Getting Personal: John Farney

Getting Personal: John Farney

Each week, we offer a Q&A with a local personality. Today, 40-year-old Champaign County Treasurer JOHN FARNEY of rural Urbana chats about politics, his family and Scouting with staff writer Paul Wood.

What's new in the treasurer's office?

New guy in the big office. We're adjusting to Dan Welch not being here for the first time in 45 years. It's been a smooth transition. I've got a tremendous staff that is full of knowledge and they run things like a well-oiled machine. It also doesn't hurt that I don't mind calling on Dan when I need advice, and he's been gracious enough to help every time I do. Tax bills went out on time; we're one of a handful of counties that met the May 1 deadline, and we've already distributed nearly $89 million to taxing districts. We're hopeful that 2019 will include new software to help us in real-estate tax collections. We also know that the next two months are going to be quite busy as we work to transition the Champaign County Nursing Home to its new owners.

You're a political junkie. I remember you attending county board meetings just for fun. How did you get the bug?

I've always been interested in politics. I remember doing book reports on presidential biographies as far back as fourth grade. I also loved reading the Illinois Blue Books that are sort of a yearbook of state government. I have a collection of them going back to the 1930s. My parents always encouraged my political interests. We talked politics around the house. By junior high, I was volunteering with campaigns when I could. I was hooked. Being an Illinois native, I have quite a collection of political memorabilia from corrupt Illinois politicians — Blagojevich yard signs, Paul Powell lapel pins and matchbooks — I readily admit that I am a nerd when it comes to this stuff.

You've been an election official in the Champaign County clerk's office, Champaign County auditor twice and now treasurer. Any plans for your next move?

Probably to the hospital for gunshot-wound treatment after I tell my wife I want to run for something else. I have been tremendously blessed and humbled to be elected twice by the citizens of Champaign County. I love county government, and I really think that the treasurer's office is where I need to be. I'm looking forward to this year's election and serving a full term as treasurer. We are doing great things at the county level with limited resources.

You were a community newspaper editor in Champaign County. Did you cover as lot of public meetings?

I was with The County Star as editor right out of college. We covered seven villages, numerous townships, the Unity school district and far too many community events to mention. I was at a meeting virtually every night, and if it wasn't a meeting night, it was a Unity sports event. I got to meet so many people and build such a network of friends and professionals. It was a very rewarding position that I will always have fond memories of. My boss at The County Star, the late Steve Davis, ranks up there with my parents as far as influential people on my life.

Tell us about your involvement in Scouting. Were you also a Boy Scout?

I am an Eagle Scout; my Eagle project is the crucifix hanging on St. Thomas Church in Philo. Scouting really helped shape me for adulthood and has opened more doors than I could have ever imagined. I live by the Scout oath and law every day. Now, I am heavily involved in Scouting as an adult. I serve as vice president of administration for Prairielands Council BSA. I am also committee chairman and den leader for Pack 9 at Holy Cross Church. Most importantly, I'm passing on the lessons I learned in Scouting on to my 9-year-old son, Nate.

What are you doing to help out at Holy Cross School?

My wife, Stephanie, and I are co-presidents for the Parent Teacher Club for the next two years, which we joke means that we should just set up cots in the school basement and move in. We are not ones to sit on the sideline; we like to be involved. One of the bigger projects we're involved in is our annual trivia night, which raises nearly $20,000 a year for various projects. The last few years, we've researched and written most of the questions. We also are very involved in the Holy Cross school musicals — I'm simply amazed at the talent we have in our school community, and I really appreciate that talent since I don't have a single musical bone in my body. Thankfully, Nate takes after his mom in that he has singing talent and takes after me in that a crowd doesn't faze him at all.

What's new with your family?

The family is great. I've been married to Stephanie for 19 years this week, and our son, Nate, is 9. We're enjoying Little League Baseball this summer — its Nate's first time out for a team. Go Champaign East Cardinals! We live in rural Urbana with our four crazy cats (all former strays) and leopard gecko. If we're not at home, our favorite family vacation spot is Charleston, S.C. We try to visit as often as we can. It's a gorgeous, historic city with great food and beautiful beaches that I recommend to everyone.

Do you have a guilty pleasure and what is it?

That cold beer after mowing the lawn on a hot summer day sure is good. Nothing fancy, just cold, cheap and domestic.

What book are you reading now?

Right now I am re-reading "Hillbilly Elegy" by J.D. Vance. I find it fascinating.

What is your favorite book ever?

"Fun Is Good" by Mike Veeck. He's the son of legendary Major League baseball team owner Bill Veeck, and he currently owns several minor league teams. His philosophy is simple: Make work fun and you'll create a workplace that attracts the best employees and make it so that customers will want to spend their money with your business. I actually found the book while taking in a Charleston RiverDogs baseball game one vacation. Their games are so fun — and I mean not only is the product on the field entertaining, but the employees are having fun while working. On a side note, we really need a minor league team in Champaign-Urbana. Anybody have (RiverDogs co-owner) Bill Murray's phone number?

What's your favorite sports team?

The Chicago White Sox. I still call it Comiskey Park. I miss the old stadium; there was nothing like it! There's an Illini Night coming up in July, when the Sox play the Cardinals on July 10. We have a group of about 25 going from Holy Cross (and can get more tickets if anyone wants to join us).

What would you order for your last meal?

All-you-can-eat buffet and then pace myself so it never ends. If that's not allowed, then it would be shrimp and grits.

Who are your favorite musicians and why?

I listen to a lot of Jimmy Buffett, mostly because it lets my mind go into relaxation mode. Whenever we head to South Carolina for vacation, we always start the trip with "Changes in Latitude." It takes me around two hours to mow our property, so I spend a lot of time listening to country music. I'm amazed how fast I can turn Florida Georgia Line off. I never turn off a Sinatra tune.

What's the happiest memory of your life?

Easily the birth of our son, Nate. He is our miracle.

What's your best piece of advice?

Surround yourself with good people. Live life like a Boy Scout — be trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent.

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