Photo: This year’s Sugar Grove Citizen of the Year is 48-year resident Helen Jorgensen. Village President Sean Michels presented her with the award on Friday at the Sugar Grove Corn Boil. Photo by Kimberly Anderson
by Cheryl Borrowdale
SUGAR GROVE—Helen Jorgensen is a bit embarrassed by all the attention she’s received ever since Village President Sean Michels named her Sugar Grove’s Citizen of the Year during the Corn Boil opening ceremonies last Friday.
Jorgensen, who has lived in Sugar Grove for 48 years, said that she preferred to stay in the background.
“It’s an honor, it’s an honor, but I really don’t think I deserve it,” she said. “What I did, I did because I wanted to. It wasn’t ‘oh, look at me, look what I did for the village.’ I like to be in the background, instead of out front, getting all this celebrity crap.”
Yet Jorgensen’s many friends insist that she should be recognized for all of her contributions to the Sugar Grove community—contributions so numerous that it was a challenge for the many who wrote letters in support of her nomination to even list them all.
Among them? Jorgensen founded the Sugar Grove newspaper, a hand-typed publication that she ran with a friend, Norma Anderson, from 1969 to 1992; was among the first female volunteer firefighters in Sugar Grove; drove a Kaneland school bus; carried mail on a rural route in Sugar Grove; and volunteered through the Sugar Grove Community Club, the Sugar Grove Methodist Church, the Kaneland PTA and the Kaneland Sports Boosters, among others.
She was a crossing guard and election judge, worked at elementary school fun fairs and American Legion fish frys, donated “gallons” of blood to the local blood bank and supported the food pantry.
She even organized garage sales in the 1970s to raise money for the village to buy playground equipment for Strubler Park.
“I’m not going to attempt to list all the committees, funeral brunches, baking, vacation Bible schools and many more activities in the years she has been a member since she moved to Sugar Grove,” wrote Lucy Cerny, a resident of Sugar Grove who nominated Jorgensen. “Small wonder she is known by so many people.”
Cerny said that she thought it was about time Jorgensen, who is 82, was recognized.
“She has always been in Sugar Grove and always promoted Sugar Grove, and she has sent in some of the previous nominees,” Cerny said. “I just thought it was her turn. She’s just always there when somebody needs help. It wasn’t just one thing; it’s the conglomeration of them all.”
After Cerny nominated her, she set about encouraging more than a dozen others to write letters of support, and the letters poured in.
“Her residence and career in Sugar Grove has always been one of caring and giving to her neighbors and the entire community. She is one of the unsung heroes that make Sugar Grove a good place to live in,” Stanley Anderson wrote in his nomination letter.
“(I) can’t remember when Helen turned down an opportunity to volunteer for something in Sugar Grove,” wrote Yorkville resident Ann Beckley.
Jorgensen said that the letters, which she received a copy of at the ceremony, were overwhelming, and that she hadn’t expected to be named Citizen of the Year.
“I was surprised,” she said, laughing. “I didn’t know I did all that stuff and that I was such a good person. I think they spread it on a little thick. I don’t like to be in the limelight; I’m a background person.”
But she knew something was up when she went to the Corn Boil on Friday and saw that all the members of her Bunco group were there, as well as her son and his wife, who rarely come to the Corn Boil.
“I kind of surmised what was about to happen,” Jorgensen said. “But I didn’t really know until Sean (Michels) got up and said, ‘the lady that got the award has sat on bleachers for years.’ Then I knew.”
Jorgensen, who moved to the village in 1964 with her husband and three young sons, Mike, Bob and Doug, has been a long-time supporter of Kaneland sports. Mike was a state champion wrestler in 1975 and 1976, as well as a football and track star, and her two younger sons and six grandchildren have all been involved in sports, as well. She missed just one football game last season, coming out to watch her grandson, Shane Jorgensen, play varsity football.
“I love sports, and I love my kids,” she said.
Originally from Pemberville, Ohio, she moved to Michigan with her husband, who was an air traffic controller. He was transferred to an air traffic control facility in Aurora a few years later, so the family moved to Naperville in 1963 and then to Sugar Grove in 1964, when her oldest son, Mike, was just in kindergarten.
The moves were what inspired Jorgensen to get involved.
“I was tired of not knowing anybody, so when we got here, I joined the PTA,” she said. “I’m happy to talk to everybody. I don’t ever meet a stranger; if I see someone, I go out and talk to them. It used to be that I knew everybody in town, but it’s grown so fast that sometimes now I go into the post office and don’t see anyone I know.”
Darr Lynn Klomhaus, who lived in Sugar Grove for many years before retiring to Arizona, said she had spent more than 40 years working with Jorgensen through the Kaneland PTA and the Sugar Grove Methodist Church.
“Every church activity that came up, Helen would help,” Klomhaus said. “If there was a funeral dinner, Helen would be helping out. Helen was the one person who would jump in and give 110 percent no matter what was asked of her. I was really happy (she was named Citizen of the Year). I think it was long overdue.”