievement, contributions to the greater Chicago community and demonstrated interest in the University of Illinois. Visit for more information.

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The University of Illinois Alumni Association is an independent, not-for-profit organization that strives to enhance the universities in Urbana-Champaign, Chicago and Springfield by connecting, inspiring and celebrating more than 700,000 alumni.

The University of Illinois System is a world leader in research and discovery, the largest educational institution in the state with more than 81,000 students, more than 24,000 faculty and staff, and universities in Urbana-Champaign, Chicago and Springfield. The U of I System awards more than 20,000 undergraduate, graduate and professional degrees annually.

The purpose of the Chicago Illini Club is to support the educational purposes of, express loyalty to, and promote the welfare of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and to cultivate friendship and fellowship among alumni in the greater Chicagoland area. Founded in 1886, it was the first organization of University of Illinois alumni in Chicago.

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Courtney Grussing