United Way's president and CEO leaving for job in Chicago

United Way's president and CEO leaving for job in Chicago

CHAMPAIGN – The outgoing leader of the United Way of Champaign County will be taking a new job at the agency's counterpart in Chicago.

Tammy Lemke, president and chief executive officer of the United Way since 2003, announced this week she will leave by mid-March to join her husband at a new job in the Chicago area. Eric Lemke has accepted a position with the Schaumburg office of McGladrey & Pullen.

"I am saddened but excited for my husband and our family," Lemke said Tuesday. "It's a community that I love, and a community that I will never forget and never thought I'd leave.

"It was a very difficult decision," added Lemke, a Villa Grove native who has always lived in central Illinois.

Lemke will remain here until mid-March, allowing her to oversee the public phase of the United Way's annual-giving campaign. She will interview next month at the United Way of Metropolitan Chicago, where she's been assured of a part-time or full-time job.

"I love United Way. I love what it stands for; I love what it can do," she said.

Lemke, an accountant, was hired as the local United Way's chief financial officer in April 2002. She was named interim president and CEO in June 2003, when her predecessor, Bill Kitson, left to take a job with the United Way in Milwaukee.

"Her personality, her commitment to our community, and her professional experience as a certified public accountant were exactly what United Way needed to lead the organization these last four years," United Way board Chairman Mark Ballard said in a statement. "We will miss her leadership."

Ballard said Lemke leaves the agency in excellent shape, strategically and fiscally. Under her leadership, he said, the United Way:

Led a community effort to improve access to primary health care by relocating and expanding Frances Nelson Health Center. The 14,100-square-foot facility opened Nov. 20.

Launched the Emerging Community Leaders initiative, designed to instill a commitment to volunteerism, community service, and individual and corporate philanthropy among young professionals.

Began a youth volunteer initiative for fifth- and sixth-graders in Champaign schools, hoping to cultivate a habit of volunteering and to give youths a chance to help a neighbor, grow as a team and develop skills to succeed in life.

With the cities and other agencies, helped more than 400 people who relocated to the Champaign area after Hurricane Katrina.

Created an endowment fund that totals $600,000.

Lemke said she built on the foundation laid by Kitson, strengthening collaborations with other organizations that resulted in the Frances Nelson move, a summer youth initiative and a review of emergency food programs, among others.

Her tenure marked a period of stability at the United Way, which in recent years had recovered from a $1 million debt and questions of accountability. Kitson cut staff and made other changes to erase the debt, and also reorganized the United Way's giving efforts. The annual fundraising campaign also grew 27 percent during his tenure, but the agency had trouble reaching its goal after the 2001 terrorist attacks and economic recession that hurt charitable giving nationwide.

The 2005 campaign was the first in five years to meet its goal, exceeding the target by $40,000. The $2.94 million raised was the highest total in the agency's history.

Kathy Ouellette, director of the Center for Women in Transition, called Lemke's departure "the saddest news I have heard in a long time."

"She brought a lot of stability that had been lacking," Ouellette said. "She has created one of the best teams over there. I just loved her passion and her ability to really recognize and understand the needs that are out here and what the agencies that provide the services need. She's just a lovely person."

Lemke earned her bachelor's degree from Illinois State University in 1989. She previously worked with Martin, Hood, Friese and Associates and McGladrey & Pullen, Champaign. She and her husband, who is from Potomac, have two daughters, ages 6 and 8.

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